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SOUNDTRACK: YISSY GARCÍA & BANDANCHA-Tiny Desk Concert #755 (June 15, 2018).

Yissy García & Bandancha from Cuba give jazz just what it needs–a wicked turntablist (and some amazing drumming from Yissy García herself).

The blurb tells us:

There is a sonic revolution happening in Cuba these days. A new generation of musicians are taking the training they received in Cuba’s fabled classical music academies to new heights by incorporating not just jazz, but hip-hop, funk and any manner of experimental music. Yissy García and Bandancha may be the best example of that vanguard.

I love that the opening song, “Última Noticia” (which runs about 7 and a half minutes) starts with static and a tuning of radio stations (in Spanish).  Then the jazz begins–piano, trumpet, bass, turntables and Yissy’s fast and complex drumming.

The compositions (all by García) are modern and reflect the cosmopolitan attitude that is common in big city life in Cuba. For example,

About 2 and a half minutes in, the song goes from smooth jazz to a really funky riff (with great scratching and a cool catchy trumpet solo (it is still jazz after all).  But it’s a lot of fun to see Yissy, with her Mohawk and somewhat shaves head playing cowbell and the rims of the drums.

After a lengthy piano solo, it’s Yissy’s turn to show off her chops:

“Ultima Noticia” is highlighted by the riffs thrown back and forth between drummer García and the turntablist, DJ Jigüe. The command of time and imagination García displays in her first drum solo of the set is simply astonishing.

It’s followed by “Universo” which features a rap in Spanish.

The rapping on “Universo” reminded me of Cuba in the early 1990s when hip-hop entered the national consciousness as the Soviet Union left the island to fend for itself economically. On this track, it’s a celebration of the universal goodness we all share.

The song is slower, more commercial with a grabbing riff by the trumpet and that smooth rap.  It’s also got a great 1970s sounding keyboard solo (very Stevie Wonder

The band winds up their time behind the desk by going back to Cuba’s African roots for a rumba-soaked jam “Te cogió lo que anda” which has sampled Afro-Cuban drums and rhythms. The complexity of the music meshes lockstep with passionate singing and dancing.

He plays lots of samples on the keyboards, including a repeat of “habla…”  But when the trumpeter sings in his rich voice, the whole song comes together.

[READ: February 2, 2018] “Wow, Fiction Works!

I’ve really enjoyed Colson Whitehead’s works and this essay makes me like him even more.

This is part of a talk given at the Tin House Writers Workshop, the whole thing was called “James Root on How to Read”

He starts by saying that in his writing classes he teaches people how to write but for this lecture he will teach them how to read.

“By returning to the beginning of the sentence to perform close reading, we unlock its essence. I learned this skill at university.”  I imagine the humor was evident more in the reading, but the deadpan is just wonderful.

He speaks of Raymond Carver and a line from Carver that has stick with him for years.  After a lengthy build up, he says: “As Carver put it, channeling the sublime: ‘He lifted the cup.’  This is minimalism at its well-marbled finest.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SLOAN-Live at Massey Hall (September 11, 2015).

Having now seen Sloan twice, it’s nice to compare this earlier show with mine.  And I get  to say that my shows were longer!  Much longer.

This edited for the web version leaves out 11 songs (including the ones which drummer Andrew Scott sings on–so there’s no switching instruments).  Having said that, the band sounds great and the set list is really strong.  I also had no idea that Gregory MacDonald had been touring with them for that long.

Jay Ferguson compares Massey Hall to Carnegie Hall and then regrets comparing something Canadian to something American).  Chris Murphy says “I don’t often use the word “hallowed,” but it is a “hallowed hall.”

He continues, “We are quite loud, we wondered, Do we try to tailor our set for Massey Hall–more like a theater set of songs?  We didn’t do that essentially because we’re incapable:   everybody turn down and then its like a volume war everybody turning up until we’re as loud as ever.”

They start with a great Jay song “You’ve Got a Lot on Your Mind.”  The band sounds great although the dominance of keyboards from Greg is surprising as the first song.

Introducing “The Rest of My Life,” Chris says, “You don’t have to stand but… sing along please.  Of course everyone sings “I know that I’ll be living it in Canada.”  As the song rings out, Chris starts a clap which segues into Patrick singing “Ill Placed Trust.”

Chris says, “We never got giant but we enjoy an audience that has followed us for a long time.  Thank you.”

The start the great guitar riff on the dark “The Other Man.”  There’s lots of sing-alongs in this one, too.

Jay is back with the super catchy “Who Taught You to Live Like That.”  And as the song fades out the siren roars the intro for “Money City Manis.”  Chris notes, “You actually have to stand up for this one.  You have to.”

Patrick and Chris take turns on lead vocals and then during the instrumental break Chris calls a six-year-old girl up on stage who dances, plays the tambourine and knows all the words.  Patrick says, “like I’m gonna be able to solo over that–that’s the solo right there.”  Chris wonders, “When you look at this stage, where does your eye go?”  She is amazingly self-possessed.

They end with the obvious–but a wonderful obviousness with “Underwhelmed.”  They (and the audience) have a ripping time of it.

It’s interesting just how long the band played in reality.  But yes, even after all this time, Sloan is a dynamic live act.  And this is great proof of that.

  1. O Canada
  2. Deeper Than Beauty
  3. If It Feels Good Do It
  4. C’mon C’mon (We’re Gonna Get It Started)
  5. Carried Away
  6. Keep Swinging (Downtown)
  7. Snowsuit Sound
  8. Fading Into Obscurity
  9. Forty-Eight Portraits
  10. Unkind
  11. You’ve Got a Lot on Your Mind
  12. The Rest of My Life
  13. Ill Placed Trust
  14. The Other Man
  15. Who Taught You to Live Like That
  16. Money City Maniacs
  17. encore
  18. People of the Sky
  19. Underwhelmed

[READ: May 10, 2018] “Dinner Party”

This is an excerpt from a novel Kudos.  It being an excerpt does explain some of the sparseness, but it feels like such a unique event that I can’t imagine even who the main character is supposed to be involved with in previous and future pages.

A writer enters a restaurant.  She is at a writing conference and she and the other delegates are to be treated to dinner.  I love this line “The delegates were reluctant to [sit], knowing their fate would thus be settled for the duration of the meal.”

The narrator recognized a woman from an all-female panel discussion who recognized her and instantly came over to talk to her.  The woman introduced herself “with the pragmatic directness of someone who accepts rather than fears the likelihood of such things being forgotten.” (more…)

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CV1_TNY_06_08_15_09.inddSOUNDTRACKLUCY DACUS-“Historians” NPR’S SOUTH X LULLABY (March 21, 2018).

I’m looking forward to seeing Lucy Dacus live in a few weeks.  Her music is often spare but grows very intense.  For this particular song it is just her and her guitarist who is creating textures and sounds as Lucy sings clearly and starkly.  She plays the (almost) title track from her new album Historian.

The idea behind our South X Lullaby series was to offer intimate moments with musicians as an antidote to the commotion and deluge that is the SXSW music festival. When we met Lucy Dacus for her Lullaby and found out she’d perform “Historians,” a most somber song from her deeply personal and triumphant album Historian, it felt just right. It’s a song of reflection, the story of two intertwined partners and the way they document one another’s lives and preserve each other’s memories.

With simple but compelling swirls of sound, Dacus begins singing clearly with a bit of softness on the edges of her words.  It’s fascinating to watch her face illuminated by the video around her (the same video that Stella Donnelly performed in front of).

The song is warm despite the sadness inherent in it.

The setting for this performance, by Lucy Dacus and guitarist Jacob Blizard, is an interactive art installation by the multidisciplinary Israeli artist Ronen Sharabani that’s part of the SXSW Art Program. This work, titled “Conductors and Resistance,” explores human-machine interaction in our ever-evolving technological world. The images projected behind Lucy and Jacob are two coffee cups, one empty and one that’s been almost drained, both tangled in and tugged at by a complex series of wires, representing what I think is human communication and miscommunication.  This is just one of three walls onto which images are projected in this installation — you can see another wall behind Stella Donnelly in her South X Lullaby video.

[READ: April 13, 2016] “The Magic Mountain”

Back in June of 2009, The New Yorker had their annual summer fiction issue.  Included in that issue were three short essays under the heading of “Summer Reading.”  I knew all three authors, so I decided to include them here.

This essay was about Aleksander Hemon’s childhood in Sarajevo.

He says that (not unlike Angell) his family had a cabin on the mountain called Jahorina.  His family would spend winter breaks there skiing and partying.  His parents thought it was heaven up there.  But he and his sister hated to go there in the summer. (more…)

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CV1_TNY_06_08_15_09.inddSOUNDTRACKKEVIN MORBY & KATIE CRUTCHFIELD-“Downtown’s Lights” NPR’S SOUTH X LULLABY (March 20, 2018).

I don’t know if Bob Boilen ever explained how he starte dto get people doing South X Lullabies, but here he explains why he started doing them:

In the midst of all the chaos that is Austin, Texas during the SXSW Music Festival, we seek moments of calm. And so one night, as the week was nearing its end, we made our way to the courtyard of St. David’s Episcopal Church, just a few blocks from the thousands of festival participants and onlookers. There we found a trickling garden-side waterfall, where Katie Crutchfield and Kevin Morby performed “Downtown’s Lights,” from Kevin Morby’s recent album, City Music.

I don’t know Kevin Morby.  I’ve heard of him, but aside from a Tiny Desk Concert, I’ve never explored his music.

“Downtown’s Lights” is a simple folk song.  He’s got a bit of a Bob Dylan delivery in what feels like a very deliberate folk song.  Katie Crutchfield is Waxahatchee who I’m excited to see in a few weeks.  Waxahatchee has been really rocking out the last few albums, so this folk song (and her Southern accent) stand out somewhat.

Their voices work nicely together, and that moment when you hear someone yelling, it almost sounds like a wolf howling.

“Downtown’s Lights” is a song of comfort and prayer for someone who is down and out in the city, and this version, with Katie singing — and the sounds of the city echoing in the background — is wistful and peacefully perfect.

[READ: April 13, 2016] “Two Emmas”

Back in June of 2009, The New Yorker had their annual summer fiction issue.  Included in that issue were three short essays under the heading of “Summer Reading.”  I knew all three authors, so I decided to include them here.

This essay was about Roger Angell’s summer home in Maine.

He says that on late February nights his mind often returns to his family’s cottage in Maine and the books that are on its shelves.

Those books have been there for as long as he can remember, and have been read and re-read every summer.  The list is interesting:

Good Behaviour [Molly Keane], Endurance [Alfred Lansing], Framley Parsonage [Anthony Trollope], Get Shorty [Elmore Leonard], Daisy Miller [Henry James], Dracula [Bram Stoker], Butterfield 8 [John O’Hara], Goodbye to All That [Robert Graves], Why Did I Ever [Mary Robison], Oblomov [Ivan Goncharov], The Heart of the Matter [Graham Greene], Sailing Days on the Penobscot [George Savary Wasson], The Moonstone [Wilkie Collins], Possession [A. S. Byatt], Morte d’Urban [J. F. Powers], Quartet [Jean Rhys], Emma [Jane Austen] and dozens more. [I have to chime in and say that this sounds heavenly].

He says that fat books like Martin Chuzzlewit [Charles Dickens], Orley Farm [Anthony Trollope] and the Forsythe Saga [John Galsworthy] were saved for a tedious week of Down East fog. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JOHN PRINE-Tiny Desk Concert #717 (March 12, 2018).

For all of the legendary status of John Prine, I don’t really know that much about him.  I also think I don’t really know much of his music.  I didn’t know any of the four songs he played here.

I enjoyed all four songs.  The melodies were great, the lyrics were thoughtful and his voice, although wizened, convey the sentiments perfectly.

The blurb sums up things really well

An American treasure came to the Tiny Desk and even premiered a new song. John Prine is a truly legendary songwriter. For more than 45 years the 71-year-old artist has written some of the most powerful lyrics in the American music canon, including “Sam Stone,” “Angel From Montgomery,” “Hello In There” and countless others.

John Prine’s new songs are equally powerful and he opens this Tiny Desk concert with “Caravan of Fools,” a track he wrote with Pat McLaughlin and Dan Auerbach. Prine adds a disclaimer to the song saying, “any likeness to the current administration is purely accidental.”

I thought the song was great (albeit short) with these pointed lyrics:

The dark and distant drumming
The pounding of the hooves
The silence of everything that moves
Late in night you see them
Decked out in shiny jewels
The coming of the caravan of fools

That song, and his second tune, the sweet tearjerker “Summer’s End,” are from John Prine’s first album of new songs in 13 years, The Tree of Forgiveness.

He introduces this song by saying that.  This one is a pretty song.  It might drive you to tears.  He wrote this with Pat McLaughlin.  We usually write on Tuesdays in Nashville because that’s the day they serve meatloaf.  I love meatloaf.  We try to write a song before they serve the meatloaf.  And then eat it and record it.

For this Tiny Desk Concert John Prine also reaches back to his great “kiss-off” song from 1991 [“an old song from the 90s (whoo)…  a song from the school of kiss off 101”] called “All the Best,” and then plays “Souvenirs,” a song intended for his debut full-length but released the following year on his 1972 album Diamonds in the Rough. It’s just one of the many sentimental ballads Prine has gifted us.

He says he wrote it in 1968…when he was about 3.

Over the years, his voice has become gruffer and deeper, due in part to his battle with squamous cell cancer on the right side of his neck, all of which makes this song about memories slipping by feel all the more powerful and sad.

“Broken hearts and dirty windows
Make life difficult to see
That’s why last night and this mornin’
Always look the same to me
I hate reading old love letters
For they always bring me tears
I can’t forgive the way they rob me
Of my sweetheart’s souvenirs”

The musicians include John Prine, Jason Wilber, David Jacques and Kenneth Blevins.

 

[READ: December 11, 2017] X

I really enjoyed Klosterman’s last essay book, although I found pretty much every section was a little too long.  So this book, which is a collection of essays is perfect because the pieces have already been edited for length.

I wasn’t even aware of this book when my brother-in-law Ben sent it to me with a comment about how much he enjoyed the Nickelback essay.

Because I had been reading Grantland and a few other sources, I have actually read a number of these pieces already, but most of them were far off enough that I enjoyed reading them again.

This book is primarily a look at popular culture.  But narrowly defined by sports and music (and some movies).  I have never read any of Klosterman’s fiction, but I love his entertainment essays. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ALEX CLARE: Tiny Desk Concert #715 (March 7, 2018).

Alex Clare’s band is clearly having a beard-growing contest.  The drummer (Christopher Prendergasp) isn’t playing but everyone else suggests the stakes are high.  The bassist (Christopher Hargreaves) is winning.

Vocalist and songwriter Alex Clare is yet another soul disciple from the UK, and his visit to Bob Boilen’s desk is the perfect setting to bask in the power of his voice.

The first song, “Three Hearts,” is a love song dedicated to the moment he heard the heartbeat of his first child coming from his wife’s sonogram. Backed by a tight four-piece band, Clare’s tale of his family’s road to domestic tranquility captures the joy as well as the uncertainty of impending parenthood.

Lyrically it’s okay and sweet, it just sounds fairly typical.  Especially musically.  I thought we;d be getting 20 minutes of straight ahead soul with a little less charisma than The Commitments.

Next is “A song called ‘Love Can Heal.’  True story.”  The guitar (Jordan Peters) is far more interesting on this song.  In fact I found myself enjoying the guitar more than Clare’s voice.  I love the cool guitar licks at the end and the nifty harmonic note that ends the song.  Although, having said that, his voice is quite powerful.  And he shows it off even more on the next song.

In “Caroline,” he inhabits the words with passion and heartfelt pleading, bringing to mind some of the best soul shouters, completely lost in the sentiment of the lyric.

That is very true, he is completely swept up in this song (even he says it’s not about anyone in particular).

I really like the guitar on the final song “Open My Eyes.”   I like the whole vibe of this song–the way the song unfolds and the backing vocals as well.  Indeed I feel like each song has gotten a better as the show progressed.

While I found his music to be fine–nothing I’d go out of my way to listen to but I wouldn’t turn it off either. I found his backstory far more interesting:

The British singer-songwriter released his debut album, The Lateness of the Hour, on Island Records last summer. But the label soon discovered how serious Clare was about his faith [he is an Orthodox Jew, which I didn’t know when I made the beard contest joke] — especially when it came to the sabbath and high holy days, on which Orthodox Jews are forbidden to perform.

“When I signed to Island — you know, obviously a shomer Shabbos Jewish person — I don’t think they quite realized what that means,” Clare says. “I got offered a tour at Pesach, at Passover, and couldn’t perform.”

The offer Clare turned down was a slot opening for Adele. About four months later, he was dropped from Island’s roster, having failed to generate significant album sales or radio play. As Clare was figuring out his next move, he received a call from Microsoft, which was interested in using his song “Too Close” in a commercial. It was a deal that would make the song a hit and restart his career.

He doesn’t play that song here, which is too bad.  And the poor percussionist’s name is never given.

[READ: February 28, 2018] “Violations”

This is a story about writing stories and how autobiographical they are or are not.

It is written in close third person.  And the first sentence is really, really, really long.

It begins, “He had wanted to make sure she wouldn’t write about him…” and then it goes on in his mind about why he didn’t want to be written about and narcissism and all that kind of thing.  The short of it is that he never asked her not to write about him, but he never stopped craving assurance that she wouldn’t (and there’s a long entangled reason why not).

The “she” is his now ex-wife.  She moved out but he still gets her mail.  And she has not written about him.  He tries to get her mail to stop coming but he doesn’t cancel her magazines–especially the one that she always wanted to be published in but had never been. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RED BARAAT-Shruggy Ji (2013)..

Red Baraat’s second album feels a lot bigger than their debut.  The production is bigger, there’s (even) more diverse sounds.  And there’s a lot more vocals album.

I enjoyed the brrrrrr ah! vocals, but I’m a little less excited by the rapping. Primarily because the lyrics are pretty lame (party type lyrics for the most part). But that doesn’t diminish from the music, which is super throughout.  It feels big and solid–evidently the band was recorded playing all together with only minimal overdubs.

“Hala Bol” opens with a wild melody and some singing “bol bol bol, hala bol–RAISE YOUR VOICE!–baby baby bol hala bol.”  The song is pretty long (as most of these are and the middle features the guys chanting all manner of things in possibly different languages.

“Tenu leke” opens with a celebratory “Brrrrrrrrr ah” and chants of  “hoy hoy hoy.”  There’s a wonderful uplifting sense to the melody especially when the song takes a breath and the notes spring forth once more.

“Shruggy Ji” opens with some slow, ominous horns for about 25 seconds and then the dhol, percussion, and drums kick it up into a furious meld of go-go funk, hip-hop, jazz, and South Asian groove.  The powerful funk makes way for a good-natured rap: “Move your body and shake those hips / just feel the rhythm all under your skin / drip drop the sweat / shruggy ji lets begin.”  Nothing exciting, but fun.  The rap in the second half is less successful although I’ve read that it’s meant to be all in fun, so I guess a line like “I’m gonna ask you some question like I was Biz Markee” is just comical.  About the song band leader Sunny Jain says, “We like to think of ‘Shruggy Ji’ as that shadow lurking next to us, waiting to take over when the night falls and move our body with no inhibitions.”

“Burning Instinct” has the kind of booty shaking vibe that make you wanna move.  The dueling horn solos add to the fun chaos that the percussion is creating.

“Dama Dam Mast Qalandar” has lyrics in Hindi (I assume) which seems to work better because I’m not trying to figure out what he’s singing about.  “Sialkot” opens with some thundering dhol paying and lots of “brrrr ahs!”

“Private Dancer” also features rapping party vocals over some slow rolling funk.  I love that it begins with someone shouting “yo, turn that dhol up!”   “F.I.P.” is full of more fun and dance and lots of call and response. “Apna Punjab Hove” has a bit of an upbeat  reggae feel and a smidge of klezmer for a change of pace.  It’s still dancing, just a different step.  Lots of chanting of “ah -ha” and the like.

“Azad Azad” is an album highlight.  It’s got great percussion and a fun riff from the horns and lots of chanting.  Unlike some of the more partying songs, this one is more political: “no borders, no walls, freedom [sings / dances / rings] through us all.”

“Mast Kalander” is a fun song which proves that the more nonsensical the lyrics, the better the party: “jump in the sauce / throw your hands up and go crazy.”  I love how it gets faster and faster as it progresses.”

“Aarthi”ends the album with a cool, jazzy melody.  The party is over and it’s time to go home so lets chill things down a bit.  I love that the song opens with what sounds like someone blowing into a bass saxophone and making vocals sounds at the same time.  It’s pretty cool.

The lineup remains the same as the first album:
Sunny Jain – dhol ; Rohin Khemani – percussion ; Tomas Fujiwara – drumset ; Arun Luthra – soprano sax ; Mike Bomwell – baritone sax ; Sonny Singh – trumpet ; MiWi La Lupa – bass trumpet ; Smoota – trombone ; John Altieri – sousaphone.

[READ: January 24, 2018] “Maps and Ledgers”

I haven’t really enjoyed the stories by Wideman that much.  So I wasn’t really looking forward to this one.  But it proved to be pretty straightforward and quite compelling.

As the story opens we meet a man who says that in his first year teaching at the university, his father killed a man.  The narrator was barely established in the school–he had no phone in his office–so the call went to the English Department chair’s office.  It was his mother, sobbing and blubbering.  He had told her to call there only in an emergency, which this was, obviously.

The chair was a southern gentlemen and he respectfully left the room once the narrator had been called down.

But the story isn’t just about him.  The narrator’s Aunt C got his father a lawyer.  Aunt C was a pioneer.  She had served as a WAC office in WWII and submitted applications for jobs through the Veterans Administration.  She managed to get a job in the city planners office before they realized she was black.

They did not convict his father–the victim was black after all.  But things got worse for him.

And this is when another one of Wideman’s stories gets confusing.

My father’s son, my youngest brother, convicted of felony murder. And years later my son received a life sentence at sixteen. My brother, my son still doing time. And my father’s imprisoned son’s son a murder victim. And a son of my brother’s dead son just released from prison a week ago. And I’m more than half-ashamed I don’t know if the son, whose name I can’t recall, of my brother’s dead son has fathered son or daughter.

Gets confusing doesn’t it?

Yes it does. (more…)

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