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Archive for the ‘Jules Verne’ Category

80SOUNDTRACK: LAWRENCE BROWNLEE-Tiny Desk Concert #308 (October 5, 2013).

Sometimes it makes sense tome when I don’t know a Tiny Desk Concert performer.  Lawrence Brownlee is an opera singer and therefore way outside of my comfort zone.  So what do we know about Brownlee?

These days, Lawrence Brownlee spends most of his time on the stages of the world’s great opera houses. That’s where you’ll find him singing Rossini and Donizetti. His supple, strong, high-flying voice can negotiate the tightest hairpin turns with grace and elegance; that, and his ability to command the stage as an actor, has won Brownlee the praise of critics worldwide.

But as much as he excels at opera, there’s a special place in Brownlee’s heart for African-American spirituals. Growing up in Youngstown, Ohio, Brownlee sang gospel music in church, and now he’s returning to that tradition by releasing a new album, Spiritual Sketches — and singing selections from it here in the NPR Music offices.

Brownlee bases much of his operatic success on his sturdy church-music grounding. “I would say that the flexibility I have with my voice is in large part because I sang gospel in church,” Brownlee told NPR in 2007. “It’s a lot of improvisational singing with a lot of riffs or runs.”

The spirituals might be well-known, but through Brownlee’s voice, they shine in new, occasionally jazz-inflected arrangements by Damien Sneed. “There Is a Balm in Gilead” floats in a newly contemplative mood with the addition of a few blue notes and chromatic touches, while the spunky piano line Justina Lee plays in “Come By Here” seems inspired by great stride players like James P. Johnson.

But the heart and soul of this concert is “All Night, All Day,” a performance that swells with a potent combination of tenderness and operatic horsepower. The song speaks of a protective band of angels — angels that Brownlee told the audience are watching over his 3-year-old son Caleb, who’s just been diagnosed with an autism-spectrum disorder.

“It’s called ‘All Night, All Day,’ but I’ve renamed it ‘Caleb’s Song,'” Brownlee says. The soulful vocalisms with which Brownlee closes the song are gorgeous and tinged with anguish.

I don’t have much more to add–that was a thorough blurb.  His voice is indeed amazing.  But equally surprising is how gentle his speaking voice is–if you heard him speak before singing, you’d be leaning in to hear him talk and then he would blow you away with his singing voice.

A couple things about the pianist: He tells us that this was the first time that Justina Lee had seen the music for these songs (she plays it wonderfully).  But also that the piano sounds rather flat and spare compared to the fullness of his voice.  Was this a microphone problem?  It was just kind of strange.

But otherwise, this was a beautiful set.

[READ: August 20 2016] Around the World in 80 Days

I have never read Around the World in 80 Days.  I really enjoy Verne’s stories, I’ve just never read the novels.  So when I saw this adaptation, it seemed like an interesting place to start.

I don’t know how complicated the original story is but this adaptation makes the story seem fairly simple (except for the intentional complications, of course).

So the play starts with an introduction to Phileas Fogg–an insanely punctual man. We watch him do the same routine three days in a row.  Each day he leaves his house, plays whist (wins) and then returns home. On the third day, however, he has to fire his valet because the tea is not at the required 97 degrees.

He still goes to play whist of course but he is stopped by a man named Passepartout who wishes to be his new valet.  Passepartout has worked for exhausting/questionable people in past and he is looking forward to working for someone as calm and regular as Fogg. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DONNY McCASLIN-Tiny Desk Concert #590 (January 9, 2017).

Donny McCaslin’s band was responsible for the jazzy music that propelled David Bowie’s final album.  As the Tiny Desk blurb says:

David Bowie had long wanted to make a record with a jazz band, and on Jan. 8 of last year, he realized his dream with the release of Blackstar. Two days later, he was gone. Donny McCaslin’s band helped him make that record, and now, a year later, we pay tribute to Bowie and Blackstar by bringing McCaslin’s band

As a bandleader and sax player, [McCaslin’s] put out a dozen albums, the most recent of which is Beyond Now, with musicians Tim Lefebvre on bass, drummer Mark Guiliana and keyboardist Jason Lindner.

Beyond Now was recorded after Blackstar, features a few Bowie covers and stretches the band’s own usual boundaries. For this Tiny Desk concert, you can hear an extraordinary group playing extraordinary music — including an instrumental version of “Lazarus,” from Blackstar.

The band plays three pieces.  “Shake Loose” is 7 and a half minutes.  The music is great behind the sax—dramatic and interesting.  I think I just don’t care for the sound of saxophones as much these days, because I love the bass thumping and the great sounds from the keys but the soloing doesn’t excite me.  I love in the middle of the song that there are really cool spacey sound on the keys.   And the whole middle section where it’s the keys playing weirdo stuff and the drums keeping a groovy jazz beat–that’s awesome.

So I may be the only person in America who has not heard the whole of Blackstar.  I actually don’t even really like the one song I did hear (I don’t care for the jazzy parts).  So I can’t compare this six-minute instrumental version to the original of “Lazarus.”  I love that the keyboard is playing a very convincing grungy guitar sound.  I’m not sure if the sax is doing a vocal line or just playing around, but I love the music for this song a lot.

“Glory” is about the glory of the creation of the beautiful world that we live in “that will hopefully be intact as we move forward.”  This is an 11 minute song with all kinds of great swirling keyboard sounds.  I really like this song—the bass and keys together are great.  And either I’ve grown more used to the sax or its mixed a little lower, but it works so much better with the music.  About three minutes in there’s a lengthy trippy mid-70s Pink Floyd echoing synth solo.  Which is pretty cool.  So overall, I really enjoyed this set.  And maybe I need to go give Blackstar a listen.

[READ: March 25, 2016] Around

I really enjoyed Phelan’s Bluffton.  The story was interesting and I really enjoyed Phelan’s artwork–subtle with delicate coloring and very thin, expressive lines.

This book also contains Phelan’ wonderful artwork and the story (or stories) are also really interesting.  For this is a book about three remarkable journeys around the world.

Phelan gives a fictionalized (but accurate) history of the adventures of Thomas Stevens (Wheelman in 1884), Nellie Bly (Girl Reporter 1889) and Joshua Slocum (Mariner 1895).

I hadn’t heard of the two men and I found their stories quiet fascinating.  I knew of Bly’s journey but I didn’t know all of the details and I found it equally interesting. (more…)

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comicSOUNDTRACK: BERNARD HERMANN-Journey to the Center of the Earth soundtrack (1959).

Herhermannmann is best known for scoring amazing pieces of music for Alfred Hitchcock and Orson Welles.  And during his prolific period with Hitchcock, he scored the 1959 version of Journey to the Center of the Earth.

I have always admired Hermann’s scores as being very effective, although I’m not sure how enjoyable they would be to simply listen to (the opening to Psycho is pretty great as a piece of music though).

Because this is a ponderous sci-fi film that plumbs the depth of the earth, Hermann’s score is very ponderous as well, with long held very deep notes.  Although I haven’t actually seen it, so I don’t really know what is happening during the various score moments.  The opening sequence is very over the top, but it has some really great sounds in the organs (the bass notes are really ominous).

But it’s not all ponderous–there are trumpet blasts and harps.  The harp is quite a breath of fresh air and I can just imagine its revelation of something mystical.  Although the “march” is rather silly sounding and seems like something out of the Wizard of Oz (again, what could be happening in the film at this point?).  “False Arrow” is very uplifting (in a contemporary film sorta way) although with that title, I’m not too happy for them.

There are some moments like in Lost City/Atlantis where he sort of predicts prog rock.  There’s a  very cool organ sequence with single notes thrown in, that could easily come from mid period Pink Floyd.  While I wouldn’t want to listen to this soundtrack on its own for much of it, this sequence in particular could easily be played on a mix of trippy new age/prog rock music playlist.

Interestingly the soundtrack also has three songs sung by Pat Boone.  I didn’t actually listen to them so i don’t really understand how they fit in.  Especially in the soundtrack where they are interspersed with Hermann’s score.

[READ and WATCHED: mid July 2013]: Journey to the Center of the Earth

Recently re re-watched Journey to the Center of the Earth, the Brendan Frasier vehicle, with the kids.  It was a fun, kid-friendly adventure film—totally inoffensive and with a goodly amount of humor.  Aside from the gratuitous 3-D showoffiness (which just looks dumb in 2-D–can you even watch an old movie in 3-D on DVD?), the movie was enjoyable and, in its own way, faithful to the book.

I think.

For I have never read the book.  Despite the fact that I have a category called “Hollow Earth” and had a plan to read as many hollow earth-based books as I could find and have even read a few of the more obscure ones, I have not read the famous one.  (One of these days).  But as we were watching the movie Clark said that he recognized the giant mushrooms.  I had gotten him this graphic novel a few weeks before and he read it and said it was really good.  Then he said that I should read it, too.  Not one to turn down a recommendation, I did.

Now I have to admit that I found the story a bit jumpy and disjointed.  I felt like there needed to be some transitions between scenes and more than once I turned to see if I had skipped a page.  Of course, since I don’t know the original, I don’t know if this is how the book is written (I  would doubt it), nor do I know how faithful this is to the book.  I realize that it is a major abridgment and is just meant to convey the essence of the story.  And if it makes readers want to delve into the full book, that’s pretty cool.  Of course, the story is such an integral part of historical storytelling, that just having this basis is good. (more…)

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uriSOUNDTRACK: TINDERSTICKS-Waiting for the Moon (2003).

moonThis Tindersticks disc shows a bit of a departure for them.  Two of the first three songs are not sung by Stuart Staples (which is nice for diversity, but it is shocking to hear the first sung words on a Tindersticks disc be in the relatively high register of Dickon).  Not to mention, the song opens with lines about killing someone (!), which is a bit more drastic than most of their lovelorn lyrics.

The fourth song “4.48 Psychosis” is the most guitar heavy/rocking song in the band’s catalog, I think.  And the rest of the disc falls into a fairly traditional Tindersticks camp.

I’ve read a lot of reviews of this disc that describe it as a grower.  It’s entirely possible that I haven’t allowed this disc to grow on me enough, but I’m not as enamored of this one as I am with the rest.  The problem for me is that the first batch of discs are so magical that it just feels like this one is simply not as exciting.  Of course, any Tindersticks record is a good one, this one just isn’t quite as good as the rest.

Mayhaps I need to go back and try it a few more times?

[READ: October 31, 2009] Etidorhpa

I found out about this story when a patron requested it.  I’d never heard of it, and when I looked for it, it was very hard to find in our library system.  But when I Googled it, it was available as a Google Book.  They had scanned the entire thing and (since it was old and out of copyright) it was available free online!  Awesome.

I printed out the whole thing (double sided) and figured I would read it fairly quickly.  [Oh, and just to ruin my cool story about Google books, I see now that it is available in paperback for about $10 from Amazon.  Doh!]

Of course, I’m not just going to read something because it’s available as a Google Book.  The patron said that it was like Jule’s Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth.  I had just read “Symmes Hole” in McSweeney’s #4, so Hollow Earthers were already floating around my mind.  It all seemed to work out quite well.

By the time I started reading it, I had forgotten about the Hollow Earth ideas.  Which is fine, since the first 100 pages or so are given up solely to the ideas of occult sciences.  But, let me back up a bit first.

First there is a Preface.  Lloyd claims to have found this manuscript which was hidden by Llewellyn Drury.  Before he gets to the manuscript, though, he gives a little background about himself.   He also relates a lengthy story about the value of libraries and shared knowledge.  He concludes with speculation about Drury, and the revelation that although he is unwilling to specify how he came into possession of the manuscript, he has had it for seven years (as of 1894) and is finally convinced that it’s time to get it published.

My edition also contains a Preface about Daniel Vaughn. Vaughn is mentioned as a character in the story (but he was a real person as well).  In the story, Drury sought Vaughn’s assistance with some scientific matters.  So there’s a brief biography about the man.

AND THEN, there is a section called “A Valuable and Unique Library” which is another preface about the value of libraries.  I’m not even clear about who wrote it, if it’s supposed to be a plug for this book itself or if it’s just an ad for something.

Finally, the story proper begins.  But not without a preface by Drury himself, giving his own life story (his full name is Johannes Llewellyn Llongollyn Drury) but he decided to remove those two ugly names. (more…)

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scan0014SOUNDTRACK: COLIN MELOY-Colin Meloy Sings Live! (2008).

colinColin Meloy is the lead singer and songwriter for the Decemberists.  This is a recording of Meloy’s solo acoustic tour from 2006.  The recording is from several venues on the tour, although it is mixed as if it were one concert.

Meloy is a great frontman, and this translates perfectly into the solo atmosphere.  He is completely at ease, telling stories, bantering with the crowd, and generally having a very good time.

The set list includes some popular Decemberists songs as well as a track from Meloy’s first band Tarkio (whom I have never heard, but figure I’ll get their CD someday).  Meloy also adds a couple of covers, as well as snippets of songs added to his own (Pink Floyd’s “Fearless” gets a couple of bars, as well as a verse from The Smiths’ “Ask.”)

This disc is not going to win anyone over to the Decemberists, as Meloy’s distinctive voice is a love it or hate it deal.  However, if you’re on the fence about them, hearing these songs solo can only convince you of what great songs they are.  The Decemberists add a lot of arrangements to their songs.  You get a lot of interesting and unusual instruments.  Which I like a great deal.  But to hear that these songs sound great with just an acoustic guitar is testament to Meloy’s songwriting.

The intimacy of the venues also really lets these songs shine.

[READ: May 29, 2009] McSweeney’s #4

This is the first time that McSweeney’s showed that it might be something a little different. #4 came, not as paperback book, but as a box full of 14 small, stapled booklets. Each book (save two, and more on those later) contains a complete story or non-fiction piece.

There is something strangely liberating about reading the stories in this format. It gives me a sense of accomplishment to finish a book and put it down, so having 14 makes it seem like I’ve accomplished a lot.
This was also the first issue that I’m certain I didn’t read when it originally came out, for whatever reason. So, it’s all new to me.

DIGRESSION: When I was looking up publications for my Wikipedia page about McSweeney’s publications, I kept encountering records for these individual booklets.  This was rather confusing as I couldn’t find any other records or ISBNs for these booklets.  Rest assured they are all collected here. (more…)

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