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dragonpunchjohnny SOUNDTRACK: PEDRO SOLER AND GASPAR CLAUS-Tiny Desk Concert #216 (May 14, 2012).

edrogasparPedro Soler and Gaspar Claus are father and son.

Soler plays a delicate, intimate version of flamenco guitar, while his son turns the cello into an exquisitely expressive voice.

I feel like the two could not play any differently and yet their styles meld to create some beautiful music.  The blurb continues:

Though 45 years separate them, pay attention to how they communicate. Music as a living language, and an invisible emotional exchange, is clearly apparent in these improvisational compositions.

The two are pretty fabulous to watch and hear.  Pedro plays so many different styles with his guitar–finger picked flamenco delicacy all the way to aggressive powerful strumming.  Gaspar can also play beautiful soaring melodies–both low and high notes– and then at times he will bow so hard that you can hear the pressure he’s putting on the strings.

They play two pieces.  “La Petenera” is a new song which talks about a woman who was very beautiful.  She had a “love crisis.”  In order to get revenge she had all of the men in the village fight and they all killed each other over her.  Pedro also tells us that Federico García Lorca wrote  three poems about her.

About 4 minutes into the song he plays some crazy noisy stuff that would make any noise band proud. And then he comes out of that chaos with some incredibly delicate bowing.

Gaspar is also not afraid to make serious noise—sliding up the strings to the highest notes and squeaking them or sawing gently while Pedro plays some beautiful melodies.

But Gaspar also plays beautiful passages as well and he seems to be watching hm all the while

Bob asks if they can remember the earliest times they played together.  Pedro (in very broken English) explains that he was giving a flamenco guitar class and Gaspar was watching and then he repeated the exercises on the cello and Pedro says his eyes bugged out.

“La Graneña” is a kind of music from Grenada.  It starts slowly and is a beautiful piece with a lot of lovely guitar playing and Gaspar’s beautiful cello.  It’s very different from the noisy passages of the first piece.   There are some amazingly high soaring notes he plays on the cello, too–almost touching the bottom of the instrument.

About half way through the song it builds and builds with steady chords until it settles down into a quiet picked guitar and plucked cello melody.  It’s delightful and so very different from the rest.

[READ: February 11, 2016] Johnny Boo Meets Dragon Puncher!

It took four years for a new Dragon Puncher book to come out.  And it’s a crossover with Johnny Boo!  (You could also say it took one year for a new Johnny Boo book to come out and its a crossover with Dragon Puncher, but whatever).

This book is set in the winter and Dragon Puncher is looking for the Ice Dragon.

She demands silence as she prepares for battle.  Spoony-E is getting majorly impatient waiting for her to prepare.  And then while “meditating,” Dragon Puncher falls asleep. (more…)

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zooms SOUNDTRACK: NOVALIMA-Tiny Desk Concert #208 (April 12, 2012).

novalimaNovalima is a band from Peru.  And the blurb really captures them quite well:

Something about tradition inspires reverence and creativity. Throughout Latin America and parts of the U.S., musicians are exhuming centuries-old musical cultures and infusing them with new life to create songs that sound both familiar and new. Peru’s Novalima is doing just that with Afro-Peruvian music.

Over the course of three superb albums, the group has addressed the legacy of slavery in Peru in the form of the traditional lando, a dance rhythm with roots in West Africa. The slow, deliberate beats are played out on a variety of traditional instruments — most notably the cajon, a big rectangular box that drummers hit before drawing sounds out with their palms and fingers. The result can be as deep as a bass drum, but can also hit the high-pitched pops of finely tuned bongos or Middle Eastern dumbeks.

They play three songs which feature acoustic guitar and five string bas anda  lot of percussion–including a donkey jawbone.

“Karimba”is sung by one of the men drumming.  There’s lots of group singing as well–a real party feel.

“Guayabo” and “Festejo” are sung by the female singer.  The bass line for “Guayabo” is just great–weird and almost punk.  It’s kind of sinister even if they don’t sound sinister singing over it.  He’s also wearing a strange kind of drum around his neck–like a box that opens and closes (and you store the sticks in it, apparently.  The middle of the song is all percussion and voice–a celebration of sorts, before that bass returns.

“Festejo” also has a strange, interesting guitar riff.  There’s some great call and response parts of the song–the men really getting into it.  As the song ends the guy with the box and the woman get up and dance in the crowd.  By the end of the song, you realize that it’ sa lot of fun–a groovy dance song like no song you’ve ever head before.

[READ: March 7, 2016] Johnny Boo Zooms to the Moon

As this fifth book opens Johnny is riding a skateboard and Squiggle is towing him.  They are going to go to the moon.  But even Squiggle Power cant get the skateboard to move more than a few inches.  But Squiggles never give up so they wind up falling asleep, no further than when they started.

In the dark, stars come down to see what Johnny is doing.  They tell him he needs star shaped wheels to go to the moon, and that “almost makes sense.”

The stars prove to be very funny–fighting over counting and them fixing his skateboard by braking the wheels of so the stars are now wheels.

And off they zoom, going very fast! (more…)

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sahrakSOUNDTRACK: NO BS! BRASS BAND-Tiny Desk Concert #280 (June 15, 2013).

nobsWith a name like No BS! Brass Band, you think you know what you’re getting: brass and lots of it.  And while that is true, the Band goes way beyond what I anticipated a brass band would sound like (nothing like the far more traditional Canadian Brass for instance).

The blurb states:

Funky and danceable, the NO BS! Brass Band takes after the full black-music continuum you hear in groups like Rebirth or the Hot 8. But it’s also proggy, and a bit brutalizing, and full of pride in a different Southern outpost. The group’s new album is called RVA All Day, after all.  [I don’t know what that last line refers to].

Recently, Koehler, Pace and nine other musicians piled into a bus and journeyed up the freeway to NPR Music’s Tiny Desk in Washington, D.C. They blasted us with songs from the new album — it was so loud, you could hear the music on the other side of the building, a floor down.

The band includes:  Lance Koehler, drums ; Reggie Pace, trombone ; Bryan Hooten, trombone/vocals ; John Hulley, trombone ; Dillard Watt, bass trombone ; David Hood, alto saxophone ; Marcus Tenney, trumpet ; Sam Koff, trumpet ; Ben Court, trumpet ; Taylor Barnett, trumpet and Stefan Demetriadis, tuba.  And they play three super high energy largely instrumental songs that are obviously jazzy but which also have elements of the most fun marching band you’ve ever heard along with some rapping, some chanting and lots and lots of clapping.

The first song is all about “RVA All Day.”  And yet since that’s all they chant, I still don’t know what it means.   While the whole band plays loudly and powerfully, there’s a few solo moments as well.  First a trombone solo followed by a sax solo, then a trumpet and a super wild trombone solo (he gets some truly great, crazy sounds from that thing).  And then a huge surprise, midway through the song is a rap through a megaphone.

“Run Around” has a sing along to begin the song (and again, vocals through the megaphone).  It is also lively and a lot of fun.  The final song, “Infamous”sounds a lot more jazzy/big band.  It’s got a really nice groove.  The middle has a section with just tuba and trumpet where the rest of the band claps and shouts “Ho!” and it sounds great.  It’s also interesting watching how the different players “store” their instruments in different ways while clapping.

No BS! Brass band will totally make you wiggle your hips.

[READ: August 20, 2016] Shark Life

Clark had to pick a book for summer reading and he chose this one.  He enjoyed it so much, that he encouraged me to read it too.  And I’m really glad I did.  Although it wasn’t until writing this that I realized that this book was adapted for young people by Karen Wojtyla.  And yet I can’t find any mention of a grown up version of this book anywhere.  So who knows.

Anyhow,  Peter Benchley (who died in 2006) is the author of Jaws, and this book is full of stories of his life in and on the sea.  For, in addition to being an author, Benchley was a diver and explorer.  And his tales are both exciting and full of conservationist ideas.

The book opens in 1974. After the success of Jaws, Benchley had been invited to Australia to be on The American Sportsman.  He was going to be swimming in a cage with sharks feeding around him.  They put him in the cage, strapped all kinds of good food to it and left him there (okay they were close by).  But a few things went awry and suddenly things weren’t quite as safe as they could be. The shark got caught in Benchley’s air line and then panicked.  And a panicking shark is never a good thing. (more…)

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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. (more…)

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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). (more…)

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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. (more…)

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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.  (more…)

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