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Tuesday, Jan 9, 2007
by PopMatters Staff

Incognito
Bees + Things + Flowers

(Narada Jazz)


“Crave” [streaming]
“Deep Waters” [streaming]
“Everybody Loves the Sunshine” [streaming]
“Everyday” [streaming]
Bluey’s podcast about Bees + Things + Flowers [MP3]


 


“Over a 27-year career, London-based Mobo Award winners Incognito made stateside strides with both dreamy urban adult/Quiet Storm fare such as “Deep Waters” and “Still a Friend of Mine,” as well as jazzy horn-kissed club jams like “Everyday” and a cover of the Ronnie Laws/Side Effect classic “Always There.” Fans will be glad to know that all four of those songs can be found on their latest album, Bees + Things + Flowers—only they’ll sound nothing like the arrangements to which they’ve grown accustomed.”

 


That Bees + Things + Flowers was recorded in just six consecutive days speaks volumes for the organic flow that defined the proceedings. For the horn arrangements, Bluey chose the burnished glow of euphonium and flugelhorn over the typically punchier saxophone, trumpet and trombone configuration. Strings were added to several of the songs in one half-day session. Overall, the band gelled like never before. “Part of the reason for that,” Bluey adds jokingly, “is that the musicians love football (soccer) so much that they were doing first takes just so they could get back to the ‘tele’ and watch the World Cup! It was summer and the sun was baking down. London isn’t usually like that. The atmosphere was like a celebration—a very healing, soothing and energy-giving thing. It made us forget all the troubles of the world for awhile.”


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Tuesday, Jan 9, 2007

There seems to be a movement afoot among conservative thinkers (okay, maybe it’s just P.J. O’Rourke and economic journalist David Warsh) to rehabilitate Adam Smith (as if this were necessary), protect him from various accusations of shallow and simplistic thinking about human behavior and present him as more than a mere tool for capitalist ideologues by directing attention at his earlier work, Francis Hutcheson. Since humans are endowed with innate moral sense, we can automatically detect right from wrong instinctually—thus humankind is basically benevolent, not the malevolent brutes of Hobbesean’s scheme. How do we know good? We feel it as a quasi-Platonic form of beauty: Beauty and virtue are inherently aligned, thus one can demonstrate one’s virtuousness by becoming a connoisseur of beautiful things. The man of feeling is essentially a connoisseur of beautiful sentiments—pity, sacrifice, charity, etc.—instrumentalized to demonstrate an inner worth that justifies either his social position or his right to social mobility. The moral sense also manifests in polite behavior, which is the public, social expression of the moral sense in action—this transforms the upper class habitus into an elaborate demonstration of inner nobility and the inherent refinement of the aristocratic inner character. The commoner’s lack of understanding of morals is not so much a lack of training as a lack of innate moral sense.


Since our instinctual emotions are benevolent, the stronger we feel them (and thus the more ostentatiously we display them) the more virtuous we are. From this point of view morality is a reaction rather than a process of judgment. There is no need for a method of moral reasoning; what’s needed instead is practice in responding immediately with one’s heart in the proper histrionic way to various highly emotional events—death, the suffering of the poor, the orphaned children, women in distress, abandoned women, etc. Society life thus became a systematic pursuit of occasions to exhibit one’s moral “sensibility” as it soon became known. Sensibility was similiar to the Renaissance notion of sprezzatura, an instinctual charisma and propriety, but was more passive, with more emphasis on finely wrought feelings in response to witnessed situations. Sensibility is a matter of spectatorship and reaction—which is what relates it to modern entertainment industry, which thrives of passive spectatorship and the delectation of contrived emotional experiences for their own sake.


Hence the development of the commercial novel: Novels capitalized on the fantasy of being able to find oneself in situations that called for strong and unrestrained expression on one’s emotions and offered many opportunities to demonstrate a “feeling heart” by vicariously identifying with the fictional character’s sufferings. Weeping over a book, for a time, served as proof of one’s goodness, was seen as a kind of emotional charitableness. Novels became testing devices—if your heart didn’t respond, your moral sense might just be weak and you might not be as moral as you hoped. Of course, the converse always happened—it was all too easy (and satisfying) to let the novel provoke sympathetic tears and prove your inner worth (a process which in turn provoked much mockery from skeptics—often dramatists, essayists and reviewers). Every aspiring novelist (and readers too) learned the grammar of emotional prose, the key words and scenarios which were to trigger feelings in the reader.


What permits this whole system was the magical property of sympathy, by which we automatically relate to another person’s feelings, feel them ourselves and act accordingly.  Adam Smith’s Moral Sentiments ties into the story here, because it adopts the property of sympathy (defined as an instinctive, vicarious appreciation for the observed feelings of others—the natural and irresistible human ability to put oneself in another’s shoes) as its fundamental principle. This differs from the innate moral sense in that Smith sees sympathy as a product of reasoning your way into the feelings of others through a comparison with what you yourself would feel in the same situation. And what is good is a matter of consensus—intimations of what will become “spontaneous order.” Following Hutcheson, Smith’s innovation was to attempt to fuse the Hobbesan view of man’s innate selfishness with Shaftesbury’s view of human benevolence and yield enlightened self-interest. Because we can’t help but feel what others feel, it becomes part of our selfish interest to make them feel good—Smith even opens his work with the observation that despite what may be convenient to us, our own feelings are invariably mixed up with what we perceive of others’ feelings, so essentially we have an inescapable interest in the emotional lives of our fellow men.


How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortunes of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it, except the pleasure of seeing it. Of this kind is pity or compassion, the emotion we feel for the misery of others, when we either see it, or are made to conceive it in a very lively manner. That we often derive sorrow from the sorrows of others, is a matter of fact too obvious to require any instances to prove it; for this sentiment, like all the other original passions of human nature, is by no means confined to the virtuous or the humane, though they perhaps may feel it with the most exquisite sensibility. The greatest ruffian, the most hardened violator of the laws of society, is not altogether without it.


This creates a kind of proto-panopticon scenario: Since how we all affect each other by the kind of feelings we display, it behooves us to imagine someone is always watching us, and to act with that cool impartial observer’s likely reactions in mind.


The process of continual comparison with others, along with the assumption of a constant observer who embodies our ideal (likely modeled on the sort of person society most praises—the privileged person with all the manners of polite society) provides a rationale for what will become, in Veblen’s terms, invidious comparison, where one measures one’s own prosperity against that of peers and yields perpetual dissatisfaction—the hedonic treadmill. We compare ourselves to those above us (or now, the lifestyle celebrated in ads and entertainment) and ceaselessly strive to catch up to it, but it keeps moving beyond us. In generalMoral Sentiments supplies a guide to the psychological framewrok necessary to sustain not just a capitalist society but a consumer society; it advocates conformism and a habit of spectatorship as premises of its moral system, and tries to rationalize selfishness as reasonability. It also promotes endless striving for the approval of others on the grounds of material comparisons (once emotions are reified) as the meaning of life. It’s not too hard to see the ways these ideas have mutated and survived in our own culture.


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Monday, Jan 8, 2007


A new year – a new look. Instead of focusing a great deal of attention on several releases each week, SE&L is going to take a different approach when discussing the most recent DVD titles of 2007. Every Tuesday, we will pick a prominent disc – something we think you should be paying attention to – and then go on to highlight a few more significant selections. We’ll then discuss an offbeat offering for those unimpressed by your typical mainstream merchandise. Hopefully, this will give you a better idea on how to spend your digital dollars, and provide a more productive forum for discussing the latest home theater treats. For the first full week of January, here is the SE&L Pick:


Idiocracy


Forgive the man for being angry, but animator/filmmaker Mike Judge has a real right to be pissed. Not only did Fox foul up the release of his latest film, but they purposely buried it in a manner more befitting a Hilary Duff vehicle than a scathing social satire from the mind behind Office Space, King of the Hill and Beavis and Butthead. Though critics who finally saw the film savaged its story of a military milquetoast accidentally frozen for 500 years, only to wake up in an America of incredible inbred stupidity, it is clear they missed the point entirely. Judge juggles several important ideas here – the overall notion of ‘dumbing down’ (the theory of dysgenics), the prevalence of advertising-guided cultural decisions, the failure to see the obvious forest for the specific, sports drink-oriented trees – and finds a brilliant biting way of bringing them to life. This laugh out loud diatribe may seem like more future mock than shock, but the subtext it suggests is more frightening than the notions of global warming - and Al Gore as a movie star - put together.

Other Titles of Interest


Crank


Jason Statham stars in this rollercoaster ride of an action pic, a nonstop display of modern moviemaking, carefully choreographed stunt work, and male machismo that failed to find an audience upon its initial release. DVD and the home theater experience seem the perfect places to rediscover this high energy hokum.

The Illusionist


Of the two magic movies this year, The Prestige remains the best. Neil Burger’s equally interesting take on slight of hand has a formidable cast (Paul Giamatti is magnificent as a police chief/pawn of the Austrian court) but may be too romantic for most. Still it definitely deserves credit for its period piece attention to detail.

I Trust You to Kill Me


Kiefer Sutherland takes on the most dangerous role of his entire career – as road manager for a rock band. Owner of his own indie label, the 24 actor follows Rocco DeLuca and the Burden as they trek around the world, spreading their aural anarchy to whoever will listen. The results are interesting, if not particularly enlightening.

Murder Set Pieces


How do you make a notorious homemade splatter fest acceptable to typical mainstream consumers? Carve out nearly 20 minutes of gore-laced footage and try to pawn off the results as the “hardest R” ever to hit DVD. Sadly, nothing can save this pointless neo-Nazi serial killer crap.


The Night Listener


Robin Williams is a late night talk show host who develops an indirect friendship with a teenage boy. When the child suddenly disappears, he decides to investigate and uncover what happened – or if the kid really existed in the first place. Instead of a psychological thriller, this uneventful effort is plodding and oddly predictable.


And Now for Something Completely Different


Nude on the Moon/Blaze Starr Goes Nudist


Ah, Doris Wishman – that diva of deviant cinema. Notorious for her mid-period Manhattan roughies, and the championing of female physical oddity Chesty Morgan, this main madam of exploitation got her start in nudist camp films, and this double feature provides two of her most amazingly misguided efforts. The first deals with a team of astronauts who discover that the Moon is populated by sunworshippers playing volleyball and swimming sans clothes. The second slice of skin follows famed burlesque queen Starr as she discovers the delights – and the sexy companionship – of vacationing au natural. If you’re looking for narrative logic, clear characterization, directorial flair or reasonable entertainment value, these kitschy classics will probably come up short. But if you’re interested in seeing how sex was dealt with before the boundaries of bareness were broken, or just want to see some puffy mid-60s health nuts brandishing their birthday suits, these slightly surreal epics are pure cheddar cheesiness.

 


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Monday, Jan 8, 2007
by PopMatters Staff

Diana Ross
I Love You

(Manhattan/EMI)
US: 16 January 2007


 


I Love You presents 14 songs personally selected for the album by Diana Ross in appreciation of their timeless, classic expressions of love and romance, including a brand new song, “I Love You (That’s All That Really Matters)”, a gentle ballad that captures the emotion of romance. The CD’s package includes stunning photos by Herb Ritts, Randee St. Nicholas and Douglas Kirkland and a letter to fans from Ms. Ross, who executive produced I Love You. The package also contains notes from the album’s co-executive producer, Marylata E. Jacob, a Grammy-nominated music supervisor and producer whose professional relationship with Ms. Ross spans 22 years, Peter Asher, who produced nine of the album’s tracks, and who has collaborated with Ms. Ross on many of her most cherished recordings, and the producer of five of the album’s tracks, Steve Tyrell, who has produced many recordings with Ms. Ross, including “Big Bad Love” with Ray Charles, and in 2005 produced her duet with Rod Stewart, “I’ve Got A Crush On You,” the lead single from Stewart’s Thanks For The Memory: The Great American Songbook I. I Love You’s deluxe edition adds a DVD with a photo gallery and an exclusive
behind-the-scenes look at the making of the new album.”—Manhattan/EMI


Behind the Scenes Video [streaming]
“I Love You (That’s All That Really Matters)” [streaming]
“More Today Than Yesterday” [streaming]
“I Want You” [streaming]


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Monday, Jan 8, 2007

Jerome Weeks has a good blog entry from last week about what’s happened to arts coverage in newspapers around the country.  His usual beat is books but what he says has a lot of relevance to other arts columns that are also getting cut back and consolidated in many places.  More specifically, these columns are being farmed out from other outlets that will stand to serve several communities (just like Clear Channel centralizes stations to serve several cities).  As Weeks notes, one place picking up the slack are the blogs themselves but why has print media given up on this?  A: it doesn’t bring in ad dollars.


Speaking of things you better not blink or you’ll miss, Nas and Mos Def came out with new records at the end of December.  Don’t feel too bad if this is news to you- fact is, the holiday rush time is a crappy time to put anything out because you’re not to get noticed too well then (prime time is usally March or September). 


In the case of Nas, that’s too bad.  History aside (which favors his first two albums), Hip Hop is Dead is probably his best record (and FYI, he means the title figuratively).  In Mos Def’s case, sad to say, it’s not much of a loss. True Magic sounds like a retreat after his ambitious agenda of his last album, 2004’s The New Danger (which was a wonderful kaleidescope of styles that worked almost as well as Speakerboxxx/The Love Below).  Oh, well… he’s still got the movies, plays, the inevitable Black Star reunion and I wouldn’t count him out on future releases.


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