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Archive for the ‘Cuba’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: HAROLD LÓPEZ-NUSSA-Tiny Desk Concert #812 (December 14, 2018).

This was the final Tiny Desk Concert of the year and it featured a pretty traditional jazz trio (piano, bass, drums) from Cuba.  There have been a number of Cuban musicians on Tiny Desk, but I always defer to the blurb:

Cuba is known as much for their pianists as their percussionists — you’ll see why with this performance.

They play three songs.  The first is “Elegua” which opens

with some help from a recording of famed Afro-Cuban folkloric singer Lázaro Ros. Ros is both a musical and spiritual guide for this performance; the trio dug deep into the ritual music of santeria for inspiration with “Eleguá,” a tribute to one of the Afro-Cuban deities.

After about two minutes, Harold plays a nifty staccato riff on the piano while the bass plays a cool  related melody.  The song runs about six minutes and mid way through Ros returns to recite over the music.

When the song is over, Harold introduces his “brothers.”  His literal brother Ruy on drums and his brother from an other mother and father Gastón on bass.

(Special mention should be made of Harold’s brother, Ruy López-Nussa, on drums, and bassist Gastón Joya, who both fill the spaces between the beats while elegantly leaving breathing room within the performances.)

Joya is a treat to watch as he has a contented smile on his face for much of the set.  But it’s Ruy who is the most fun.  With his suit and bow tie and the unconventional way he holds the sticks he is fascinating to watch.  He looks like he is trying to be funny, the way he is playing.  Maybe he is just having fun but his playing is spectacular.

“Preludio (to José Juan)” is shorter–quiet and pretty.  It opens with a lovely melody on the piano.  There’s brushes on the drums and a quiet, subtle bass solo on the middle.  The song is much shorter and the closing minute is just beautiful.

“Hialeah” has the recognizable piano riffs — called guajeos — that we can recognize as originating with Cuban dance music, but the trio deftly melds that rhythm to a complex jazz exploration, without compromising its dance able pulse.

The melodies are recognizable, and yet he is basically riffing with them.  The piece opens with frenetic finger work on the piano with some complex drumming.  The rhythm is playing a dancey melody with some wild soloing on his right hand.  By around 14 minute into the set, he is an amazing blur pf speed and melody.  After a brief one second pause they come back with a phenomenal little drum display.

[READ: January 11, 2019] “All Rivers”

I have really come to enjoy Amos Oz’s stories–they are never about what I think they will be about.

This one was surprising for the way it was constructed as well.

The narrator, Eliezer is fondly remembering a woman ,Tova, who has a profound impact on his life. He says the name Tova was simple and popular and, he felt, didn’t suit her, a young poetess.  He doesn’t remember the color of her eyes, although he does remember the color of her trousers–dark blue/gray and tattered coarse material.

As he is describing her he interrupts himself.  He explains that he wants to be systematic and do things in order, but that he keeps getting ahead of himself  Every time he thinks about her, everything rushes to be first. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKALFREDO-RODRÍGUEZ-Tiny Desk Concert #796 (October 18, 2018).

As this Tiny Desk Concert started,  I was sure the main musician was the bassist.  Given his fascinating outfit and his amazing bass playing, I was sure it was all about him.  I was still more impressed with the bass even after learning that:

Cuban pianist Alfredo Rodríguez gave our office audience a very quick lesson on why pianists from that island nation are so impressive: they treat the piano as the percussion instrument it is. Rodríguez immediately let fly with an intense flurry of notes that were as melodic as they were rhythmic.

But really, once Rodríguez starts playing you can tell that he is the composer and creator, even if guitarist/ bassist Munir Hossn is the exciting splash on the music.  I didn’t mention that Hossn also plays guitar.  It’s on a stand which he walks over to play in between amazing bass runs.

“Dawn” opens with some singing and a very simple rocking kind of feel.  Then Hossn plays some wonderful guitar soloing notes while Rodríguez plays his complicated main lines.  Meanwhile, Hossn has switched back to bass and is playing some amazing jazzy lines–fast, furious and at times really high notes.  It’s pretty cool.

There’s a lengthy guitar solo (with Rodríguez clapping) before the main song resumes with two very distinctive styles of music.

The mash up of European lyricism and Afro-Cuban percussion is at the heart of the Cuban piano tradition and it is very present in the first song. It wasn’t long before Rodríguez dug deep into rapid-fire syncopation along with drummer Michael Olivera.

Listen to the expansive and lyrical exploration of the second song in this Tiny Desk set, “Bloom.”

It opens with a lovely piano melody twinkling along the keys.  But it’s that great low-end and the simple drums (check out Olivera’s jacket) that takes it beyond “European lyricism.”  There’s some wonderful interplay between the musicians and some great effects from Hossn on bass (how does he get those super high notes?).

The final song is called “Yemaya.”  It opens quietly with Rodríguez singing before turning into a frenetic piano melody with Hossn’s intricate guitar pyrotechnics.  The song is eight minutes long and features many components including a lengthy, beautiful (and impressive), piano-only section.  But I still love watching Hossn (as he hat falls off) the most.

West Africa-based Yoruba spiritual tradition, commonly known as Santeria, infuses so much of Cuban daily life in music and Rodríguez closes with his take on the music dedicated to the Orisha Yemaya, the goddess of the ocean and all waters. The song’s melody is a derivation of the song associated to Yemaya and the Tiny Desk trio explores the rhythms of the melody, up to and including the sing-along at the end.

Every exposure to Cuban music presents an opportunity to walk alongside historical music figures and Santeria spirits alike.

Especially when it ends with an engaging sing along like this one does.

Actually they seem to be having so much fun that they refuse to end the set by playing one more wild coda to top everything off.

[READ: November 28, 2018] “Children are Bored on Sunday”

The December 3, 2018 issue of the New Yorker was an archival issue, meaning that every story was taken from an earlier issue.  The range is something like 1975-2006, which is odd since the New Yorker dates back so much longer.  Although the fiction pieces are at least from the 1940s and 1950s.

This story was written in 1948 and it is certainly of a certain time and place–specifically The Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1948.

Emma is a young, single woman browsing the art gallery.  She is excited to see a Botticelli, but as she nears the room, Alfred Eisenburg is standing there right in front of “The Three Miracles of Zenobius.”  She liked Alfred and even flirted with him at a party “in some other year.”

At most other times she would have been pleased to see him, but she turned quickly back the way she had come. (more…)

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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: THE RURAL ALBERTA ADVANTAGE-Live at Massey Hall (July 8, 2014).

The video opens with Nils Edenloff saying that this concert is an amazing posterity thing.  That it’s ungraspable for them right now, but they’ll look back after the fact and say, “Oh wow, I looked great then.”

“As a scrappy indie band it feels wild to be allowed to set their gear on stage for a spell.”

I have hears some songs by the band, but, wow, live they are a powerhouse.

The way “Luciana” opens is incredible: Drummer Paul Banwatt is a maniac sounding like two or three drummers as he crashes through some snare drum pattern variants and cymbals galore.

Nils Edenloff’s guitar has a great loud sound–very electric and large.  It sounds like the strings are loose wires smacking against the guitar and the fretboard (bot not detuned or anything).  And he sings with abandon.

Amy Cole’s keys are not as powerful as the rest but they provide a foundation for the rest of the band to play on

Muscle Relaxants has Cole singing backing vocals which fleshes out their sound even more.  They make a large racket for a trio that’s almost all acoustic.  Between songs, Nils comments:

“Wow you guys are quiet, no phones out, I guess.”

Don’t Haunt This Place is slower.  The vocal melody is familiar if not common, but the drums are just so thumping, it sounds great.  And the backing vocals are perfect.

Introducing “Tornado 87” he says

For those not from Alberta, you don’t have to sing Alberta songs if you’re from here, it’s just something we stumbled on.  Oddly enough we played part of this song last weekend at the Stampeders home opener and there happened to also be a tornado while we played this song.  Lets hope for the best tonight.

The song continues with the intensity of the other songs but it has a wonderful quiet middle section which erupts into an explosion at the end.

Two Lovers is solo, just Nils and his guitar.  It’s a nice break from the intensity.

“Terrified” is a new song that opens with just a guitar but then …boom…  great harmony vocals and a powerful chorus.

The show ends with “Stamp” which has a great clap-along section and wonderful ooohs to end the song.

This was the final video in Season One of the Live at Massey Hall series.   There are four seasons in total thus far.

[READ: May 9, 2018] ”Without Inspection”

This is the story of a man falling to his death: “It took Arnold six and a half seconds to fall five-hundred feet” is how it opens.

The story zooms in on Arnold’s mind for those six and a half seconds and the few seconds that remain before he actually dies.

He sees his son, Paris and Paris’ mother, Darlene.  And he flashes back to how they met, what has happened since they met and what he hopes will happen after he is gone.

The fall was unplanned and occurred when his left foot slipped off a scaffold and he fell out of the loosened (or broken) safety harness.

The story also details the fall–faster by the second. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ROY AYERS-Tiny Desk Concert #712 (March 1, 2018).

I hadn’t heard of Roy Ayers, although I imagine I’ve heard his work somewhere before.  I love the vibes so I was looking forward to his set.

I was a little bummed to hear him singing–I assumed it would be all instrumental. Especially since his songs aren’t exactly lyrically masterful.  But the jazzy funky solos were pretty great.

Roy Ayers [is a] 77-year-old jazz-funk icon.  He sauntered through the office with a Cheshire grin on his face, sharing jokes with anyone within earshot. Accompanying him was a trio of brilliantly seasoned musicians — keyboardist Mark Adams, bassist Trevor Allen and drummer Christopher De Carmine. Later during the performance, pride washed across Ayers’ face as his bandmates took the spotlight. (Be sure to watch as Adams woos not just the room but brightens Ayers’ face during his solo.)

The set began with one of Ayers’ more recognizable hits: an extended version of “Searching,” a song that embodies the eternal quest for peace and love.  The vibes solo at 2 and a half minutes is worth the wait, though.

The lyrics are essentially.  I’m searching, searching, searching searching. It takes over a minute for him to even get to the vibes!  It’s followed by a groovy keyboard solo that starts mellow be really takes off by the end.

During “Black Family” (from his 1983 album Lots Of Love), you’ll hear him call out “Fela” throughout. That’s because Afrobeat legend Fela Kuti was a huge influence on Ayers in the late 1970s; the two eventually collaborated on an album, 1980’s Music Of Many Colors. “Black Family” is, in part, a tribute to Fela, even if the original version didn’t include his name.

Again the lyrics: “lo-lo-lo-lo-long time ago” and not much else repeated over and over and over. But it’s all lead up to a great vibes solo (as the band gets more and more intense).  I love that the keyboardist has a keytar as well and is playing both keys at the same time–soloing on the keytar with an awesome funky sound.  There’s even a cool bass solo.

Concluding this mini-concert, Ayers closed the set out with his signature tune, “Everybody Loves the Sunshine”, a feel-good ode if there ever was one. The essence of this song flowed right through him and out to the NPR audience.

Another terrific vibes solo is followed by a keytar solo which is full of samples of people singing notes (they sound like Steely Dan samples)–it’s weird and kind of cool.

[READ: August 2017] McSweeney’s No 46

As the subtitle reflects this issue is all about Latin American crime.  It features thirteen stories selected by Daniel Galera.  And in his introduction he explains what he was looking for:

DANIEL GALERA-Introduction
He says it used to be easy to talk about Latin American fiction–magical realism, slums and urban violence.  But now things have expanded.  So he asked 13 writers to put their own Latin American spin on the crime story.

And of course, each McSweeney’s starts with

Letters

DANIEL ALARCÓN writes passionately about Diego Maradona’s famous “Goal of the Century” and how as a child he watched it dozens of times and then saw it thousands of times in his head.  When he learned of Maradona’s questionable “Hand of God” goal, his father said that his previous goal was so good it counted twice.  But Daniel grows sad realizing that the goal of the century also marked the beginning of Maradona’s decline.

LAIA JUFRESA this was a fascinating tale about a game called Let’s Kill Carlo that her family played.   It involves a convoluted history including her mother “inventing” a child in order for her husband to come to Mexico from Italy and avoid conscription there.  But when this child “Carlo” “came of age” they had to think of reason why he wasn’t there anymore–so they invented the Let’s Kill Carlo game.

YURI HERRERA waiting for a bus in New Orleans as a man lay in the gutter also waiting.

VALERIA LUISELLI her friend recently moved to Minneapolis with her nervous wreck Chihuahua named President.   He was diagnoses with terminal cancer and the vet encouraged all manner of alternative therapies.  This friend was a very sweet person and had many virtues. And yet perhaps through her virtue the alternative therapy seems to have worked.

FRANCISCO GOLDMAN wants to know why immigration officers at Newark Airport are such dicks (and this was before Trump–#ITMFA).  He speaks of personal examples of Mexican citizens being treated badly.  He had asked a friend to brings books for him and she was harassed terribly asked why did she need so many bags for such a short stay.  Another time he was flying back to NYC with a Mexican girlfriend.   She went through customs and he didn’t hear anything for hours.  He didn’t know if she would even make it though customs at all–even though she’d done nothing wrong.   He imagines wondering how these officers live and what their lives must be like that they seem to take pleasure in messing with other people’s lives. (more…)

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