In everyday life:
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By PDMACpayday loans
In everyday life:
Copyright XKCD, used under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 License.
My attention was drawn to Canadian-born baritone Gerald Finley by hearing (on CBC radio while visiting Kitchener-Waterloo for the Quantum Landscape conference at PI) his rendition of the aria "Batter my heart...", a setting of the John Donne poem, "Batter my heart, three-person'd God," as J. Robert Oppenheimer in John Adams' opera Doctor Atomic, about the creation of the atomic bomb. A few years back I found the opera, on DVD, to be pretty good, though with some weak points. Hearing Finley sing it reminds me that this aria was one of the strong points. He has a wonderful voice, clear, ringing at times, flexible but still with plenty of power when needed, and he gives meaning and drama to the words he sings.
Over the past couple of months I've had four remarkable red wines from the Piedmont region of Italy. The Langhe---the region 30 or so miles south and southeast of Turin, whose hills, dotted with old castles and churches and commanding panoramic views, begin to rise just south of the wine, truffle, and nougat town of Alba, is the source of most of the best Italian wines made from the local Nebbiolo grape (a few places in nearby Lombardy, such as Ghemme and Gattinara, also use the grape). Three of the wines I'll discuss in this post are made from Nebbiolo: one from each of the two noble red-wine appelations, Barolo and Barbaresco, within the Langhe, and a straight Nebbiolo Langhe which, however, could legally have been sold as a Barbaresco. The fourth wine is a Barbera d'Asti, from the region roughly north of the Langhe, around the town of Asti.
The 2005 "La Loggia" Barolo, at around $15 from Trader Joe's (probably sold out in many TJ's), while not at the level of true greatness that the appellation is apparently capable of, is an excellent wine and a great bargain. It is on the light side of medium-bodied, somewhat tight or closed, but with some good raspberry flavor, hints of carameliness or vanilla in the nose and mouth, perhaps violets or rose petals or at any rate something floral, though only a hint, and most interestingly a definite rhubarb-ish note that I've found in some other Barolos and Barbarescos and that is very pleasant, becoming more noticeable in the finish. Reasonably well balanced and smooth. Tannins are noticeable, showing a bit of bite but not in a harsh way, and feel relatively fine-grained. This is not a blockbuster complex Barolo, nor does it exactly have a silky velvety feel that the lusher, more immediately appealing ones do, but it is not priced like high-end Barolos either. And it definitely gives a taste of some of the characteristics Nebbiolo exhibits in these high-end wines, and is a very enjoyable and interesting wine in its own right.
The 2009 "Rocca dell'Olmo" Barbaresco, $10 from TJ's, is an even better value. It doesn't show much in the nose, perhaps a bit of strawberry, but in the mouth is fuller bodied than the Barolo, opening up over time in the glass though still not acquiring much of a nose. Flavors are more intense, with strawberry, perhaps cherry, perhaps floral notes again, and darker, more mineral notes along with the pleasing and interesting rhubarb-like flavor mentioned in connection with the La Loggia above. The finish maintains the same flavors experienced with the wine in the mouth, but is extraordinarily long and flavorful, definitely the most impressive aspect of this wine. Tannins are a bit more pronounced and have a peppery, slightly coarser-grained feel than those in the Barolo, but are definitely under control and not coarse. This went extremely well with a vegetarian supper of quinoa and a salad of chopped red and green peppers, tomatoes, feta, and mint dressed with olive oil and lemon juice. The rhubarb-ish vegetal elements apparently echoed and complemented these tastes nicely.
I bought 5 or 6 more of these to age after trying this bottle. The finish on this is first-rate, what one would expect from a great wine, and if bottle-age gives it a significant and complex bouquet, as seems possible, it will in fact have developed into a great or near-great wine... for 10 bucks. We will see. If this works, I'm guessing it will peak at around 3-7 years (from now, i.e. 7-11 years from the vintage). An extraordinary value in any case.
The third Nebbiolo is a plain Nebbiolo delle Langhe 2009 from Sottimano. A bit more expensive ($22, not including mixed-half-case-discount, from the Casa Sena wine shop in Santa Fe). This is a really excellent wine. The description of the 2010 vintage, linked above, makes it clear that the wine could legal be labeled Barbaresco (from the "cru" area of Basarin, in fact), but has been downclassified by the winery to Langhe Nebbiolo because the vines are youngish (13-14 years old at the time of the 2009 vintage), and "cannot yet express the richness of polyphenols or all the aromas and the "nuances" that an important cru like this could have." That right there tells you something about the values and aims of this winery: many US wineries would have no problem considering vines that old more than ready for their higher-priced bottlings. When tasted just after opening, this wine seems a bit on the light and tight side, with fine but slightly aggressive tannins, but still quite flavorful and balanced, with much more of a nose (still red berries but also typical Nebbiolo floral elements) than the Rocca dell'Olmo. It rapidly opens up to become a bit more velvety and smooth on the palate than the Rocca, the tannins starting to carry the flavor around the mouth and make it stick, the flavors developing to include more definite notes of caramel and hints of minerality. Good length of finish, maybe less dark and mineral than the Rocca's, but still complex. I got the feeling from this wine's opening up to be fairly complex, but grapey and natural, and intense on the palate, that it was likely unfiltered. Sure enough, looking at it in the glass (the color is relatively toward the violet rather than red end of the red-wine spectrum) one can see a slight cloudiness of grapey particulate matter, and the Sottimano website confirms that it's neither filtered nor fined. A very good sign. From the website, it looks like the other wines they make are high-end Barolos and Barbarescos from named vineyards; Casa Sena has some of them, priced in the $60ish range. These probably are fuller-bodied, somewhat more tannic, and probably really need at least 7 years of age, perhaps substantially more. The Langhe Nebbiolo is good now, will likely benefit substantially from about 3-5 years of aging, but is not going to need (or perhaps, handle) the aging that the Barolos and Barbarescos do. Still, a very serious wine from what is clearly a very serious estate, a real taste of what serious winemaking with a light touch can do to grapes from an area with real terroir, and another excellent bargain even though not cheap. On my next visit to Casa Sena, I scarfed up the last two bottles for my cellar, and it looks like that may be the last of the 2009 around here. (Kokoman, at Pojoaque Pueblo, now has the 2010 though...).
Finally, there's the 2010 Rocca dell'Olmo Barbera d'Asti. Barbera makes fairly full-bodied, lusty wines with elements of leafiness, often fairly chewy tannins, and a bit of dark complexity. Matt Kramer has said it's rubber-like. Barbera from Asti (southeast of Turin---Barbaresco separates it from the Alba region and the Barolo appelation) is usually less expensive, and a bit more acidic, even sharper, than Barbera d'Alba. This wine has a bit of that sharpness, but also the full body, chewy tannins, and tasty autumn-leafy flavors that are usually evident in Barbera d'Alba. An excellent buy at $6. From TJ's again, of course; I'm guessing Rocca dell'Olmo is a label put together for them by some Piedmontese négociant with whom they have a big contract. Perhaps this négociant has the local connections to buy up lots of wine from producers in the high-end appelations, that end up being not quite up to the standards of the super-expensive producers, perhaps because they are lighter than desired, slightly unbalanced, or just didn't fit into the final blend. It seems to me that that may be one of TJ's major modus operandi in both Europe and California (though in the latter case, many of the wines get sold under TJ's own name). The somewhat lower standards and much lower prices, though, probably apply mainly to the high end appelations (Barbaresco and Barolo in this case). This Barbera d'Asti is in no way an inferior example: it is just what a Barbera d'Asti should be, not super-complex or elegant, but a good full-bodied wine tasting fully of the Barbera grape, with just the right hint of the Asti tartness and acidity, an excellent wine to have with strongly flavored foods, and priced, I think, at about what such a bottle would cost in Italy.
Two nights ago, I heard the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis, at the Lensic Performance Center in Santa Fe. Excellent concert. Trying to reconstruct the setlist will be tricky. It started with John Lewis' 1940s composition Two Bass Hit. Nice reminder that bop developed almost as much, if not more, in big bands of the era as in uptown NY jam sessions like those at Minton's. A punchy arrangement, with a good solo by Marsalis. His tone is great, and perhaps best heard live, very large, very flexible, burnished but capable of being bright, but not usually brittle. Very loose, flexible phrasing too, occasionally seeming almost a little too loose. A big, big sound, the Armstrong influence on his trumpet sound very evident, somewhat rare since bebop days, and good to hear. This was followed by another Lewis song, from later in his career, I think, and with more of the classical chamber-jazz influence that Lewis pioneered; also excellent. A highlight of the program, which I think was next in the concert, was a movement, "Insatiable Hunger", from a suite based on Dante's Inferno, by one of the orchestra's saxophonists, Sherman Irby. I realize this sounds potentially pretentious and ill-conceived, but nope, this was not the case. Although the opening theme played by a sax made me a little uncomfortable because it it sounded like it was a quote of another famous jazz tune (which, however, I didn't manage to put my finger on), but then veered away from it, overall the piece really worked. Very bluesy, with lots of lines and phrases some of which are almost blues clichés worked together antiphonally and contrapuntally, really getting up a head of steam. Not sure if this was intricate through-composed work (probably) or wild collective improvisation by a seasoned team working together (my guess is there was only a bit of improvising going on, if any), but it worked well. I'd just been reading Amiri Baraka's "Digging", and thought to myself at this point that I could see why, besides any possible sociopolitical reasons, he digs this group.
A Gerry Mulligan chart, originally for the Woody Herman orchestra, was played with verve and underlined the fact that Mulligan was probably as important as an arranger as he was as a saxophonist---his work was as important a component as anyone's of the seminal Miles Davis Birth of the Cool sessions, for example. Excellent solo from Paul Nedzela on baritone sax (Mulligan's instrument).
Ted Nash's arrangement of Clifford Brown's Ceora was a bit heavy on flutes and a maybe a bit fussily arranged for my taste, but still very enjoyable, as was the other Nash arrangement on the program, Chick Corea's 3/4 tune Windows,
Generally a high standard of soloing. Wish I could be certain of who played which solo, and remember more clearly to credit some excellent players. More detail, perhaps, after I look back at the program.
A fast, punchy arrangement of a tune I think they attributed to Charlie Parker (but was it Donna Lee? I thought that was actually written by Miles Davis...) was top-notch. A good solo on alto from Sherman Irby.
A piece by a youngish trombonist with the band, titled "God's Trombones". I'm embarassed I don't remember this well enough to really give a critical appraisal; I remember enjoying it.
The concert finished with "Braggin' in Brass", the sole Ellington piece of the night, with Marsalis' in his prefatory monologue drawing attention to the fact that this is a showpiece for a difficult trombone part. In fact, the opening muted trumpets were pretty impressive too, but the three trombones' unison on the superfast, syncopated trombone chorus was unbelievable---they sounded like one instrument. (Hard to be certain without an audio record, but it seems like the unison was tighter than in the 2010 video from a Havana concert that is linked above.) This was the evening's other piece featuring a Marsalis solo, and it was a good one, pretty long and getting into long, fast boppish lines although--- very minor cavil, but one I think I've noticed in some other Marsalis performances --- the next to-last-phrase seemed to be winding up for a concluding exclamation point, but the last phrase didn't quite provide it, ending a tad abruptly.
Sound was good for the Lensic, where I've occasionally endured serious problems (a fabulous concert by pianist Kenny Werner a few years back was marred by extremly distorted and loud amplification of the piano). The LCJO brings their own sound-man with them (he could be heard encouraging the band and reacting to solos on occasion, a nice touch that helped to get the crowd into it too), and this is a very good thing. The mix, if perhaps a tad bright, was very clear. My only complaint is that it was overall too loud, hurting my ears on occasion and perhaps paradoxically, probably diminishing the impact a bit --- the incredible dynamic range of a live big band being an essential part of the experience. But that's a minor point---kudos to the LCJO for recognizing the importance of sound enough to bring their own sound man and equipment to provide clarity and the right balance.
I would have liked to hear just a little more classic swing. Say, one number by Basie or one of the other southwestern territory bands that had that powerful bluesy riffing thing.
Definitely go hear these guys if they come your way. The traveling version of the band is fifteen pieces---but that's a heck of a big sound when everyone is as together as this crew is. A taste of the real thing the way it used to be, plus evidence of people continuing to do vital work for big band, like the movement from Mr. Irby's suite.
I have trouble understanding why critics of Thomas Nagel's Mind and Cosmos are coming down so hard on his belief that value statements---particularly ethical ones, can (some of them, at any rate) be objectively true or false. I'll consider two examples here. Brad DeLong's objection seems to me based primarily on his continued mistaken view that Nagel views his reason as infallible. It's therefore not specific to the case of moral or other value judgments. Simon Blackburn's objections are more interesting because they are more specific to value judgments, and better address Nagel's actual position.
Brad DeLong seems to think that Nagel's juxtaposition of reasoning in the form modification of a belief about the direction one is driving in, because of its inconsistency with newly acquired evidence, with reasoning like Nagel's "I oppose the abolition of the inheritance tax... because I recognize that the design of property rights should be sensitive not only to autonomy but also to fairness..." is self-evidently ridiculous. Says Brad:
"I do wonder: Does Gene Callahan have any idea what he has committed himself to when he endorses Thomas Nagel's claim that Nagel has transcendent direct access to truths of objective reality? I think not:
Thomas Nagel: [...my (HB's) ellipsis here, in place of a typo by Brad that repeated part of his own introduction, quoted above, to this quote...] I decide, when the sun rises on my right, that I must be driving north instead of south... because I recognize that my belief that I am driving south is inconsistent with that observation, together with what I know about the direction of rotation of the earth. I abandon the belief because I recognize that it could not be true.... I oppose the abolition of the inheritance tax... because I recognize that the design of property rights should be sensitive not only to autonomy but also to fairness...
Game, set, match, and tournament!"
That last sentence, which is Brad's, seems revealing of a mindset that sometimes creeps into his writing in his blog, less aimed at truth than at victory in some argumentative competition. I like a lot of what he does on his blog, but that attitude, and the related one that reads like an attempt to exhibit his hip and with-it-ness by using internet jargon that the unhip like me have to google ("self-pwnage", which Callahan is said to have committed), are not so appealing. The "transcendent direct access" I have already argued is mostly a straw-man of Brad's own creation, Nagel's point being primarily that (as says immediately following what Brad has quoted) "As the saying goes, I operate in the space of reasons." One aspect of operating in the space of reasons is trying to preserve some consistency between ones various beliefs; that seems to be the nub of the driving example (but we should not forget the important point that there is more than just deductive logic going on here... we have to decide which of the contradictory beliefs to give up). And we are also to some extent doing so (preserving consistency) in the case of the inheritance tax, though the full argument in this case is likely to be much more involved and less clear than in the case of the driving example. Nagel is arguing that we try to square our beliefs about the particular case of the inheritance tax with general beliefs that we (may) hold about how social institutions like property rights should be designed. Focusing on this consistency issue, though, can --- in both factual and ethical situations --- obscure the essential role of factors other than mere consistency in the process of reasoning about what beliefs to hold. As I mentioned in earlier posts, Nagel gives this somewhat short shrift, notably by not discussing inductive reasoning much, though he's clear about the fact that it's needed. But it's remarkable that DeLong---who I would guess shares Nagel's views on the inheritance tax, and possibly even his reasons (although he may also find some strength in arguments involving "social welfare functions) should think that this passage grounds an immediate declaration of victory. I guess it's because he wrongly thinks the issue is about "direct transcendent access".
Even more remarkable is philosopher Simon Blackburn's very similar reaction---if, as I am guessing, his example of "why income distribution in the US is unjust" is prompted in part by Nagel's reference to the inheritance tax. There are points I agree with in Blackburn's article, but then there is this:
According to Nagel, Darwinians can explain, say, why we dislike pain and seek to minimize bringing it about for ourselves and for others we love. But, Nagel thinks, for the Darwinian, its “real badness” can be no part of the explanation of why we are averse to it. So it is another mystery how real badness and other real normative properties enter our minds. Nagel here manifests his founding membership of a peculiar and fortunately local philosophical subculture that thrives by resolutely dismissing the resources of the alternative, Humean picture, which sees our judgement that pain is a bad thing as a useful expression of our natural aversion to it. All he says about this is that it “denies that value judgements can be true in their own right”, which he finds implausible. He is silent about why he thinks this, perhaps wisely, if only because nobody thinks that value judgements are true in their own right. The judgement that income distribution in the US is unjust, for instance, is not true in its own right. It is true in virtue of that fact that after decades of lobbying, chief executives of major companies earn several hundred times the income of their rank-and-file workers. It is true because of natural facts.
Parenthetically, but importantly: I agree with Blackburn's characterization of Nagel as believing that the "real badness"
of pain cannot be a main part of a Darwinian explanation of our aversion to pain. And I disagree with this belief of Nagel's.
However, I don't know what's so peculiar and local about resolutely dismissing (sometimes with plenty of discussion, though one virtue of Nagel's book is that it is short, so a point like this may not get extensive discussion) the Humean view here that this badness is just "natural aversion". But in any case, Blackburn's discussion of his example is truly weird. It seems reasonable to view a statement like "income distribution in the US is unjust" as true both because of the "natural facts" Blackburn cites, which explain how it has come to be what it is, and because of the component where the actual "values" come in, which give reasons for our belief that this high degree of inequality, is in fact unjust. True, according to some theories of justice, e.g. a libertarian one, the genesis of a pattern of income and wealth distribution may be germane to whether or not it is just. Blackburn might be adducing such an explanation, since he mentions "lobbying" as a cause (and not, say "hard work"). But if so, he still hasn't explained: what's wrong with lobbying? Why does it cast doubt on the justice of the resulting outcome? What Nagel means by value judgements being true "in their own right" is not likely that every statement with a value component, like Blackburn's about US income and wealth distribution, is true in and of itself and no reasons can be given for it. What I think he means is that at some point, probably at many different points, there enters into our beliefs about matters of value an element of irreducible judgement that something is right or wrong, good or bad, and that this is objective, not just a matter of personal taste or "natural aversion". What Blackburn's statement reads most like, due to his emphasis on "natural facts", is an attempt to substitute the causal factors leading to US income distribution being what it is, for the moral and political considerations---quite involved, perhaps subtle, and certainly contentious---that have led many to judge that it should not be what it is. It's quite clear from Nagel's discussion of the inheritance tax what he thinks some of those considerations are: "autonomy and fairness". I just don't understand how someone could think that Blackburn's discussion of why US income distribution is unjust is better than an account in terms of concepts like autonomy and fairness---the sort of account that Nagel would obviously give. I've gotten some value from parts of Blackburn's work, even parts of this article, but this part---if this reading is correct---seems monumentally misguided. Or does he think that the rest of the explanation is that human beings just have a "natural aversion" to income distribution that is as unequal, or perhaps as influenced by lobbying, as the US's currently is. But you might think that a cursory look at a large part of the Republican party in the US would have disabused him of that notion.
Perhaps I'm being excessively snarky here...advocates, like Blackburn, of the natural aversion view would probably argue that it needs to be supplemented and modified by reasoning.... perhaps it is just that the "irreducibly moral", as opposed to the deductive/analogical reasoning component, of this process, is still just a matter of natural aversion. I would think more Hobbesian considerations would come into play as well, but that is a matter for (you may be sorry to hear) another post.
Haven't finished listening but Chris' Potter's jazz suite Sirens is starting out strong, with a modal vampy thing going, Trane and bop influences and some blues cries in Potter's soloing, but not too derivative. Now at around 4'40, holy molé it's starting to smoke!
You can stream it at NPR.
If you're in NY, last set tonight in 20 min (I'd guess sold out), last night is tomorrow Feb. 10.
Now at 9 min, Iverson is doing a beautiful chordal thing, now putting a line over it in the treble, kind of McCoy influenced but with a bit more impressionist color and a mellower vibe. This is the stuff, folks.
Thanks, NPR, for making it it little less painful for a jazz fan not to live in NYC.
In lieu, for the moment at least, of longer reviews, I'll note a few things I've been listening to with great enjoyment recently:
Janácek's piano music. Both the Sonata and the series of short pieces called "On an Overgrown Path" are major masterpieces. Lyrical, evocative, often passionate. Tonal, but with Janácek's sometimes unusual harmonic colors, which however are completely natural and expressive, not self-consciously displayed. Both Rudolf Firkusný on Deutsch Grammophon and Alain Planès on Harmonia Mundi are excellent. I give the slight edge to Planès for a softer-edged, more atmospheric piano sound, but you can't go wrong with either. This music really should not be missed.
Paul Hindemith, When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd and Requiem, "Für die, die wir lieben" ("For those we love"). Annelies Burmeister, mezzo-soprano, Günther Leib, baritone, Soloists and chorus of the Berliner Rundfunks, and Berliner Rundfunks Symphony Orchestra. Deep feeling here; this is not what I'd think of as "gebrauchmusik" ("use-music", a term probably from an earlier phase of Hindemith's career). These pieces are post-World War II. I need to listen to this CD again, but recall my first listen, about a month back, as a wonderful discovery.
Khaled, Liberté. Khaled, for those who don't know, has long been perhaps the greatest star of the North African (especially Algerian) popular music called Rai. In the Arabic-speaking world, he's a superstar. When I first put this on, I was not paying much attention, and thought it not as good as the earlier, essential N'Issi N'Issi and Sahra. Played it again last night, and revised my opinion: it's superb. His voice is as good as ever, his command of swirling North African melisma as secure as ever, and the material, a substantial amount of which he writes himself, is mostly excellent. Overall, though it features electric bass and some synths, the sound is "rootsier" than the other two albums I mentioned, with lots of instrumental interludes featuring traditional North African instruments and a string section recorded in Cairo. Reminiscent of some of his stuff from even earlier than N'Issi and Sahra, when he was more of a rising regional star than an international superstar.
Steely Dan, Katy Lied. I wasn't really familiar with this album, which apparently predates the essential classic Aja, but it's solid. Great to discover another 10 mostly excellent songs from the Dan, in the same vein as Aja, if perhaps a bit more varied and not as consistently great. If you like jazzy chords with your pop-rock, lots of possibly tongue-in-cheek 70's-beatnik/hipster lyrical attitudinizing, and the occasional sax solo, the Dan is for you. But you already know that from Aja, and the hits (Rikki, Do it Again, etc...) that still make classic-rock radio. Excellent listening.
I Try: The Macy Gray Collection This is some kind of Greatest Hits CD I picked up cheaply. Solid neo-soul and R&B singing from Ms. Gray. Her voice is nice, a bit lighter than those of the gutsiest, earthiest female soul singers (e.g. Aretha), but with a slightly smoky texture, too. That's a description, not a criticism. Mostly very good material, some written by Gray herself. Highly recommended.
G. F. Handel, The Messiah (oratorio). Elly Ameling, soprano; Anna Reynolds, alto; Philip Langridge, tenor; Gwynne Howell, bass. Academy and Chorus of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Neville Marriner, conductor. (London 444 824-2). Excellent soloists, very clear recording, with relatively light instrumental forces and a reasonably light-footed, baroque feel, but probably not original instruments or finicky attention to baroque stylistics. With some of the sweetness (compared to many original-instruments treatments) that I tend to associate with Marriner/St.Martin's productions. Beautiful. The music is of course profound and essential listening. Sir Colin Davis, leading the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, with Heather Harper, soprano, Helen Watts, contralto, John Wakefield, tenor, and John Shirley-Quirk, bass, is also excellent, with a fairly similar overall feel (perhaps a somewhat less lush and sweet, more severe feel overall). Unfortunately it seems to be marred by some kind of constant scratchy background noise, not extremely loud, but annoying once heard. I have no idea what this is; if it's the result of a poor digital transfer in the early days of CD, then a remaster from analogue tape is in order; otherwise, let's hope there's a better master tape around somewhere because this performance is good enough that it deserves a noise-free reissue if possible.
Russell Blackford formulates what he thinks is Thomas Nagel's argument for "the existence of objective values". I think I disagree with Blackford on this. Blackford's point seems to be that although he doesn't want to die a premature death, or suffer horrible torture, it wouldn't really be bad if he did. Or at least, that he is not logically committed to thinking it would be. Perhaps the logical point is correct, I'm not sure. I would have to figure out what the difference is between valuing something and thinking it is really valuable. I'm kind of suspicious of this supposed difference, but I suppose it merits close thought. (References, anyone?) How does it differ from the difference between thinking the cat is on the mat and thinking the cat is really on the mat? True, there is the difference, in Blackford's formulation, between "valuing X" and "thinking X is valuable". Is that the crucial bit of Blackford's argument? Or, since we're concerned with practical reason here, is to state or think or that one values something just to state that or think that one will take action to bring it about, but not to make the "deontic" statement that it should come about? (All subject to qualifications about other things being equal, or about how it should be traded off with other things valued, of course.) But even if this distinction makes sense, which it may well do, I think Nagel would argue... and I would follow him... that most of us just DO not only value certain things, but think that those things really are valuable.
[Understanding this post probably requires a basic knowledge of seventh and related chords and extensions and alterations as used in "straight-ahead" (swing, bebop) jazz and mid-twentieth century American popular song harmony. The highlighted (and recommended) links will tell you what they are, and something of how they function in jazz harmony, though not the full story.]
A basic component of most jazz pianists' toolbox is the so-called "Bill Evans" or "rootless" or sometimes "left-hand" voicings. Each of the three terms is inaccurate. These were to some extent used before Evans came on the scene in the late 1950s/early 1960s, but he perhaps used them more extensively than others. (Wynton Kelly, Red Garland, and Ahmad Jamal are among those also cited as inclined to use them.) Along with McCoy Tyner, Evans also was a pioneer in using quartal voicings, which would probably be equally good candidates for associating with his name, but are not our topic here. A few of the "rootless voicings" contain the root of the chord, though most do not. And although they are commonly used in the left hand while the right plays melody, they may also appear in the right hand. "Four-note voicings" might be another term one sees used, though I'm not sure if that's as specific.
In some of the classic books on jazz piano playing (like Mark Levine's highly recommended "The Jazz Piano Book"), these may be introduced a bit too early, and some teachers may overemphasize them early on (especially to students who are already fairly aware of the basics of jazz harmony). Working pianists, who usually play in a rhythm section in which the bass takes care of stating the roots, like to use these voicings in order to stay out of the way of the bass line, and because they allow for more "color" tones, as found for example in standard extensions of 7th chords to include 9ths, 11ths, 13ths. (Some of these may be called "alterations", a term whose appropriate application I'm not completely clear about and am not going to get into here; it usually refers to a #11, b5 (enharmonically the same as a #11), b6=b13, b9 or #9, but precisely which notes are "altered" and which are just extensions depends on (what is considered to be) the harmonic context.) For learning jazz theory in a way that gets it into your ear (and fingers, if playing piano and not just hearing jazz harmony is your ultimate goal), I think it's best to practice four-note voicings with roots first. These can work for elementary solo piano playing, and for getting the sound of a tune including the roots fixed in your mind (play the "rooty" voicings in the LH, and the melody or an improvisation (yours, or a transcribed one, in the RH). Of course you can use these same possibilities with the Evans voicings, and you will find that many of them are the same as "rooty" four-note voicings for chords a third lower, so practicing the rooty ones first also helps with the Evans ones. I'll post on rooty voicings at some point, but here I'll discuss learning the more advanced Evans voicings, something I am in the middle of doing.
I'm using pianist Earl MacDonald's excellent post on how to learn these voicings. I recommend printing out both his post, and his pdf file with music notation and taking them to the piano. I won't go into detail, but just say a few things that might be a useful supplement. Two voicings, labeled "A" and "B", are given for each chord type. Frequently, though not always, the B voicing just involves taking the bottom two notes of the A voicing and making them the top two notes. For example, the first two chord types he considers (minor 9th, and [dominant] 13th) work that way. I tend to think of these kinds of four-note voicings as a pair of intervals (that between the bottom two notes, and that between the top two), separated by the interval between notes 2 and 3 (top of the bottom interval, and bottom of the top interval). Then I just think of the move to the other voicing as moving the bottom interval up an octave (or the top one down an octave, depending which way I'm moving it). It can help to keep in mind how the middle interval will change when you do that: e.g., for the minor 9th voicings, from a minor third for the A voicing (I don't think explicitly about this in this case, because the A voicing here is just a root position major seventh starting on the third of the chord we are voicing, e.g. Cm9 is voiced as EMaj7) to a half step, or vice versa. The cool thing about these voicings is that when you want to move from, say, a B voicing to a voicing for the same type chord with the root down a fifth (very common root movement, with or without a change in chord type), you just keep the top two notes the same and move the bottom ones down a half step or a whole step. So again, thinking about the chord as a pair of intervals helps. Of course ultimately you want to get this into your fingers, and not "think" too explicitly. For example, to move the minor 9th B voicing to a minor 9th a fifth down, you go to the A voicing by keeping the top two notes the same, and dropping each of the bottom two by a whole step. When you start incorporating the voicings into chord progressions, the chord type will often change, but since root movement down by fifths is common and important, you can frequently negotiate these progressions effectively by going from an A voicing for the first chord to a B voicing for the second, or vice versa, keeping track of which notes change and which stay the same. Often you will just move the bottom interval, or just move the top interval, which is nice. And if you've practiced root-included 7th-chord progressions, you might find some of the movements are similar, or the same, just used over a different root. I haven't done much along these lines yet, but obviously ii V7 I or the minor homologue, iiø V7 i, are the first ones to work on.
The basic construction principle for most of the voicings can be understood starting from the example of the minor 9th chord. The chord tones used are 3, 5, 7, and 9 (3 and 7 of course refer a minor third and minor seventh relative to the root, since this is a 9th chord; the 9th here is major). The A voicing is [3 5 7 9], B voicing is [7 9 3 5] (left to right going low to high in pitch). When a voicing has a natural 11th (enharmonically, 4th) it appears instead of the 3rd. (This happens with one chord type, the half-diminshed chord with natural 11th.) When it has a 13th or 6th it Usually appears instead of the 5th, in the above constructions. There is an exception to the 5 goes to 6 rule for the A form of the standard major (no 11th) voicing: the A form is a 6 9 voiced [3 5 6 9] (so one can think of the 6 as having been substituted for the 7th). A #11th, on the other hand (one chord type: the Maj7#11), is substituted for the 5 (the boppers used to think of the sharp 11 as a flatted fifth; thinking that way there is no substitution going on here; then again I don't think the boppers often added a sharp 11th to major chords). The Maj7#11 is also an exception to the rootless rule: it is voiced A: [1 3 11 7] and B: [11 7 1 3]. The other exception to the rootless rule is the B form of the standard (eleventh-less) major chord: it is a Maj7 with root, voiced [7 1 3 5], i.e. the major 7th and then the root-position triad, starting a half-step above the 7th. This pair of major voicings is the only one that doesn't obey the rule of putting the bottom interval on top while keeping the top interval as the bottom of the new voicing, to go from A to B voicing. Rather, the bottom goes on top, but the formerly top interval shrinks (if you must think this way) from 6 9 (a fourth) to 7 1 (a half-step) as it becomes the new bottom interval.
One could probably understand a bit more about the choice of particular types of voicings from the voice-leading properties they give rise to in common progressions (primarily major and minor ii V I or i type progressions). Curious is the omission of a voicing for the dominant 7th #11. This was a very important chord starting with bebop. If this reflects Evans' practice and not just MacDonald's predilections, I wonder if it's because Evans usually used a different type of voicing (quartal?) for this chord type?
If MacDonald's exercises seem time-consuming and difficult, let me just say that you can progress fairly quickly, and it's worth it. Here's a point from MacDonald that I really appreciate his emphasizing; it's crucial to remember, not just about this but about many, many exercises involved in learning to play jazz (and other musics, for that matter, e.g. scale practice):
Learning voicings is similar to learning to ride a bike. At first it is difficult, frustrating, and at times, painful. But once it is learned correctly, you never look back, and you can do it instinctually ever after.
A few comments on MacDonald's suggested learning routine. For all of the exercises, I've done them sometimes without sounding the root, but frequently with the root sounded in the bass. I think this is important to get the proper harmonic function of the voicing in your ear. Less crucially, I've done some of them with the right hand as well. Exercise number 8, taking the voicings down the circle of fifths with metronome (he refers to it as the circle of fourths; up a fourth is down a fifth, modulo octaves) is particularly crucial; I think this is where you'll really get the voicings memorized. Besides sometimes doing it with sounded roots, when I don't sound the root, I've been saying its letter name out loud. This also helps in better memorizing the circle of fifths, which anyone playing any music with essentially Western tempered harmony will want to do. Another point is that before working on each chord type, it is good to sound out the full chords, in root position, stack-of-(usually)-thirds configuration, and then compare this sound to the rootless voicing sounded with the root in the bass. You'll really start getting an idea of how extensions and alterations sound by doing this (especially if you sound out the lower seventh chord before adding extensions). You don't have to do this for every root (I haven't been), but it might be worthwhile too.
I have not yet made flash cards and done the "random roots" exercise. I've tried going up by fifths, as preliminary step toward getting away from the reliance on "muscle memory" and explicit thinking about the "lower the bottom two notes" trick for moving the root down a fifth while going from an A to B voicing, and I recommend it, as it's a cool sound as well. I'm ignoring his suggestion about completely mastering one chord type before going on to the next, in that I've worked quite a bit on the 13th chord without complete mastery of the minor 9th, but I think that's OK as long as you don't mix things up to much and really push on each type focusing primarily on one at a time.
Finally, the observation he asks you to try to ignore, that five of the chord types share the same voicing (just with a different root), is quite neat and important, an example of the general phenomenon that putting a different bass note under a given set of pitches in the middle or upper register can make an enormous change in the way they sound. Not only could it be used for reharmonization of a given melody, but I imagine it could be used (and probably is used) in composition, not just jazz but classical composition (many of these 7th, 9th, 13th, 11th, and 6th chords appear in classical music, especially Ravel, Debussy, Stravinsky, and Copland) to effect modulations, by changing the root under a given voicing and then treating it as if it has the new harmonic function, resolving it in some standard way. It would be neat to find---or create---examples of this.
This has been sitting around as a draft for more than a year now. A quick track-by-track review of the Dum Dum Girls' September 2011 album "Only in Dreams" from last year on Sub Pop records. Not ultra-heavy or consistently deep, but very enjoyable and interesting. Definitely recommended. It mixes bouncy guitar pop-rock with wisps of doowop, washes of surf and even occasional smears of grunge, quite organically and effectively. Before the track-by-track comments, the official Youtube stream.
Always Looking kicks things off in style with a grungish main theme, and a slightly Grace Slick-ish vocal sound. I have a feeling of having heard something like this from Mudhoney somewhere...perhaps it's a nod to the Sub Pop pedigree. A poppier interlude ("I never felt a beat in my heart / till you made it start"), more reminiscent of Blondie, leads to a bit of tasty surf guitar. Bedroom Eyes begins with a very pretty, sing-song melody in major in the guitar intro, then swings right into a peppy, uptempo verse, anchored by the superb chorus ("Oh, I need your bedroom eyes"). A new musical and episode late in the song ("you will never sleep again") tops things off with a bit of a triumphant feeling, and is nice structural touch, leading back to the main verse/chorus sequence again.
Just a Creep is a bit enigmatic---we don't learn who the creep is or what he's done. Is this the same guy whose bedroom eyes she needed in the previous song? "It upset me to learn you act this way / It must be hard to be yourself each day / you act so sweet / but you don't cut deep / you're just a little creep". Excellent surf guitar obbligato. In My Head is another song of separation and longing, but set to relatively upbeat and catchy music. It's also a very well crafted song, with a full-fledged verse, chorus, and bridge, and interesting substructures within them. The verse is set off by a doowopish chorus ("Oh don't you tell me / I am your baby/over the phone/it don't feel right/Come home and kiss me/ tell me you miss me / come do it right"). A superb song, perhaps the album's best. Do we have a lyrical (though certainly not musical) nod to the Stone Roses here? ("I just wanna be adored") Heartbeat is another excellent song with plenty of fifties doowop and pop influence, and a lighter feeling overall. In general the drumming could lean a bit less on the two-eighth-notes on two / one-eighth on four backbeat, although it's very appropriate for many of these songs. Musically Caught in One seems to continue in the mildly melancholic but peppy vein, though if you listen to the lyrics things are getting a bit heavier...there seems to be pain, and an unfaithful lover, involved.
With Coming Down we have, just in time, a more marked change in musical style... we have here an example of a minor-key guitar anthem, in a mood of nostalgia, yearning, regretful leaving, and wallowing in all of the above. An interlude with a different feel leads to a higher-pitched, somewhat more triumphal sounding section ("there I go..."). Harmonically, and in mood, the song is related to Knockin' on Heaven's Door. The guitar then lays out for a heavier bit in which the singer finally gets more specific about the source of this mood ("if you only had a heart"). For an example of how good a singer Dee Dee is, just listen to her control over the changing timbre as she stretches out the word "start". Simple and effective.
Wasted Away is again fairly uptempo, but remains emotionally engaged, and keeps up the theme of missing a lover, if a bit ambiguously ("I'd rather waste away than see you only in dreams / but there's nothing to say / at the end of the day you're wasting away"). Fuzzy, ringing guitars provide a foil. Teardrops on My Pillow begins in a pop-punkish kind of vein, reminiscent of Hüsker Dü or some of Bob Mould's other projects, then "Teardrops on My Pillow" is intoned in a definite fifties-pop context. Hold your Hand ("I wish it wasn't true but there's nothing I can do except hold your hand") explores yet another vein of fifties vocal pop, slower but with a surging chorus ("But you'd do anything to bring her back").
I was afraid this immediately appealing album might pale on repeated listenings, but so far, it's just gotten better. There's a lot of interesting detail to savor in the songwriting, and the vocal harmonies just get tastier.