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Archive for the ‘Children’s Books’ Category

 SOUNDTRACK: COLD SPECKS-Live at Massey Hall (May 23, 2014).

After enjoying the Rheostatics Live at Massey Hall video, I thought it would be interesting to check out some of the other artists in the series.

The very first artist to play was Cold Specks.  I had never heard of Cold Specks and I was blown away by their set.

So who is Cold Specks:

Cold Specks is the stage name of Canadian singer-songwriter Ladan Hussein, who was previously known as Al Spx. Her music has been described as doom-soul. The name Cold Specks is taken from a line in James Joyce’s Ulysses (“Born all in the dark wormy earth, cold specks of fire, evil, lights shining in the darkness.”).

As the set opens, Al Spx (for that is what she was known as at the time) speaks about Massey Hall, learning about it from Charles Mingus and Neil Young albums.

And then the band comes out and they play “A Broken Promise.”  There’s such a great moodiness to the melody and the sound of the guitar (and bass pedals).  There’s interesting keyboard effects throughout as well as a spare but powerful unconventional drum rhythm.  And then there’s her voice powerful and a little menacing–arresting and gripping.  There’s a Nick Cave vibe to what she does, but with a very different texture because of her voice.

“Bodies at Bay” is a bit more uptempo and rocking with a wonderfully dramatic slow down for the powerful chorus.  I hear a bit of Marianne Faithfull and some of the more out there vocals of Tina Turner in her voice.  But the contrast between her voice and the music is very engaging.  “Living Signs” is a bit more spare–really focusing on her voice.

She describes “Hector” as “an old one” (which means it came from her other album).  Al Spx plays guitar and I love the way her guitar adds a new layer of music.  The melody in the bridge/chorus is fantastic.

“Let Loose the Dogs” starts a capella.  She sings it off mic (I wonder who could hear her) and then the band comes in with a quieter synth sound.  It’s a much less dynamic song, but a nice mellow moment.

She explains that she doesn’t play Toronto very much and yet this is her fourth time at Massey Hall. “I’ve informed my booking agent that shows in Toronto will be strictly limited to Massey Hall.

“Old Knives” is slow and moody but builds really nicely–a great song overall.  The big, crashing middle section is intense.  As the song ends, they let the music ring out as the guys leave.  As they are walking off, she says, “they fucked off before I could introduce them.”  So they are: drums: Loel Cambpell; guitar: Tim D’eon; the magic corner over here, including Marxophone: Jim Anderson.

While they are gone she says she’ll play “a song or two on my own here.”  She plays guitar and sings “Blank Maps.”  It has the same moodiness just unplugged–the guitar melody is simple, but very cool.  I’m glad I watched this, it has made me a fan.

You can watch the footage here.

[READ: March 19, 2018] To Kick a Corpse

At the end of the previous book, the Qwikpick Adventure Society was in trouble.  Lyle (whose parents work at the Qwikpick and the kid who has access to all of the Qwikpick goodies) was seen as bad influence on the other two.  His best friend Dave had been grounded, but that has finally been lifted.  But Marilla, the girl on whom Lyle is massively crushing (and the funnest girl ever), has been banned from ever seeing him (or the Qwikpick) again.  It was so bad that her parents even told the school principal that she was not to be seen talking to or eating lunch with Lyle (somehow Dave was not deemed so guilty).

It’s a pretty sucky couple of months.

One day the local historical group came by with fliers looking to Save Greenhill Plantation, a local farmhouse that belongs to Colonel Shergood.  Dave and Lyle were joking about the terrible speech when they were tapped on the shoulder and given in-school suspension.

But then Marilla, who is a rule follower to the letter and never wants to upset her parents, broke the rules and shouted “Good” when she heard the plantation was being turned into a Kmart. This guaranteed her an in-school suspension as well.  When they asked her why she would do that, she explained that she hates Colonel Shergood and she wants to “go kick his dead *&%!”

Marilla has never said a bad word in her life, and the boys are shocked.

Why is Marilla so upset? (more…)

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 SOUNDTRACK: ÌFÉ-Tiny Desk Concert #736 (April 29, 2018).

ÌFÉ is from Puerto Rico.  Creator Otura Mun has a fascinating history as to how he wound up creating this band:

Otura Mun started out in the world as Mark Underwood, a Goshen, Ind., native whose parents were Mennonites and who managed to snag a coveted spot on the University of North Texas’ drumline. But that was before a flight mixup landed the percussionist, composer, DJ and producer with a free trip to Puerto Rico. Two years later, he moved permanently to the island, became a Yoruban high priest and began creating electronic music that channeled the African diaspora.

Woah.

So ÌFÉ (pronounced ee-faye) combines traditional Afro-Cuban drumming and chanting with a kind of Jamaican dancehall sound.  Midway through the set, Mun explains that he drilled holes into the traditional acoustic drums and has attached electronics to them, essentially making them triggers, but with the traditional acoustic sound as an overtone.  It’s pretty amazing.

The group’s debut album, IIII+IIII, (pronounced “Edgy-Og-Beh”) is a fresh electronic take on tradition that’s winning over even the most devout practitioners of the western African-based spiritual ceremonies that form the base of their music. That’s hard to do with ritual music.

Although interestingly, for the first song “House of Love (Ogbe Yekun),” they play acoustically.

For their turn behind the Tiny Desk, Otura Mun and his ensemble unplug their drums for their first tune, an acoustic version of their “House of Love (Ogbe Yekun)”.

This acoustic sound is quite compelling in itself.  Yaimir Cabám plays a beautiful acoustic guitar (pretty, simple chords) and sings, I believe wordlessly.  Meanwhile, the rest of the band plays various percussion: simple electronic percussion and shaker and various hand drums.  Anthony Sierra on congas keeps the rhythm.

After a verse, Otura Mun joins in on vocals (with deep backing vocals from Beho Torrens).  It’s a quiet, soothing song with occasional punctuation from the drums.  When the melody finally changes after 4 minutes, it sounds like a massive shift even if it’s just a few notes.

“Prayer for Oduduwa (Para Meceditas)” opens with bells and shakers and some interesting electronic splashes before the massive amounts of electronics take over the song.  I believe Rafael Maya joins them and was not their for song one.

The sound of the second song here is what startled me when I heard the band’s debut CD last year: the parts normally performed on Afro-Cuban bata drums and chekeres are electronically treated for a traditional prayer for the deity Oduduwa.

They sing in a traditional chanting style including an awesome low chant (from Torrens) that sounds otherworldly.

By the last tune, “Bangah (Pico Y Palo),” the electronics have created a sonic playground that plays perfectly against the battery of Afro-Cuban rhythms.   “Bangah,” focuses on a reflection of the Orisha Ogún, the owner of war in the religion, whose main tool is the machete.

Mun says he wanted to play urban music you could improvise and to use percussion as the basis–Cuban rumba combined with Jamaican dancehall.  He demonstrates some sounds and then a deep rumbling bass: “we got your nasty subs that you know from that the stuff that’s nasty.”

The song is a shout out to those struggling against the vestiges of colonialism still prevalent in Puerto Rico.

They begin the song with a “breathe in” [inhale] let it out Ahhh!

I love the way the various voices are processed.  Torrens sound deeper and Cabám’s voice sounds alien and like it is three voices at once.  The various lines are interspersed with interesting vocals sounds: grunts and screams that punctuate the verses.

It’s a very cool set.

[READ: March 19, 2018] The Rat with the Human Face

In 2014, Angelberger’s first book The Qwikpick Adventure Society was reissued as Poop Fountain.  He then wrote two more books in this trilogy.

This is the second book (written in 2015) and it opens with this

This is the second of three stacks of papers this guy found in a storage room at the old Qwikpick gas station in Crickenburg.  The guy, who asked me not to use his name, called me because one of my old newspaper articles was in the first stack.  (You know I was a reporter before I wrote the Origami Yoda books, right?)

Then he reminds the readers that this book is set in 2000–kids didn’t have iPhones or smartphones.  They didn’t have phones at all and cameras took forever to charge the flash and they drained the batteries fast.

So the entire Qwikpick Adventure Society: Lyle, Marilla and Dave is back, but this story begins with bad tidings–the Qwikpick Adventure Society was disbanded after this adventure.  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BEDOUINE-Tiny Desk Concert #737 (April 30, 2018).

Bedouine has a lovely clear voice.  She’s a genuine folk throwback treasure, without being retro.  Her songs are remarkably simple and yet they are rich and almost enchanting.  There is something about the way she sings that makes you want to listen, to lean in and hear what she has to say.

Her guitar playing is also very pretty.  Again, a reasonably simple finger-picking style.  but it is simultaneously precise and warm.

I saw her live recently and she held an entire club rapt despite being an opening act for two much louder bands.  So who is Bedouine?

Azniv Korkejian is Bedouine, a singer and acoustic guitarist who echoes sounds from the 1960’s North American folk songwriters, but with vocal inflections that feel closer to Leonard Cohen than to Joni Mitchell or Joan Baez.  This is as spare as music can be – songs stripped to their essence and just gorgeous.

Azniv Korkejian was born in Aleppo Syria. Her parents were Armenian and she spent her childhood in Saudi Arabia. But a green card lottery win found her family moving to Boston and Houston. Eventually she made her way to Los Angeles with important time spent in Austin, Texas and Savannah, Ga. The name she chose, Bedouine, reflects the traveler, the wanderer in her.

She plays three songs, just her and her guitar.  The songs don’t diverge that much from each other.  She even jokes that the second song is a different song than the first one, she promises.

“One of These Days” is a pretty song that seems so optimistic because you can feel the smile in her voice as she sings.  But as with much of what she plays, there is a kind of melancholy to it.

“Solitary Daughter” opens with the same chord (and picking) but soon shifts textures. I love her delivery on this song in which she lets her voice drop a register and adds a kind of Laura Marling spoken word style to part of it.

The middle third is just stunning

I don’t need the walls
to bury my grave
I don’t need your company
to feel saved
I don’t need the sunlight
My curtains don’t draw
I don’t need objects
to keep or to pawn
I don’t want your pity
Concern or your scorn
I’m calm by my lonesome
I feel right at home
And when the wind blows
I get to dancing
My fun is the rhythm of air
When it’s prancing

“Nice and Quiet” is an intimate love song, but one tinged with sadness.  It has such a charming and sweet melody, which really sums up her music pretty well.

[READ: March 5, 2018] The Prince and the Dressmaker

Jen Wang is back with an outstanding book.  I absolutely love her drawing style.  The look of her dressmaker, Frances, is just adorable.  I love her clothes, I especially love her face, which is cartoony but not caricature-y.  The prince’s nose is huge but not overtly comical and adds a distinctive element to the story.

But what makes this book stand out even more than the art is the story.

The Prince is holding a ball.  When the scene pans back we see horse-drawn carriages.  In other words, the time is sort of nebulously olde.  The women are dressed fancy, with petticoats.  There is much stress around town because all the young women wish to go to the ball.

A woman storms into a couture shop with a mud-covered dress.  Her daughter decided to play in the dress and it is ruined.  Can then makes something for her in time?  Frances is available and the owner gives her the job. (more…)

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olymmpSOUNDTRACK: LOGAN RICHARDSON-Tiny Desk Concert #734 (April 23, 2018).

Logan Richardson is a jazz saxophonist.

I’ve been down on saxophones lately, but I do really like the sound he gets.  I’m a bit more impressed by the rest of his band, though.

Since I don’t know Richardson, I’ll let the blurb speak for me, with some of my comments.

Richardson ‘s latest project, Blues People,  … was derived from the early slave calls that inspired the earliest American jazz and blues musical traditions. Here at the Tiny Desk, the saxophonist revisits that history with four remarkable songs from the album, all performed with a hope that our country’s future will be less painful than its past.

“80’s Child” is a reflection on the decade Richardson was born. Its colorful melody complements the band’s energetic fusion groove. Continually pushing forward with momentum and anticipation, its 8/8 time signature moves seamlessly into 10/8 to create an intensity that is both focused and free.

I love the opening guitar work (by Igor Osypov) which sounds very un-jazzy to me–you could hear an alt-rock sound being built out of that.  While Igor is doing a simple but pretty guitar solo rhythm guitarist Justus West keeps the rhythm work with some interesting whammy bar bending.   About three minutes in, drummer Ryan Lee gets some great little improv moments.  I really enjoy the song even if I find myself tuning out the sax and listening to the guitar.

Richardson notes, “The desk is tiny but it’s mighty.  I have a tiny saxophone that I forgot to bring.”

The next groove, “The Settlement,” maintains a similar tone and features DeAndre Manning slapping on his funky bass.

This song feels more jazzy to me–prominent sax with jazz guitar chords.  But I do love the jazz/prog rock section with the slap bass and the guitars following suit.  I definitely tune out the sax to listen to the great riffage from the strings

While the band is ringing out the last notes of the song, Richardson introduces the next

The song gently segues into the only vocal piece, “Black Brown & Yellow,” a lovely reminder that racial diversity is something to celebrate.

They do a short chant of “Black, brown and yellow is beautiful.”  It’s a pretty, almost sensuous song sung first by West and then joined by everyone else.

I love that I am now quoting someone quoting some else about this last song:

“Anthem (To Human Justice)” ends with brilliance best described by my colleague Nate Chinen, “By design, too, Richardson’s alto saxophone often functions more like a lead vocalist than as a virtuoso solo instrument. He’s a good conduit for soaring, plaintive melody…. And however the band surges or thrashes around him, there’s a feeling of urgent communion in this music.”

The backing music is once again excellent and interesting, with cool time changes a nifty guitar solo (while the second guitar is doing some other cool stuff too) and some great bass work.  I really like the way the whole band jams it out at the end–the band sounds great and Logan’s sax is right there with them soloing the whole time.

I feel like this is jazz for people who don’t like jazz.

[READ: March 17, 2018] Olympians 10

I’m still not sure how many books O’Connor has planned for this series, although in his introduction he talks about saving his favorite books for the end, so I assume there are at least two more (although 12 seems reasonable).

Here’s the summary of the man himself:

George O’Connor is a massive geek and Greek scholar.  He has done lots of research for these books, including going to Greece and visiting sites and antiquities as well as comparing all manner of ancient stories to compile the most interesting pieces. He explains that since these stories were orally passed down, they were modified over the years.  He doesn’t change the myths, he merely picks the story lines that are most interesting to him.  And then he adds a lot of humorous modern touches (and dialogue) which keep it from being at all stuffy.

O Connor’s drawing style is also inspired by superhero comics, so his stories are presented in a way that seems much more like a super hero than a classical hero, which is also kind of fun.

Each book ends with an author’s note which is hugely informative and gives plenty of context.  It also has a bibliography, but more importantly, it has a list of notes about certain panels.  Do not skip these notes!  In addition to providing a lot of insight into the myths of the characters themselves, there are a lot of funny comments like “Greeks raced in the nude (point and laugh)” which really bring new depths to the stories. (more…)

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[LISTENED TO: Summer 2017] Danger Goes Berserk

After how much we loved Brixton Brothers Books 1 through 3 we were excited to get to Book #4 (which appears to be the final book since it has been six years, despite what was hinted at in the end).

However, there is no audio book!  No Arte Johnson guiding us through the mysteries of these teenage sleuths.  No one to say Rick (pause) Jerk.

Gasp.

So we did the next best thing.  Sarah read it to us on a long car ride.  This is second best because it’s exhausting for Sarah to read out loud for that long and to have the constant complaints of “can you turn it up” which makes me laugh every time one of the kids says it.

It was great to be involved with Steve Brixton and his chum Dana once again.

The detectives are back (in Steve’s hilarious new office) and there are two cases to look into.  One is about surfing.

The other is about… gym shorts.

Someone has been stealing Brody Owen’s gym shorts.  Brody even paid Steve to take the case.  But Steve doesn’t want to take it.  Both because it’s stupid and because he’s got more important, bigger cases to deal with. (more…)

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[LISTENED TO: September 30, 2017] The Resisters

I saw this audio book at the library and thought it might be a fun book for a long car trip.  It turned out the family wasn’t going on one for a while, but Clark and I were heading to Hartford for the Pokémon Regional Championship, and this was just about the right length for the trip.

I was turned off by the cover–that very computerized version of the kids.  Although I see that Nylund writes books in the Halo series, (and has an interesting history writing for Microsoft, go figure).  So I guess it makes sense that there’s a computer edge to it.

The story wastes no time opening and doesn’t wait for you to catch up.

Ethan Blackwood is twelve and, as the book opens, he is in the last few seconds of a very important soccer match.  But, with no explanation given , we learn that this soccer match is not what we are used to.  All of the competitors are wearing large armored suits and the ball can hit speeds of 300 MPH.  Ethan is a year younger than his teammates, but he has proven himself on many occasions and they all look to him for a great play. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ROBIN OLSON-Tiny Desk Concert #724 (April 1, 2018).

Because the blurb is perfect, I am including it in it’s entirety.

“Not all pianists are created in equal temperament,” Robin Olson told a small but enthusiastic audience behind NPR Music’s storied Tiny Desk. The pianist, hailed as an “avant-garde gewandhaus” by Berlin’s Staubzeitung, is as celebrated for his cryptic maxims as he is for his inscrutable music.

Olson’s trademark style — shooting clusters of shimmering chords and solitary, pearlescent pitches into reverberant space — has led him to exalted concert halls and to work with a broad array of stars such as Yuja Wang, Aretha Franklin, Chick Corea and Emanuel Ax.

Drawing from the seminal Plink technique, cultivated among the Schlammstadt School of composers in the 1950s, Olson is regarded as a leading technician of the more expansive Neo-Plink style. “Intervals have coincident partials,” Olson explains. “They create a form of dissonance, called ‘beats,’ by which pitches are set for optimum harmonicity.”

From a bulging briefcase, Olson pulls out any number tools to alter specific pitches, as in his opening piece, “A 440.” He threads ribbons of felt between piano strings to mimic the muted cries of the Asian dung beetle in “The Temperament,” from his 2014 collection Infinite Chasms.

Olson surprised everyone at the Tiny Desk by debuting a new piece, “Tuning the Bass,” wherein his inventive command of the instrument’s lower register highlighted spaces between keening dark octaves.

He may be considered a challenging artist, but Olson, through the essential humanity of his performance, reveals the efforts of almost any other living pianist to be little more than a joke.

Set List

  • “A 440”
  • “The Temperament”
  • “Tuning the Bass”

I only wish I had seen this before the Editor’s Note revealed that it was an (excellent) April Fool’s joke.

[READ: December 27, 2017] Secret Coders: Robots & Repeats

Secret Coders 3 ended with a puzzle.  And I guessed wrong!  How embarrassing.  I see what I did wrong, but I still would have failed. I have a hard time with binary, too.

Anyhow, this book reveals some pretty amazing details about the ongoing story.

After selecting the correct door, the gang finds a floating triangle thing.  We learn that Professor Bee is not actually from this planet (okay now things are getting pretty weird, I must admit).   But he dismisses that (what??) so the kids can code some more using a construct made of “solidified light” which is pretty cool, although perhaps not as cool as an alien. (more…)

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