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Archive for the ‘Excerpt’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: CAFÉ TACVBA-Tiny Desk Concert #794 (October 12, 2018).

Back in the 1990s I was quite the fan of Café Tacvba (I was exposed to a lot of rock en Español in the 90s and Café Tacvba stood out).

I’d never seen them and wasn’t even sure they were still together.  So it was great to see them in this Tiny Desk Concert.[“the four principal members together for almost 30 years”].  I didn’t know much about them back then (their liner notes are all in Spanish).

As usual, lead vocalist Rubén Albarrán is a captivating central presence, evoking a sense of down-home camaraderie with his ever friendly smile that has become the band’s most outward image. Having seen the band play in front of dedicated fans in massive stadiums in Mexico City, it’s striking to see his movements limited to a few careful spins and dance steps while still managing to embody the intense energy of their music.

The first song is “Olita del Altamar” (“Waves from the High Seas”) from the group’s 2012 album El Objeto Antes Llamado Disco.   Albarrán says it is “dedicated to the sacred water–not for mining, not for fracking but for humans and all living beings.”

It’s essentially an incantation of the magic that transpired during their performance behind Bob Boilen’s desk. The lyrics sing of the comings and goings of waves, symbolic of the passage of time and fueled by the Mexican folk rhythm son jarocho, a favorite of the band’s since their start almost 30 years ago.

The song has a real folk quality.  Their instruments are all acoustic (two of those tiny Mexican guitars and a full-sized guitar).  There’s a delightful solo on the melodica. Despite the song’s poppiness, at one point Albarrán begins screaming happily away from the microphone and dancing.

They then fast forward to “Diente de León” (“Dandelion”), from their 2017 album Jei Beibi. It’s a majestic, stripped-down version that puts the emphasis back on the lyric, a plea for existential and environmental harmony using the metaphor of the weedy flower.

It’s a beautiful song with Albarrán’s voice at times gruff and at times soaring.  The addition of electronic percussion is a little jarring, but it is quiet and works well with the music.

The third song is one that I knew and it was great to hear it again.  Introducing “The Flowers,” he says, “When we play this live we ask the people to raise heir hands so we can see a beautiful garden of different colors, different perfumes.  if you want you ca try it, it’s free.”

Their song “Las Flores,” from their 1994 album Re, slips into the ska groove that attracted fans to rock en Español in general and to Los Tacvbas in particular, a beat that captures the adventurous musical energy that swept all of Latin America in the early 1990s.

Clearly this energy is what swept over me in 1994.  Once again that melodica solo is delightful.  But so is everything else about this song–the guitar notes, the upright bass and of course, Albarrán’s infectious singing.

Not all bands would end their set with a power ballad, though very few bands hold their audience’s attention and dedication like Café Tacvba. But that’s just how they close their set.

“Que No” is their latest single, a pretty ballad.  Once the full band kicks in, it’s got a fun beat (that upright bass really keeps he beat).  Albarrán’s once again steals the show.

[READ: January 31, 2018] “The Death of Lazarus Averbuch”

This is an excerpt from The Lazarus Project.  It is story set in 1908 Chicago and one that I wasn’t very interested in until the very end.  Read as a short story it takes way too long to get where it is going, but as a part of a novel its a nice build up to the climactic scene.

A scrawny young man went to the house of the chief of police.  The chief’s wife told the man the chief didn’t see anyone before 9 AM.  The young man leaves and says he’ll come back.  Chicago is cold, bitter cold, and the man is sick of being so cold.  He had a nice summer here and even a  lovely autumn day in October, but he want the cold to end.

He decides to go into a grocery store because of the smell of warm bread.  The owners suspect of the man immediately–his stomach growls when he smells the fresh bread.  Meanwhile, another man walks in and has a friendly chat with the owners. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: HASSAN HAKMOUN-“Balili (My Father)” (Field Recordings, June 11, 2014).

I didn’t know Hassan Hakmoun, but he is one of many West African musicians whose music I have come to really enjoy.  I absolutely love this song.

Hassan Hakmoun’s music is very much rooted in his homeland. Born in Marrakesh, he is from the Gnawa community, whose ancestors were brought from West Africa to North Africa as slaves in the 15th and 16th centuries. Gnawan music and dance, which are central to their spiritual tradition, fuse Muslim mysticism with sub-Saharan traditions in rituals meant to heal the body and lift the soul.

This Field Recording [On a Magical Mystery Tour with Hassan Hakmoun] has a different component to it–it is (so far) unlike any other one.

When we plan Field Recordings, we usually look far and wide to find off-the-beaten-path locations for filming musicians. But a unique opportunity presented itself when a duo called Wanderlust Projects — designers of “transgressive placemaking experiences” for urban explorers, usually in abandoned or otherwise places — invited us to come along on an adventure.

Wanderlust invited a crew of intrepid New Yorkers to accompany the fabulous Moroccan musician Hassan Hakmoun and his band on a mysterious day trip. So we piled into a van with the musicians, and off we all went to points unknown. After a long morning being driven to our secret destination — with no one but the organizers knowing where we were heading — we arrived upstate at the stunning Widow Jane Mine.

Along with providing spectacular visuals, the mine proved to be an oddly fitting location for Hakmoun and his musicians. The Widow Jane is a limestone mine that once supplied cement for such landmarks as the Brooklyn Bridge, the Statue of Liberty and the U.S. Capitol. Hakmoun’s music has found its fullest flower in New York with a highly transnational lineup of nomads.

The song opens with Hakmoun playing a fast riff on his instrument.  I cannot believe that they don;t say what it is–is it homemade?  is there one string or more?  how does he get such a great sound out of fit?).

He starts playing what will be the song’s main riff–a cool fast melody with some counterpoint loud notes.  The percussionist sings along , the flutist plays a solo of sorts and then after about a minute, the drums kick in and the song just rocks.

His band includes

Percussionist Chikako Iwahori is originally from Japan; guitarist Raja Kassis hails from Beirut; flutist Bailo Bah comes from Guinea; and drummer Harvey Wirht is from Suriname.

The sound is incredible.  Whether the caves enhance the music is unclear, but it sounds wonderful there.  The song is about 8 minutes long.  There’s not a lot to it–the riff is repeated almost throughout, but there are great variations throughout. The flute solo, the guitar solo or when he starts stomping his feet on the limestone while wearing bells on his ankles–it adds a great new component to the music.

This is just fantastic.

[READ: January 19, 2018] “Sprawl”

This is an excerpt from Dutton’s novel Sprawl (getting a reprint in 2018).

It’s a little hard to tell what the novel is about from this excerpt but I loved the whole take on suburbia that the export displays.

The excerpt is full of letters, presumably written by the same person (it’s unstated).

The first one is to Mrs Barbauld and is designed as a re-orientation to the neighborhood.  It is a bit confusing so I’m moving on.

The narrator is talking to us, I suppose as if setting the ultimate example: (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BRODY DALLE-“Dressed in Dreams” (Field Recordings, July 15, 2014).

For this Field Recording [Brody Dalle: Raging Into the Light], Brody Dalle plays in an Indian Restaurant!  I fancy myself a knowledgable punk fan, but I’ve never heard of Brody or either of her bands.

Throughout her career, punk icon Brody Dalle has embraced her aggressive side. Best known as the lead singer of The Distillers and Spinnerette, Dalle has a sandpaper- and velvet-tinged voice that speaks to rebellious young punks who are curious about the world yet vulnerable to its sharp edges. “I’ve never understood why there was such a fuss about aggressive women in music,” Dalle says. “To me, aggression is a human instinct. … I’ve felt provoked for most of my life, especially as a child. I guess I’ve carried those feelings into my songs.”

So it was a pleasant surprise that Dalle was open to the challenge of crafting a stripped-down version of her song “Dressed in Dreams.” An anthem about getting back up when you’ve been kicked down, the song is personal to Dalle: After overcoming addiction, she almost immediately faced a brutal bout of postpartum depression. “I had a hard time getting myself up and running before I wrote this record,” she says. “I felt worthless. I was embarrassed and lost.”

Luckily, Dalle was able to use her songwriting as a way to fight back. Earlier this year, she released Diploid Love, her first solo album, and she says she happily embraces her day-to-day life as a working rock mom and wife. As Dalle set up her gear at New York City’s Panna II, we noticed the way the chili-pepper strands that covered every surface of the restaurant bathed her in a weirdly fierce yet serene red light. They provide a nice little visual metaphor for the way raging against the darkest points in life can help bring you into the light.

I love the fuzz she gets on an acoustic guitar.

But I have since listened to the recorded version and I like it a ton more.  The extra guitar really helps make what is an otherwise simple and repetitive song far more interesting.  Her voice also sounds a lot better on the record.

But the weirdest thing is how long this song is.  The Distillers songs were proper punk songs, last about 3 minutes or less.  This one, running over 4 doesn’t have enough variety to sustain that length.

[READ: February 5, 2018] “A Failure of Concern”

I wrote this about a Ben Marcus story published in Harper’s in 2011:

It goes on for several pages.

There is some degree of amusing shock value in the way he speaks … but as with much of what I’ve read from Marcus, I feel like I could have read half of this and gotten enough.

No explanation is given for the problem (and, fair enough, it is only an excerpt) and anyway, by the end, I didn’t really want one.

And I feel exactly the same about this story.

The nutshell story is that the narrator’s father and a lodger in their house are both missing, possibly murdered.  There is a detective there looking for clues.

The narrator is a lunatic, a mental case, and idiot, a deviant, a murderer, something, whatever.  The narrator gets common quotes and facts wrong. The narrator seemed to hate both his father and the lodger and seems likely very guilty. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KING-“Supernatural” (Field Recordings, September 17, 2014).

This Field Recording [KING Makes A Record Lover’s Paradise Even Better] was created before Prince died.  Hard to believe that was two years ago already!

I mention this because the women of KING (Paris and Amber Strother and Anita Bias) speak of him in the present tense.  Which is strangely comforting.

The women mention Prince because evidently he heard a song from their debut EP and contacted them out of the blue.  His manager sent them a one line email: “Would you be interested in meeting Prince?”  Get outta here!

On a steamy morning upstairs in a record lover’s paradise KING laid down a gorgeous version of “Supernatural,” one of the songs that lit up Twitter three years ago.  While customers quietly thumbed through LPs — then stopped to stare — the singers gently and precisely intertwined their three voices in service of a love song.

Their voices and harmonies are quite lovely.  Although this is not a type of music I enjoy.

[READ: January 19, 2018] “In the United States of Africa”

This is an excerpt from a novel originally written in French and translated by David and Nicole Bell.

The blurb says that the novel opens with “a brief account of the origins of our [African] prosperity and the reasons that have thrown the Caucasians onto the paths of exile.”

This excerpt is not terribly compelling.  There’s a hint of a cool story there but it seems to be overtaken by philosophical musings. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JESSE BOYKINS III-“4 U 2 B Free” (Field Recordings, October 8, 2014).

This Field Recording [Jesse Boykins III Breaks It Down] starts with a lot of ambient noise–a giant overhead fan–which I thought might be an interesting component to the song.  But once Boykins starts singing, it’s just his voice. And that’s all–it’s a lovely a capella performance.

The day after playing a set at the Superdome during the Essence Music Festival this summer, eclectic R&B singer Jesse Boykins III wandered into Mardi Gras World — an expansive, airy warehouse packed wall to wall with floats used in New Orleans’ infamous parades. The floats are built from the ground up in-house, so Boykins found himself surrounded by unfinished works and spare parts.

It’s creepy and unsettling to see these giant heads–eyeballs at eyeball height, but just a head–staring at you.  It’s also surreal with the various colors and shapes and the head of Abraham Lincoln looking on as Jesse sings.

He sang one of the most emotional tracks from his latest album a cappella. While singing “4 U 2 B Free,” Boykins pulled back the layers of his own creation, matching his performance to the exposed, oddly vulnerable characters surrounding him.

But Boykins’ performance is really powerful especially at the end as his wonderful high notes as if no no one is watching.

[READ: October 4, 2017] “Enter the Ford: Lost Chapters from A Death in the Family”

I knew nothing about this book, so I had to look it up.

The first chapter sees a young by, Rufus, waking up wearily with his dad.  The boy is very excited and the father seems pretty delighted to be awake with his son so early.  They try their best not to wake the baby girl or the mom.  Of course the mom wakes up and asks for the dad to do some things before he leaves.  The dad makes breakfast–with stern admonitions to the boy not get burnt by the coffee pot, bacon or stove–and then he helps the boy with the difficult buttons.

We don’t know too much about the dad yet, but this exchange is interesting:

“You’re getting pretty good, buttoning yourself.” he said.  Rufus said nothing.
His father thought damn fool thing to tell a child; dumb as a fish.

In the second chapter they head out to Chilhowee Park and the entire chapter is given over to the most exquisite descriptions of this amusement park through the eyes of Rufus.  Everything is amazing and wonderful and the language is of a person taking everything in–from the color of the lake to the swans on the water to the roller coaster and the fairy’s wheel.

And then came the merry-go-round.  We learn how first Rufus rode only on the bench.  And then was allowed to ride the horses that did not go up and down.  And then on the up and down horses only if his dad was holding on.  And finally, today, to ride the up and down one by himself.  The amount of detail about the merry-go round is wonderful.

The only thing more wonderful than the merry-go-round was the little train.  We hear his father’s kind words about how amazing the train is.

Then things go sour a little because there’s also the arcades–where adults play games of chance.  There’s games that one never won–like the seventeen jewel watch.  But the worst was a place where there was “a darky with his head through a hole.”  And the people were meant to, as the carny said, “hit the nigger in the head and you get a cigar.”

Rufus’ mom hated this game.  And Jay wasn’t too keen on it either.  The one time they were there, Jay conceded that the man’s got to make money some way.  Jay tried to ease his wife’s concerns by showing her that the ball wasn’t that hard.  He lifted it up but she refused to even touch it.  The carny got mad at him for touching the ball. And Jay got huffy back.  She calmed him and he walked away.

But on this visit, he did not back down. the carny did. And that made Jay’s day even better.

Chapter 3

This chapter opens with Jay and his wife, Laura, talking about something extravagant.  She wants it, he doesn’t seem to want it and he seems to twist her words against her.

It comes out that he wants to get a car so that they can visit the in-laws once in a while.  She is nervous that cars are dangerous.  He admits they are but sometimes living in a house is dangerous.  But he says that having a wife and kids means he will be even more careful than everyone else out there who has nothing to be careful about.

She agrees to the car.  But in the middle of the night she has a premonition of something bad happening to the family in the car.  He says that they won’t get one.  Then later she gets over the premonition and agrees that they should go ahead and get one.

Chapter Four.

And then daddy drove home in a gas buggy–a new ford  Rufus is thrilled.  Laura can’t believe he drove it there all by himself.  And the neighbors all come out to gawk.

“Course they got an awful name for breaking down… But where Ford’s ahead, he supplies you the parts.”

They go for a before-dinner ride.  Jay drives very well and everyone is enjoying themselves.  Laura is nervous and says so, but he is careful and considerate of them.  He pulls over when another car comes by and he is very cautious around a horse and buggy–the horse is not spooked at all.  But their joy ridge is somewhat ruined by a speed demon who comes buzzing by them scaring them all half to death.

As the excerpt ends, Jay and Rufus take the car out for a spin and Jay really lets the speed fly.  They almost have an accident but Jay is able to handle it and he confides in the boy that they must never tell their mom that they went fast.  He agrees.

I don’t actually know much else about this story.  Between the title and what kind of tension a scene like this builds I expected something bad to happen.  It never did (hooray), but i assume it does),

The writing in this story was exceptional.

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SOUNDRACK: T.I.-Tiny Desk Concert #780 (August 27, 2018).

Sarah asked me to describe trap music and I couldn’t.

So Wikipedia tells me:

Trap music is defined by its ominous, bleak and gritty lyrical content which varies widely according to the artist. Typical lyrical themes portrayed include observations of hardship in the “trap”, street life, poverty, violence and harsh experiences that artists have faced in their urban surroundings.

It’s interesting that the music isn’t really mentioned in this description.  Because it was the music that I was most attracted to in this Tiny Desk Concert.  The riffs and melodies are really interesting–especially in this concert in which he brought along high school students from a non-profit Atlanta Music Project, who put a classical twist on his street anthems, adding strings and brass in place of 808 bass.

Tip “T.I.” Harris has lived the last 15 years of his life on the big stage. Fans have watched him rise, fall and ascend to new heights again, remaking himself each step of the way. From dope boy to dope emcee. From inmate to activist. From reality star and box-office draw to real estate developer and film producer.

Rapping along to a group of high school string players instead of his classic tracks. Without his usual audio prompts, he kept lyric sheets close at hand while running through the definitive street hits “Rubber Band Man,” “What You Know” and the Billboard 100 chart topper featuring Rihanna, “Live Your Life.” He may have stumbled a few times, but when you’ve successfully reinvented your career as often as Tip has had to it’s probably hard to stick to the same old script.

This Tiny Desk Concert is barely 8 minutes long–one of the shortest I can think of and certainly the shortest for a major act like this.  I didn’t know any of his songs before this, so I was puzzled why each song appears to be barely a minute long (he is either using only his verses because he has guests on the record, or he is only doing a verse and chorus).

The first song, “Rubber Band Man” has a great melody–made even better by the live instruments.  But he seriously plays it for one minute (the band plays it for two).  After a verse or so he

kept his set funky with off-the-cuff stories of the drama behind his music — like the time when he found out, after shooting the video for “Rubber Band Man” with Puff Daddy, that his home had been raided by police. “This music was about the elements that people have to endure in their lives every day and find a brighter side and make a way out of no way,” he said. “That’s what this music represents.”

I love the melody of “What You Know” (I listened to the recording and like this version much better).  The crowd really responds to him as if he were a preacher.  Again, this is a short song, just a verse, and at the end he says he goes into the studio to  bring some soul and funk to get you through the day–to reach the best side of yourselves.

He is super polite and friendly and is very kind to the kids:  “That’s a true example that really says that you’re never defined by your environment unless you want to be,” Tip said, crediting the youngsters for their commitment to craft.

Introducing “Live Your Life” he says that Rihanna ain’t here so…and the crowd responds “we got you!”  It’s fascinating that his original songs are some 4 or 5 minutes long.  This one is reduced once again to a minute or so.

[READ: January 22, 2018] “Thirteen Dreams”

This is indeed a list of thirteen dreams.  They were translated from the Arabic by Raymond Stock.  The full book is described that in his final years, Egyptian Nobel Laureate Naguib Mahfouz distilled his storyteller’s art to its most essential level. Written with the compression and power of dreams, these poetic vignettes… telescope epic tales into tersely haunting miniatures.

I’m not sure why they chose these 13, but I’m summarizing without the endings.

Dream 105
All men get their beard trimmed at Uncle Abduh’s salon by a beautiful woman.  One day he was walking down the street and she came close to him.  He had to stare, but she soon turned into a block of wood.  When he turned around…

Dream 106
There was a coup d’etat and an older man said he’d heard such a thing once in his youth.  The dreamer said he knew who started the coup and he laughed with pride.  But the old man said he once laughed with pride about such things…. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ERYKAH BADU-Tiny Desk Concert #776 (August 15, 2018).

I remember when Erykah Badu released “On & On.”  It was such a great, catchy song, but it felt really different.  And then I basically lost track of her.  I didn’t realize she was still making music (and she hadn’t made much) until 2008’s New Amerykah Part One was a huge hit.

So I hadn’t followed her transformation into an incredibly iconic and powerful woman.  Back in 1997 she wore large turbans.  Now, some twenty years later she looks amazing but also kind of scary–the pink eyeshadow and pale purple lipstick makes her look almost dead or perhaps reborn.  And when she points at the camera and stares “you tricked me,” watch out!

She sounds almost otherworldly as well.  Instead of the turban she has massive dreads (with butterflies in them).  She looks like an earth goddess.

Some folks around the NPR Music office said they felt an almost spiritual connection to Erykah Badu during her visit to the Tiny Desk. And that was before she and her band even played a single note. It came from the waft of earthly scents that followed in her wake, to the flowing dreads and clothes that hung on her like robes.

After her self-introduction, which included a rundown of her spiritual and creative aliases: Badoula Oblongata, Sara Bellum,  Silly E, Manuela Maria Mexico, Fat Belly Bella, she introduced her band, including on drums, “that’s my son, Seven.”  I’m just kidding that’s not Seven, his name is Delta 9.

The band, a collection of great jazz players launches into a brief (2 minute) version of 1997’s “Rimshot.”  She does some wonderful improv with it and it sounds terrific–particularly her voice.

For the song, Badu

play[s] with time — stretching it, stopping it, suspending it. Propelled by jazz chords on the piano and the steady pulse of the acoustic bass, the playful performance unfolded in the tradition of the best bebop.

She plays only one more track, a 12 minute panoramic song “Green Eyes.”  ….  It’s wide-ranging in scope and musical arrangement and brilliantly executed by the jazz and hip-hop musicians in her backing band. The story of heartbreak is striking enough, but her interpretation showcases her formidable vocal skills. By the time it was over, we were all just as emotionally and spiritually spent as she was from the experience.

There is so much in this song, it’s hard to take it all in.

It opens with a bouncy piano melody: “My eyes are green because I eat a lot of vegetables–it don’t have nothing to do with your new friend.”  A muted trumpet adds to the jazzy feel.  She hits a powerful high note and it feels like another short song, but the piano changes tempo and the song is only just getting underway.

I love the melody and the riff that follows certain verses.  Around 9 minutes into the show, the song feels like its ending again, but a flute picks up and the song moves along with a new urgency.  Until she says Wait and sings

Just make love to me
Just one more time
And then you’ll see
I can’t believe I made a desperate plea
What’s with me?

And the pain and power in her voice as she sings me is wonderful.  As the song nears its conclusion, she hits some incredible notes–showing just how amazing her voice still sounds.

Her music has been described as neo-soul, but to me this felt like old school jazz.  As the blurb concurs

Erykah Badu is an artist for the ages. To old-school jazz fans like myself, names like Nina Simone, Betty Carter and Shirley Horn come to mind as much as Billie Holiday because of Badu’s singular approach to a lyric. They all cut their own creative path and left behind a legacy that you can identify with just one note. Erykah Badu is on that same path, and one day her name will be mentioned along with the other Elders who share her spirit of musical adventure.

Erykah Badu (lead vocals), RC Williams (Keys), Braylon Lacy (bass), Cleon Edwards (Drums), Frank Moka (Percussion), Kenneth Whalum (Sax), Keyon Harrold (Trumpet), Dwayne Kerr (Flute).

[READ: January 19, 2018] “Why Are We in Zefra?”

This excerpt was published in Harper’s.  The blurb about the book gave some basic information, but it was on Karl Schroeder’s website that I found this more detailed explanation of the book:

In spring 2005, the Directorate of Land Strategic Concepts of National Defense Canada (that is to say, the army) hired me to write a dramatized future military scenario.  The book-length work, Crisis in Zefra, was set in a mythical African city-state, about 20 years in the future, and concerned a group of Canadian peacekeepers who are trying to ready the city for its first democratic vote while fighting an insurgency.  Both the peacekeepers and the insurgents use a range of new technologies, some fantastic-sounding, but all in development in 2005.  Needless to say, the good guys win, but not without consequences; the document explores everything from the evolution of individual soldiers’ kits to strategic considerations in world of pervasive instant communications.  The project ran to 27,000 words and was published by the army as a bound paperback book.

That’s pretty fascinating.

The excerpt was pretty compelling as well. (more…)

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