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SOUNDTRACK: LALAH HATHAWAY-Tiny Desk Concert #769 (July 25, 2018).

I have no idea who Lalah Hathaway is.  The blurb doesn’t really help, giving her familiar lineage but not much more.

Lalah Hathaway comes from royalty: Her late father Donny Hathaway’s … set the bar for inspired, old-school soul singing. But living in that kind of shadow can also be a burden, robbing the offspring of an identity apart from that of the famous parent.

This was by my estimation, the most boring Tiny Desk Concert I’ve seen.  The blurb raves about her once but I found it dull and flat.  Her lyrics were uninspired and the music was spare to the point of nothingness.

I always watch a Tiny Desk twice to see if I miss anything the first time.  This one was painful to watch twice. At least it was only 11 minutes.

The younger Hathaway’s appearance behind the Tiny Desk pulls back the curtain a bit for a close-up encounter with her powerfully expressive voice  [powerfully expressive?]

In “Change Ya Life,” Hathaway’s dusky contralto paints an exciting portrait of blissful cohabitation — but on her terms. “I’m going to teach you how to treat me like I deserve,” she sings, adding, “I’ll give you the world.” She draws on a tradition of romance and sensuality in the best soul music, but with a feminist twist that eschews old-school, male-centric lyrics and attitudes.

I like the feminist twist, but when a song has twinkling keys (Lynnette Williams) and a cheesy bass line (Eric Smith) the line “I can fuck around and change your life” just doesn’t seem to fit.

“Boston,” her ode to her second home (she’s from Chicago), is a meditation on self-discovery and longing. The band perfectly straddles slow-jam R&B and a jazz-ballad sensibility.

She was signed in college and told to move to L.A. because Arsenio is there (did she work with him?).  She wrote this song about Boston .  It’s a slow torch song type of song (tikki tikki drums) that name checks tons of Boston area locations (Charles River, Cambridge, Downtown Crossing)

So much of the most powerful music from the Civil Rights Era wasn’t about literal accounting of injustices; many of those songs enshrouded morality plays in the guise of romantic longing. Hathaway introduces the set-closing title track of her new album Honestly as an explicit reflection “of my country at this time.” If you heard it for the first time without the introduction, it comes across as a lover’s lament. But Hathaway’s soaring vocals infuse it with the passion of resistance to bring her set to a close on a hopeful, joyous note.

I love the premise of this song and how it was written.  But even a cool, angry song like this is so tepid.  She asks the audience to sing along to these great lines:   “I don’t even want you no more.  You can walk out that door.”  And you can barely hear them (and the audience is certainly loud between songs).  She does a little of that R&B vocal gymnastics that I dislike at the end just to cap it off.

Not my thing, I guess.

[READ: January 15, 2018] “Family Means Nothing to Me”

This is an except from a story called “Family Means Nothing to Me and I Dislike Children.” I can’t really imagine what the context of the rest of the piece is, but this is  a funny/honest appraisal of the narrator’s self.

She says she finds her nephews and nieces odious.

She has had pets in the past but when she breaks up with a boyfriend she makes him keep the pet. Continue Reading »

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SOUNDTRACKTHE KING’S SINGERS-Tiny Desk Concert #768 (July 23, 2018).

There are so many a capella groups in existence.  Some are collegiate (there are three alone here at Princeton) and others move beyond that.  The Nassoons started in 1941.  The Footnotes started in 1959.  The Tigerlilies, (the all-female group) started in 1971.

So when this blurb talks about The King’s Singers being fifty years old, well, that’s not so impressive in some respects.  But anything that has lasted that long is still pretty impressive.  As is the fact that  they have 150 recordings out.

Fifty years ago, a group of six guys walked on a London stage to perform for the first time as The King’s Singers. They were choral scholars and graduates from King’s College, part of England’s venerable Cambridge University.

The group quickly earned a reputation for its precise and warm close-harmony singing, which is as strong as ever today. There have been more than 150 King’s Singers recordings, Grammy and Emmy awards, and countless concerts and television appearances. New singers, of course, have cycled through over five decades, but the six-man vocal setup has remained constant: two countertenors, one tenor, two baritones and a bass. Also unchanged is the group’s penchant for singing just about every style of music.

So it is no surprise that the current iteration of The King’s Singers — in the midst of their 50th-anniversary tour — brings a diverse set list to the Tiny Desk, including a Beatles tune and a bawdy madrigal from the 1500s.

Notice the glistening top end on Lennon and McCartney’s “I’ll Follow the Sun,” courtesy of countertenors Timothy Wayne-Wright and Patrick Dunachie.

I also enjoyed hearing the occasional bass notes from Jonathan Howard.  It’s fascinating to see how the tenors like Julian Gregory take various parts of the song, sharing the lines.

“Shenandoah,” the traditional American song, sports a velvety carpet of accompaniment for baritone Christopher Bruerton’s lead. The blend of light and color shifts beautifully in Bob Chilcott’s diaphanous arrangement.

Christopher Gabbitas’ introduction (and plug for their album) is quite amusing.  The way the five singers start with “ooohs” in harmony is really striking.  In addition to the lead, the gorgeous high notes of the countertenors are absolutely striking in this song.

“Horizons,” with its cinematic hissing, humming and other special effects, tells a tragic story of the San people of Southern Africa.

Howard introduces this song by saying that somewhere in a cave in South Africa there is a San bushman painting of a Dutch or English ship dating back to early 1700s.  It celebrates the incredible powers of observation of the now virtually extinct San people.  The people the San saw as gods because of their stature and opulence were soon to become their executioners.  This is what the South African born writer and composer Peter Louis van Dijk writes in this song which celebrates their humility and their oneness with the environment.  It also laments the demise of these people at the hands so-called progress.

This song really toys with my idea of what a “traditional” a capella group might do.  There are hand clasps, hissing sounds, snaps and other vocal sound effects.  Sung initially by baritone Christopher Gabbitas, everyone eventually takes a turn doing vocals and vocal/hand percussion.

The rhythmic and risqué “Dessus le marché d’Arras” channels a bustling 16th-century French marketplace.

This madrigal takes them back to the 1500s.  It’s a pop song written by from the renaissance era written by Orlande de Lassus in which a Spanish soldier in the Northern French town of Arras asks a woman how much….  And they walk off, hand in hand. The madrigal doesn’t say what she is selling, and The King’s Singers don’t want to say (as it is being broadcast).

The singers intertwine their voices beautifully.  It’s a fast spirited number and a lot of fun (even if you can;t tell what they are saying).

The King’s Singers remains a vocal juggernaut, playing 150 concerts in this anniversary year. With its power, finesse and silky blend, the group is like some close-harmony Ferrari that can purr and growl, leaving you amazed at the splendor of the human voice.

[READ: October 11, 2017] “The Wizard of West Orange”

I have enjoyed most of Millhauser’s stories.  This one irritated me though. The fact that it won me over is a testament to the quality of the story, but I was really annoyed by the style.

This is a diary.  And I hate the way it is written.   I get that a diary can be truncated, but why did he chose to make this such a tough read; “A quiet day in library; this morning overheard a few words in courtyard.”  Ugh so frustrating.  And the whole story–all 12 pages of it is written in that halting style with limited articles.  Man is it annoying.

It starts out on Oct 14 1889 and was written by the librarian who works with Thomas Edison–whom he refers to exclusively as The Wizard.  The first few entries are pretty dull–The Wizard is secretive going about his business.  I was afraid this was just going to be one of those imaginings of what someone who worked with Edison’s job was like or blah blah blah.  And it is much like that.  A book comes in and one of the scientists looks for it.  The Wizard is working on his phonograph and his talking doll.

There are two main characters beside the narrator.  There is Earnshaw who is very much devoted to the idea of motion photography–he’s thinking about something with sprockets in it.  And there is also Kirstenmacher whose time is devoted to the kinescope.

It gets interesting when the entries reference a wired glove.  And Kirstenmacher determines that the librarian is fascinated by the inventions, in particular the kinescope

Turns out that Kirstenmacher has invited both Earnshaw and the narrator to test out this new device–the wired glove has a silk lining and little metal points throughout.  When the librarian puts the glove in, and Kirstenmacher turns the wax cylinder, the librarian feels weight in her hands, tickling sensations.  It is amazing.

And as the entries go on, the details of the experience grow.  Eventually it becomes a full body suit and the feelings are uncanny.

Earnshaw meanwhile hates the experiments–he wants nothing to do with that infernal machine but Kirstenmacher won’t let him quit.

“Today at a little past two, Earnshaw entered library.”  ugh

Kirstenmacher has high hopes that in twenty years it may be possible to create tactile sensations by stimulating the corresponding centers of the brain. Until then we must conquer the skin directly.

The Wizard filed a caveat with the patent office for the haptograph–protecting his invention while acknowledging its incompleteness.  He announces to the paper that he hopes to have it presentable in six months.

Kirstenmacher says that if three more men are put on the job, and ten times current funds diverted to research, the haptograph might be ready for public in three years.

Then one day the machine is destroyed.   The Wizard doesn’t seem all that upset but the librarian is distraught.

~~~~~

Just this weekend we visited the Thomas Edison National Historical Park (U.S. National Park Service) in West Orange and it was pretty awesome.  Totally worth a visit.

SOUNDTRACKÓLAFUR ARNALDS-Tiny Desk Concert #767 (July 19, 2018).

Arnalds plays four songs in this Tiny Desk.  For most of them he uses his prepared piano.  But it’s prepared in a very different way.

“Árbakkinn” opens with Arnalds on the piano.  After about a minute, three of the four strings (Unnur Jónsdóttir (cello), Katie Hyun (violin), Karl James Pestka (viola)), enter the song followed shortly by Viktor Arnason on lead violin playing a haunting melody over the top.

Up next is “Unfold,” which is a bit happier a bit poppier.  It starts with pizzicato strings and has percussion by Manu Delago.   Arnalds at the electronic keyboard but when he plays it, the two pianos behind him start playing.  I’ll let the blurb fill in:

Somewhere about midway through this Tiny Desk, as Icelandic composer Ólafur Arnalds performed on his electronic keyboard, two upright pianos were playing lilting melodies behind him, absent any performer at the keys. …  About ten minutes into the performance Ólafur looked behind him at the two pianos, looked to the NPR crowd and said, “well I guess you’re all wondering ‘what and why,’ to which there’s no easy answer.” He hit the keys on his electronic keyboard and the two pianos behind responded with cascading, raindrop-like notes. “What I can say,” he continued, “is that I’ve spent two years and all of my money on this — to make my pianos go bleep-bloop.” What Ólafur was referring to is software that he and his coder friend, Halldór Eldjárn developed. A computer, loaded with this musical software (which Ólafur calls the Stratus system), “listens” to Ólafur’s keyboard performance and responds by creating patterns that are musically in tune with the chord or notes Ólafur performed.

So why do this? Basically, it’s a way to break out of the box musicians often fall back on as performers — the familiar responses that years of playing can reinforce. With that is the hope that the computer will create a response that is unfamiliar and, in some cases through speed of performance and the sheer number of notes played, impossible for a human to have made. So, it breathes new life into the music for the listener and the performer.

Arnalds can play the pianos while they are being remotely controlled as well, as he plinked out piano melodies while the computer was playing those raindrop notes.  The end of the song has a very interesting electronic tympani sound as well.

As the second song fades, “Saman” begins with Arnalds back at the piano to play this beautiful and haunting solo piano melody.

“Doria” is a tribute to Halldór Eldjárn the creator of the programming “and his beautiful code.” It was the first song he wrote using this new technology.  Arnalds plays the beginning on the keyboard while the other pianos play along.  The strings accompany him and then about half way through, while the pianos are continuing to play, he jumps in the middle and plays the main melody on one of the pianos.  It’s really quite lovely.

It was a gently stunning and memorable Tiny Desk. More of these creations can be heard on Ólafur Arnalds’ brilliant, fourth solo album re: member.

[READ: January 31, 2018] “Colin Kelly’s Kids”

This story was written after Elkin had a heart attack (he lived for almost 30 years after the heart attack).

The tale is basically one of an old man playing pickup baseball.  It had been a superb spring. This had been his fifth week playing and the teams (rotating payers every week) seemed to get used to him.  He wasn’t very good–had a lot of power but couldn’t connect.

But they did allow him to play first. He always played first whatever the teams, so he felt coldly like he was being traded to a new team each week–professional. Continue Reading »

SOUNDTRACK: THE MIDNIGHT HOUR-Tiny Desk Concert #766 (July 18, 2018).

After a countdown of 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8, Adrian Younge, with an undone satin bow tie, plays a cool melody on the keys.

Then the strings (Stephanie Yu (violin), Bryan Hernandez-Luch) ring out, followed by the bass notes from Ali Shaheed Muhammad in a blue pinstriped suit and deep violet Fender guitar.

Drummer David Henderson (in a rose satin shirt) adds some beats before the sax (Jordan Pettay) and trumpet (DeAndre Shaifer) add o the “sultry jazz fusion.”  That’s how “Black Beacon,” an instrumental with a great 70s vibe starts out.  I love it.

So who is The Midnight Hour?

After years of produced releases and jam sessions, A Tribe Called Quest’s Ali Shaheed Muhammad and composer Adrian Younge formed The Midnight Hour in 2018 and released a 20-track album of hip-hop, R&B and jazz.

Younge says that “In creating The Midnight Hour we selected singers we love.”  This leads to Loren Oden and Saudia Mills singing “There is No Greater Love.”  Again with an 8 point countdown, this song has a cool funky bass but the vocals have an authentic lite-FM 1970s vibe that I don’t care for, although the accuracy is right on. It’s also really short.

Next up was 16-year-old Angela Muñoz.  Younge says she reached out to them on Instagram and said “hey guys, I make music” and there was something about this girl that was real.   She wrote  a song and we wanted it to be a part of the album.  She plays “Bitches Do Voodoo” her vocals are great but terribly affected–she’s been listening to way too much pop music with a delivery like that.  The song is short and there are a lot of repeats of the lyrics “Don’t let her get your heart, shes doing voodoo in the dark.”  The problem for me is that ‘dark’ is pronounced: “dah-eye-ah-eye-ark”

The group ended with the hopeful and key-heavy “Mission.”  It opens with a cool bass line and rumbling drums.  And a quick shoutout to guitarist Jack Waterson.

I prefer the instrumentals on this album, they write some tasty music.  A final thought o the way out:

“You know what the best time to listen to this is?”

[READ: January 28, 2018] “Crepuscule with Mickey”

This is an excerpt from a longer story.  The narrator of this story is a “wise guy,” with accent and mannerisms to go along with it.  It feels crazy and over the top.  I found it a little annoying at first but I started to enjoy him by the end.

The popular press says he is an heir to the gambling empire of Bugsy (which nobody called him anything but Ben), Siegel, which I do not care to dispute because it would involve splitting hair.

They all say Mickey Cohen lives extravagantly. Well, he sees no point in personal discomfort.

Kids, as they say, is a pain in the tuchis by trade, and while those belonging to others is something I ordinarily do no care to become involved with and generally speaking I am….

greatly opposed to guys who stick their nose into the business of other families, as I grow older I find it a pleasure to extend my authoritativeness on account of longevity into realms I might have
avoided in my youth.

Two people have come to see him, they are desperate.  He is using his best manners–picking the couple up at the airport in a Fleetwood–a limousine being unsociable. Continue Reading »

SOUNDTRACK: MUMU FRESH Feat. Black Thought & DJ Dummy-Tiny Desk Concert #765 (July 11, 2018).

I recognized Mumu Fresh from when she appeared at a Tiny Desk with August Greene a few months ago.  Mumu Fresh was a true highlight of that show–her rap was political and personal and powerful.

Here she’s got her own concert (and DJ Dummy is back with her for this as well).

A regal combination of black power and Native American pride, Mumu Fresh — also known by her birth name Maimouna Youssef — is an abundantly gifted singer and emcee who prances between genres and styles. The Baltimore native fuses her rich multi-octave range and ferocious rap delivery with spiritually inclined lyrics so potent and mindful they precipitated a wellspring of emotion throughout the room.

Mumu began her own Tiny Desk in her native Lakota tongue with “Ink Pata,” signaling a call to prayer in a sacred ritual. Looped tribal chants of her own harmonies set the mood as delivered a stirring spoken word performance that journeyed through her ancestral lineage to the struggles of the present day.

Her looping is outstanding–she harmonized with herself perfectly.  After a minute and a half she speak/raps/reads a lengthy piece that is really powerful.

With a buoyant and thoughtful spirit, Mumu and her band transitioned into the classic-sounding “Miracles” from Vintage Babies, her collaborative album with group mate DJ Dummy. Declaring it a celebration of soul music, she mixed sweet tender melodies with lyrics to empower those devoid of hope.

She introduces “Miracles” by saying, we are always waiting for something to happen.  But what if your miracle is waiting for you to be prepared: “the teacher arrives when the student is ready.”  It was great having live strings on this track: Chelsey Green (violin), Monique Brooks-Roberts (violin), Kevin Jones (cello) and the backing singers (Amber Harmon) gave an excellent soul sound.

This song segued into the awesome “Work in Progress.”  Accented by the feel-good chords of The Roots keyboardist Ray Angry, and Chris Dave (drums) and Romier Mendez (bass), Mumu speaks t he truth.  With some of my favorite lyrics:

I wanna be a good role model to girls coming after
but sometimes I slip up and say some shit that’s wretched
Forgive me, I’m a work in progress

I don’t give a fuck about what you’re saying to me.
If I’m too big for my britches then give me a sheet.
I need room to grow I’m still figuring it out,
If you say you ain’t, you lying–what you talking about?

and my personal favorite

I’ve been through so much shit I’m surprised I’m still standing
so every time I see a mirror I pose dammit!

The set concludes with a new version of “Say My Name,” a song Mumu wrote about Sandra Bland, who died in police custody in 2015, and the impact it had on her. Starting off with a 1950s doo-wop circle, she blends traditional soul elements with politically relevant lyrics.

It opens with doo wop vocals and lovely pizzicato strings:

If I should die tomorrow at the hands of the policeman
and the papers say, hey, we’re going to call it as suicide
would you even question why?

We watched a woman get drug out and beaten
filmed on a highway
and all y’all could say was black women too mouthy
I’m vexed searching my timeline
See if people find time to criticize and villainize, call that shit a suicide.
What if Sandra Bland was your child

Audacity of hope
to believe you can succeed when everybody and their momma say no
Well fuck y’all. I’m different descendant of the fittest
I’ve been reincarnated just so i can handle business.

Black Thought comes out for a final verse, but it’s hard to hold a candle to what Mumu just laid down.  His flow is great though.  And she even tacks on an extra verse after the credits.

[READ: February 1, 2018] “The Requirement”

I rather enjoyed this simple story, told simply.  It begins with the narrator talking about how when you get older, you lose people.  You don’t care about people who have died until people your own age start leaving.

He says that when people who mattered to him died, he began to feel something was required of him. If he could do it, he did, but sometimes he didn’t know what the requirement was.

When his good friend Bog Ellis got sick he felt a requirement but had no idea what it could be or how to do it.

She tells us some great Big Ellis stories. Continue Reading »

SOUNDTRACK: LAWRENCE BROWNLEE AND JASON MORAN-“There’s A Man Going ‘Round Taking Names” (Field Recordings, February 17, 2016). 

I know of Brownlee from a Tiny Desk Concert.  But this is a whole other order of magnitude.  He and pianist Jason Moran are playing a spiritual about death in an active crypt.

Brownlee’s voice is powerful and soaring, but full of anguish.  And Moran’s piano is so intense, especially at the end.  He plays the melody but he allows for a lot of overtones and echo to nearly overpower the music.

At the very end, he plays some high notes by literally chopping at the keys like a karate chop–powerful, sharp and dissonant.

Here’s the blurb for more context:

Opera singer Lawrence Brownlee is known for portraying kings and princes. But lately he’s been thinking about real people: Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Freddie Gray, to name a few.

He’s been thinking about the Black Lives Matter movement and an old spiritual called “There’s a Man Going ‘Round Taking Names.” Decades ago, singers like Paul Robeson and Lead Belly recorded it. Brownlee, with jazz pianist Jason Moran, revives the old song to tell a new story for the 21st century.

“Jason and I chose this song because we felt it accurately captures a growing sentiment that’s in society today,” Brownlee says. “So many senseless deaths of young African-American men.”

A crypt, they thought, would be an appropriate setting to perform their version of the song. So we took our cameras and microphones — and a lovely piano — deep into the active crypt below the historic Church of the Intercession in Harlem. The 1915 structure at 155th Street and Broadway is a New York City landmark and a dramatic setting for occasional concerts, including a December 2015 recital by Brownlee.

“I know that the ashes of the parishioners of this church are here in this crypt,” Brownlee explains. “You can feel the weight of death, you can feel the sting. It adequately captures the atmosphere, the somber mood that we are trying to capture with this song.”

In this arrangement, an already solemn song becomes even more dark and agitated.

“What [Jason] has done with the piano part has made it build, and you feel the unrest, the turmoil, the tension that is underneath,” Brownlee says. “This is something that is painful and difficult to deal with.”

Woah.

[READ: January 31, 2018] “Self-Portrait with Beach”

This is the story of an older couple who have been together for a while.

They go to the beach, she removes her top and asks “Is the body the house for the soul or are body and soul and one and inseparable.?”  He looks at her and says, “Your body is my soul.”

She laughs that his soul is bound for decay but he continues, ‘Nothing of you will decay as long as I am alive.”

Out of nowhere a man in white comes and offers his homemade beverages.  He says they have unique powers. Continue Reading »

SOUNDTRACK: DUA LIPA-“Thinking ‘Bout You” (Field Recordings, August 31, 2016). 

The title “Field Recordings” seems to be a catchall for videos that they’re not really sure what to do with.  This video clip is from a show called Noteworthy (which ran all of ten episodes from July 2016-September 2016).

Dua does sing from the balcony [Watch Dua Lipa Perform ‘Thinking Bout You’ On A Balcony In New York City] and the sound is pretty great (I like t hat you can hear sirens at one point).   But the video is apparently clips from the documentary because there’s scenes of her walking around the city.

A day after performing “Hotter Than Hell” on The Tonight Show, rising pop star Dua Lipa performed another one of her songs, “Thinking Bout You,” for a much smaller audience: our Noteworthy video crew. Enjoy this extra from our Noteworthy documentary on Dua Lipa and be sure to watch the entire documentary here.

I can’t imagine why this particular singer whom I have never heard of in any other place has a documentary made about her.

Her voice is fine, a rough edged pop singer. And the song is pleasant enough.

[READ: January 31, 2018] “The Revisionist”

This is an excerpt from Mellis’ novel The Revisionist. And boy what a gloomy depressing book this sounds like.

The narrator’s last assignment was to conduct surveillance of the weather and report that everything was fine.  She was set up outside of the city in a lighthouse. She was tempted to take her own observations, so she did.

Now how about this for a paragraph

I saw a family driving to the country on vacation. Behind them, a bomb went off. Through my headphones, I noted the rushing sound of radiation cruising low across the land. The father, who was driving, saw the mushroom cloud in his rearview mirror. The others didn’t turn around, so they never noticed.

What? Continue Reading »