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Archive for the ‘David Cross’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: JON BENJAMIN JAZZ DAREDEVIL–Well, I Should Have…* *Learned How To Play Piano (2015).

In 2015, H. Jon Benjamin released a jazz album on which he played piano.  He did this despite not knowing how to play piano.

This album should be a trainwreck.  However, he has employed the talents of Scott Kreitzer (saxophone), David Finck (bass), and Jonathan Peretz (drums) to assist him.  And they are really good.

It’s hard to believe that Benjamin has never played at all before, because while he’s not good by any definition, he certainly knows how to press the keys on the piano in a reasonable way.  Meaning, when he plays a solo he is at least trying to sound like he’s playing a solo.  It’s not like cats on a piano playing utterly random crap.  He’s certainly bad, but he’s bad within the ballpark, which makes this amusing to listen to and not intolerable.

Obviously, part of the joke is that Benjamin hates jazz and this pretty much mocks improv piano.  And yes, his playing sometimes sounds like an improv pianist deliberately plying wrong notes until the right ones come back into focus (although Benjamin’s never do come back in to focus).

The disc is quite short.  It’s under 30 minutes.  It includes a skit at the front called “Deal with the Devil.”  It is a really funny introduction in which H. Jon tries to sell his soul to the devil.  Kristen Schaal as the secretary get a very funny joke or two, but the devil (Aziz Ansari) explains that usually selling your soul is a last resort, not a first step.  There’s a vulgar joke (which I found really funny), but which makes the track unplayable for family gatherings (if you were to do such a thing).

There are four main pieces on the disc “I Can’t Play Piano” Parts 1-4.

“I Can’t Play Piano Part 1” (3:39) starts off with a rollicking sax solo and some bouncing jazz and then Jon’s tinkling at the high end of the piano.  The band even pauses a few times to give him a proper solo or four.  All of the solos are horribly inept and pretty funny.  Midway through the song, bassist David Finck takes a cool upright bass solo and you can hear Jon shout “play it Joe” or something like it.

Part 2 (3:09) has a riff that Jon tries to follow and fails to play spectacularly.  There’s less “soloing” in this one and more “playing with the band.”  At times you almost don’t quite realize that he’s playing with everyone else–something just seems slightly off.  There’s also some nice drum soloing from Jonathan Peretz.

There’s a hilarious skit [not on this record] by Paul F. Tompkins in which he talks about jazz as “a genre of music that is defying you to like it.”  He talks about going to a jazz show (by accident or because you lost a bet) and just at the point when you’re almost asleep, you think the bass player is going to play [blanhr] but instead he plays [blownhr].  And next.. this is the worst thing that jazz guys do.  The other guys on stage start laughing like it was the funniest thing they ever did see.  And you’re sitting in the audience thinking “I don’t get the jazz joke Why is that note so hilarious?  You’ve played many notes this evening, none of them particularly side splitting.”

This album is pretty much a musical rendition of that joke.

“It Had to Be You,” is a pretty conventional cover of the song (at least for the saxophone).  Jon clearly knows how the song goes, he just doesn’t know how to play it or which notes should even be in the song.  The middle of the song is a saxophone solo (no piano) and once again, you are kind of lulled into thinking the song is pretty straightforward, and then Jon comes back for a solo.  It’s a slow solo so at first it doesn’t seem so bad, but once he starts going, you realize how bad he really is.

“Soft Jazzercise” is a skit. Jon talks over a slow piano piece (presumably not by Jon as it is actually melodic).  Jon says that his soft jazzercise is very very very very very very very low impact.  You have to do it slow.  Like a turtle slow, like an opiated panda slow.

Back to the improv with “I Can’t Play Piano, Pt. 3” (4:57).  The song starts as a kind of call and response between the saxophone and the piano (hilariously bad every time).  Jon also gets a solo in the beginning.  He even slides his hand up and down the keys a few times–almost convincingly.  In the middle of the song you can hear Jon really getting into it shouting almost audible encouragement and saying “here we go!” and “dig this!” then the saxophone starts playing a response to what Jon is playing–can he even play that badly?  Jon even says “you can do better” at one point.  The sax almost plays “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” twice before the riffing ends.

The final improv piece “I Can’t Play Piano, Pt. 4 – (Trill Baby Trill)” (5:25) starts with Jon’s piano and the rest of the band apparently trying to follow or keep up.  Once again it’s not as horrible as you might expect.  It’s not good, but it almost seems like it could be a serious improv.  There’s a lengthy bass solo (no funny notes that I can hear).   Then, after the drum solo when the sax takes the lead again, you kind of forget that Jon is even playing.

The final track is a funky/rap about anal sex.

The five instrumentals would be hilarious to mix into any dinner party to see what people thought or if they even notices.  The other three tracks are definitely NSFW.

[READ: June 1, 2018] Failure is an Option

I love H. Jon Benjamin.  Or, more specifically I love his voice.  He has voiced some of my favorite characters over the years including Archer and Bob Belcher.

But I have found that when I watch things that he has created, I don’t enjoy them quite as much.

So, which way would this ode to failure go?

It’s a mixed bag but overall it’s quite funny.

It has an introduction with this appropriate line:

I am writing this at the dawn of the Trump presidency, particularly apropos of failure being an option.  A very horrible and dangerous option in the case of a entire country’s future.

The opening talks, as many of these memoirs do, about how exhausting it is to write a memoir (“when I was saddled with the task of writing a book”). (more…)

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[ATTENDED: April 3, 2016] David Cross

cross I have enjoyed David Cross since the old days of Mr. Show, and the as Tobias on Arrested Development and even in Alvin and the, well, actually I’m just happy for him that he got a lot of money for it.

When he released his previous stand up album, Bigger and Blackerer, Sarah and I listened to it in the car on a long trip and we had tears in our eyes from laughing so hard.

So when I heard he was touring I thought it would be fun to see him live.  And, yes, it was.

But we ran into a few bumps along the way.  We had to leave very late because our babysitter had car trouble.  She arrived just late enough that we weren’t sure if it was worth still driving the hour to Philly.  We decided if traffic was terrible we would just stop somewhere and have dinner instead.  I even called the Theatre to see if there was an opening act (nope) and if the show really started at 7:30 and not 8 (yup, he would start at exactly 7:30).  Traffic was light and the GPS said we’d get to the garage at 7:35.  I missed the turn for the alley that our garage was on, and then we got slightly lost on the walk from garage to theater and as we got there at 7:40… there were still a whole bunch of people milling about in the lobby.  And then they flashed the lights telling us to get to our seats.  We missed nothing!

And we even got to tsk at people who arrived later than us.  Cross even joked that he would wait to start his joke because “it’s not fucking distracting or anything” when people are being seated.  I was frankly shocked that people seemed to still be arriving around 8PM! (more…)

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feschukSOUNDTRACK: THE ART OF TIME ENSEMBLE with MARTIN TIELLI–Korngold: Source & Inspiration (Enwave Theatre, Harbourfront Centre, Toronto, ON, January 30, 2009).

aotimeAfter seeing The Art of Time Ensemble yesterday, it was quite serendipitous that I would have a show from them (featuring Martin Tielli) to post about on the following day.

This concert is the third in the Art of Time’s “Source & Inspiration” series. Two years earlier the first concert focused on composer Franz Schubert.  The previous year’s concert focused on Robert Schumann. This time the spotlight was on the 20th century Jewish composer Erich Korngold–a composer of European pedigree who became well known for his wonderful Hollywood film scores.

This concert featured Korngold’s Suite for Two Violins, Cello and Piano as the ‘source’ as well as new songs inspired by this work from Martin Tielli, Danny Michel and John Southworth.

This recording is only 8 minutes long because there’s only two Martin Tielli songs. “Lied Two” (the German word for song is lied (pronounced leed) so Martin called his “Lied Two.” And “Moglich” which translates into “possible.”  Both pieces are played with by the orchestra.  Martins sings.

The more dramatic of the two would be “Moglich” with his loud whispered “Relaxxxxx at the end.”  For more information about the show, you can click on this link.

Full Program & Repertoire:
Suite Op. 23 for 2 Violins, Cello and Piano Left-hand
Erich Korngold
i.Praeludium und Fuge
ii.Walzer
iii.Groteske
iv.Lied
v.Rondo-Finale

INTERMISSION
Athabasca
Adventures of Erich Korngold
—John Southworth
The Sailor Song
Island

—Danny Michel
Lied 2
Moglich
—Martin Tielli

Performers
Andrew Burashko, piano
Danny Michel, singer
Erika Raum, violin
Stephen Sitarski, violin
John Southworth, singer
Martin Tielli, singer
Winona Zelenka, cello

[READ: November 22, 2015] The Future and Why We Should Avoid It

The title of this book made me laugh so I set it aside to read it.  Little did I know that it would be so very funny that I put aside other things so I could finish it.

I hadn’t heard of Feschuk before.  He has written two previous books (How Not to Completely Suck as a New Parent sounds pretty good) and writes mostly for MacLean’s magazine.

As you might guess from the title, this book looks at the future, and Feschuk’s predictions are uncanny.  For instance, I brought the book home and decided to look at it in the bathroom.  And the introduction states quite clearly:

By now, life should be awesome and leisurely and you should be wearing a spacesuit and high-fiving your wisecracking robot sidekick.  Except instead your dishwasher is broken, your god-damn iTunes won’t sync up and right now you’re reading this book on a toilet in your bathroom instead of where you should be reading it–on a toilet in your hover car.

Too right, too right. (more…)

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[LISTENED TO: August 2015] The Organist Season 1

organistGiven my love of the McSweeney’s empire, it seems logical that I would have listened to The Organist sooner than this.  But I didn’t.  It has been on for a couple of years, so i assumed I’d never catch up.  But then I saw that there were only 50 episodes and most of them were quite short.  So it was time to see what it was all about.

And, since it is more or less in conjunction with The Believer, it should come as no surprise that it is sort of an aural equivalent to that magazine–longish pieces about esoteric subject, but geared specifically to “radio.”

The Organists first season was done as a monthly podcast starting on Feb 1.  Each episode was about 50 minutes long and covered a variety of subjects with fun guests and other ephemera.

Episode 1: (February 1, 2013)
The inaugural episode kicks off with Nick Offerman spouting some hilarious nonsense about podcasts.  The rest of the show includes an interview with George Saunders talking about the voices of his fiction; Greil Marcus discusses the impact of the first Bikini Kill EP now that it is reissued.  Perhaps the most unusual and interesting piece is when Amber Scorah tells the story of her defection from the Jehovah’s Witnesses while working as a missionary in Shanghai; In short pieces, Brandon Stosuy editor of Pitchfork, presents five five-word record reviews of interesting new guitar rock and then musicians Matmos take a song from their new album apart, piece by piece, revealing its brilliant, pulsating innards.  Basically they used thought control to get people to “create” a song for them.  It’s a really neat process even if the final result doesn’t really sound like the sum of its parts. (more…)

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hooeySOUNDTRACK: Songs for Stuffing: A Thanksgiving Mix (2011).

turkey_wide-5d9e8a59bec66b4815045e86e4267da98ecc9263-s1900-c85There are not too many Thanksgiving songs.  But our friends at NPR created this Thanksgiving mix back in 2011.  It seems to lie dormant for much of the year but they bring it back at a seasonally appropriate time.

I have to admit I have not actually listened to it (at least not yet).  But it includes this rather broad selection of artists (designed to please or alienate everyone on Thanksgiving).

A Band of Bees • Amadou & Mariam • The Andrews Sisters • Louis Armstrong • The B-52’s • The Beatles • Ludwig von Beethoven • William Billings • Willie Bobo • Bow Wow Wow • Greg Brown • Cab Calloway • Cyrus Chestnut • Guy Clark • Nat King Cole • Joe Craven • Joseph Curiale • Guy Davis • Champion Jack Dupree • Bob Dylan • The Flaming Lips • Dave Frishberg • William DeVaughn • Rick Gallagher • Dizzy Gillespie • Johnny Griffin • Patty Griffin • Golden Smog • Benny Goodman • Arlo Guthrie • Herb Alpert’s Tijuana Brass feat. Ozomatli • Herbie Hancock • Bill Heid • David Holt • The JB’s • Jay & The Techniques • Louis Jordan • Lambert, Hendricks & Bavan • Paul Lingle • Lyle Lovett • Eric “Two Scoops” Moore • New England Conservatory Wind Ensemble • Harry Nilsson • Tim O’Brien • Lee “Scratch” Perry • Michelle Shocked • Dmitri Shostakovich • Southern Culture on the Skids • Spearhead • Still on the Hill • Rufus Thomas • Traffic • Bobby Troup • Jay Ungar & Molly Mason • Warrant • Ethel Waters • The Wiyos • “Weird Al” Yankovic

You can hear the mix streaming on NPR.

[READ: November 27, 2014] A Load of Hooey

Just in time for Thanksgiving, McSweeney’s has sent us A Load of Hooey.

Bob Odenkirk has been cropping up a lot lately (not as much as erstwhile partner and financially secure comedian, David Cross, mind you), and that’s a good thing.  There’s something about Odenkirk’s persona (crotchety, uptight, white guy) that is usually really funny.  He often elevates crappy sitcoms just by yelling at one of the characters.

This book is a collection of short pieces (most are 1-3 pages), including “unabridged quotations” and poems.  They cover a variety of subjects, but pretty much all upend expectations.  And, as one might expect from Odenkirk, there’s a lot of religious and political jokes as well.

The “unabridged quotations” allow Odenkirk to append something that removes the pomp from some famous quotations.  The poems are usually funny, twisted barbs at some subject or another.

But the main targets are religions and politicians. (more…)

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almostsilentSOUNDTRACK: DELTRON 3030-“The Return” (2013).

Deltron3030-EventII-caa19c164f9e01c2441aab420c0b54356b261e87-s1After thirteen years, alternative rap supergroup Deltron 3030 is back.  If you’ve forgotten, Deltron 3030 is comprised of Dan the Automator, Del the Funky Homosapien and DJ Kid Koala.  Evidently the album is chock full of guest stars (which I usually dislike, but the guest stars are a weirdly unexpected bunch–David Cross, Amber Tamblyn, chef David Chang?–so I’m curious to hear what they are going to add to the sound.

Okay even I admit I don’t really remember what the first Deltron album sounded like, but if memory serves this seems to be picking up in that same spacey vibe that made Deltron so weird and fun.

There’s a story going on here, told in Del’s awesome rapping style–mellow and trippy with big words and convoluted phrasings.  Of course, this is only track 2 on the record so I don’t know exactly what the story is about.  But I know that Deltron 0 is back and I’m pretty excited to hear the whole thing.

You can hear this track on NPR and you can watch the intro track (featuring Joseph Gordon-Levitt) here:

[READ: September 20, 2013] Almost Silent

This book collects four of Jason’s previous books “Meow, Baby,” “Tell Me Something,” “You Can’t Get There from Here” and “The Living and the Dead.”

“Meow, Baby” (2006) is a collection of  “short stories” from Jason.  They feature the same (looking) cast of characters as most of the other Jason books I’ve read (anthropomorphic animals), but there’s a few additions: a mummy, a zombie,a  skeleton and a vampire.  None of the pieces are titled and the only way to know when each is done is when you see his signature.  This is just to note that if there is a mummy in two stories, it’s good to know he’s not necessarily the same mummy.

The stories are quite funny with variations on mummy stories (wrapping your head in a bandage after you are hurt, getting an erection(!)), and vampire stories (the same looking guy is always following him with a stake) and some very amusing domestic scenes with skeletons.  I enjoyed the one where the mummy comes out of the sarcophagus, looks at a newspaper and then walks back into the sarcophagus with a look of despair on his face (his face is still covered in bandages—Jason has an amazing way of expression even with people who have no faces). There’s also a whole series of skeletons who climb out of their graves and go about mundane tasks .  There’s even a guy dressed like the Terminator who has some funny moments where he misses the opportunity to say his trademark lines.

The last few pages are three panel strips—like daily cartoons .  Were they ever shown in newspapers?  These show that Jason is also very funny at punchlines, not just dark stories and black humor.  True, all of these three panel comic are black humor (with the same cast of zombies, vampires, mummies and skeletons), but he really makes some funny and unexpected strips here. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DAVID CROSS-Bigger and Blackerer (2010).

I’ve liked David Cross for years, both in Mr. Show and everywhere else he’s been (I love comparing his nebbish character in Arrested Development to his obnoxious hippie in Running Wilde). And his standup is just fantastic.

This new(ish) CD (which has the same name but different content as the DVD) is wonderfully obscene and profane and all around hilarious.  What’s particularly fun is the nonsensical “titles” he gives to his bits (although these are more accurate than on his previous disc): “REALLY Silly Religious Crazies, I mean, Double, Triple Crazy!!” and “Random Goofabouts”

The disc opens with a song(!), a swinging song ala Tom Jones which Cross sings (his voice isn’t very good, but he’s never off key, which is something) which actually features some cool time changes and a bit of pathos.  But the jokes are very funny.  He opens with an extended bit about drugs (mostly about drugs he has taken).  It’s a bit long, but the details are hilarious and the payoffs at the end are wonderful.  I also enjoyed that the drug bits are a cautionary tale, yet he never turns preachy, in fact, he inverts expectations throughout.

The race jokes are really great too, especially the MLK license plate bit.  But indeed, Cross really shines when it comes to religion.  I’ve never really heard a riff on Orthodox Jews before, and his dismissal of Catholicism is brutal and short, but it’s the Mormons who get the bulk of his abuse (mostly because of the awesome power they wield), especially since the religion is a sham.

He’s also not afraid to make observations that will offend some (although no one who listens to him) but are spot on.  There’s an excellent bit about Obama haters who bemoan the state of the country but who will immediately fight any “elitist” who bemoans other aspects of the country.  And it very funny, indeed.

Cross has spent some time in England (filming The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret) and his British accent is quite good now (it’s used to excellent effect in heaven).  He also has great rapport with the crowd, who are exuberantly noisy.

This CD is an excellent introduction to Cross’ standup.  The jokes aren’t really timely (although the health care yelling bit will date it somewhat, except that the debate itself will go one for years to come, so maybe it won’t), so even if it’s five years from now, the jokes will still be funny.

Cross is not a delicate comedian and his jokes are not for the faint of heart, but, man, is he funny.

[READ: November 9, 2010] It is Right to Draw Their Fur

Polymath Dave Eggers is back with another fascinating (and fascinatingly bound) title.  This time, the collection contains a series of drawings.  Most of the drawings are of animals and they all feature words on them.  (This sort of thing: Picture + words + humor (from many different artists) is presented in a book that I am currently enjoying called More Things Like This).  Similar items also appeared in McSweeney’s 27 (you can see my Post about that issue here)).

Eggers explains in the introduction that he went to art school.  He was an aspiring painter and then a cartoonist and illustrator.  And in his down time, he spent a lot of time drawing animals.  And they are quite good.  Eggers’ art has an odd quality to it that I can’t quite put my finger on.  All of his pictures seem off in a small way.  It doesn’t make them bad at all, in fact, it actually makes you want to look at them more to see what is off about them.  (I think some people call that “compelling”).

The project comes in a hugely oversized cardboard sleeve (14 inches x 19 inches).  There are 26 large sized posters (they are folded and their unfolded size reaches something like 27″ x 37″).  There’s also a booklet which features even more of these drawings.  The booklet has an appendix with some drawings that are not animals (well, they are humans, so yes, they are animals).  And, the most peculiar part, there’s a bibliography.  The bibliography goes on for four pages and includes all manner of things from Sartre’s Being and Nothingness to Auel’s Clan of the Cave Bear to Gara’s The Presidency of Franklin Pierce to The Collected Poems of William Carlos Williams to Saint-Saens’ Le carnaval des animaux.

You can see two examples here.  In my opinion these are not the best combination art/words in the book (although the drawings are very good).  There are some other ones where the juxtaposition appealed to me much more.

The package is quite expensive (and justified–it is a lot of stuff and beautifully put together), but I have a hard time believing someone would spend $42 on it.  (I received mine as part of the McSweeney’s book club, so that’s nice.)

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