This quartet is somewhat unusual in that the instruments are violin and upright bass (normal) but also guitar and banjo (Schepps plays banjo). And so the songs have a classical feel–in that there are many melodies repeated in a fugue style–and yet with the prominence of the banjo, 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 is also very cool:
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.
With fellow members of Expedition Quartet — violinist Enion Pelta-Tiller, guitarist Grant Gordy and bass player Ian Hutchison — Schepps wedged behind Bob Boilen’s desk for a Bartók hoe-down of sorts. Bartók’s music provides the bedrock, but Schepps and company slip away for jazzy solos and off-the-cuff tangents. It’s an intriguing goulash of bluegrass, Bartók and bebop.
They play three pieces. The first is Bartók (arr. Flinner): Romanian Folk Dances – “Stick Game.” This begins as a quieter piece with moments of bounce. Indeed, Schepps doesn’t feel like the leader of this group–the guitar takes a lengthy solo. It’s got a very jazzy feel (which is a little weird on an acoustic guitar). The violin takes a pizzicato solo, which is kind of 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 laying.
The second piece is Bartók (arr. Schepps): For Children (Hungarian Folk Tunes) – “Stars, Stars Brightly Shine.” 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
The final piece is Bartók / traditional (arr. Schepps): Mikrokosmos No. 78 / “Cousin Sally Brown.” Before this track, when someone tells him that No 78 is his favorite he says that he “prefers 79.” Although the bassist says that 79 has gotten too commercial, to much amusement. The end of the song has a tag of “Cousin Sally Brown,” a rollicking dance number. The guitar gets a pretty length solo and then the four seem to play somewhat at odds with each other briefly and then they all join back together for the end—it’s pretty great.
[READ: January 19, 2016] Melvin Monster Volume 1
February starts children’s month here. Partially it’s because we can all use the good messages and kindness that children’s books offer. But also because some of the books that I’m going to post about have been sitting in queue for over a year. So let them see the light of day.
Last year I really enjoyed the Moomin books which Drawn & Quarterly reprinted. Another artist that D+Q has reprinted is John Stanley. And they have made the appropriately titled The John Stanley Collection. This collection is somewhat confusingly labelled because there are collections of different characters (Nancy, Tubby, Melvin) each with multiple volumes, and it seems like maybe they are supposed to go in a certain order. And really it’s not that hard to figure out once you know the way it works, but it’s a but of puzzle if you see only a few books on the shelf at the library.
These books were originally printed as comic books. The title page says “Collected from the first three issues of the Dell comic book series” And D+Q has retained that look perfectly. Even the paper that they have used for this beautiful book looks like comic book paper (although it is very heavy stock).
So the premise of this strip is that Melvin Monster is a nice, good boy. But he is raised by literal monsters. Melvin wants to do what normal human kids do, but his parents Baddy and Mummy want him to be more disrespectful and monstrous.
The characters are Melvin Monster, Baddy (his father), Mummy (his mom) and Cleopatra their pet crocodile who wants to eat Melvin. There are a few other recurring characters as well, like the witch and
Even though these books were first, I read them second. And I have to say I enjoyed the long form of these stories a bit more than the short stories of the later issues. Although interestingly the very first strips are short and don’t establish the character at all. They are just thrown right on to the page. Well, it does actually establish that Melvin is a disappointment to his Baddy because he wants to go to school (his father played hooky for 8 years straight).
The next strip sees him going to school and other monsters trying to beat him up for wanting to go. That’s when his demon guardian Damon shows up, although he calls him Medwick rather than Melvin–this mixed up identity results in some good jokes later on. Ultimately Melvin winds up accidentally blowing up the school which makes his parents very proud.
The next strip continues right where the previous one left off, with Melvin sailing through the air after the explosion. He winds up in Human Being Land where everybody treats him very badly–and he thinks it’s so nice that they want him to feel at home.
The next book focuses on the door in the cellar. His parents get mad at him and send him to the cellar. They never go there, but milkmen and mailmen love it so much they have never come out. When Melvin is down there he opens a secret door. The path leads him to the subway which is pretty funny. Incidentally in this book it is called Humanbeansville. Through his good intentions, he breaks up a crime ring and flies home
I enjoyed that the following story introduces us to Little Horror but also continues with Baddy’s adventures in the basement hole.
Some funny scenes include him being captured by a zoo, where a specialist on monsters comes to investigate him.
In the third book Melvin gets in more trouble and Damon is there to rescue him (with a little pain as of course) from a quicksand trap.
He also manages to not die from the witch’s apples–one good one spoils the bad ones. And then there is short strip about him breaking a window, which is deemed a good bad deed.
The final long story is a weird one about the giant rat who lives in their walls and has opened up a 4 star French restaurant (I kid you not).
There’s a few more short ones and then the final strip is about a rock that has been teetering in place for centuries. Of course, Melvin bumps into it and then has to think fast.
I’m not sure how people reacted to these strips when they first came out–if they were considered “bad” or whatever, but it’s funny how sweet and innocent the bad behavior ultimately is.
For ease of searching, I include: Bela Bartok