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Archive for the ‘Death’ Category

sahrakSOUNDTRACK: NO BS! BRASS BAND-Tiny Desk Concert #280 (June 15, 2013).

nobsWith a name like No BS! Brass Band, you think you know what you’re getting: brass and lots of it.  And while that is true, the Band goes way beyond what I anticipated a brass band would sound like (nothing like the far more traditional Canadian Brass for instance).

The blurb states:

Funky and danceable, the NO BS! Brass Band takes after the full black-music continuum you hear in groups like Rebirth or the Hot 8. But it’s also proggy, and a bit brutalizing, and full of pride in a different Southern outpost. The group’s new album is called RVA All Day, after all.  [I don’t know what that last line refers to].

Recently, Koehler, Pace and nine other musicians piled into a bus and journeyed up the freeway to NPR Music’s Tiny Desk in Washington, D.C. They blasted us with songs from the new album — it was so loud, you could hear the music on the other side of the building, a floor down.

The band includes:  Lance Koehler, drums ; Reggie Pace, trombone ; Bryan Hooten, trombone/vocals ; John Hulley, trombone ; Dillard Watt, bass trombone ; David Hood, alto saxophone ; Marcus Tenney, trumpet ; Sam Koff, trumpet ; Ben Court, trumpet ; Taylor Barnett, trumpet and Stefan Demetriadis, tuba.  And they play three super high energy largely instrumental songs that are obviously jazzy but which also have elements of the most fun marching band you’ve ever heard along with some rapping, some chanting and lots and lots of clapping.

The first song is all about “RVA All Day.”  And yet since that’s all they chant, I still don’t know what it means.   While the whole band plays loudly and powerfully, there’s a few solo moments as well.  First a trombone solo followed by a sax solo, then a trumpet and a super wild trombone solo (he gets some truly great, crazy sounds from that thing).  And then a huge surprise, midway through the song is a rap through a megaphone.

“Run Around” has a sing along to begin the song (and again, vocals through the megaphone).  It is also lively and a lot of fun.  The final song, “Infamous”sounds a lot more jazzy/big band.  It’s got a really nice groove.  The middle has a section with just tuba and trumpet where the rest of the band claps and shouts “Ho!” and it sounds great.  It’s also interesting watching how the different players “store” their instruments in different ways while clapping.

No BS! Brass band will totally make you wiggle your hips.

[READ: August 20, 2016] Shark Life

Clark had to pick a book for summer reading and he chose this one.  He enjoyed it so much, that he encouraged me to read it too.  And I’m really glad I did.  Although it wasn’t until writing this that I realized that this book was adapted for young people by Karen Wojtyla.  And yet I can’t find any mention of a grown up version of this book anywhere.  So who knows.

Anyhow,  Peter Benchley (who died in 2006) is the author of Jaws, and this book is full of stories of his life in and on the sea.  For, in addition to being an author, Benchley was a diver and explorer.  And his tales are both exciting and full of conservationist ideas.

The book opens in 1974. After the success of Jaws, Benchley had been invited to Australia to be on The American Sportsman.  He was going to be swimming in a cage with sharks feeding around him.  They put him in the cage, strapped all kinds of good food to it and left him there (okay they were close by).  But a few things went awry and suddenly things weren’t quite as safe as they could be. The shark got caught in Benchley’s air line and then panicked.  And a panicking shark is never a good thing. (more…)

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wildrobot efterklangSOUNDTRACK: EFTERKLANG-Tiny Desk Concert #270 (April 8, 2013).

Efterklang is a Danish group whose recent album Piramida took its members to an abandoned mining town between the North Pole and Norway. There, they recorded sounds of empty oil tanks, old pianos and pretty much anything they could strike or record.

That blurb made me think this would be a noisy chaotic Concert.  And yet despite the found sounds, their music is really peaceful and lovely.

“Dreams Today” builds on a series of echoing keys and guitar notes.  After nearly two minutes the singer sings a series of high “ahhs and oohs” until the vocals officially kick in.  And then the whole band starts playing a series of fast looping notes while the percussionist plays some water bottles and mugs.  The songs builds and builds, with a steady bass keeping the melody strong and then just as it seems it should turn the corner into a new section, it abruptly ends, leaving you wanting much more.

Before the second song, “Danish Design” they explain that they “never went public” with this song. They played it once before in a huge power plant in Copenhagen.  It was a big room–very reverby (if you can say that).  The office is a very different place and they want to compare how it sounds.   They also sampled the worlds northernmost grand piano for this song.  They were in Piramida, a ghost town in the arctic.  The song begins with slow notes from the sampled piano while the keys play pinked notes. The singer sings in a baritone that is quite lovely.  When the loud drums kick in it’s quite a shock to the mellow music.  The song is only a bout 2 and a half minutes and, once again, it ends just as it seems like it might soar into something new.

“Alike” is from their previous album.  It opens with keys and percussion (all kinds of things like a fork on a mug).  They sing in harmony for much of the song.  It doesn’t use much in the way of guitar or bass (the bassist is keeping time with a pair of scissors and then a beer bottle on a step stool) until the end of the song when the guitar chords kick in fast (but not too loud).  It’s the longest song but the way it builds slowly it feels like it could go on for much longer.

This Tiny Desk really made me want to learn more about this interesting group and to hear more from them.

[READ: April 20, 2016] The Wild Robot

I love Peter Brown’s picture books.  I think Chowder is absolutely genius and The Secret Garden brings me to tears each time I read it.  So I was pretty excited to read this novel–his first.

It’s quite a fast read (with about 70 chapters all about 3 pages long) and lots of pictures.  The blurb on the book said that a robot woke up on a remote island. She has to learn to survive from the animals. And once she starts to feel comfortable, her past comes back to haunt her.

And that is a fair summary of the book.  The plot is very simple, but Brown adds a lot of details and a lot of characters to make the plot interesting. (more…)

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cardboardSOUNDTRACK: MARY HALVORSON QUINTET-Tiny Desk Concert #267 (February 25, 2013).

maryI had never heard of Mary Halvorson before.  And that makes sense because she is an avant-garde free-jazz guitarist, a sound I like (sometimes) but one which I do not follow.  So a little background is in order:

As a sidewoman, [Mary Halvorson] is often tapped to play in open improvising situations….  Among her sonic signatures are craggy distortions, bent strings and delay-pedaled blurts through a hollow-body guitar….  Halvorson has now recorded two albums with her quintet, one with alto saxophone (Jon Irabagon) and trumpet (Jonathan Finlayson) up top. (The rhythm section is also among New York’s finest, with John Hebert on bass and Ches Smith on drums.) From the way her songs balance order and entropy, you can hear that she’s studied how golden-era hard bop blended those voices, and how later generations morphed, rephrased and imploded those ideas.

The Quintet plays two pieces.  I would have guessed they were improvised but not only do they have titles, they have sheet music!

“Love In Eight Colors” (No. 21) starts out as a slightly dissonant mellow jazz piece.  Then about 45 seconds in, Mary throws in an unusual guitar lick—a slightly weird note.  And then a minute later things get noisy until a simple trumpet solo takes over.  When the music resumes, Mary is playing some strangely discordant chords over the solo—everyone seems to be doing their own thing.  Around 4 minutes in, it turns into something new with an interesting, mesmerizing guitar solo riff.  When the band resumes, the sax takes over and the trumpeter literally stands stock still like a statue staring forward–it’s almost creepy.  At 8 minutes, they introduce a two-minute drum solo.  It’s fun to watch all the strange things he does—elbow on the drum head, vibrato with his hands changing the sound, clicking the sides of his drum.  Then the band resumes until the end.  And it’s more dissonance.

She introduces “Hemorrhaging Smiles” (No. 25) without smiling.  There’s a lot more melody in this song–the sax and trumpet sound groovy.  Even the guitar is pretty. Then she throws in a bizarre scale which cycles throughout the song.  It’s strangely addicting and I enjoyed hearing it every time it came back–even though it wasn’t exactly pretty.  The guitar has a lot of vibrato on it, although about six minutes in she switches the sound of her guitar to a bit more conventional sound and she plays a wicked solo. The second listen through made me appreciate what was happening a lot more.  Even if the song is pretty out there.

Mary Halvorson’ Quintet is not for everyone.  It might not be for many at all, but if you like your jazz free, check her out.

[READ: June 19, 2016] Cardboard

I’ve had mixed feelings about TenNapel’s books.  I loved Ghostopolis, and didn’t love Tommysaurus Rex.  So I picked this up with some hesitation.

But I found that I really enjoyed this weird book a lot.

For a kids’ graphic novel it’s actually quite long.  And, for a kid’s graphic novels there’s a few adult themes (like unemployment and widowhood) that a kid may not get or care about all that much (or maybe they would, what do I know).

As the book opens we see Mike, a big burly carpenter, begging for work.  But he gets nothing.  And as he walks away we see a very strange-looking man (TenNapel’s book are chock full of weird-looking characters) who offers to sell him a gift for his son.  Mike has no money, so he can’t buy the cool gift.  But the man says that for 78 cents (the exact amount in his pocket) he can have this giant cardboard box.

Mike is appalled at the idea of getting his son a box (even if it can be a creative play toy–ha!), but he’s got nothing else.  So he drives home with this box muttering “worst present ever.” (more…)

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manner SOUNDTRACK: BEN GIBBARD-Tiny Desk Concert #251 (November 19, 2012).

benBen Gibbard is the voice of Death Cab for Cutie.  His voice is instantly recognizable and his melodies are surprisingly catchy.

This Tiny Desk Concert (they say it’s number 250, but I count 251) is just him and his acoustic guitar.  I didn’t know he did solo work, but apparently he does (in addition to being in The Postal Service and All-Time Quarterback).

Gibbard just released a solo album, Former Lives, which he’s said is a repository for material that didn’t work as Death Cab for Cutie songs; from that record, only “Teardrop Windows” pops up in his Tiny Desk Concert. For the rest, he draws from Death Cab’s most recent album (“St. Peter’s Cathedral,” from Codes and Keys) and, of all places, last year’s Arthur soundtrack (“When the Sun Goes Down on Your Street”).

As mentioned he plays three songs and his voice is so warm and familiar I felt like I knew these songs even if I didn’t.

I knew “St. Peter’s Cathedral.” It is a lovely song with very little in the way of chord changes.  But the melody is gentle and pretty.  And the song appears to be entirely about this church.  Which is interesting because the second song is also about a building in Seattle.  “Teardrop Windows” is a surprisingly sad song about an inanimate object.  It’s written from the building’s point of view as he mourns that no one uses him anymore.  And such beautiful lyrics too:

Once built in boast as the tallest on the coast he was once the city’s only toast / In old postcards was positioned as the star, he was looked up to with fond regard / But in 1962 the Needle made its big debut and everybody forgot what it outgrew

The final song “When the Sun Goes Down on Your Street” was indeed for the Russel Brand movie Arthur.  Somehow I can’t picture those two together.  It’s a lovely song, too.

I prefer Gibbard’s more upbeat and fleshed out music, but it’s great to hear him stripped down as well.

[READ: January 2017] “My Writing Education: A Time Line,” “The Bravery of E.L. Doctorow,” “Remembering Updike,” and “Offloading for Mrs. Schwartz” 

I had been planning to have my entire month of February dedicated to children’s books.  I have a whole bunch that I read last year and never had an opportunity to post them.  So I thought why not make February all about children’s books.  But there is just too much bullshit going on in our country right now–so much hatred and ugliness–that I felt like I had to get this post full of good vibes out there before I fall completely into bad feelings myself. It;s important to show that adults can be kind and loving, despite what our leaders demonstrate.  Fortunately most children’s books are all about that too, so the them holds for February.

George Saunders is a wonderful writer, but he is also a very kind human being.  Despite his oftentimes funny, sarcastic humor, he is a great humanitarian and is always very generous with praise where it is warranted.

The other day I mentioned an interview with Saunders at the New York Times.  Amid a lot of talk with and about Saunders, there is this gem:

Junot Díaz described the Saunders’s effect to me this way: “There’s no one who has a better eye for the absurd and dehumanizing parameters of our current culture of capital. But then the other side is how the cool rigor of his fiction is counterbalanced by this enormous compassion. Just how capacious his moral vision is sometimes gets lost, because few people cut as hard or deep as Saunders does.”

These first three pieces are all examples of his love and respect for other writers–both for their skill and for their generosity.

“My Writing Education: A Time Line”

“My Writing Education” comes from a book called A Manner of Being: Writers on Their Mentors.  Saunders’ mentor was Tobias Wolff.  And for this essay, his admiration takes the form of a diary.  (more…)

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index SOUNDTRACK: LYLE LOVETT-Tiny Desk Concert #257 (December 10, 2012).

lyleLyle Lovett was the first country musician I ever enjoyed.  And that came mostly from his Large Band recordings.  Lovett, while clearly of the country ilk, is a different kind of country—perhaps it’s because his country comes from Texas.  He is not afraid to bend genres and sing about whatever is on his mind (with a great, unique voice that eschews country flavors.

For this tiny desk it is just Lyle and a fiddle by Luke Bulla.

One of the things I’ve always liked about Lyle is his sense of humor. He doesn’t write funny songs, but some of his songs are funny.  And he himself is very funny–very deadpan–which he demonstrates amply here.

And, according to the blurb, he’s also rather humble

Lovett not only showed up at NPR Music’s offices without an entourage, but also booked his Tiny Desk Concert himself, emailing us out of the blue to express his interest. (Our reply: “We would only agree to have you perform a Tiny Desk Concert if it’s under any conceivable circumstance.”)

So it’s appropriate that Lovett would open this performance at the NPR Music offices by performing “Cowboy Man,” the first track on his 1986 debut: He may be a music-industry veteran, but in many ways, he’s starting over. With a fresh-faced accompanist in fiddler and backup singer Luke Bulla, Lovett gives a loose, engaging performance that feels like both an introduction and a victory lap.  He follows “Cowboy Man” with two songs from 1989’s Lyle Lovett and His Large Band, so this is no mere promotional appearance.

He’s charming right up front.  After the “Cowboy Man,” which sounds great, he looks up and laughs, “thank you very much,” with a sense of wonder.  He starts right into the second song and then stops and stop again and then says “I just about got it.”  He plays the melody for a few bars and the violin comes in and they play a few bars together and then, I gather, Lyle screwed up because he kind of smiles over at Luke and then stops playing and says “you sure you want to play that?”

Everyone laughs, some tension is broken.  And he looks up at everyone.

“This is…it’s kinda weird, right?”  Someone shouts out “Good weird!”  He laughs, “Good for sure, no question.”

Then he picks up a CD off the desk and says, “Just one of those chance meetings.”  He holds up the CD, “Iris Dement, she was just right here.”  To much laughter.  Stephen, who booked the show shouts, “We’ve got all those inventoried, so don’t even think about it.” Which cracks everyone up.

Then he tells a story about meeting Iris’ daughter  He asks them is they know about the Cayamo Folk Cruises.  No one replies so he says “It’s a popu….it’s not that popular.”  He says it is a festival on the water (it must have been one of the first music cruises).  He describes it and says its fun a deal.  And then stops and says “I don’t know why we’re talking about it.”  Then they remind him about Iris Dement’s daughter.

His story about her is very funny, told in a great deadpan way:  I saw this cool chick, about ten years old, leaning against the elevator.  Wearing skinny pants and a hat.  She looked at me in that skeptical way, and I said, so you in a band?  She rolled her eyes, gave me a sideways look.  She said, No.  So I said, Well, you oughta be.  She said, My mom’s in a band.  Who’s your mom?  She said Iris, just like that.  She was cool.

Finally starts playing “If You Were To Wake Up” again and jokes, “Pretend like this is going well.”  It is, the song is very pretty with gorgeous violin.

The final song is “Good Intentions”  He looks at Luke and says. “Play it just…do it however you want.”  Lyle starts the song,  “It’s a sunny day in Sunny…” and he stops and looks at Luke and says “Don’t mess me up anymore, alright?”  To more laughter.  It’s one of his great songs–jazzy and with swell lyrics.  There’s even a plucked violin solo.

I have loved Lyle and his Large Band, but I also like him in this small duet as well.

[READ: January 21, 2015] “Youngthing”

Boy I hated this story.

It is the story of a young Somali thug (nicknamed Youngthing) who has been conscripted into a the Shabaab-led insurgency.

He is sent on a mission for the insurgents.  He is meant to secure (steal) a house for the group.

He doesn’t pay attention, winds up going to wrong place and inadvertently “captures” the wrong house.

There is an innocent old man living there.  We see the story from the man’s point of view we see for half of the story; we see it from Youngthing’s point of view for the other half).  The old man doesn’t realize the trouble he is in right away.  He even manages to convinces Youngthing that everything will be okay. (more…)

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ny SOUNDTRACK: ROBERT CRAY BAND-Tiny Desk Concert 246 (October 22, 2012).

crayRobert Cray is a well-respected blues singer.  He has a smooth voice and a good bluesy guitar sound.

However, I don’t really like the blues all that much, so this Concert was simply fine to me.  Cray’s band includes bassist Richard Cousins, keyboardist Jim Pugh and drummer Tony Braunagel, “who performs here by tapping a wooden box” (it’s one of those cool box drums).

They play three songs, “Sadder Days,” a sad slow blues with some beautiful guitar soloing.  “(Won’t Be) Coming Home” is a faster, darker song about her leaving him.

“I’m Done Cryin'” is nearly ten minutes long and it is a pretty classic blues song with lengthy solos and much bemoaning that he is still a man.  It’s got some good soling and, I imagine if you like the blues, this is a killer track.

[READ: July 20, 2016] “Naima”

I really didn’t enjoy this short story very much.  It took a really long time before it did anything. I realize part of that is the nature of the story–building up characters and setting up the basis for the relationship–but it felt like half the story was just extraneous.

The crux of the story is that a boy’s mother has died.  (For the first half of the story I was sure the main character was a girl, so I was quite shocked to find out otherwise).  The boy was very close with his mother.  His father was a joyful person while she was alive but in the short period since her death, the father has become very distant.

The only person the boy is close to is Naima, the maid. (more…)

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TNY 11.24.08 cvr.fnl.indd SOUNDTRACK: BILLY BRAGG & JOE HENRY-Tiny Desk Concert #571 (October 17, 2016).

bragg-henryI don’t really know who Joe Henry is (although I see that he has released 13 albums).  I’ve heard his name mentioned a bunch of times, but I can’t really place him to any specific music.  Billy Bragg, on the other hand, I know very well.

The two recorded an album this year.  And the NPR blurb is pretty interesting:

Earlier this year, Billy Bragg and Joe Henry set off on a journey. They boarded a train in Chicago, bound for Los Angeles. Each time the train stopped for more than 20 minutes in cities like St. Louis and San Antonio, they’d grab their guitars, hop off, find the waiting room and record an old railroad song. The result of this journey is an album called Shine A Light: Field Recordings From The Great American Railroad.

Their voices sound very different and as a result they play off each other very well.

The duo used Lead Belly as a jumping off point for much of this music.  Bragg explains that the jumping off point for this music is a book he has been working on about when British pop music went from being jazz influenced to being guitar led.  In 1956 Lonnie Donegan became the first Briton to get into the charts playing the  Lead Belly song “Rock Island Line.”

On the second song “Hobo’s Lullaby” Henry explains, the railroad is a mythic poverty–railroads conjure a romance in all of us even if we’ve never ridden a passenger train.  As they start, Bragg hasn’t re-tuned his guitar.  He says it’s always him who messes up.  But he usually plays solo, so “If I put something in the wrong key I just sing it in that key and hope no one notices–fortunately my audience… no one comes to hear me sing.”

As they are about to start, he says, “Sorry mate it was a beautiful intro.”  Henry looks at him and says, “It was,” to much laughter.

Before the final song, Henry says he was listening to Lead Belly since he was 15.  “Midnight Special” was a train that ran past Sugarland Prison in Texas.  The story was if the train’s light shined on you as it swept across the yard, that you would be the next to get paroled.

Even though these songs are old,

This concept record could be seen as a nostalgia trip, but both Bragg and Henry will emphatically say that it’s not. These songs and this journey celebrate the modern railroad as a major economic engine and a still-vital form of transportation.

[READ: March 10, 2016] “Ghosts”

Danticat often writes about Haiti and the troubles that arise there.

This story is set in Bel Air–the Baghdad of Haiti. Children in the neighborhood enter art contests by drawing posters that say “It’s not polite to shoot at funeral processions.”

The protagonist is Pascal Dorien.  He is a good kid who tries to stay out of trouble.  His parents own a small restaurant which has the unfortunate location of being in the heart of gangland (his family lives in a nearby town which is a little safer).  Luckily for them (sort of) the gangsters who make the restaurant their evening hangout are kind to the family and think of their place as their haven.

The family originally sold pigeons (both live and as meat) but then the gangsters started buying them to use in a ritual which involved drinking the pigeons’ blood mixed with evaporated milk.  His parents hated this and eventually stopped selling the bird.   Nevertheless the money they made for this ritual allowed them to expand and make even more money.  Which they hoped would allow their children to flee Haiti for safer locations. (more…)

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