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Archive for the ‘Fears’ 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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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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squish-6SOUNDTRACK: ALLISON MILLER’S BOOM TIC BOOM-Tiny Desk Concert #223 (June 7, 2012).

boom I hadn’t heard of Miller–who is a drummer primarily in jazz circles.  Although the blurb says that she has also played live with Ani DiFranco so it’s very possible that I saw her play a decade or so ago.

But this band is all about the jazz.   The quartet has an upright bass, piano, sax and of course Miller’s drums and percussion.

And yet for a band which has her name in it, the drums and percussion are not very prominent.  This was a little disappointing as I wanted to hear some wild percussion, it also makes sense since she’s writing these tunes with melodies in mind.

They play three songs. “Big And Lovely” is primarily a sax song with a few moments of piano playing by itself.  The drums are certainly present but they don’t seem like the centerpiece of this song (and I gather they are not meant to).  It is fun to watch Miller play, though—jazz drummers really do seem to smile a lot more than rock drummers.  This was written for Miller’s friend, musician and activist Toshi Reagon.  During the end of the song—when it’s just bass and piano, Miller breaks out all kinds of bells and percussion which is neat.

“Spotswood Drive” is where a man named Walter Salb once lived; “he was a beloved and respected drummer, and by most accounts a larger-than-life character.  His 2006 Washington Post obituary ran with the headline ‘Drum Teacher Was Scurrilous, Rude — and Greatly Admired.'”  Salb was her drum teacher.  She says he was a “mentor and great guy… sometimes great guy.”  The blurb tells us that “Salb’s mentorship remains so important that Miller started a scholarship fund in his name, and recently dedicated a new tune to him — a searching, slow-burning meditation with lots of percussive coloring between the lines.”  It’s a slow song with lots of interesting percussion which sadly doesn’t really make it to the forefront in the song.  There are gongs and bells and other interesting things—its fun to see Miller scrambling around back there to grab different items.   A few minutes in, there’s a cool bass line (which I’d also like to be louder) that rides under the sax.

She introduces “The Itch” by saying “There’s a story behind this too, (laughter) it’s a little personal…”  Bob says you can stop there.  This was my favorite of the songs.  It opens with a Miller playing the floor tom—but the floor tom has all kinds of things on it—a cymbal, bells, a gong of some sort and she hits them all while keeping rhythm on the tom.  Then she gets to do some really snappy drumming—nice paradiddles and whatnot.  It was a little funny to watch the sax player just standing there watching her for the first minute and a half before joining in. After she gets a rhythm going the bass joins in.  The sax and keyboard lines are interesting and a little wonky sounding.  There’s some piano soloing and then a dissonant section with the sax and the keys playing off of each other.

Overall, this was an enjoyable set.

[READ: March 18, 2016] Squish #6

This book is about admitting to your fears.   Everybody in town wants to go see The Water Bear, a scary horror movie–with a great scary poster.  It’s all anyone can talk about.

When they finally get to the movie, I love that the first scare is a cat jumping out at you (classic horror movie trope).  But then everyone is terrified by the genuinely frightening Water Bear.  A footnote informs us that the Water Bear is entirely real.  Fortunately, it is also only 1 mm long (click if you dare)

The movie is super scary and Squish is terrified for days afterward. However, his friend Pod thought it was cool and Peggy thought the kitty was cute (Squish notes that it was cute until it got eaten). (more…)

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2008_10_13SOUNDTRACK: HALEY BONAR-Tiny Desk Concert #569 (October 11, 2016).

Haley Bonar was born in Canada but raised in the U.S.  She haleyis a folksinger with a country leaning (but without the twang).   For this Tiny Desk, Haley plays acoustic guitar and sings lead.  She had a keyboardist who sings great harmonies.  And behind them there’s a guy playing electric guitar (with great echoed effect), a bassist and a drummer.

“Hometown” has a great catchy chorus (well, and verse too).  It’s upbeat but melancholy at the same time.  There’s a very cool echoed slide guitar solo in the middle of the song.

Bonar doesn’t speak much, expect to joke about the appropriateness of the second song.  “Jealous Girls” is slower and moodier.  (“Jealous girls don’t have no fun unless they’re sure they’re the only one).  The middle section of this song is really cool, the way it changes the mood.  She doesn’t play guitar on this one, but there’s some great lyrics at the end of the song:

And you turn up your guitar
In another shitty bar in another shitty town
And you wonder when you’ll wake up
Yeah you wonder when you’ll wake up
From this long distance daydream of
Playing while girls scream
Alone in a hotel
Like piss in your ice cream

I love that the way this end part is sung and played it seems like it’s going to transition to another part.  But that’s just the end.

“Called You Queen” is a fast folkie song.  I really like her delivery on the verses. The chords for the chorus are fairly obvious but are really catchy anyway.  It’s a really good song.  The abrupt ending (with a hint of echo on the guitar) is spectacular

I didn’t know Bonar before this set, but i really liked it.

[READ: March 9, 2016] “Gold Boy Emerald Girl”

Yiyun Lee had a story in a 2008 May issue of the New Yorker as well.  I have enjoyed pretty much all of her stories. This one was quite different from the others in that the whole story has a feeling of inevitability to it.  And yet it was a kind of gentle inevitability that almost didn’t seem to be there.  Or something.

The story is about two adults, Siyu, 38 and Hanfeng 44.  The opening paragraph tells us that she was raised by her father and he was raised by his mother.

Siyu knew Hanfeng’s mother because she was a Professor and Siyu worked for her a while ago.  But the Professor is now retired and Hanfeng has moved back home after a stint in America to live with her.

And we see now that the Professor has set the two up on a date.

The story is told in a very gentle, unhurried way, as befits the story of these two who have taken their time with thee lives. (more…)

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TNY 8.25.08 cvr.inddSOUNDTRACK: BIG THIEF-Tiny Desk Concert #561 (August 29, 2016).

bigthiefBob Boilen absolutely loves Big Thief’s debut album (it made his top ten this year).  I think it’s really good, but I don’t quite love it the way he does.

But I think their first song, “Masterpiece” is really a great song.  And in this Tiny Desk Concert, they play it with a slightly different feel.  It seems to allow the sounds of the guitars to come through a little more.  Like the album, though, the harmonies are wonderful.

When the video started, the camera focused on just Adrianne Lenker and Buck Meek, and since the first song starts with just the two of them I wasn’t even sure of the whole band was there.  They are, although it’s odd how isolated the rhythms section looks in this video.

“Paul” is a mellow song with a strangely subdued and yet catchy chorus.  It’s kind of funny to watch Buck Meek really getting down to what is a fairly mellow track–although his guitar parts are pretty cool blasts of music.

“Lorraine” also get a mellow treatment here.  For this version it’s just her singing and playing the guitar.  It works very well in this Tiny setting and her voice really shines.

[READ: March 1, 2016] “Awake”

This story is about a college Economics major who just can’t get enough sex.

Well, that’s how it starts anyhow.  Richard is lying in bed next to Ana.  He moves in close behind her, hinting.  But she moves away quickly (she is actually asleep, so that’s a reflex).  He is annoyed although he shouldn’t be–I mean they did it twice already that night.

So instead of thinking about sex he decides to think about something else.  But what? (more…)

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kalfusSOUNDTRACK: XENIA RUBINOS-Tiny Desk Concert #551 (July 25, 2016).

xeniaI am fascinated by the music of Xenia Rubinos.  Every song in this Tiny Desk Concert has something interesting going on.  But for two of the songs, I can’t stand her voice.  Rubinos seems to sing in a free form jazzy / R&B/ improvised manner.  And it bugs me.  No matter how fun she is to watch (and she is), I just don’t like the way she sings (except on the second song).

But the music!  I love the way “Lonely Lover” opens with some interesting drumming and occasional weirdo samples. But the main melody is created by two bassists! (no guitars or anything else).  It’s such a great melody, slinky and smart, with each bassist playing a different aspect of the melody.  It’s super catchy (and when she sings actual words it works well).  It’s just the moaning and groaning that I can’t stand.

Between the first and second song she takes a dance break.  Then “Mexican Chef” open with a cool staggered bass line that is echoed by the guitar (the guitar (not the riff) sounds kind of 80’s punk) and some funky drums.  The lyrics of this song are right on, too.  It’s  a ruthless critique of the way brown people are treate.  It’s sung in a kind of rap style, with no room for soaring vocals.  It’s a really great song:

French bistro, Dominican chef/Italian restaurant, Boricua chef/Chinese takeout, Mexican chef …. Brown walks your baby/Brown walks your dog/Brown raised America /Brown cleans the house/Brown takes the trash/Brown even wipes your granddaddy’s ass …  Brown breaks his back // Brown takes the flack / Brown gets cut coz his papers are wack. … Brown has not / Brown get shot brown gets what he deserves coz he fought.

Right on.

For the final song, “Laugh Clown,” Rubinos plays solo bass and sings.  The bass is just occasional notes as Rubinos scat/sings.  It’s less interesting than the other two songs, but it makes for a  nice change of pace.

Once I got past her vocal delivery, I found I really liked these songs a lot.

[READ: November 18, 2016] Three Stories

Back in 2014, I ordered all 16 books from Madras Press. Unfortunately, after publishing the 16 books they seem to have gone out of business (actually they are switching to non-fiction, it seems). They still have a web presence where you can buy remaining copies of books.  But what a great business idea this is/was

Madras Press publishes limited-edition short stories and novella-length booklets and distributes the proceeds to a growing list of non-profit organizations chosen by our authors.  The format of our books provides readers with the opportunity to experience stories on their own, with no advertisements or miscellaneous stuff surrounding them.

The format is a 5″ x 5″ square books that easily fit into a pocket.

Proceeds from Kalfus’ book go to the Free Library of Philadelphia.

As the title suggests, there are three stories in this book. (more…)

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 doubledownSOUNDTRACK: JAKE SCHEPPS’ EXPEDITION QUARTET-Tiny Desk Concert #187 (January 19, 2012).

jakeJake Schepps’ Expedition Quartet is a somewhat unusual string quartet in that the instruments are violin and upright bass (normal) but also guitar and banjo.  And so the songs have a classical feel–melodies repeated in a fugue style, but with the prominence of the banjo, it feels more like a folk song.  The violin takes on a kind of fiddle sound.  And that’s interesting enough, but it’s the story of the music that they are playing which makes it even more fascinating:

About 100 years ago, Béla Bartók was traipsing through his native Hungary (Romania and Slovakia, too) with a bulky Edison phonograph, documenting folk songs and dances. There’s a priceless photo of the young composer, his contraption perched on an outside windowsill with a woman singing into the horn while anxious villagers stare at the camera. By 1918, Bartók had amassed almost 9,000 folk tunes. He made transcriptions of some; others he arranged for piano, while elements of still others found their way into his orchestra pieces and chamber music.

This was the country music of Eastern Europe, and its off-kilter rhythms and pungent melodies continue to captivate music lovers and musicians like Colorado-based banjo player Jake Schepps, who has recorded an entire album of Bartok’s folk-inspired music.

For this concert, with fellow members of Expedition Quartet — violinist Enion Pelta-Tiller, guitarist Grant Gordy and bass player Ian Hutchison, they played a Bartók hoe-down of sorts.

They play three pieces:

“Romanian Folk Dances: ‘Stick Game'”  Bartók (arr. Flinner).  This is a quieter piece with moments of bounce.  Indeed, Schepps doesn’t feel like the leader of this group because everyone shares the spotlight.  The guitar takes a lengthy solo–its got a very jazzy feel (which is a little weird on an acoustic guitar).  The violin takes a pizzicato solo, which is neat.  When Schepps finally does do a solo it’s not a showoffy banjo solo, it just fits in well with what everyone else is playing.

“For Children (Hungarian Folk Tunes): ‘Stars, Stars Brightly Shine'” Bartók (arr. Schepps).  This is a slower tune and it is much shorter as well—it doesn’t really lend itself to soloing.  Although the violin takes on the lead melody and it sounds mournful and beautiful.

“Mikrokosmos No. 78 / ‘Cousin Sally Brown'” Bartók / traditional (arr. Schepps).  Before this track, when someone tells Schepps that No 78 is his favorite of the Mikrokosmos, he says that he prefers 79.  The bassist says that 79 has gotten too commercial.  The end of the song has a tag of “Cousin Sally” a rollicking traditional dance number.  The four seems to play somewhat at odds with each other briefly and when they all rejoin for the end—it’s pretty great.

[READ: December 27, 2013] Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Double Down

I keep expecting the quality of the jokes in the Wimpy Kid books to decline.  But rather, this book was not only hilarious, but it worked really well as a book, too.

What I mean is that, I know that the Wimpy Kid series is online and that Kinney does a new story every day (or at least he did , I don’t know if he still does).  These books had always been taken from the online site (and I assume they still are).  But somehow, this book has jokes that circle back to jokes earlier in the book.  There’s at least a half a dozen callbacks which makes this book more than just a collection of diary entries…it’s a perfectly contained unit with a satisfying ending.

(more…)

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