Archive for the ‘Saïd Sayrafiezadeh’ Category

july 28SOUNDTRACKJazz Lives At Duke Ellington’s Resting Place (Field Recordings July 2, 2015).

Playing jazz at a cemetery during the day seems like an odd decision.  But it’s all part of the one-day Make Music New York festival (MMNY) which celebrates music and community.  It happens every June 21 with more than 1200 outdoor concerts across the five boroughs running from morning till night.

For the 2015 edition, the festival’s organizers invited musicians to six different burial grounds across the city to riff on the idea of “exquisite corpse,” a surrealist parlor game popularized by artists and poets in the 1920s. In the game, someone writes a phrase (or draws part of a figure or scene), folds that part of the page over, and then passes it to the next player, who then does the same. The game ends when everyone has had a turn. That game is a natural bridge to the art of improvisation, and to jazz.

Woodlawn Cemetery is a mecca for the jazz world — it’s the final resting ground of royalty like Duke Ellington, Miles Davis and many others, including Ornette Coleman now as well. So as a tribute to their musical forerunners, the group — singers Michael Mwenso and Vuyo Sotashe, trumpeters Alphonso Horne and Bruce Harris, saxophonist Tivon Pennicott, pianist Chris Pattishall, bassist Russell Hall, drummer Evan Sherman and tap dancer Michela Marino Lerman — took as their point of departure W.C. Handy’s 1914 tune “St. Louis Blues,” a tune essential to jazz’s DNA. But they made it their own via surprising and turns that saunter through many textures, colors and rhythms.

The song begins with vocals from “St. Louise Blues” from Vuyo Sotashe and accordion from Chris Pattishall.  After a verse, Michael Mwenso (whose voice sounds very different) takes over.  The accordion drops out and it’s just voice and bass.

They pass the baton along to the horns, two trumpets, one with a mute in, the other using the mute  and a saxophone play a lively instrumental break.  This is followed by the percussion.  Evan Sherman and Michaela Marino have a percussive call and response.  I could have watched that part for a lot longer.

When that’s over the whole group joins together to end the song.

[READ: September 10, 2018] “Audition”

The first line of this story reads, “The first time I smoked crack cocaine was the spring I worked construction for my father on his new subdivision in Moonlight Heights.”

A first implies a second (especially with crack).

The story is about a 19-year-old college dropout. He went to school to study theater but “unmatriculated” and has been working for his father’s construction firm.  His father came from nothing and build up this firm which is presently creating a development.  His father is not too happy about him wanting to be an actor and as such is paying him the same as everyone else (which isn’t much).

He still acts–in community theater, but usually to 15 people at a time.

No one knew that he was the owners son and he liked it that way–he was using this time to study the laborers to learns their mannerisms–he was acting in his job, too,   New workers came through all the time (the pay was lousy after all).

The crack came from a coworker Duncan Dioguardi who was not acting.  He was a laborer living in his mother’s basement and longing to party.

The narrator knew “party” meant get high. When Duncan’s car died and the narrator drove Duncan home (an hour out of his way), Duncan invited him to party. The narrator was intimidated, then intrigued so he did.  And that was the first time he smoked crack.

He marveled how the lump of crack looked like some drywall that could easily be swept away.  Duncan showed him how to smoke it.  It tasted like nothing.  It smelled like nothing.  It was ant climatic except for his new-found fondness for Duncan whom he now considers a good friend.

That following spring he received a call from his old acting teacher to audition for a role  It was a stage show. The character would be on stage for all three acts but would not speak a word.  The narrator didn’t know if this was a step forward or backward.  The audition went well and he was sure he would get the gig.

Duncan’s car broke down again and the narrator told him all about the potential role.  But the narrator was more excited about the option of partying some more.

The story ends soon after this, which is a little disappointing as it is told from many years later and we never learn how he turned out.  But i did like the details of the past like “wiring th ehouse for internet, whatever that was.”

For ease of searching, I include: Said Sayrafiezadeh

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july 28SOUNDTRACK: THE BEATLES-Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band (1967).

pepper A few years ago I started writing about Beatles records–a thankless task if ever there was.  I got held up at Sgt Pepper, so it seems fitting to get back to the Beatles after enjoying the cover album from the Flaming Lips.

I have long thought that this was my favorite Beatles album–it was the first one I bought on vinyl, after all.  But when I was writing about the records last time, I discovered that I like Revolver a little better.  I’m surprised by this especially since I really enjoy all of the amazing musical advances the band made with this album (and the psychedelics too).  I mean, to pretend to be another band, to add a full orchestra–the band had pretty much given up touring at this point–and to have added so many interesting things to this record is really amazing.  And I don’t mean to say that I dislike the record, just that I think Revolver is better.

The title opening is great with the horns and sound effects (just so you know, Paul’s voice is all in the right channel, something that sounds really weird if you only listen to the left!).  In fact the whole album has all kinds of fun stereo manipulations.

“With a Little Help from My Friends” has so many great vocal parts and I love the bass–slow and simple but playing unexpectedly high notes.  This apparently also means that Ringo is Billy Shears.  Speaking of the concept, this album doesn’t really work as a concept album–I mean, overall, what’s the “message”?  There are some songs about love (the lonely hearts club) but there’s also some songs that are not at all about love.  And how does say “She’s Leaving Home” connect to “Mr. Kite?”  It doesn’t really matter, I suppose.

“Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” is just great–everything about it from the harpsichord to the weirdo processed vocals and the big drums for the chorus (the chorus could actually be a bit bigger) still sound tremendous.  “Getting Better” sounds very old school Beatles to me–I like it but it doesn’t really fit the psychedelic nature of the album.  The harmonies are great (“it can’t no worse”).  It’s also a strangely simply love song I believe, even though it seems like it’s about life in general.  On a sour note, what’s with the Beatles beating their women?

“Fixing a Hole” has a great melody line and instrumentation.  I have always liked “She’s Leaving Home,” I think it’s pretty and the lyrics are great.  But I suddenly find it to be a bit too slow and string-heavy–guess I’m just a rocker at heart?  Interestingly there’s no other Beatles playing instruments on the song.  “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” is all sung in the right speaker. It’s a wonderfully weird song with great instrumentation.

I’m constantly surprised by “Within You Without You” just because it is completely Indian–no Beatle plays on the song at all, expect for George.  There are also uncredited Indian musicians on swarmandal, dilruba, tabla, and tambura–imagine that there are Indian musicians who can actually say they played on Sgt Pepper, and be telling the truth!  I feel like with a 5 minute song (twice the length of any other song on the disc, except the closing) that Indian music should have become much more popular (or maybe people just skipped the track–it was track 1 on side 2 after all.

The delightfully silly, but somehow profound “When I’m 64”–vocals sped up a bit and bouncing from left to right ear seems like a trifle but is still fun.  “Lovely Rita” is a fun jaunty song.  I like that he thought she was cute dressed as a military man.  Interestingly, she pays for dinner.  “Good Morning” I feel is more known for the chorus, while the verses are a bit obscure.  Although it’s interesting to hear the kind of fast verses that Lennon sings (and that scorching guitar solo (from Paul!) is pretty cool).

I’m intrigued that “A Day in the Life” comes after the song that seems like it should end the record (the Pepper reprise).  “A Day in the Life” really does get better with each listen–the closer you listen, the better it gets, too.  It’s a great way to end any disc.

So yes this album is great and incredibly influential.  I love listening to it.  The biggest surprise to me is that the album is only 39 minutes.

Thirty-nine minutes!

[READ: January 24, 2015] “Last Meal at Whole Foods”

This story is set in a Whole Foods (duh). The narrator is eating dinner with his poor mother.  He says that she is till young which is the tragedy, since she is close to death.  They had a doctor’s appointment earlier which was meant to be “a formality.”

While they are eating he tells us that she has maintained an appetite even though she was always just a nibbler.  But as of late her apatite has been voracious.

The man then reflects back on the location of the Whole Foods.  Twenty years ago this street was apart of a dicey neighborhood.  The only building was the Goodwill.  The Goodwill that he and his other shopped at when they first moved to the area.

On their first outing there (his mother was so excited to get to building) she bought him a football jersey–even though he didn’t follow the local team. But the jersey proved to be a very cool item and the boys all talked to him about football because he wore it–there was even a rumor that he was related to the name of the back of his shirt. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KISS-Asylum (1985).

This series of mid-80s Kiss CDs is regarded pretty poorly.  In fact, I believe that Gene and Paul have distanced themselves from Asylum.  And yet, despite its pop metal vine and really dayglo appearance, there’s some good stuff on it.  The solos are really notable on this disc.  Bruce Kulick has taken over lead guitar duties and he is wailing maniac.  He has speed and flash and he, frankly, really stand out (not always in a good way) in these songs.  His solos seem to signal a shift to a more pop heavy metal sound.

The disc opens with a pounding drum salvo and aggressive guitars!  “King of the Mountain” is a classic Kiss song—loud, with a great sing a long chorus from Paul.  “Anyway You Slice It” also rocks pretty hard, one of Gene’s fast, sex songs.  But man I hate songs that break down to just vocals and drums. “Who Wants to Be Lonely” seems like a ballad—lyrically and all—but it’s actually a pretty heavy song, again, perfectly suited for Paul’s voice.  “Trial By Fire” is the first song that really falters.  A generic anthem with the really lame chugga chugga guitars that Kiss would really push in this era.  “I’m Alive” opens with more crazy drumming and wild soloing and for all the world sounds like mid 80s Van Halen.  Until Paul belts out a fast vocal line.  This is a fast, aggressive song with a great chorus.

“Love’s a Dirty Weapon” almost turns into a great song—the chorus is just a little lacking.  And there’s that other part with just drums and a guitar solo—again, very Van Halen, which is good for Van Halen, but sounds really weird for Kiss.  I should hate “Tears Are Falling,” it’s got the chug chug chug guitars, and very little else, but I love a good Paul ballad—when he starts wailing at the end, it’s pretty great.  I am aware that the lyrics suck, yes.  But the solo is more like old school Kiss.  “Secretly Cruel” is cheesy, but delightfully so, and actually sounds like Kiss of old as well.  “Radar for Love” is an awkward song that never quite flows the way it wants.  It’s a good song that shows them branching out, though.  “UH! All Night” is a, well, look at the title.  It’s the kind of throwaway song that is so over-the-top ridiculous that it comes back around to be kind of fun.  And I imagine that some fans are still singing that chorus to themselves.  “When you work all day you gotta Uh all night.”  No one ever said Kiss was classy.  Note:  I listened to this song a week ago and that frikkin chorus is STILL in my head.

[READ: August 11, 2012] McSweeney’s #40

This issue came in a double pack–with a paperback issue of the magazine and a hardback edition of In My Home There Is No More Sorrow by Rick Bass.  I have not yet read Bass’ book [UPDATE: read it at the end of July 2013], because it sounds really depressing [UPDATE: It was].  But I do hope to get to it before the end of the year.  This issue has a few short stories and  a non-fiction at the beginning.  The entire back half of the journal is devoted to the January 25 uprising in Egypt.  It is full of testament and testimony about the event from all kinds of people–bloggers, poets, musicians.  It’s pretty profound–and almost seems like having a silly story in the journal is inappropriate.

As has been the trend lately, the journal also opens up with a series of letters. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ADELE-Tiny Desk Concert #112 (February 17, 2011).

Adele is one of the few pop superstars who I not only like but who I like quite a lot.  21 is a really great album.  And what this Tiny Desk Concert proves is that, whatever she is marketed as, she is not just a pop singer.

Adele sings three songs here (and she has a cold or something).  She does the biggie, “Someone Like You” which sounds even more naked and unprotected in this version, because the piano is mixed quite low.  Next is “Chasing Pavements,” a song I knew from when it was first released two years ago.  It’s got a straightforward adult alternative vibe and sounds great here.

The final track is “Rolling in the Deep” which is one of my favorite songs lately, even if I don’t quite understand what the lyrics mean.  But this is where you know that Adele’s voice is amazing.  She belts this song out like she’s in a massive concert hall, not a tiny office.  And she sounds incredible.  It’s a wonderful version of the song.

The funniest thing about this Tiny Desk Concert is hearing Adele talk.  I don’t know a thing about her.  And I had no idea that her speaking voice was so heavily accented. She sounds like some crazy teen from a British sitcom.  Especially when she cackles.  To hear her prattling on about something and then shift in a second to that amazing singing voice is a moment of mystery to behold.

Check it out here.

[READ: January 13, 2012] “A Brief Encounter with the Enemy”

Saïd Sayrafiezadeh has written some very cool stories (and some cool pieces for Five Dials).  But I have to admit I was a little concerned when I saw that this was going to be a military story.

Lately I’ve been reading outside of my comfort zone quite a bit.  And this is another one.  I just don’t like military stories.  I’m not a war guy, I don’t really like guns, and in my limited experience, military stories are about little more than degradation, death and violence, glorious violence.

But as I said, I’ve enjoyed Sayrafiezadeh’s varied stories quite a lot, so I wondered what his take on the issue would be.  And I was pleasantly surprised by the story.  Even though, really, the story (the bulk of it anyway) is kind of a downer.  (more…)

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As the cover of this album notes: “Ben Folds adds music and melody to Nick Hornby’s words.”  And that is true. The only surprising thing about this combination is that Folds is quite a good lyricist himself, so it’s surprising that he would sacrifice his words.  But regardless, the fit is a good one.

Sometimes it seems like Hornby is challenging Folds to come up with melodies for some of his more difficult lyrics which Folds lives up to).  But they have such similar sensibilities that (aside from occasional references to British things) the words could have come from Folds himself (although, Hornby’s a better writer, so Folds wouldn’t have written exactly the same things).

The big surprise is the diversity of musical styles on the disc.  Folds of course does play lots of different types of music on his previous discs, but I guess since the cohesion is Hornby’s words so Folds can really let loose.

The opener, “A Working Day” is a keyboard pop confection, a surprisingly 80s sounding synth song with some wry lyrics about being a writer/performer (“some guy on the net thinks I suck and he should know, he’s got his own blog”).  “Picture Window” is a beautiful downer, a string-filled song that seems like a companion to Folds’ “Brick” (“You know what hope is, hope is a bastard”).  It’s just as sad but the melody is gorgeous.

“Levi Johnson’s Blues” is a strangely topical song (in fact, it took me a minute to remember who he was when I first listened to the song.  Anyhow, it’s a silly song about what happened to the father of Sarah Palin’s grandchild.  And yet, despite the novelty of it, it’s actually a somewhat sympathetic portrait of the guy (sure he’s a redneck, but he’s just a normal guy thrust into a ridiculous spotlight–the liner notes say the chorus came from Levis (redacted) Facebook page).

“Doc Pomus” feels like a classic piano song.  While “Young Dogs: is a fast romper (with great vocals) and more keyboards.  “Practical Amanda” is a slow ballad (and Hornby says it’s not autobiographical at all).  While “Claire’s Ninth” is a story about a young girl of divorced parents who hates having two birthdays.  (With sweeping choruses!) Hornby states that this was his first accepted short story (modified for the song, of course) but the magazine that accepted it stopped publishing before his appeared.  D’oh!

“Password” is a wonderful song which only makes sense when you know the name of it (which I didn’t at first, as I usually don’t look at titles right away).  Throughout the song Ben spells words which leads to a cool conclusion–it’s wonderfully clever writing and it’s done in a fascinating R&B-lite style.

“From Above” is a jaunty rocker about people who never meet, although their paths cross quite often.  “Saskia Hamilton” is the “single” from the record.  It’s another great 80’s keyboard fueled romp.  Since I have a friend named Saskia (hi, Saskia) I’m fond of this song–her name is fun to say.  They have a bunch of fun in the recording too.

The final track, “Belinda” is designed like a classic 70s piano ballad (there’s a lengthy email printed in the notes that explains the construction of the song–reading that makes the song even more impressive).

It’s a great Ben Folds album.  It’s not as tidy as some of his other ones–but all of that experimentation leads to some new avenues of melody. It’s a risk that paid off.

[READ: May 10, 2011] Five Dials Number 7

This issue of Five Dials was primarily about Memoir.  Typically, I don’t like memoirs, but I’m finding (and this coincides with what one of the memoirs below states), that I just don’t like celebrity memoirs.  Or perhaps I just like three page accounts of an incident in someone’s life (which these are).

Each of the writers below is given an introduction in which they summarize WHY they write memoirs.  It’s interesting to see that many of them do, in fact, take other people’s feeling into consideration (not as seriously as Mark Twain who waited 100 years for the publication of his), but they try to do something or other to spare people’s feelings.  I was intrigued also that several of the writers also talk about finding themselves through writing.  One or two of them make the exercise of writing memoir sound obnoxiously solipsistic (which of course it is), but it’s nice to read ones that are interesting and not too self-centered.

CRAIG TAYLOR-A Letter from the Editor: “On Audio Detective Work and Memoir”
This letter explains the extent of the audio detective work that went into the interview (presented later) between Raymond Chandler and Ian Fleming.  Since I love playing with audio software, this was of especial interest to me.  And it made me really look forward to the interview. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LIZ PHAIR-Exile in Guyville Live October 6, 2008 (2008).

Like all indie rock hipsters I loved Exile in Guyville when it came out.  And like all indie rock hipsters, I hated that Liz Phair later made an album that is had the top cover below.  I didn’t even care anymore when she made the album with the second cover below.

The irony of course is that Liz made Guyville because she was sick of the hipster boys who were living in Chicago at the time.  And now it was the same hipster boys (only older) who were dismissing her for selling out.  (At least, that’s what I get from the interview that’s attached to the end of the concert and this separate interview from around the same time).

But regardless of my hipster cred (and subsequent loss of same) I really didn’t like Liz’s new pop style (but good for her for still being hot, right?).  In fact, I hadn’t even really listened to her since 2000 anyhow so when she came out with her pop albums I just kind of shrugged.

So, what’s up with this return to Guyville?  Well, the interviews mention her needing some closure on the rough time in her life when she made the record.  And also feeling that since could actually play her guitar now, it was worth giving fans (and herself) the experience of actually enjoying playing the album live.  So, good vibes and happy feelings all around (and sex and sex and more sex).

The concert is the entire Guyville album, played start to finish, with occasional banter in between.  And she is quite faithful to the original (she even has a special guest sing the “Every time I see your face, I get all wet between my legs” line on “Flower.”  The main flaw with the concert is that the bassist hits a number of flat notes and also on at least two songs is either out of tune or just mixed too loud or something.

The other flaw is directly related to Liz saying how much better she is at performing.  Because as the set opens, her voice sounds really off on the first couple of songs.  In the interview, she says that she still feels uncomfortable on stage until about the fourth song. And maybe that’s what’s happening on 6′ 1″ or, quite possibly, she can’t hit those notes anymore (her voice is considerably higher on her newer songs and 6′ 1″ is a low register, almost flat singing style and she just doesn’t seem comfortable doing it).  Indeed, by the fourth or fifth song, she seems more comfortable and seems to be having more fun and the set moves pretty smoothly from there.

She has a good rapport with the audience.  Humility was never her strong suit, and it shows, which makes me her a little less likable, but she still has good banter.

When the album is over she comes back for a brief encore.  She plays two songs solo (which are okay).  And then the band comes back for two of her other hits: “Supernova” and “Polyester Bride” which both sound fantastic.

Listening to Exile in Guyville again was great, the songs hold up really well.  I’ll have to pull her old CDs out and listen to the originals again (the concert is mixed a little low, but–good on NPR–all of the bad words are left in!).  The NPR page also said that Guyville had gone out of print until it was reissued recently.  Is it really possible that Matador let it go out of print?

[READ: April 22, 2011] Five Dials Number 4

The conceit behind this issue is “Eleven writers tell us Exactly What Happened …Days Before It Happened.”  And the authors tell us in past tense what happened on the fateful night of the election between Obama nad McCain.  (even though they are written some time before it has happened).

This issue is short again (all of 14 pages), but with such a tidy topic, the fourteen pages are packed with information.  There are eleven authors who write about the election.  Most are just a couple of paragraphs, so I’m not going to try to summarize them.  I’m going to say their predictions for what happened and (in one case) the uncanny accuracy.

CRAIG TAYLOR-A Letter from the Editor “On Elections and Chomsky”
He lays out what the point of this speculation fiction is: “We’ve become tired of the uncertainty and of the waiting.  It’s time someone told us exactly how this election ends.”   And also, Chomsky is almost 80, and he’s still vibrant. (more…)

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Back in college I had all kinds of disposable income.  And so rather than buying beer or smokes, I bought CDs.  And I bought a few CD’s based on the band’s name or cover (not a great idea).  Some paid of handsomely while other, eh, not so much.

Anyhow, this is one of those bands that I bought based on their name.  I stumbled upon the disc the other day and decided to give it a listen (it gets very high marks on allmusic).

This disc is very much of its time, a jangly UK band that could have been the Charlatans or any other band that was huge in the early 90s.  The album has a more acoustic feel to it than the big college bands of the time.   In fact, they seem to be trafficking in the same style of music as that other huge Scottish band (at the time) The Proclaimers: harmonies, jangly guitars and upbeat choruses (although nowhere near as upbeat as The Proclaimers).

[READ: March 3, 2011] “Paranoia”

This was a really engaging story. And what I especially liked about it was that there were two threads that intermingled, but it wasn’t obvious which was the “main” story.  So the story lulls you into thinking one thing and then slams you with something else.  It was very effective.

The story is about a young white man, Dean, who befriends a young Chilean boy, Roberto.  Roberto is an illegal alien.  His father (and family) was invited here to complete an advanced degree; however as soon as he finished it, the family were sent home.  But Roberto did not want to go back home, he wanted to finish high school, so they let him stay by himself (he was about 17).  He made some money, learned English and made friends with Dean, who was willing to help him out financially.

The second thread concerns the war.  I assume it’s the current Iraq war, (it is described as being a quick, in-and-out operation) but that is never specified.  So it could be the 90’s Iraq war.  There are news flashes about it, flags are everywhere, and there’s even a fourth of July parade timed to coincide with the troops’ departure. (more…)

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