Jake Schepps’ Expedition Quartet is a somewhat unusual string quartet in that the instruments are violin and upright bass (normal) but also guitar and banjo. And so the songs have a classical feel–melodies repeated in a fugue style, but with the prominence of the banjo, it feels more like a folk song. The violin takes on a kind of fiddle sound. And that’s interesting enough, but it’s the story of the music that they are playing which makes it even more fascinating:
About 100 years ago, Béla Bartók was traipsing through his native Hungary (Romania and Slovakia, too) with a bulky Edison phonograph, documenting folk songs and dances. There’s a priceless photo of the young composer, his contraption perched on an outside windowsill with a woman singing into the horn while anxious villagers stare at the camera. By 1918, Bartók had amassed almost 9,000 folk tunes. He made transcriptions of some; others he arranged for piano, while elements of still others found their way into his orchestra pieces and chamber music.
This was the country music of Eastern Europe, and its off-kilter rhythms and pungent melodies continue to captivate music lovers and musicians like Colorado-based banjo player Jake Schepps, who has recorded an entire album of Bartok’s folk-inspired music.
For this concert, with fellow members of Expedition Quartet — violinist Enion Pelta-Tiller, guitarist Grant Gordy and bass player Ian Hutchison, they played a Bartók hoe-down of sorts.
They play three pieces:
“Romanian Folk Dances: ‘Stick Game'” Bartók (arr. Flinner). This is a quieter piece with moments of bounce. Indeed, Schepps doesn’t feel like the leader of this group because everyone shares the spotlight. The guitar takes a lengthy solo–its got a very jazzy feel (which is a little weird on an acoustic guitar). The violin takes a pizzicato solo, which is neat. When Schepps finally does do a solo it’s not a showoffy banjo solo, it just fits in well with what everyone else is playing.
“For Children (Hungarian Folk Tunes): ‘Stars, Stars Brightly Shine'” Bartók (arr. Schepps). This is a slower tune and it is much shorter as well—it doesn’t really lend itself to soloing. Although the violin takes on the lead melody and it sounds mournful and beautiful.
“Mikrokosmos No. 78 / ‘Cousin Sally Brown'” Bartók / traditional (arr. Schepps). Before this track, when someone tells Schepps that No 78 is his favorite of the Mikrokosmos, he says that he prefers 79. The bassist says that 79 has gotten too commercial. The end of the song has a tag of “Cousin Sally” a rollicking traditional dance number. The four seems to play somewhat at odds with each other briefly and when they all rejoin for the end—it’s pretty great.
[READ: December 27, 2013] Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Double Down
I keep expecting the quality of the jokes in the Wimpy Kid books to decline. But rather, this book was not only hilarious, but it worked really well as a book, too.
What I mean is that, I know that the Wimpy Kid series is online and that Kinney does a new story every day (or at least he did , I don’t know if he still does). These books had always been taken from the online site (and I assume they still are). But somehow, this book has jokes that circle back to jokes earlier in the book. There’s at least a half a dozen callbacks which makes this book more than just a collection of diary entries…it’s a perfectly contained unit with a satisfying ending.
The book opens with Greg’s belief that his whole life is being filmed and his friends and parents are extras. He says his parents tell him the world doesn’t revolve around him, but he thinks it just might–and that people are there to film it. So he tries to make his life entertaining for his viewers–doing pratfalls and winking to the “camera.” He even tries to create a catchphrase “Bite My Biscuits” for the future merchandising.
This storyline morphs into Greg thinking that maybe its aliens that are watching him. He imagines that flies are alien drones. He tries to communicate with the flies but doesn’t understand why they are so fascinated with dog poop.
There’s a hilarious bit about Greg going to the book fair at school (Scholastic is never mentioned, even though Scholastic does publish these books). The hilarious part is that Greg goes to the book fair and comes back with google-eyed pencils and posters and an eraser and a calculator that glows in the dark. But no books. Spot on.
Greg is a pretty petty kid, but his mom never gives up on him She wants him to get into the talented and gifted program at school. I love that the school doesn’t want to upset the other kids so they call the Talented and Gifted kids Mr Halper’s Helpers (Mr Halper is the janitor and Greg could never figure out why the smart kids want ed to help him). Rather than the gifted group, Greg gets selected for the Champs (this is particularly funny to me as our school has a group of kids called the Champions). In this case the Champs are kids who can’t say their R’s correctly. ha
One of the great threads in this book is about the Spineticklers series (a wonderful parody of Goosebumps) written by I.M. Spooky. I love that he mocks the rip offs of Spineticklers (Wimpy Kid has been the victim of many knock offs). Later, when they try to do a report on I.M. Spooky, it’s very funny.
These scary books are perfect for Halloween (the setting of this book). There’s a great bit where Rodrick (who is not very prominent in this book) buys the family a cackling witch (for $40) as a way to step up their Halloween decorations. The drawing of the neighbor’s house going all out for Halloween is great. The cackling witch proves to frighten everyone long after Halloween–even when the batteries are removed!
This also leads to the Canada geese. Greg tells us the geese fly over head and every year make a pit stop in their town. They poop all over the soccer field, but are usually harmless. But this years they’re super aggressive–cut to a hilarious picture of geese chasing Greg and Rowley down the street.
Halloween means that Greg is trying to find where his mom hid the candy. He can never find it. But this year the school is doing a balloon release program and whoever’s balloon goes the furthest get a big jar of candy corn. This leads to some hilariously self-centered behavior on Greg’s part and an awesome new character. Maddox Selsam, the kid who can be a great role model for Greg–he doesn’t watch TV and has never seen a video game before (his reaction to Greg’s is very funny). I love that he thinks Greg stole his Lego piece.
If you’re an old fan of Wimpy Kid (and who isn’t) the call back to the cheese touch is wonderful. As is the new way that kids try to resurrect the cheese touch idea (roast beef touch doesn’t quite cut it–but Tinkle Seat is great).
The book also makes fun of Family Fun magazine again (calling it Family Frolic–with great ideas that Greg’s mom tries out–like the “fun” chore “grab bag.” Choose a chore and do it. I love that Rodrick adds his own chores like Take a Nap.
There’s a whole wonderful section about lies. Greg tells his mom a lie about eating his apples at lunch. This leads to a scandal blown all out of proportion and ultimately gets Greg punched in the arm. But he is more upset by the adults who have lied to him. Like his mom telling him that broccoli tastes like candy.
Or perhaps the funniest thing ever in any book.
Last December, when Mom put the gingerbread house out on the kitchen table, she told Manny not to touch it until Christmas or it would turn into a million spiders, which is kind of a crazy thing to tell a little kid.
That “consequence” is the funniest thing I’ve ever heard and I want to use it someday.
Other great lies from his parents include that the ice cream truck only plays music when they are out of ice cream or that the ice cream driver is a mean clown who spanks kids he catches wandering around.
Some of the best lies are told by Rodrick–if your belly button came untied your butt would fall off. Or that the outer ring of the toilet seat was only used by girls (the picture for that one is hilarious). I also love that if you burp indoors the ghost of George Washington will haunt you “I have no idea how he came up with THAT one.”
Halloween means a Halloween party. I love that a middle school kid’s Halloween party gets so out of hand that the cops have to come. Greg wants to get invited this year, so he joins band to secure an invite (the whole band section is hilarious–especially watching him try to blow into the French horn.
TI like that later stories call back to earlier parts of the book. Like when Greg is able to find some of the Halloween candy (after Halloween). But rather than scarfing it down, he decides to make a scary movie with the Gummy worms. That means we have storyboarding by Rowley (his awesomely bad drawings) and a plot so scary it makes Rowley cry.
The last 20 pages or so are just a hilarious number of gags piled on top of each other–from Rowley in a towel, to the return of the geese, to many other call backs and new jokes.
I’m delighted that Kinney is still making some many great stories about this fairly unpleasant but very funny kid.
For ease of searching, I include Bela Bartok.