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Archive for the ‘Fears’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: BILL & JOEL PLASKETT-Live at Massey Hall (April 8, 2017).

I thought I had heard of the name Joel Plaskett before this, but I know I’d never heard of Bill Plaskett.

Sharing the spotlight with his earliest musical influence- his father, the JUNO Award-winning Canadian songwriter, Joel Plaskett performs a powerful collection of songs from both his own catalogue and from Solidarity, the musical collaboration between father and son, live at Massey Hall.

They talk about the prestige and history of Massey Hall as well as how it is a large venue but it still has intimacy.  There’s a big stage, but it projects–you feel like you can touch the audience.

“Dragonfly” opens with just him Joel on acoustic guitar.  After a few verses, the lights come on and the full band kicks in loudly and powerully–Benj Rowland (banjo, bass, accordion, guitar); Shannon Quinn (fiddle) and Josh Fewings (drums).

“Blank Cheque” starts lower and sounds a bit darker.  I love the lyrics: “oh honey, you can’t eat money–it’s gonna take more than luck just to save your neck.”

“Jim Jones” is sung by Bill.  It’s an olde ballad about prisoners and pirates and the goal in Australia.  Bill says it’s a British folk song from the time when convicts were transported to Australia for minor offenses like stealing rabbits from the Lord’s domain.  It’s a song of revenge.  Jim Jones was fictional but Jack Donoguhe had escaped from Botany Bay penal colony.

“Nowhere With You” is a song about all of Joel’s travels with big sing-alongs

“Heartless Heartless Heartless” is darker and quieter–there’s a wonderful moody feeling to the song.  Unlike “Rollin’ Rollin’ Rollin'” which is stompin and stompin.  People get up and start dancing and clapping.  Wow, there’s a lot of cowboy hats in the audience.  There’s a pretty fiddle that runs through this catchy sing-along song.

They talk about the magic in the collective energy of playing shows.  How the audience sends it back to you and you can feel it build over the course of a show.  It’s an awesome feeling.  Bill says it’s wonderful to play with his son in front of so many young people.

“Wishful Thinking” ends the show in a big rock n roll way.  “You can get on your feet again it feels good when you are.”  After some stomping around he starts improvising:

Don’t sing that song in A, sing it in B.
They shift to B and start singing and when they get to “it’s a long, long way to Winnipeg” the singers their notes forever–his dad longer than everyone else.  Joel: “That’s some circular breathing right there.”

The end is funny:

You’re hauling a lot of stuff, you’re taxing the vehicle.  Get rid of some guitars.
What are you talking about?  We need them for the show.
Well, figure something out.
So…

CDs for sale in the back of the hall
Buy one buy em all
Couple bucks cheaper than they are at the mall
Thanks very much we’ll be back in the fall.

It seems like he tries to end the song a few times, but they keep going and the guys from Elliott BROOD come out to sing a few ahhs at the end.

one more thing dude/
thank you Elliott Brood

[READ: February 6, 2018] “Darkness at Seven”

This is the opening scene from Eno’s play Tragedy: A Tragedy.

I really enjoyed this piece although I can’t imagine how it could be made any longer or in exactly what kind of direction it could go next.

Essentially this opening scene makes fun of all tragedy reporting and the generic platitudes that such coverage creates.   There’s Frank in the Studio, John in the Field, Constance at the Home, Michael the Legal Adviser and The Witness.

Frank sets the scene-a location in America, the once familiar sun has set.

John tells us that it’s the worst world in the world tonight.  People are looking, feeling, hoping and believing that they might learn something.

Frank wants to know if the sense of tragedy is palpable.  It is. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: GRACE VANDERWAAL-Tiny Desk Concert #751 (June 6, 2018). 

I had been listening to the All Songs Considered podcast when Bob Boilen told the below story about how he found Grave VanderWaal.  Since I don’t watch any show with anyone with talent of any kind, I had never heard of her either.

When 14-year-old Grace VanderWaal came to perform at the Tiny Desk I had to confess to her (and her mom) that, until my “accidental concert experience,” I had no idea who she was, nor did I know what America’s Got Talent was.

It all started this past February, when I went to the 9:30 Club, a 1,200 capacity music venue, to see what I thought was a show by rock guitarist Grace Vonderkuhn and her power trio from Delaware.

When I arrived for the unusually early 7:30pm show, I saw a long line of young teens wrapping around the block, mostly girls, and a fair smattering of adults who didn’t look like the regular concert goers who head to the 9:30 Club on a weekday evening. And as you’ve likely guessed by now, the show I was about to witness was not the riff-rock guitar player we’d recently featured on All Songs Considered but a very different sort of wunderkind who won the hearts of millions as the 11th winner of America’s Got Talentand, now, a Columbia recording artist.

Inside the club was a massively enthralled and enthused crowd and it didn’t take long for me, one of the few older guys in the club, to also be completely swept away by her performance. It was a dazzling show that felt fresh, sincere, bold but also simple, with Grace on ukulele singing songs such as “Moonlight,” a song about a friend dealing with mental health issues, which she also performs here at my desk.

“She always has a smile
From morning to the night
The perfect poster child
That was once in my life
A doll made out of glass
All her friends think that she’s great
But I can see through it all
And she’s about to break”

Despite what I feel is my broad love of music, I was reminded how easy it is to get comfortable in the musical confines we devise for ourselves. It’s easy to stereotype artists and perhaps be dismissive of something that falls outside our comfort zone. But Grace’s show and music reminds me to keep my thoughts and judgements open. So, if you’re about to pass on watching this one, figuring you’re not going to connect with a young teen and her music, stop. Take a deep breath, open up your heart and let Grace VanderWaal enchant you with her unique talent.

I was curious about this Grace after his story (and also wanted to make sure I didn’t make the same mistake when I saw that Grace Vonderkuhn was playing nearby in Philly ( I didn’t make that show).

So this Grace has a raspy voice, making her sound much older than 14.  But when you look at her she looks like a fragile child.  I’m not sure how poppy her recorded music is, but the ukulele-driven song “Moonlight” is fun and different, despite the very poppy overall feel.

She’s accompanied by “her beautiful beautiful guitarist” Melissa Dougherty.   Dougherty also sings great backing vocals.  Is she annoyed being the accompaniment for a 14 year old?

She says that “Darkness Keeps Chasing Me” has become her favorite–she was always told the song was too much of a downer.  Her voice is surprisingly deep in the beginning.  Indeed, she has a nice command of her voice–low and high notes.  The guitar melody is quite lovely, too.

“Clearly” is kind of a cover of Johnny Nash’s “I Can See Clearly Now.”  They thought that it was such a bright happy song and her producer thought it would be cool to add darker lyrics leading up to the happy chorus.  I don’t know the original verses I don’t think, but of course I know the song.  And listening to it now, it doesn’t need darker lyrics, but it’s fine that they’re added.

So this isn’t so much a cover as taking a really great idea and building a new song around it.

But don’t like the way the chorus has changed:

I can see clearly now, the rain has gone.
I accept all of the things I cannot change.

What did they put the AA slogan  in the voice of a 14 year old?

Plus I hate that they have modernized the delivery of the “bright bright sunshiney day.”  Part.  It sounds like  contemporary vocal melody and it’s just wrong.

So I’m mixed.  Glad I heard her.  But even more glad that I didn’t make the same mistake that Bob did.

[READ: January 12, 2017] “The Polish Rider”

This was an interesting story about an artist and Uber.

Sonia is a Polish artist–she grew up in Poland.  She is about to have a show at a gallery curated by Elena.  But she wakes in the night realizing that she has made a terrible mistake. She has allowed two of her paintings to be hung on the wall with paint on the edges.  The rest are “blank” or painted white and look clean, but these two–she is full of regrets that she allowed them to be hung as they were.

Her paintings are all variations of the same thing: the famous kiss between Erich Honecker, the leader of the German Democratic republic from 1971 until the fall of the Berlin Wall and Leonid Brezhnev, the head of the U.S.S.R. from 1964 to 1982  The iconic Socialist fraternal kiss took place in Berlin and was photographed by Régis Bossu in 1979.  The photo was ubiquitous in Kraków.

After The Berlin Wall came down, a Soviet artist Dmitri Vrubel painted the image on the East side of the wall with the caption: “God help me survive this deadly love affair.”  In March 2009 the artist spruced up the paining, which Sonia thought cheapened the whole thing.

Sonia’s canvasses all showed this kiss, meticulously done and very clean, But each canvas was done in a different style: cubist, chiaroscuro, etc. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BASIA BULAT-Live at Massey Hall (July 10, 2014).

Baia Bulat is an adorable singer.  She plays autoharp and ukulele and seems incredibly upbeat.  She also has a soaring, delightful voice.

About Massey Hall she says, “It’s not a stadium or a club, it feels huge and intimate ta the same time.”

She opens with “Run” in which she plays the autoharp (and you can actually hear it amid the other instruments).

Next up is a new song “Five, Four” with Basia on guitar with a cool almost sinister bass line.

For “Wires,” she stays on guitar.  This song is almost aggressively upbeat and is much more upbeat.  It also has a fun middle section in which she sings an Ooooh melody  (like a solo) into a microphone with a distortion that makes it sound a bit like a kazoo. Its super catchy.  She even takes that microphone and walks around, ultimately hopping of the stage and sitting in the front row (and the guy next to her of course pulls out his phone) to continue with the oohs.

“Tall Tall Shadow” is a slow moodier song with a great big chorus. They leave the stage and come back (I’m surprised they left in the whole encore scene).

When they comeback she says, “We’re on a curfew so we’re going to try to not get in trouble.”  For an encore it’s her and two other women.  One is playing a small 8-string ukulele as they sing “Before I Knew.”

When it’s over she asks, Am I allowed to sneak one more in?  Try not to get kicked out of Massey Hall!  She gets out the ukulele and plays that wonderful melody of “It Can’t Be You.”  Then she walks away from the mic and sings her heart out.  You can’t always hear her that clearly, but you can hear her hitting the soaring notes.

It’s funny that she worries about curfew and then sings a rather long song.

But it’s a great collection of songs and a beautiful set.

[READ: March 15, 2018] Beautiful Music for Ugly Children

I really enjoyed Kristin Cronn-Mills’ book Ugly Fake which was kind of novel/graphic novel hybrid.  This is one of her earlier stories and it is all novel.  It is about music and teen angst and high school.

And it’s about a girl named Elizabeth who is in fact a boy and wants to be known as Gabe.  He has recently revealed this to his parents and his best friend, Paige.  Paige has been nothing but supportive.  His parents are a little more mixed about it.  And of course he hasn’t told anyone at school.  But since he dresses gender-neutral he has always been made fun of a school–where they know that he is Elizabeth.  He is somewhat surprised that the boys make fun of him more than the girls–calling him he-she-it.  Undoubtedly they are threatened by his looks.

But he is a senior, and school is almost over.  He can certainly cope until it’s time to move away to the city.

In the mean time, he has a DJ gig that is the best thing ever. (more…)

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olymmpSOUNDTRACK: LOGAN RICHARDSON-Tiny Desk Concert #734 (April 23, 2018).

Logan Richardson is a jazz saxophonist.

I’ve been down on saxophones lately, but I do really like the sound he gets.  I’m a bit more impressed by the rest of his band, though.

Since I don’t know Richardson, I’ll let the blurb speak for me, with some of my comments.

Richardson ‘s latest project, Blues People,  … was derived from the early slave calls that inspired the earliest American jazz and blues musical traditions. Here at the Tiny Desk, the saxophonist revisits that history with four remarkable songs from the album, all performed with a hope that our country’s future will be less painful than its past.

“80’s Child” is a reflection on the decade Richardson was born. Its colorful melody complements the band’s energetic fusion groove. Continually pushing forward with momentum and anticipation, its 8/8 time signature moves seamlessly into 10/8 to create an intensity that is both focused and free.

I love the opening guitar work (by Igor Osypov) which sounds very un-jazzy to me–you could hear an alt-rock sound being built out of that.  While Igor is doing a simple but pretty guitar solo rhythm guitarist Justus West keeps the rhythm work with some interesting whammy bar bending.   About three minutes in, drummer Ryan Lee gets some great little improv moments.  I really enjoy the song even if I find myself tuning out the sax and listening to the guitar.

Richardson notes, “The desk is tiny but it’s mighty.  I have a tiny saxophone that I forgot to bring.”

The next groove, “The Settlement,” maintains a similar tone and features DeAndre Manning slapping on his funky bass.

This song feels more jazzy to me–prominent sax with jazz guitar chords.  But I do love the jazz/prog rock section with the slap bass and the guitars following suit.  I definitely tune out the sax to listen to the great riffage from the strings

While the band is ringing out the last notes of the song, Richardson introduces the next

The song gently segues into the only vocal piece, “Black Brown & Yellow,” a lovely reminder that racial diversity is something to celebrate.

They do a short chant of “Black, brown and yellow is beautiful.”  It’s a pretty, almost sensuous song sung first by West and then joined by everyone else.

I love that I am now quoting someone quoting some else about this last song:

“Anthem (To Human Justice)” ends with brilliance best described by my colleague Nate Chinen, “By design, too, Richardson’s alto saxophone often functions more like a lead vocalist than as a virtuoso solo instrument. He’s a good conduit for soaring, plaintive melody…. And however the band surges or thrashes around him, there’s a feeling of urgent communion in this music.”

The backing music is once again excellent and interesting, with cool time changes a nifty guitar solo (while the second guitar is doing some other cool stuff too) and some great bass work.  I really like the way the whole band jams it out at the end–the band sounds great and Logan’s sax is right there with them soloing the whole time.

I feel like this is jazz for people who don’t like jazz.

[READ: March 17, 2018] Olympians 10

I’m still not sure how many books O’Connor has planned for this series, although in his introduction he talks about saving his favorite books for the end, so I assume there are at least two more (although 12 seems reasonable).

Here’s the summary of the man himself:

George O’Connor is a massive geek and Greek scholar.  He has done lots of research for these books, including going to Greece and visiting sites and antiquities as well as comparing all manner of ancient stories to compile the most interesting pieces. He explains that since these stories were orally passed down, they were modified over the years.  He doesn’t change the myths, he merely picks the story lines that are most interesting to him.  And then he adds a lot of humorous modern touches (and dialogue) which keep it from being at all stuffy.

O Connor’s drawing style is also inspired by superhero comics, so his stories are presented in a way that seems much more like a super hero than a classical hero, which is also kind of fun.

Each book ends with an author’s note which is hugely informative and gives plenty of context.  It also has a bibliography, but more importantly, it has a list of notes about certain panels.  Do not skip these notes!  In addition to providing a lot of insight into the myths of the characters themselves, there are a lot of funny comments like “Greeks raced in the nude (point and laugh)” which really bring new depths to the stories. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: O.C.-Tiny Desk Concert #732 (April 18, 2018).

This is where I get to complain again that The Breeders had three songs when O.C. [Omar “O.C.” Credle], whom I have never heard of (although he is apparently a classic) gets five songs in nearly 19 minutes.  Bogus.

As a member of Brooklyn rap collective Diggin’ In The Crates, Omar Credle, aka O.C., helped shape what was known as the golden age of 1990s rap. Marked by loops sourced from jazz recordings and lyrics rooted in one-upmanship, O.C’s two ’90s albums made him a rapper’s rapper, an underground star.

I’ve never heard of him but he is sure confident in his crew’s impact (which seems about right I guess.  It’s interesting that they were known for sampling, but they have a live band.  The band sounds fantastic by the way.

O.C. was joined at his Tiny Desk by Soul’D U Out, a jazz ensemble led by Grammy-winning trumpeter Maurice “Mobetta” Brown. The live instrumentation replicated the sample-heavy original recordings perfectly.

They mostly play old songs, but they start with a new one: “New Day,” from O.C.’s 2017 album which features young R&B singer Tay Bell on the hook.  Bell’s vocals are quite high-pitched.  I thought he was a woman at first (just hearing him, not seeing him).  But his voice adds a great fullness to the song.  That live trumpet is amazing, as is the quiet fuzzy guitar from Marcus Machado that runs throughout the song.

He says he wants to get into the old stuff.  He asks, “How many over 45?”  A woman replied, “Oh, that’s wrong.”  He laughs and says, “I’m only 23.”

The rest of the set was vintage cuts from O.C.’s heyday. “Day One,” a D.I.T.C. posse cut, featured emcee and producer Lord Finesse.

Robert “Lord Finesse” Hall gets a verse, which he delivers with a great style I actually like his more than O.C.).  I also love the vibes even if they are only on keys (by Chris Robs).,  He says that the song is about “20 years of history.”  Referring to other rappers, he says, “we birthed a lot of them, they might not say it, but I will. without D.I.T.C, there’d be no digging n the record crates. ”  I seriously doubt that statement, but whatever.

Then O.C. treated the crowd to a version of “Return of the Crooklyn Dodgers” (the one and only song by him, Jeru The Damaja and Chubb Rock).

I was more impressed by the trumpet than anything else.  The sounds he gets at the end are amazing.

He had to fit in his seminal banger and arguably most popular song, “Time’s Up,” from Word…Life.

He says “I hated this record when I made it but people convinced me to do it.”  Huh.  I like the cool bass from Parker McAllister that runs through the song.

The finale got personal when O.C. relayed the importance of the song “Born 2 Live.” “This is dedicated to a friend of mine who got killed down in Baltimore,” he said. “Every time I do this record, it’s somber. … But it’s a celebration at the same time. So I’m a just party it out and have a good time with it.” With a little help from Soul’D U Out, we did, too.

I’m only a little disappointed that the drummer (Camau “Klutch” Bernstine, whose hair is awesome) didn’t get to show off a bit more. He was really solid but there was nothing fancy.

I’m not bummed that he got 20 minutes, because I enjoyed his set, but let some other folks go over time too!

[READ: April 17, 2018] “A Flawless Silence”

Yiyun Li is perhaps the most consistently enjoyable New Yorker author for me.  I love the pacing of her stories and I love the way she tackles large and small personal issues sometimes at the same time.

This story is about a woman, Min.  She grew up in China but moved to America when her now husband proposed to her. As the story begins, she is with her twin daughters in the car.  They are fighting , of course, until one of them says that Kevin, a boy in their class is a Republican.

How do they know?  Because the teacher instructed them to write to either presidential candidate and while everyone class wrote to Hilary Clinton, he chose to write a supportive letter to the male candidate (Yiyun Li uses his name but I don’t feel compelled to). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKNILÜFER YANYA-“Baby Luv” NPR’S SOUTH X LULLABY (April 6, 2018). 

Sometimes I wonder if I should automatically know a featured artist. So it’s comforting when you find out that an artist is “relatively new” like Nilüfer Yanya.

For our final lullaby recording during South by Southwest 2018, we meet the London-based singer Nilüfer Yanya for her performance in the memory-filled world of Uncommon Objects. It’s a shop in Austin, Texas dedicated to sentimental curiosities of a world gone by. With that in mind, the relatively new musician with a bright future tackles a tune about something old and familiar: fond memories overwhelmed by the pain of love gone wrong.

“Baby Luv” can be found on Nilüfer Yanya’s 2018 release Do You Like Pain?. The EP’s title is a line she repeats multiple times on “Baby Luv,” while her choppy guitar punctuates a weary, clock-like rhythm. That ticking beat is then amplified by the saxophone of her bandmate, Jazzi Bobbi while a camera pans a literary world of books that all seem blood-red. Objects once shiny and proud are worn and somewhat torn, with a future as uncertain as the love in this song.

The song is a simple up and down melody with her startlingly staccato singing style–in which words are somewhat audible but not always clear.  Like the strange, repeated chant of gain again again.

I love that Jazzi Bobbi is visible, but how on first viewing, you gloss over her as she sort of blends in with the curios.  It’s when her sax comes in that you realize she’s there.  In fact it’s her sax that is the most compelling part of this song.  It’s the strangely amorphous notes that seems to burst from nowhere that are more compelling that the repeated guitar.

[READ: April 5, 2018] “The State of Nature”

I enjoyed Bordas’ previous story quite a lot.  I loved how it was structured and the surprising twists it had.

This one was also enjoyable but for different reasons.  It opens with the narrator admitting to us that she had slept through a burglary.  A cop asked if she was unemployed since she was napping on Thursday afternoon.

She tells them that she is an ophthalmologist  with a varied schedule who can sleep through just about anything.

A varied assortment of things were stolen–a rug, some jewelry and an optometrist case.  It was quite old and has sentimental value (she told the cops).  An average person wouldn’t have thought much of it but it could have fetched about $1,200.

When she returned to her apartment her cat, Catapult, seemed to be vocally distressed.  She believes the cat is sad because her favorite napping place is now gone: “You could have summoned some of that bitchiness earlier, when they came to steal your bed.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ROBIN OLSON-Tiny Desk Concert #724 (April 1, 2018).

Because the blurb is perfect, I am including it in it’s entirety.

“Not all pianists are created in equal temperament,” Robin Olson told a small but enthusiastic audience behind NPR Music’s storied Tiny Desk. The pianist, hailed as an “avant-garde gewandhaus” by Berlin’s Staubzeitung, is as celebrated for his cryptic maxims as he is for his inscrutable music.

Olson’s trademark style — shooting clusters of shimmering chords and solitary, pearlescent pitches into reverberant space — has led him to exalted concert halls and to work with a broad array of stars such as Yuja Wang, Aretha Franklin, Chick Corea and Emanuel Ax.

Drawing from the seminal Plink technique, cultivated among the Schlammstadt School of composers in the 1950s, Olson is regarded as a leading technician of the more expansive Neo-Plink style. “Intervals have coincident partials,” Olson explains. “They create a form of dissonance, called ‘beats,’ by which pitches are set for optimum harmonicity.”

From a bulging briefcase, Olson pulls out any number tools to alter specific pitches, as in his opening piece, “A 440.” He threads ribbons of felt between piano strings to mimic the muted cries of the Asian dung beetle in “The Temperament,” from his 2014 collection Infinite Chasms.

Olson surprised everyone at the Tiny Desk by debuting a new piece, “Tuning the Bass,” wherein his inventive command of the instrument’s lower register highlighted spaces between keening dark octaves.

He may be considered a challenging artist, but Olson, through the essential humanity of his performance, reveals the efforts of almost any other living pianist to be little more than a joke.

Set List

  • “A 440”
  • “The Temperament”
  • “Tuning the Bass”

I only wish I had seen this before the Editor’s Note revealed that it was an (excellent) April Fool’s joke.

[READ: December 27, 2017] Secret Coders: Robots & Repeats

Secret Coders 3 ended with a puzzle.  And I guessed wrong!  How embarrassing.  I see what I did wrong, but I still would have failed. I have a hard time with binary, too.

Anyhow, this book reveals some pretty amazing details about the ongoing story.

After selecting the correct door, the gang finds a floating triangle thing.  We learn that Professor Bee is not actually from this planet (okay now things are getting pretty weird, I must admit).   But he dismisses that (what??) so the kids can code some more using a construct made of “solidified light” which is pretty cool, although perhaps not as cool as an alien. (more…)

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