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two SOUNDTRACK: MOHAMMAD REZA SHAJARIAN-Tiny Desk Concert #276 (May 20, 2013).

rejaI had never heard of Mohammad Reza Shajarian, but I see that he was voted one of NPR’s 50 Great Voices.

With the visit of the incredible, honey-voiced Mohammad Reza Shajarian from Iran, we lucked out by having him sing on not just any day, but on the biggest holiday of the Persian calendar: Nowruz, the New Year.

Shajarian is accompanied by brothers Sohrab and Tahmoures Pournazeri (celebrated musicians in their own right) and French percussionist Robin Vassy.

They play one song, an improvised piece called “Az Eshgh (Love Song).”  There is an upright, bowed instrument, the Kamancheh which plays the lead melody for much of the song.  The rest of the music comes from the Tar, one of the most important musical instruments in Iran and the Caucasus.  It has a rather tinny sound.

Meanwhile, the drummer has several different gourd drums.  He hits one with his fist and scratches the notches on the side.  Around three and a half minutes in, he starts blowing into this whistle-like object that makes a wind sound.  He also has two gourds that are floating in water.  He takes one out and we can hear the dripping.  He gets almost two minutes of a solo to play all of these sounds.  Its very cool.

Interestingly, even though this Tiny Desk is all about Shajarian, he doesn’t sing all that much.  But when he does, it’s quite powerful.  As the blurb says:

In the course of this love song, titled “Az Eshgh,” Shajarian unleashed torrents of swooping, soaring, goosebump-inducing sound — still perfectly controlled at age 73.

[READ: September 20, 2016] The Terrible Two

I love Mac Barnett.  He’s one of my favorite children’s authors.  I only know Jory John a little but I’ve enjoyed what I’ve read by him.  There are also fantastic illustrations by Kevin Cornell to make this book a delightful story about pranksters.

The book opens in Yawnee Valley, a quiet place where cows are the main thing.  Literally.  They are everywhere–and you hear them mooing all day and night (and throughout the book).  Miles Murphy (the dark haired boy on the cover) is moving to Yawnee Valley.  And he is not happy.  He has already sighed 100 times that day.  He hates the thought of leaving his friends and starting a new school.

Page twelve lays out an excellent summary of what it’s like to be a new kid in a school.  What kid are you going to be?  chess kid? basketball kid?  front-row kid? kid who’s allowed to see R-rated movies?  Kid whose family doesn’t own a TV and just wants to watch your TV?  And so many more options.  But Miles knows who he is.  He’s the prankster.

But when he gets to school (this is the first day of school), someone has moved the principal’s car to the front of the stairs–blocking the front door. Looks like Yawnee Valley Science and Letters Academy already has a prankster.

The principle is Principal Barkin.  He loves being principal of the school, as his father and his father and his father and his father had been.  There was one embarrassment in the family chain of command–the principal who actually closed the school during a blizzard, but otherwise, their record was sound–no closures.  And Barkin’s own son was poised to become the principal as well. After all, he had been elected president the past two years–just as had all of his ancestors–president and then principal–that’s the plan.

But this first day of school was not a good day for Principal Barkin.  And Chapter 6 lists the 40 things that happened as soon as he found out that his car was blocking the main entrance (none of them were good for him).

Principal Barkin suspects and questions everyone for being responsible for doing this prank.  And when he sees Miles–the only child he doesn’t recognize–he automatically assumes he is guilty.  Miles assures him that he didn’t do it.  Principal Barkin says okay but he will have his eyes on him.

Barkin then gives him a book called 1,346 Interesting Things You May or May Not Know About Cows.  He also gives Miles a buddy.  The buddy is named Niles.  He is dressed in a blazer with a sash that reads “school helper.”  The introduction goes like this: “Niles is the student who first told me abut my car.  Miles is the student who I suspect moved it.”

Niles is the most cheerful, obnoxious child Miles has every seen.  And he will not let up.  Niles introduces Miles to people (like Holly the girl who sits next to him).  He states the obvious.  And he tells Miles about Josh Barkin, the Principal’ son.  And boy is Josh a jerk.  Josh intentionally hits Miles in the face with his backpack as he walks by.

Niles says “while i don’t want to call anyone the worst, Josh is pretty mean sometimes…also he really likes the word nimbus for some reason.” (Josh calls everyone a nimbus as an insult).

Another kid who makes a lot of noise and is used mostly for comic effect is Stuart, Stuart talks in all caps and really really states the obvious.  Everyone hates him.

Miles is still pretty bummed about someone else being the school prankster.  But when Josh comes over in the cafeteria to give him a hard time, Miles deliberately dumps his food all over himself and then manages to blame Josh.  Josh says he didn’t do it, but Niles supports Miles.  When Miles asks why he would lie for him, Niles says that Josh made him swallow a rock over the summer–twice.

Miles gets home an has a kind of rough night.  So doe Principal Barkin whose father calls to yell at him for the embarrassment of his school day.  But while Bakin is beaten down, Miles is inspired.  And he comes out with his greatest prank ever.

The awesome birthday party of a boy he just made up, Cody Burr-Tyler.  The plan?  Make the party secret, tell only a few people and then watch everyone show up with presents.

It’s a great plan and it works.  And just as he is about to reap his rewards, Cody Burr-Tyler shows up and steals the show.  What just happened?

I don’t want to spoil who the prankster is.  He is impressed by Miles but sees some serious flaws.

Like the birthday party–did Miles really think he could fool the entire class and walk away with a bunch of presents and have people still like him?  He had to learn to be subtle.

And so the prankster offers to let him join forces to become a great pranking team.  But there is no way Miles is going to join forces with HIM.  So instead, Miles challenges him to a prank battle.

And the rest of the book is a series of escalating pranks.  The whipped cream one is outdistancing as is the diorama double cross (everything about the plan is genius–on both sides).

Can these two join forces to torment the person who most needs some comeuppance?  (Yes).  But what can they do that will really be a spectacular prank that people will talk about for years?

I was surprised and delighted by the final prank and I love the way they pulled it off.

I’m really looking forward to book two.

 

meanSOUNDTRACK: ENDANGERED BLOOD-Tiny Desk Concert #214 (May 7, 2012).

bloodThe Brooklyn jazz quartet Endangered Blood was formed so its members could play benefit concerts for their friend, saxophonist Andrew D’Angelo, who’d been diagnosed with a brain tumor. D’Angelo eventually made a full recovery, but the group — Trevor Dunn (bass), Jim Black (drums), Chris Speed (tenor saxophone) and Oscar Noriega (alto saxophone) — realized that this ensemble had potential to become a real working band. In 2011, the four released a self-titled debut album.

Endangered Blood’s music draws from the members’ diverse backgrounds and influences, combining post-bop, 20th-century chromaticism, traditional New Orleans funeral marches, avant-garde jazz and post-punk to create a sort of mad-scientist concoction. Its compositions are cerebral, but they’re also gritty and full of energy.

The band plays two songs and the description above really gives a feel for what they sound like–kind of all over the place

“Iris” is a slow song that has a real Tom Waits feel (although no vocals).  It has a slow nightclub jazz feel and I love watching the drummer do that kind of swaying lots of arms but quiet hitting drum sound.  There’s an interesting (although quiet) bowed upright bass solo in the middle of the piece.

“Uri Bird” opens with a lengthy bass and drum solo (the drummer seems to be having a ton of fun–including hitting his sticks off the walls and floor).  Then the two saxes come in playing the exact same riff.  This has a bit more bebop feel with the saxes trading off solos.  It ends with a fast wail and a solid beat.

[READ: March 6, 2016] Johnny Boo and the Mean Little Boy

I love how the Johnny Boo universe is so small that characters keep returning.  Like in this one, the fourth book, Johnny Boo tells Squiggle that they can’t play today because his playing with his new friend Rocky the Rock.  This is the same rock that he threatened to make his best friend in the first book.

Johnny promises Squiggle that they will play together soon, as long as Squiggle can give him a “hooray.”  But Squiggle’s hooray is not very enthusiastic.

Squiggle says that he will go off and find other friends, too.  But it turns out to be not so easy.  And then a butterfly starts flying around him.  At first Squiggle is annoyed by it but then he thinks they can be friends. Continue Reading »

applesSOUNDTRACK: SO PERCUSSION-Tiny Desk Concert #205 (April 2, 2012).

So Percussion is a quartet who plays nothing but percussion.  When we think percussion we often think rhythm, but these guys (Eric Beach, Josh Quillen, Adam Sliwinski and Jason Treuting) also provide great melody.

The band is inspired by John Cage.  He’s “their guy.”  They have written songs inspired by him and also perform his pieces.

Though audiences are still often puzzled or even infuriated by Cage, the composer brought essential joy and optimism to his work. Music is everywhere, Cage taught; frame sound, even the sounds of everyday life, and hear what is there. In the signature mix of serious play (or is that playful seriousness?) that So Percussion brought to this unusual Tiny Desk Concert, the group mixed a work by Cage (the first movement of his Living Room Music) with two pieces by Treuting: Life Is [ ] and 24 X 24, in which the text Quillen reads aloud comes from Cage’s own writings. Inasmuch as many of their instruments are quotidian tools, the sounds they create can be magical.

The first piece was written by the band’s Jason Treuting, called “Life Is [ ].”  It’s just under three minutes and is primarily wood blocks.  But there are also xylophones and bells (and many other things).

All four have mallets and are clacking on the wood blacks.  But each player has something else that makes a melody–tiny cymbals, the xylophone, bells that you tap with your hand–and they create a pretty melody (and the wood blocks provide interesting counterpoint rhythm).

Since John Cage is their guy they made a piece that celebrates the way he made music: “24 X 24.” Cage celebrated “time-based structures and task-based sound things.”  So this piece is flexible and malleable.  They are going to play an 8 minute version of the song which includes a spoken word of a Cage lecture [the entire lecture is reprinted at the bottom of the post].

The narrator counts down from 8, which is interesting.  Then he recites (including coughs and other noises) a piece by Cage about music and art.  While he is reciting, instruments include the melodica and harmonium, a musical saw, a coffee cup full of change (at one point instead of tapping the cup, he takes the change out and state each denomination out loud).  They also play the side of the desk, a cactus plant (that is pretty cool to see), even plucking the Emmy on the desk.

The final piece is a John Cage composition.  It is the first part of a longer piece called “Living Room Music.”  Back in the early 40s Cage wrote a piece called “Living Room Music” which was supposed to take place in a living room.  And this is our living room.  They play the first part   called “To Begin.” It’s just under a minute, but the sounds they get from a waste basket (like a bass drum), a package of paper towels, a stapler, the desk and the coffee mug is really cool.

Even people who don’t like John Cage have to appreciate what he was going for with this kind of music.

[READ: March 3, 2016] Johnny Boo & The Happy Apples

In this third book of the series, Johnny Boo, Squiggle and the Ice Cream Monster are back.

Johnny eats some ice cream and then shows off how strong it has made him. But when Squiggle accidentally “pops” Johnny’s muscle and it gets all floppy, there is much concern.  Things are even worse for Johnny when the ice cream monster (from the first book) comes and shows off his huge muscles that he got from eating apples.  If Squiggle laughs at Johnny’s floppy muscle you know there will be hurt feelings.  And there are.

Johnny runs off to find some happy apples to make his muscles strong, but he winds up eating apples from the ground, which makes his muscles super floppy (pretty hilarious looking). Continue Reading »

  desmondSOUNDTRACK: FATHER FIGURES-Tiny Desk Concert #273 (April 29, 2013).

fatherBob Boilen describes Father Figures as “It was brash, zany, brainy, scary and danceable.”  The band formed in NYU around 2007 with Adam Schatz on sax and effects, Jas Walton on sax, Spencer Zahn on upright bass, Ian Chang on drums and Ross Edwards on keyboards.

“Doomed To Fail” is fast and rocking but very jazzy.  The two saxes play fast romping riffs while the keys play along.  Then things slow down as the bass and keyboards play a trippy, spacey-sounding melody (with occasional accents from the saxes).  The middle is noisy and skronky with some great rock bass and drums holding it down.  The song builds and builds to a shrieking climax at which point the drummer gives  few clicks on his snare before the song resumes again for a brief coda

“This Is The Way We Mean” opens with the 2 saxes playing off of each other before the bass comes in and lays a rhythm down.  Then it slows down with more cool, echoing synth sections.  One of the sax players starts playing percussion—including things all over Bob’s desk.

The first two songs are about 5 minutes each, but the last one is ten.  “Where Did You Come From?” opens slowly  and kind of trippy but it slows even further at the 3 minute mark to just some taps on the snare and bass notes.  Saxes come in around six minutes but it’s really fun to watch Chang on drums as he’s quite animated.  This song is interesting because although it keeps building and building, there is no extravagant climax, it fades quietly as it began.

[READ: July 5, 2016] Desmond Pucket and the Cloverfield Junior High Carnival of Horrors

By now, the Desmond Pucket series is in full swing (how can Tatulli write these books as well as a daily comic strip?).  Desmond is headed to 7th grade.  I like that the events of the summer (the previous book) have a huge impact on this book and that things aren’t simply stagnant in the Pucket-verse.

Like the other two books, this one is a really fast read (it’s over 200 pages but feels like it’s about 50).  And it’s chock full of fun illustrations (that are by “Desmond”) as well.

In fact even though Desmond is heading back to the same school, this year he’s a 7th grader–he’s weirded out about being in the same building but in a different hallway (and the dorky outfit he has to wear for going back to school).

When he gets to the first class–writing, their teacher tell them to write something original about what they did that summer–but they can do in whatever style they want.  And so Desmond creates a graphic novel. I love that the graphic novel recaps the previous summer in a great fashion and sets us up for this action of this book.  He gets a B+and is pretty happy about that.  But he is unhappy about the note at the end of the book: The Cloverfield Jr High Carnival of Horrors is to be cancelled this year.

In sum: the junior high principal was awesome. She was open to all kinds of things and realized that the school could make a lot of money with a good haunted house.  And the money they raised went to the library (this book loves libraries so much, I have to sing its praises even more). Continue Reading »

after-room SOUNDTRACK: NICOLA BENEDETTI-Tiny Desk Concert #274 (May 6, 2013).

nicolaNicola Benedetti is a Scottish violinist who has had a storied career already.

Benedetti was mentored by Yehudi Menuhin starting at age 10, and won the BBC Young Musician of the Year Award a decade ago.  She plays a 1717 Gariel Strad. (It’s worth some $10 million.)

The first piece she plays was instantly recognizable–where had I heard it before?  Ah yes, the mournful and harrowing music from Schindler’s List.  [Williams: Theme from ‘Schindler’s List’].  She plays it perfectly, of course.  It’s evocative and instantly brings back scenes from the film.  And then apologizes for it being a bit of  sombre start.

 Then she plays a piece by Bach–he wrote six sonata and partitas trying to emulate many instruments at once.  This one is Bach: “Chaconne from the Partita for Solo Violin in D Minor.”  She says she’s not playing the whole thing because it’s 16 minutes long.  But she plays the first third which is also recognizable.  Once again, it sounds beautiful.  The blurb speaks of “the way she makes room for silence in Bach’s Chaconne before tearing deep into its dense warp and weft.”  And it is indeed enchanting.

[READ: May 30, 2016] The After-Room

This is the final book in a trilogy (what is it about trilogies that are so popular?) that began with The Apothecary.

This book is set in 1955.  (Sarah and I were commenting on how this era of history is an unusual one for stories to be set and how that’s a nice change).  Janie and Benjamin are safely back in Michigan after the deadly exploits of the previous book.

Benjamin’s father was killed at the end of the previous book and Janie’s parents have agreed to take care of him–so he is living with them.  Janie’s father is quite suspicious of a romance between the two of them and he has every right to be.  Janie is certainly in love and Benjamin probably is too, but he has other things on his mind right now.

I had planned to read this book when it came out, but I was involved with a very big book when it came out.  But I was at the library with nothing to do so I grabbed this and started reading it and I was hooked immediately.  In fact, I found this book so good, so fast paced and exciting that I put down my other reading and just flew through this. Continue Reading »

curswedSOUNDTRACK: MAYA BEISER-Tiny Desk Concert #283 (June 29, 2013).

mayaMaya Beiser is an Israeli-born American cellist.  And the blurb tells us that:

Maya Beiser’s Twitter handle — @CelloGoddess — says it all. She’s a brilliant cellist with a stunning command of her instrument, and she’s tightly tied to technology. Beiser takes the sound of her cello and runs it through loop pedals, effects and other electronics to make her instrument shimmer, drone and groove.  Time Loops, her 2012 album, is one of that year’s hidden gems.

The music feels experimental in that she’s using an age old instrument (and age old tuning) mixed with technology.  But the two songs she plays here are simply beautiful and the technology only serves to make the songs all the more enticing.

I don’t know what these pieces are “meant” to sound like.  In fact, I don’t even know the composers.  But her version of these pieces (with the wonderful drones and echoes of what she is playing) are terrific.

Osvaldo Golijov: “Mariel” One of the fascinating things about this piece is that it is impossible to tell what she is looping (especially since we miss the very beginning to see if she clicks any pedals).  But is she looping what she has played or is there some other music being added in?  This is a mournful piece with some great sounds (looped) accompanying her.  It’s seven and half minutes of beautiful cello music.

She introduces the second piece “Just Ancient Loops” Mvt. 1 by saying that Michael Harrison wrote the piece for her.  She plays 6 minutes of the 25 minute epic piece, or what amounts to the first movement (called Genesis). She also tells us that it was written in “just intonation” which is an ancient way of tuning the cello, but it is natural for the instrument which is all about pure fifths.

It opens with some plucked bass notes which are immediately looped and run through much of the piece (how is she controlling the loops?  I can’t see her feet at all).  By the middle, the piece is in full swing with different cello sounds echoing and looping. It sounds full and fantastic and over all just really wonderful.

I typically enjoy cello music, but there is something especially cool about this performance.

[READ: September 2, 2016]. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

I wasn’t all that excited about this book.  It was a play.  Did Rowling even write it?  (I actually still don’t understand the provenance of the story)?  And did I really want to read about a grown up Harry?

Well, first Tabitha read it and then Sarah read it and they both said it was great.  So I read it.  And I flew through it (and stayed up too late reading it, too).  And, man was it enjoyable.  More than enjoyable.  I immediately got right back into the Potterverse and I loved seeing the famous characters grown up.

So, what’s this book about, exactly?

Well, without giving spoilers (to those few to whom it applies), the plot starts off 19 years after the action of the last book.  Continue Reading »

wildrobot efterklangSOUNDTRACK: EFTERKLANG-Tiny Desk Concert #270 (April 8, 2013).

Efterklang is a Danish group whose recent album Piramida took its members to an abandoned mining town between the North Pole and Norway. There, they recorded sounds of empty oil tanks, old pianos and pretty much anything they could strike or record.

That blurb made me think this would be a noisy chaotic Concert.  And yet despite the found sounds, their music is really peaceful and lovely.

“Dreams Today” builds on a series of echoing keys and guitar notes.  After nearly two minutes the singer sings a series of high “ahhs and oohs” until the vocals officially kick in.  And then the whole band starts playing a series of fast looping notes while the percussionist plays some water bottles and mugs.  The songs builds and builds, with a steady bass keeping the melody strong and then just as it seems it should turn the corner into a new section, it abruptly ends, leaving you wanting much more.

Before the second song, “Danish Design” they explain that they “never went public” with this song. They played it once before in a huge power plant in Copenhagen.  It was a big room–very reverby (if you can say that).  The office is a very different place and they want to compare how it sounds.   They also sampled the worlds northernmost grand piano for this song.  They were in Piramida, a ghost town in the arctic.  The song begins with slow notes from the sampled piano while the keys play pinked notes. The singer sings in a baritone that is quite lovely.  When the loud drums kick in it’s quite a shock to the mellow music.  The song is only a bout 2 and a half minutes and, once again, it ends just as it seems like it might soar into something new.

“Alike” is from their previous album.  It opens with keys and percussion (all kinds of things like a fork on a mug).  They sing in harmony for much of the song.  It doesn’t use much in the way of guitar or bass (the bassist is keeping time with a pair of scissors and then a beer bottle on a step stool) until the end of the song when the guitar chords kick in fast (but not too loud).  It’s the longest song but the way it builds slowly it feels like it could go on for much longer.

This Tiny Desk really made me want to learn more about this interesting group and to hear more from them.

[READ: April 20, 2016] The Wild Robot

I love Peter Brown’s picture books.  I think Chowder is absolutely genius and The Secret Garden brings me to tears each time I read it.  So I was pretty excited to read this novel–his first.

It’s quite a fast read (with about 70 chapters all about 3 pages long) and lots of pictures.  The blurb on the book said that a robot woke up on a remote island. She has to learn to survive from the animals. And once she starts to feel comfortable, her past comes back to haunt her.

And that is a fair summary of the book.  The plot is very simple, but Brown adds a lot of details and a lot of characters to make the plot interesting. Continue Reading »

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