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SOUNDTRACKALFREDO-RODRÍGUEZ-Tiny Desk Concert #796 (October 18, 2018).

As this Tiny Desk Concert started,  I was sure the main musician was the bassist.  Given his fascinating outfit and his amazing bass playing, I was sure it was all about him.  I was still more impressed with the bass even after learning that:

Cuban pianist Alfredo Rodríguez gave our office audience a very quick lesson on why pianists from that island nation are so impressive: they treat the piano as the percussion instrument it is. Rodríguez immediately let fly with an intense flurry of notes that were as melodic as they were rhythmic.

But really, once Rodríguez starts playing you can tell that he is the composer and creator, even if guitarist/ bassist Munir Hossn is the exciting splash on the music.  I didn’t mention that Hossn also plays guitar.  It’s on a stand which he walks over to play in between amazing bass runs.

“Dawn” opens with some singing and a very simple rocking kind of feel.  Then Hossn plays some wonderful guitar soloing notes while Rodríguez plays his complicated main lines.  Meanwhile, Hossn has switched back to bass and is playing some amazing jazzy lines–fast, furious and at times really high notes.  It’s pretty cool.

There’s a lengthy guitar solo (with Rodríguez clapping) before the main song resumes with two very distinctive styles of music.

The mash up of European lyricism and Afro-Cuban percussion is at the heart of the Cuban piano tradition and it is very present in the first song. It wasn’t long before Rodríguez dug deep into rapid-fire syncopation along with drummer Michael Olivera.

Listen to the expansive and lyrical exploration of the second song in this Tiny Desk set, “Bloom.”

It opens with a lovely piano melody twinkling along the keys.  But it’s that great low-end and the simple drums (check out Olivera’s jacket) that takes it beyond “European lyricism.”  There’s some wonderful interplay between the musicians and some great effects from Hossn on bass (how does he get those super high notes?).

The final song is called “Yemaya.”  It opens quietly with Rodríguez singing before turning into a frenetic piano melody with Hossn’s intricate guitar pyrotechnics.  The song is eight minutes long and features many components including a lengthy, beautiful (and impressive), piano-only section.  But I still love watching Hossn (as he hat falls off) the most.

West Africa-based Yoruba spiritual tradition, commonly known as Santeria, infuses so much of Cuban daily life in music and Rodríguez closes with his take on the music dedicated to the Orisha Yemaya, the goddess of the ocean and all waters. The song’s melody is a derivation of the song associated to Yemaya and the Tiny Desk trio explores the rhythms of the melody, up to and including the sing-along at the end.

Every exposure to Cuban music presents an opportunity to walk alongside historical music figures and Santeria spirits alike.

Especially when it ends with an engaging sing along like this one does.

Actually they seem to be having so much fun that they refuse to end the set by playing one more wild coda to top everything off.

[READ: November 28, 2018] “Children are Bored on Sunday”

The December 3, 2018 issue of the New Yorker was an archival issue, meaning that every story was taken from an earlier issue.  The range is something like 1975-2006, which is odd since the New Yorker dates back so much longer.  Although the fiction pieces are at least from the 1940s and 1950s.

This story was written in 1948 and it is certainly of a certain time and place–specifically The Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1948.

Emma is a young, single woman browsing the art gallery.  She is excited to see a Botticelli, but as she nears the room, Alfred Eisenburg is standing there right in front of “The Three Miracles of Zenobius.”  She liked Alfred and even flirted with him at a party “in some other year.”

At most other times she would have been pleased to see him, but she turned quickly back the way she had come. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: TWEEDY-“High As Hello” (Field Recordings, August 7, 2014).

This Field Recording [Tweedy And Son Take To The Tunnels, Friends In Tow] is another one from the 2014 Newport Folk Festival.  Much like with the Jazz Festival, it was raining during the folk festival.  This means the musicians had to play in a that by now familiar tunnel–away from the elements.

These musicians were NPR favorite Jeff Tweedy and his then new project, Tweedy.  The project features Jeff’s then 18 year-old son Spencer on drums.  Jeff and Spencer are accompanied by Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig from Lucius (who don’t get to really show off their pipes, but do provide great backing vocals).

With the rain, it was not possible to shuffle drums, so

Spencer Tweedy’s drums are made from found trash and objects lying around the fort, including a cardboard box and some boxes of gum. Still, magic happened.

I can’t help but remark (again) on the wonderful sound equipment.  The band sounds terrific and you can hear all of the guitars (a full band list isn’t given).  Somehow Spencer’s drums don’t sound like cardboard boxes.

This recording is from 4 years ago either before Jeff started wearing the ubiquitous cowboy hat or he didn’t want to wear it in a tunnel.

“High as Hello” is a slow song with great backing vocals and solos from at least one of the three guitars.

[READ: September 18, 2018] “Poor Girl”

This story was translated by Anna Friedrich and is about a woman trapped in a situation she hates.

What’s interesting is that it’s unclear if the title refers to the young mother or her daughter (as they are both poor in different ways).

The opening line is quite surprising:

The wretched mother could easily have lost her sanity watching her husband love their daughter….

What an odd thing to be upset about.  Until…

the way he stroked the child when she was falling asleep or waking up, his blissful expression when they touched, the fact that he bathed her himself, believing it to be his right and his responsibility.

So, the woman, Irina, raises some red flags, although it’s not always clear if she is being reasonable about them. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JAZMINE SULLIVAN-“Stupid Girls” (Field Recordings, August 12, 2014).

NPR and Jazmine Sullivan were in New Orleans’for the Essence Music Festival.

I’m intrigued that this Field Recording [Jazmine Sullivan Fades A New Orleans Barber Shop] is the second one set in a barbershop (technically, this is the first one as I have been watching them in backwards order).

This barbershop, Claer-Vue, is just a few blocks from the Superdome, just off Canal Street. It has been in business since 1948.  It is a men’s barbership and I know that a barbershop is part of the culture but nearly every man waiting to get their hair cut has really short hair already–like closely buzzed.  Are they hanging out or do they get it cut daily?

I had never heard of Jazmine, but she was apparently known to at least some of the patrons

When she walked in, patrons and barbers alike were wary. But they knew who she was, from hit songs like “Bust Your Windows” and “Holding You Down (Goin’ in Circles).” And when she began to sing, wearing her powerhouse instrument lightly, everyone ceded her a floor that had been previously occupied by a heated debate about college football.

With just an acoustic guitar accompanying her, she sings her beautiful song.  Her voice is clear and pretty and devoid of all the trills and filigree of pop singers.

To a roomful of captivated men, she sang a brand new song, “Stupid Girls,” that warns women to be careful with their hearts.

You can see most of the men nodding along. Most are deferential, with side-eyed glances.   There’s polite applause ta the end, but Jazmine is pretty pleased with herself–as she should be.

[READ: September 14, 2018] “Cecilia Awakened”

Tessa Hadley continues to make wonderful stories where nothing seems to happen, but there is a lot going on internally.

Like the way this one starts:

Cecilia awakened from her childhood while she was on holiday in Italy, the summer she turned fifteen.  It was not a sexual awakening, or not exactly–rather, an intellectual or imaginative one.

Cecilia is described as an odd child, but one who fit in perfectly with the oddity of her parents.  Her father worked at a university library and her mother, Angela, wrote historical novels.  Most of all they both loved the past.  When they had Cecilia–late in their lives–they did not feel any need to conform to society any more than they already did.  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: FEDE GRAÑA Y LOS PROLIJOS-“”El Gigante” (Field Recordings, May 5, 2015).

Fede Graña Y Los Prolijos are from Uruguay and play a stomping bluegrass (which is why this is called A Bluegrass Ditty By Way Of Uruguay).

Every year SXSW hosts a night of music from Uruguay.

Nestled between Argentina and Brazil way down on the southern tip of the Americas, Uruguay spends way too much time in the shadows of its better-known neighbors.

But a closer listen reveals something for just about everyone: rockeros, sure, but also fans of hip-hop, folk-influenced downtempo music and singer-songwriters with distinct voices and stories to tell.

With an electric bass and a small hand drum laying down the thumping rhythm and an accordion adding to the flair, the fascination comes from the very American-sounding guitar solo that introduces the song.  But once you comfortably know that this is bluegrass, it’s even more surprising when they all sing in Spanish.

After a couple of verses, there’s an accordion solo followed by an acoustic guitar solo (from the other guitarist).  There’s a slow down that seems like an ending but it’s a fake out as the song takes off once more,.

There’s some great guitar fingerwork by he singer as the song races to an end

What a fun song, although I never heard the word “Gigante” once..

[READ: January 5, 2017] “Chicken Hill”

Joy Williams’ stories never do what I expect them to do–for better and worse.

This is the story of Ruth.

It begins with Ruth going to a memorial fundrasier at the Barbed Wire, a biker bar “in a somewhat alarming part of town.”  She had donated $30 to the memorial of a boy, Hector, who has been run over by a sheriff’s deputy.

Ruth was pleased that the father was suing the sheriff–then she found out it was the boy’s fault–he had run in to traffic against the light.

The transition is a strange one: “It was probably just a coincidence that a child appeared not long after that.”  This was a girl who lived in a house nearby.  She was the daughter of a doctor and rather than introducing herself she said to Ruth “I would like to draw you in plein air.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: GRACE VANDERWAAL-Tiny Desk Concert #751 (June 6, 2018). 

I had been listening to the All Songs Considered podcast when Bob Boilen told the below story about how he found Grave VanderWaal.  Since I don’t watch any show with anyone with talent of any kind, I had never heard of her either.

When 14-year-old Grace VanderWaal came to perform at the Tiny Desk I had to confess to her (and her mom) that, until my “accidental concert experience,” I had no idea who she was, nor did I know what America’s Got Talent was.

It all started this past February, when I went to the 9:30 Club, a 1,200 capacity music venue, to see what I thought was a show by rock guitarist Grace Vonderkuhn and her power trio from Delaware.

When I arrived for the unusually early 7:30pm show, I saw a long line of young teens wrapping around the block, mostly girls, and a fair smattering of adults who didn’t look like the regular concert goers who head to the 9:30 Club on a weekday evening. And as you’ve likely guessed by now, the show I was about to witness was not the riff-rock guitar player we’d recently featured on All Songs Considered but a very different sort of wunderkind who won the hearts of millions as the 11th winner of America’s Got Talentand, now, a Columbia recording artist.

Inside the club was a massively enthralled and enthused crowd and it didn’t take long for me, one of the few older guys in the club, to also be completely swept away by her performance. It was a dazzling show that felt fresh, sincere, bold but also simple, with Grace on ukulele singing songs such as “Moonlight,” a song about a friend dealing with mental health issues, which she also performs here at my desk.

“She always has a smile
From morning to the night
The perfect poster child
That was once in my life
A doll made out of glass
All her friends think that she’s great
But I can see through it all
And she’s about to break”

Despite what I feel is my broad love of music, I was reminded how easy it is to get comfortable in the musical confines we devise for ourselves. It’s easy to stereotype artists and perhaps be dismissive of something that falls outside our comfort zone. But Grace’s show and music reminds me to keep my thoughts and judgements open. So, if you’re about to pass on watching this one, figuring you’re not going to connect with a young teen and her music, stop. Take a deep breath, open up your heart and let Grace VanderWaal enchant you with her unique talent.

I was curious about this Grace after his story (and also wanted to make sure I didn’t make the same mistake when I saw that Grace Vonderkuhn was playing nearby in Philly ( I didn’t make that show).

So this Grace has a raspy voice, making her sound much older than 14.  But when you look at her she looks like a fragile child.  I’m not sure how poppy her recorded music is, but the ukulele-driven song “Moonlight” is fun and different, despite the very poppy overall feel.

She’s accompanied by “her beautiful beautiful guitarist” Melissa Dougherty.   Dougherty also sings great backing vocals.  Is she annoyed being the accompaniment for a 14 year old?

She says that “Darkness Keeps Chasing Me” has become her favorite–she was always told the song was too much of a downer.  Her voice is surprisingly deep in the beginning.  Indeed, she has a nice command of her voice–low and high notes.  The guitar melody is quite lovely, too.

“Clearly” is kind of a cover of Johnny Nash’s “I Can See Clearly Now.”  They thought that it was such a bright happy song and her producer thought it would be cool to add darker lyrics leading up to the happy chorus.  I don’t know the original verses I don’t think, but of course I know the song.  And listening to it now, it doesn’t need darker lyrics, but it’s fine that they’re added.

So this isn’t so much a cover as taking a really great idea and building a new song around it.

But don’t like the way the chorus has changed:

I can see clearly now, the rain has gone.
I accept all of the things I cannot change.

What did they put the AA slogan  in the voice of a 14 year old?

Plus I hate that they have modernized the delivery of the “bright bright sunshiney day.”  Part.  It sounds like  contemporary vocal melody and it’s just wrong.

So I’m mixed.  Glad I heard her.  But even more glad that I didn’t make the same mistake that Bob did.

[READ: January 12, 2017] “The Polish Rider”

This was an interesting story about an artist and Uber.

Sonia is a Polish artist–she grew up in Poland.  She is about to have a show at a gallery curated by Elena.  But she wakes in the night realizing that she has made a terrible mistake. She has allowed two of her paintings to be hung on the wall with paint on the edges.  The rest are “blank” or painted white and look clean, but these two–she is full of regrets that she allowed them to be hung as they were.

Her paintings are all variations of the same thing: the famous kiss between Erich Honecker, the leader of the German Democratic republic from 1971 until the fall of the Berlin Wall and Leonid Brezhnev, the head of the U.S.S.R. from 1964 to 1982  The iconic Socialist fraternal kiss took place in Berlin and was photographed by Régis Bossu in 1979.  The photo was ubiquitous in Kraków.

After The Berlin Wall came down, a Soviet artist Dmitri Vrubel painted the image on the East side of the wall with the caption: “God help me survive this deadly love affair.”  In March 2009 the artist spruced up the paining, which Sonia thought cheapened the whole thing.

Sonia’s canvasses all showed this kiss, meticulously done and very clean, But each canvas was done in a different style: cubist, chiaroscuro, etc. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-Starlight Social Club, Waterloo, ON (April 24, 2016). 

After reuniting for the AGO shows back in 2015, Rheostatics decided to make a proper go of it again.  This included yet another show at Massey Hall (this time with Martin’s voice working).  In order to prep for that show, they first played this show

Warm Up show prior to April 29 2016 Massey Hall show. First club show since March 29 2007 at The Horseshoe Tavern. The Band consisted of Dave Bidini, Don Kerr, Martin Tielli, and Tim Vesely. With Hugh Marsh on Violin and Kevin Hearn on Keyboards/vocals. Trent Severn guested on Fan Letter To Michael Jackson and Making Progress. Norman Blake from Teenage Fanclub was in attendance at this show.

This is a great show with everyone sounding in good form.  Although I love Hugh Marsh and think he is amazing, his violin does tend to take front and center for a lot of this material.  Same with Kevin Hearn’s piano.  They are both essential, but they sometimes feel like more than the other guys (especially he soaring solo of “Stolen Car”).

As the show starts, Dave Bidini begins the banter: Great to be in Kitchener, Waterloo… you’ve changed.  The first show we ever did as Rheostatics was in the hotel across the way.  We slept in the carpark and couldn’t escape Alexanian Carpet (which they talked about back in 2007).  Here’s a bunch of songs.  Hope you like them.

“King of the Past” seems subdued but lovely, with Hugh Marsh’s soaring violin.  It’s followed by “California Dreamline” which opens with soaring guitars from Martin.

It’s followed by “Claire” which sounds great.

Dave says it will take a while for our patter to come back.  Then there’s some new country played on the monitors and Dave suggests that a new direction for them.

“P.I.N.”  sounds bright and positive although I think Kevin’s keys are too much in the chorus.  Martin even sneaks in a “Dirty Boulevard” line.

Dave notes that they were a band before drinking out of a water bottle was cliched–to give you an idea of the age of the band.  We predated grunge.  Actually we invented grunge and then decided it was a bad idea but we left it lying around and someone found it.

The first of Dave’s songs comes in with “Mumbletypeg” it is of course poppy and fun.

Then Kevin recites some of the story of Dot and Bug before starting “Monkeybird.”  Martin makes some wonderful crazy sounds and by the end Kevin starts a chant: I say banana you saw worms.

“It’s Easy To Be With You” is also very keyboardy, with a solo from Hugh or Martin, I’m not sure.

“Song Of The Garden” almost feels entirely like Kevin and Hugh.  It’s lovely.

Kevin starts a sample from Mister Rogers which can only mean “Fan Letter To Michael Jackson.”  Dave says they’ll play this for Prince and for Michael.  Trent Severn (Lindsay Schindler, Dayna Manning and Emm Gryner, in the flesh) sing the “it feels good to be alive” part.  The entire ending (with Martin joining in) is spectacular.

There’s a pretty one-minute guitar segue into “Making Progress” with a very cool long solo by Marsh.

They play a great version of “Self Serve Gas Station” at the end of which Martin says, “and then that guys escaped out of the bathroom window, he’s climbing down the side of the building.”

“Queer” has a lengthy piano solo from Kevin but there’s no “find me another home” outro.  “Dope Fiends and Boozehounds” has a big drum (and much percussion) solo by Don Kerr.  The song ends with some great howling while Martin’s guitar soars.  Martin even brings up the old jokes about someone misunderstanding Don Kerr’s name:  In heavy accent: “Why do you call yourself ‘dont care.'”

“Shaved Head” sounds great as they head into the first encore break.

When they come back out Dave says “I’m working on this solo bass project if you’ll bear with me…..no?  your loss.”

Kevin asks “how many of you are going to Massey Hall?  Don’t share the setlist online so it’s a surprise for everyone.”  It will be next Friday at Massey hall with Amelia Curran

After many requests, they play a slow and powerful “Palomar.”  It’s followed by a pretty version of “Stolen Car” with what I think is a drum machine.  When it’s done, Martin says, “Let’s all smoke cigarettes!”  Dave tells everyone, “Enjoy Game of Thrones.”

There’s a five-minute encore break.  After 4 minutes you can hear country music playing as if it over, but the boys come back out.  Dave: “Now I’m gonna miss Game of Thrones for sure!”

They return with Kevin’s “Yellow Days Under A Lemon Sun” and then a great version of “Saskatchewan” (even if Martin forgets some of the words).

They end with “Legal Age Life At Variety Store.”  The special guest on guitar: “Ladies and gentlemen, Martin Telli’s son… they’ve never met before.  It’s beautiful.”  I don;t know who it is but he plays a solid rockabilly guitar solo followed by a ripping piano solo from Kevin.  It’s all over after 5 minutes.

With a total show time of just over 2 hours, it’s a nice welcome back.

[READ: January 11, 2018]  A Legacy of Canadian Art from Kelowna Collections

I find the subject of Canadian Art to be rather fascinating (possibly because it’s more digestible than the expansive European or American histories).  This stems from my appreciation of The Group of Seven.  They loom (probably unfairly) large in the Canadian Art world.  So it’s interesting to see how the fit in with the rest of the history of Canadian Art.

This book is the publication from an art exhibit that from July 1 to October 15 2017 at the Kelowna Art Gallery.  What I found especially interesting about this show was that the pieces came from eight probate collections in Kelowna (as well as the gallery’s permanent collection).  But basically eight art collectors in Kelowna allowed the public to see their private collections.   That’s fascinating to me and I have no idea how common that is.

The book opens with thanks and kind words from the director and the curator with a longer essay from Roger Boulet.  He talks about the history of art and artists in Canada as well as collectors and their beneficence to artists and the public at large.

The book is divided up into eras. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ST. VINCENT-Tiny Desk Concert #696 (January 22, 2018).

The new St. Vincent album is not very guitar heavy.  There are guitars but they are often very processed soundings.  And there’s very little in the way of shredding.

On tour, she has been playing acoustic guitar versions of some of the songs for VIP guests.  I was curious what kind of Tiny Desk Concert St. Vincent would do.  And I am delighted that she chose to do the acoustic show here (even though a set of old and new stuff with just her and the acoustic guitar would be amazing).  As Bob says:

Whenever I imagined a St. Vincent Tiny Desk Concert, it was always going to be loud and electric.

I recently saw St. Vincent live, but getting to see her up this close, it’s really amazing just how long her fingers are.  This lets her play some really interesting chords.  So here she is with just her acoustic guitar, playing three songs from MASSEDUCTION.

Annie Clark stood at my desk, in front of a few hundred-plus NPR employees and close friends, and hit us hard with her un-amplified voice, unplugged guitar, her checkered wardrobe and most importantly, her songs.

“New York” is wonderful to hear on guitar as the album version is all piano.  I love the way the simple back and forth chords of the chorus are replaced by the really interesting and complex chords of the verses.

“Los Ageless” sounds so very different in this version.  Rather than the full on dance version, this opens with a plucked guitar chord structure and some cool fast guitar solo-ettes.  It is remarkably different from the slick production of the album.  The chorus which is powerful and wonderful on record is slowed down and almost quiet here–a very different take on this great song.  One that really shows off her voice, too.

After telling the NPR staff that she listened every day, she says she has one question “She heard that underneath her sensible button down Terry Gross has full sleeves of tattoos.”  Bob: “All true.”  “That’s what I figured.  Terry goes hard.”

“Slow Disco” ends the album and it too is very different here.  It really showcases her voice, especially at the end.  The acoustic versions don’t really show off her mad guitar skills, but they do show some interesting chords structures.  I wonder if after her next album, if she returns to a more guitar-based sound, if these songs will get a new treatment live.

It’s fascinating to see her swaying as she plays these songs because live she is stock still, unmoving and statuesque,  Bob also notes:

This stripped-down set is more about emotion, more about a one-on-one connection, and that’s the bravery. To come out from the lights and the effects, leaving the laptop sync behind, pulled me into these songs in ways both the album and her live show hadn’t.

You can hear similar acoustic versions (as well as an interview) from World Cafe.

[READ: January 9, 2017] “Texas”

This is the first story I’ve read by Gates.  It is about Garver, a sixty-three year old painter and how his life has changed since his wife left him to move to Italy.

His children wished he’d had a better attitude, but who were they to talk.  William, his oldest, had actually graduated, with a degree in marketing.  Emma had gotten pregnant in her sophomore year and was a stay at home mom in Texas.  Marianne had finally straightened out enough to hold down a job at an animal shelter near Burlington.

He still lived in the huge house that his children grew up in.  He still had payments on it.  And he was too young for social security.  But he needed money.  So he decided to rent out the big house and live full-time in his studio out building–which was four-season ready and even had a mini fridge that he installed when he and his wife stopped speaking. (more…)

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