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We live in litigious times, so I should say that content reflects only my opinions!

Friday March 17 2006

Further to yesterday's jazz CD discourse,

I'm now listening to another newly acquired album, "Miles Davis in Europe". Recorded live in Antibes two months after I was born, it has a great lineup including my favourite Herbie Hancock. I'm thoroughly enjoying this one, save for the audio quality. I am fully familiar with how recording technology has changed over time, and what to expect. So I'm entirely content to enjoy a lot of great old recordings which are, technically speaking, pants. Obviously the music is the most important thing. The Miles offering, though, had widely varying quality and even by the standards of the time is really not too good. Shame, but that won't keep me from playing it to death. It is Miles, after all.

Norwich Union Direct have today failed to quote me happy. In fact, they've quoted me mildly disconsolate. Given that the only quote I'd had was from Toyota's own Toyota Insurance, since I was able to get the dealer to sort it out when I put my deposit on the car, I am not pleased that Norwich have quoted £60 more and are wanting a voluntary excess of £320. That's more than ten percent more. And from memory, although it was only a ranging shot on my part, I seem to remember that the excess was a more usual £150 with Toyota Insurance. Okay, it's a fairly valuable car and it's group 11 to boot and I park on the street where I live in East Oxford, but the happy-quoters still seem steep. I am going to have to do some more research on this. Oh that my broker were not on holiday until the 27th.

Posted at 8:59 pm by Jim Woods

Thursday March 16 2006

I am beginning to wonder

whether British Gas will ever send me a bill. After they eventually changed my meter couple of weeks ago, they said that they'd send an amended bill up to that date. Those scintillated by my writing on the topic will recall that the old meter was unreadable, and until removed altogether could not be deciphered. I've had a reminder for the bill which I was sent a couple of weeks before the meter was changed. The one which led me to check their estimate, and to my discovery that the old meter was unreadable. I was told to ignore that bill, and was less than thrilled to be sent a reminder therefore. When I called to find out WTF, I was told to ignore the reminder too. That was a week ago. So far, no up to date bill. Guys, I'm here trying to pay my gas bill, and you won't send me one. Marvellous. Oh that you'd been so coy over the years. I probably wouldn't still be living here. I'd be living somewhere I wouldn't need gas heating at all.

I think I know what's going on. The subbies who changed the meter are taking an age to send the reading from the old meter to British Gas, in all probability. Nonetheless, as someone who has painstakingly maintained his credit rating over the years - and chiefly because I need to use credit here and there - I'm uncomfortable with not knowing what's going on. The last time I rang them, I was told to ignore the reminder, I think, by a man I could not understand. Really. Either he was an Asian who spends his whole time perfecting his Geordie accent or perhaps it's the other way round; either way, I genuinely couldn't really work out what he was on about. None of this adds to my confidence. I really want to sort this out. I intend to be off on cultural manoeuvres abroad pretty soon, and I don't want this mess pending.

In other news, I just bought five CDs - all jazz - and have started to listen to them. The joys of a local independent record shop with good pricing. Polar Bear, on Cowley road. I use HMV and Virgin, but it's good also to support local stuff. I wonder why I call them record shops? These days, why don't we call them CD shops, as that's what they're selling. You won't get many records in the average store - certainly outside the dance genre - and you won't find any cassettes, 8 track cartridges or MiniDiscs. Record shop sounds good, though, where CD shop does not. On the one hand, the image of a thing of substance springs to mind, all cardboard smell and glossy black textured surface; to be laid with ceremony on a levelled, calibrated turntable, cleaned with the sweat of virgins and eventually and reverently auditioned. On the other hand, a small plastic thing to be shoved into the front of any number of unsexy boxes, including that most sexless of boxes the PC, and fired up at one press of a button. Maybe it's my age, but I can't help feeling there's a bit less magic about new discs now they're all silver and digital. Still, I've said it all before, and I keep buying CDs, so what's on them?

First up, "Impulse" by Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. It's a reissue of a 1961 album, recorded in the Van Gelder Studios. It has Wayne Shorter on it, and Lee Morgan. And it's a good record. But it does not breathe fire. A late night record for sure. I'm not intending to get into lengthy reviews here, but my tastes are generally more modern. I like the sometimes-discordant and pretty much unconstrained stuff. Stuff that makes me think weird thoughts, and terrifies animals and bar staff. The mid-period Miles Davis, the Pharoah (and that's how he spelt it) Sanders, the Ornette Coleman stuff recorded in Sweden that strips paint. Disorganised and chaotic, that's what I was looking for. If jazz weren't such a terribly broad church I'd have had more success predicting what a given record might be like and a little less trouble caused by half-knowing names and labels and styles and projecting onto them how I think they might sound. Then again, this browsing the case art and musing is a lot of the fun of the shopping process. And at five or six a pop, I don't have too anxious. That's what I like about my jazz listening, as distinct from my dance and rock (even) interests, but in common with reggae and dub. If worst comes to worst, I'll sell the disc on and won't lose my shirt. There aren't many crap records in jazz. I cannot of course be anything but subjective. There are probably not many crap records in any genre, once the obviously crap are eliminated. A lot of crap, almost a technical term in music by the way, is so well-aired on radio and TV that anyone who buys it has only themselves to blame. If following trends is one's bag, there's plenty of crap that'll give an illusion of belonging if peer-pressure or a lack of pro-active inquiry are characteristics of one's listening. It's bloody difficult for music, and the arts in general, to achieve much without the at least half-considered involvement of the listener or viewer. The medium is half of the dialogue only.

"Soultrane" playing now, and I bought this to address a little the dearth of Coltrane in my collection. Pure quota stuff, as a sop to my fond pretence that I am engaged in a study of the form. I am a student of jazz, but to rather less an extent than I perceive it would be very cool to be. There are layers within layers to this one. The onion of the psyche and the onion of music can become intertwined, which I suppose could be the basis of a towering curry or a really nasty medical procedure depending on the success of the contemplation. Actually, I like this record. I find Coltrane lyrical in a way that is charmingly open and direct, lacking in pomp and clearly enunciated. There's a feeling that the music is more important than the player. It's old-school. Then again, of course, I may not be the first person to write something about John Coltrane being a bit of a player.

Next are a couple of old Herbie Hancock albums which I will have to listen to downstairs on the hifi rather than here on the computer, since they want to install software before playing. Thanks so much, Capitol Records, for rewarding my honesty as a not-infrequent purchaser of your products by trying to park a load of potentially troublesome unnecessary-ware on my system. Bastards. I wanted to rip these to my MP3 player to listen to in the new car when it arrives, but the presumption of my wrongdoing has brutishly forbidden this. What a world.

I also bought a Miles Davis CD, but I'll talk about that another time. And indeed him. For now, suddenly I want to play my guitar. Unlike the Herbie CDs, it has no DRM or copy-protection. I can do what I want with it, having paid for it.

Posted at 7:28 pm by Jim Woods

Wednesday March 15 2006

I spoke too soon about the new Dalziel and Pascoe I fear.

If the first part of this week's effort is anything to go by, then last week's was a fluke return to form. I can't pinpoint why I think detective dramas aren't what they were, but maybe it's simply that I'm tired of them. I must admit that I've often tended to watch them when I've come in drunk in the past. Maybe I'm just not drunk enough these days. I think I'll read the new books on art I bought today and give the TV a miss. I'm less and less keen on it, I find, which is pretty ironic as I've only just finally bought a good one. In truth, my heart is in Holland. Soon my physical person will be too :)

Posted at 9:13 pm by Jim Woods

Medium-sized blue exchequer wrecker.

The new chariot for cultural exploration is decided. In a flurry of sleepless showroom-stalking and online research, I was driven - as so often in my combustible career - to Toyota. Best made stuff around. Having wrangled a decent target price on a desirable model which has only been on the market here for a month, I felt fairly pleased with myself. I've got a dark blue RAV4 coming in a week. Distressingly, they describe this as an SUV. I'm as appalled as anyone at massive, ugly American pickup trucks with garden sheds on the back and chrome-plated bonnets which do six miles to the gallon while annihilating everything in their path before extinguishing their occupants at the first contact with an unfriendly tree. This is not at all what I've bought.

Mine is a high-efficiency clean diesel which delivers better economy and less pollution than most vehicles. Made with as much consideration for the environment as I suspect we're ever going to see a car maker exercise, and utterly devoid of bull bars or even rigid bumpers, it kisses babies and warmly caresses cyclists as it wafts politely on its way to the vegan grocers. Basically, it's a medium-sized estate car which rides semi-high and has an efficient four wheel drive system which really helps stability and handling. It's a system for moving me, maybe others, camping gear and/or musical equipment around at forty or fifty to the gallon. It's a car with four wheel drive and road tyres for safety and handling, rather than an off-roader which just about drives on tarmac. So there.

I'm having the base spec, which has almost all the features I wanted. I know most will go another two and a half grand for leather, climate control, a computer which gets you round being a crap driver, a six-cd autochanger and audio controls on the steering wheel. I didn't. I wear a lot of belt-furniture when I'm out and about, particularly in the summer. By which I refer to keys on a chain, phone, camera, penknife and so on and so forth. I have a drawer full of it. It's all necessary camping and travel clobber, really. And from experience, I know it mauls leather upholstery. I love everything about the smell and the feel, but I'm not designed to be easy on leather upholstery. For some reason I've always had productive dealings with cloth. Feels better.

The standard air con and ventilation is great, so I'm not really bothered about automation of it. The same applies to the intelligent four wheel drive. If you have anti-lock brakes and EBD and what-have-you, as well as a drive system that keeps it real when distributing power to front and rear, in a car that has good handling by design then you don't need a load more circuitry to freak you out by taking control. I fired around a fair chunk of Europe in a Hilux 4wd, negotiating Pyrenees and motorways in wet and dry with equal facility. No anti-lock anything, no automatic anything. And all you do is establish the limits of the handling and braking and then stay within them and drive according to ancient and well-founded principles. Piece of cake. I've never fancied an CD changer, because six CDs were never enough and it's less trouble to change one by hand than stop the vehicle and dig around in the boot. No-one will ever convince me that a plastic changer mechanism in an in-dash unit where it's hot and bumpy will work well for longer than the warranty period either, even in a Toyota. I'm entirely happy with a single CD player, particularly since it's one that copes with MP3 and WMA. With a bit of initial effort, I will compile from my collection of CDs via the 'puter. Five to seven albums-worth per cd. Playlists, really. And I'll get one of those cheap transmitters to allow my hard-drive MP3 jukebox to talk to the stereo too. Job done, no wires. I would have liked the audio controls on the steering wheel, but not enough to spend another two and a half grand on the next model up. Money better spent on travel for sure.

So, project sorting out the transport for the next few years is nearly done. Vehicle to arrive within the week, and Scirocco nibbled at from various directions. I really wish I could keep it, but I can't run two vehicles for reasons of parking permit and cost. I shall make sure that it goes to a good home, and it's leaving me in better order than when I bought it. I've done my bit. Now to get some mileage under my belt for a while. It's three years since I was much further abroad from Oxford than Thame, twenty miles away.

Phew. I think after all that motoring talk I'll go check out the new exhibition at Modern Art Oxford and get some sun.

Posted at 11:37 am by Jim Woods

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