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luchSOUNDTRACK: CRISTINA PATO-Tiny Desk Concert #305 (September 21, 2013).

patoI didn’t know who Cristina Pato was or what instrument she played.  So when the show started (without visuals), I assumed she was the accordionist (because the show starts with some wild accordion music).  But in fact, Pato is playing the bagpipe.  Pato’s instrument is the gaita, a Galician bagpipe, and her roots lie in traditional Galician music — though she also boasts graduate degrees in classical piano, music theory and electronic composition.

I love the sound she band gets together with the funky staccato accordion notes and the wild racing pipes.  They are very jazzy and very idiosyncratic.  Her percussionist uses several different types of drums—the ubiquitous box drum and a hand held drum as well as various shakers and other sound makers.

They play three songs.  It’s interesting how much of the first song is taken up without the bagpipes—there’s lenghy sections where the accordion has the floor and she is just happily dancing around.  And the accordionist is amazing.  he plays all kinds of different styles and gets an amazing range of sounds out of that one instrument. He wails!  Of course I see now that the song is actually written by the accordionist: “Victor Prieto: ‘Mundos Celtas.'”  So it’s no wonder that she is happy to sit back and let him shine.  (Prieto , like Pato, is a native of the town of Orense in Galicia).  While he is playing, she whoops and hollers to get everyone pumped.  But once she gets her instruments going she is a nonstop blur of fingers and wild notes.  I particularly like that she has a section where the note is slightly flat and she continues to slowly raise it until it gets in pitch.  I also love–due to the nature of the bag pipes–that she can scream and whoops while still pressing air out of the bags.  And at the end of the song, she is just wild with fast notes.  It’s a very intense piece.

The second piece “Traditional/Cristina Pato: “Alalá Re-rooted” starts with her singing.  She is unmiked so you can’t really hear her, but I don’t really enjoy her singing as much as her playing so it’s okay.  I do love the interesting sounds the percussionist Shane Shanahan (Shanahan is American, but is also a longtime member (with Pato) of Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble) is making.  Overall, this is a fairly dissonant piece—with her sounding almost like a free jazz players (but on pipes rather than sax).  I do love near the end where she almost seems to get a harmonic overtone on the pipe.  It’s a great moment—but fairly weird how the song just sort of fades away before seguing into the final song.

Victor Prieto & Emilio Solla: “Muñeira For Cristina” this song seems to be all about percussion with lots of drumming and a very noisy tambourine that Pato plays.  She gets the crowd clapping along and then  when she and Prieto play the same awesome riff together,it sounds great.  I love watching her shake the finger part while she’s playing it, to get a cool almost whammy bar sound out of it.  The song totally rocks and the whole set with the unlikely combo of accordion and bagpipe is startlingly wonderful.

[READ: April 20, 2016] Comics Squad: Lunch!

I really enjoyed the first Comics Squad book and I was delighted that a second one came out.  I just recently saw that a third one is coming out the summer–I love that it is called Detention and is coming out on Independence Day.

Like the first collection, this one is edited by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm (Babymouse/Squish) and Jarrett J.  Krosoczka (Lunch Lady).

But the rest of the line up is quite different this time around, which is cool–allowing other artists to shine.  This time there are stories from Cece Bell (El Deafo) ; Jason Shiga (a great indie artist who does some kid-friendly and some decidedly not kid friendly books) ; Cecil Castelucci & Sara Varon ; Jeffrey Brown and Nathan Hale (his own series of historical stories).

Like the previous book, the Holms and Krosoczka sprinkle the book with comments and interstitials from Babymouse and Lunch Lady. (more…)

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recessSOUNDTRACK: BUIKA-Tiny Desk Concert #298 (August 26, 2013).

buikaI had never heard of Buika before, so I had to rely on the blurb:

Concha Buika’s voice doesn’t come from inside her petite body: It comes from Africa, and from the past. There are obvious traces of flamenco, itself a historical mash-up of the Moors and various transitory cultures in southern Spain and north Africa.

During her flights of improvisation, we also hear the influence of Cuban vocalist Celia Cruz, a product of Afro-Cuban culture, mixed in with Ella Fitzgerald, who was the pinnacle of African-American jazz vocal expression.

In these two performances, we hear Buika interpret her own lyrics after a handful of albums in which she’s interpreted others’ words. With her eyes closed tightly, she inhabits these poems of love and heartache as if she were reliving them again before our eyes.

Buika’s singular voice has attracted a cadre of fans who’ve become enchanted by her voice and her leave-it-all-on-the-stage performances in clubs and theaters around the world. Watch this video and join the club.

So as the notes say, these two pieces are improvisations.  Not knowing Spanish all that well, I don’t know how much is made up or even how much is just sounds rather than actual words.  But it certainly sounds more off the cuff than written out.

The music is just a piano and a box drum and her voice.  Her voice is raw and pained, but quite pretty.  The two songs are called “La Noche Mas Larga” and “La Nave Del Olvido.”

[READ: April 15, 2016] Comics Squad: Recess

I found out about this collection in the back of a Babymouse book.

Comics Squad is a collection of eight comics from some of my favorite artists.  It basically works as a bunch of short, shall we say graphic novellas, from Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm (Babymouse/Squish) ; Jarrett J.  Krosoczka (Lunch Lady) ; Dav Pilkey (Captain Underpants) ; Dan Santat ; Raina Telgemeier and Dave Roman  (Smile and Astronaut Academy); Ursula Vernon (Dragonbreath) ; Eric Wright (Frankie Pickle) and Gene Luen Yang.

Since it’s edited by the Holms and Krosoczka they sprinkle the book with marginal comments and interstitials from Babymouse and Lunch Lady.  But each artist/author gets a story, and I enjoyed them all.

GENE LUEN YANG-“The Super-Secret Ninja Club”  This was a really fun story about a group of boys who meet at recess.  Once they know that noone is watching, they put on their masks and become the super-secret ninja club.  But Daryl, a decidedly un-ninja like boy wants in…desperately.  He’s never had a passion for any club before but this one is totally him.  The one boy says that since winter break is about to start, when the get back to school, they can talk about him joining.  So Daryl spends all inter break practicing.  Will it be enough?  The answer is very funny.

DAV PILKEY-“Book ‘Em, Dog Man!”  This story begins with a letter to the parents of George (the main character in Captain Underpants) from his teacher saying that she asked for a written assignment and once again he drew a cartoon.  She has attached the offending (and offensive) cartoon for them to see.  Petey the cat is in jail .  He wants to beat the superhero Dog Man.  But Dog Man is too smart  So Petey realizes that if he removes all the words from books no one will be smart anymore.  He invents a ray which does just that.  What will the world do when they can’t read anymore?

JARRETT J, KROSOCZKA-“Betty and the Perilous Pizza Day”  “Lunch Lady” is a cartoon I didn’t really know before reading this collection. Lunch Lady appears in the margins of the pages of the book, but not in this actual cartoon.  Rather, the star of this cartoon is Betty, Lunch Lady’s helper. And since Lunch Lady can’t be there, Betty will have to deal with lunch.  But it is pizza day!  The only hope is the Pizzatron 2000.  Unless, of course, it develops a mind of its own and goes on a rampage.

URSULA VERNON-“The Magic Acorn”  I don’t know Dragonbreath all that well, although Clark has read all of them.  This story is pretty simple.  Although since I don’t know the characters I don’t know if it is representative of anything prior.  Scratch, a squirrel who is rather realistically drawn (Vernon’s drawings are great) is interrupted by Squeak, a far more a cartoony squirrel.  Squeak is excited because he found a magic acorn.  Scratch states that this is the 318th “magic acorn” that he’s found.  And besides they have recess in ten minutes.  Well, this acorn may not exactly be an acorn, but it is certainly magical.

JENNIFER L. HOLM & MATTHEW HOLM-“Babymouse: The Quest for Recess”  In this brief story Babymouse has a few fantasies that prevent her from actually getting outside for recess.  First she is late for school (dreaming about Camelot) then her locker brings her to Zeus, making her late for class.  A western dream makes her disrupt lunch and then the barbarian fractions invade during math class.  Can she keep it together and actually get outside?

ERIC WIGHT-“Jiminy Sprinkles in ‘Freeze Tag'”  So I don’t know this comic at all either. Jiminy Sprinkles is a new student to the school (he is a cupcake). He immediately befriends a peanut who tells him to watch out for The Mean Green Gang, a group of vegetables.  (Their leader is Russell from Brussels (ha)).  The Mean Green Gang is pretty tough but Jiminy has a secret weapon of his own–a very funny one that the Mean Green Gang actually gets a kick out of too.

DAN SANTAT-“300 Words” This is an interesting look at the story The Giving Tree.  The kids were assigned a book report on the story three weeks ago and it is due today.  John is one of the boys who didn’t do the assignment and he’s about to write his 300 words now.  It’s a tree. It gives things.  But another boy has a better idea–he’s going to ask Sophia for her paper.  Even though the last time he talked to her he threw up on her.   Sophia has an interesting answer for him.

DAVE ROMAN & RAINA TELGEMEIER-“The Rainy Day Monitor” is a wonderful take on kickball.  Since the kids can’t go outside to play because of the rain, their recess is indoors.  And they are closely watched by Boring Becca the totally boring fifth grader.  When they ask if they can play kickball inside she asks the kids if they have ever played Dungeons and Dragons.  They groan until she says they should play kickball using dice and imaginary characters.  Pretty great idea Becca!

The end of the book is set up with fun fake ads and useful tips.

One “ad” is an offer for Babymouse Binoculars.  I also really liked Lunch Lady’s tips on how to draw Betty (which skip from 3 to 12 while Squish sweats).

This was not only a great introduction to all of these fabulous comic writers, it was a really funny collection in its own right.

The end of the book says “Do you think there will be another one? As sure as there is syrup on pancakes there’ll be a Comics Squad #2.”  And indeed, there was a second one.

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zooms SOUNDTRACK: NOVALIMA-Tiny Desk Concert #208 (April 12, 2012).

novalimaNovalima is a band from Peru.  And the blurb really captures them quite well:

Something about tradition inspires reverence and creativity. Throughout Latin America and parts of the U.S., musicians are exhuming centuries-old musical cultures and infusing them with new life to create songs that sound both familiar and new. Peru’s Novalima is doing just that with Afro-Peruvian music.

Over the course of three superb albums, the group has addressed the legacy of slavery in Peru in the form of the traditional lando, a dance rhythm with roots in West Africa. The slow, deliberate beats are played out on a variety of traditional instruments — most notably the cajon, a big rectangular box that drummers hit before drawing sounds out with their palms and fingers. The result can be as deep as a bass drum, but can also hit the high-pitched pops of finely tuned bongos or Middle Eastern dumbeks.

They play three songs which feature acoustic guitar and five string bas anda  lot of percussion–including a donkey jawbone.

“Karimba”is sung by one of the men drumming.  There’s lots of group singing as well–a real party feel.

“Guayabo” and “Festejo” are sung by the female singer.  The bass line for “Guayabo” is just great–weird and almost punk.  It’s kind of sinister even if they don’t sound sinister singing over it.  He’s also wearing a strange kind of drum around his neck–like a box that opens and closes (and you store the sticks in it, apparently.  The middle of the song is all percussion and voice–a celebration of sorts, before that bass returns.

“Festejo” also has a strange, interesting guitar riff.  There’s some great call and response parts of the song–the men really getting into it.  As the song ends the guy with the box and the woman get up and dance in the crowd.  By the end of the song, you realize that it’ sa lot of fun–a groovy dance song like no song you’ve ever head before.

[READ: March 7, 2016] Johnny Boo Zooms to the Moon

As this fifth book opens Johnny is riding a skateboard and Squiggle is towing him.  They are going to go to the moon.  But even Squiggle Power cant get the skateboard to move more than a few inches.  But Squiggles never give up so they wind up falling asleep, no further than when they started.

In the dark, stars come down to see what Johnny is doing.  They tell him he needs star shaped wheels to go to the moon, and that “almost makes sense.”

The stars prove to be very funny–fighting over counting and them fixing his skateboard by braking the wheels of so the stars are now wheels.

And off they zoom, going very fast! (more…)

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applesSOUNDTRACK: SO PERCUSSION-Tiny Desk Concert #205 (April 2, 2012).

So Percussion is a quartet who plays nothing but percussion.  When we think percussion we often think rhythm, but these guys (Eric Beach, Josh Quillen, Adam Sliwinski and Jason Treuting) also provide great melody.

The band is inspired by John Cage.  He’s “their guy.”  They have written songs inspired by him and also perform his pieces.

Though audiences are still often puzzled or even infuriated by Cage, the composer brought essential joy and optimism to his work. Music is everywhere, Cage taught; frame sound, even the sounds of everyday life, and hear what is there. In the signature mix of serious play (or is that playful seriousness?) that So Percussion brought to this unusual Tiny Desk Concert, the group mixed a work by Cage (the first movement of his Living Room Music) with two pieces by Treuting: Life Is [ ] and 24 X 24, in which the text Quillen reads aloud comes from Cage’s own writings. Inasmuch as many of their instruments are quotidian tools, the sounds they create can be magical.

The first piece was written by the band’s Jason Treuting, called “Life Is [ ].”  It’s just under three minutes and is primarily wood blocks.  But there are also xylophones and bells (and many other things).

All four have mallets and are clacking on the wood blacks.  But each player has something else that makes a melody–tiny cymbals, the xylophone, bells that you tap with your hand–and they create a pretty melody (and the wood blocks provide interesting counterpoint rhythm).

Since John Cage is their guy they made a piece that celebrates the way he made music: “24 X 24.” Cage celebrated “time-based structures and task-based sound things.”  So this piece is flexible and malleable.  They are going to play an 8 minute version of the song which includes a spoken word of a Cage lecture [the entire lecture is reprinted at the bottom of the post].

The narrator counts down from 8, which is interesting.  Then he recites (including coughs and other noises) a piece by Cage about music and art.  While he is reciting, instruments include the melodica and harmonium, a musical saw, a coffee cup full of change (at one point instead of tapping the cup, he takes the change out and state each denomination out loud).  They also play the side of the desk, a cactus plant (that is pretty cool to see), even plucking the Emmy on the desk.

The final piece is a John Cage composition.  It is the first part of a longer piece called “Living Room Music.”  Back in the early 40s Cage wrote a piece called “Living Room Music” which was supposed to take place in a living room.  And this is our living room.  They play the first part   called “To Begin.” It’s just under a minute, but the sounds they get from a waste basket (like a bass drum), a package of paper towels, a stapler, the desk and the coffee mug is really cool.

Even people who don’t like John Cage have to appreciate what he was going for with this kind of music.

[READ: March 3, 2016] Johnny Boo & The Happy Apples

In this third book of the series, Johnny Boo, Squiggle and the Ice Cream Monster are back.

Johnny eats some ice cream and then shows off how strong it has made him. But when Squiggle accidentally “pops” Johnny’s muscle and it gets all floppy, there is much concern.  Things are even worse for Johnny when the ice cream monster (from the first book) comes and shows off his huge muscles that he got from eating apples.  If Squiggle laughs at Johnny’s floppy muscle you know there will be hurt feelings.  And there are.

Johnny runs off to find some happy apples to make his muscles strong, but he winds up eating apples from the ground, which makes his muscles super floppy (pretty hilarious looking). (more…)

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johnny-twinkleSOUNDTRACK: SOWETO GOSPEL CHOIR-Tiny Desk Concert #209 (April 16, 2012).

sgcDressed all in black with pink accents the Soweto Gospel Choir certainly looks striking.  And their voices are superb.

The blurb notes that they

managed to tie the all-time record for most musicians squashed behind Bob Boilen’s desk for a single performance in the NPR Music offices. (They join the early-music a cappella ensemble Stile Antico, also with 12).

[I wonder if they keep statistics like this–I’d like to see numbers].

The Choir sings

in a number of South African languages, as well as English, Soweto Gospel Choir fuses the praise music of many Christian cultures, with nods to traditional African songs of celebration — complete with occasional clicks and bird songs.  To watch and sway along was to be blasted with some sort of ray gun that shoots beams of joy and hope.

They sing four pieces.   I don’t know what the songs area bout except for what the brief introductions tell us.

Two different women are the lead singers for the first two songs (no names are given). “Seteng Sediba” and “Emarabeni” which is a wedding song.  A man introduces the rest of the songs.  He says that “Emlanjeni/Yelele” is a traditional song and then he sings lead.  The final song “Kae le Kae” translates to Wherever I Go I Go with Jesus.

For each song the Choir sounds amazing together.  They only person not singing is the guy on the end who is playing the djembe to keep rhythm.  They sway in sync and hold hands up at the same time. They are something to watch.

As the final song ends, the Choir walks out of the room past everyone singing all the while.  It’s a great ending (and gives us a peek into the NPR offices).

[READ: March 3, 2016] Johnny Boo: Twinkle Power

This is the second Johnny Boo book and Johnny, Squiggle and the Ice Cream Monster are all back.

One thing that really cracks me up about the Johnny Boo books is how easily he and Squiggle get mad at each other.  And they always threaten to be mad forever.

In this book, Squiggle flies around Johnny’s head and makes his “hair” stand straight up.  This cracks up Squiggle and makes Johnny very angry and he threatens to never be friends with Squiggle again.

Of course this all started because Squiggle thinks that the stars have amazing Twinkle Power and he thinks it’s even better than Johnny’s Boo Power (GASP!).  Squiggle wants to go up to the stars to see if he can learn Twinkle Power. (more…)

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johnny-1  SOUNDTRACK: RUDRESH MAHANTHAPPA-Tiny Desk Concert #201 (March 8, 2012).

rudreshRudresh Mahanthappa is a saxophonist whom I had not heard of but who is obviously very highly regarded (he won a Guggenheim Fellowship).

He plays jazz in very different styles, and totally wails (“a swarm of locusts rampaging through an irregular beat”), but has also experimented with different styles.  As the blurb says:

That latest album, 2011’s Samdhi, borrows a bit from … electric funk excesses … and integrates ideas from South Indian scales and modes, hip-hop and computer music programming.

The quartet here is top-notch:

Drummer Rudy Royston and Mahanthappa played in a Denver-based band together some 20-odd years ago, and have since reconnected in New York; electric bassist Rich Brown has played in just about every conceivable setting from his home base of Toronto, including the Canadian Indo-jazz group Autorickshaw; guitarist Rez Abbasi is a long-time confrere in the dual worlds of jazz and South Asian music.

They play two fairly long songs.

“Killer” starts the show.  I really loved the sound that the guitar had–a kind of electric organ/funk sound. Mahanthappa takes off right away.  One thing that was very cool was when I thought he was playing an improvised solo, but the guitarist was able to play exactly what he played both right after him and then with him (clearly it was part of the song–but it sounded great with the two of them together).  After about 4 minutes of wild noisy soloing it mellows out with a long groovy guitar solo–Rez is really impressive.  About a minute after that, the song picks up with some great drumming behind a wild guitar solo.   Around 8 minutes, the drummer gets his own impressive solo.  The ending is great and super fast.  The band sounds amazingly tight throughout.

I really love the sound of his backing band and while his sax playing is amazing and insanely fast, I actually prefer the middle section without the sax–it’s a little too frenetic for me (which is surprising, as I usually like this–I must not have been in the mood when listening).

“Playing With Stones” opens with a lengthy bass “solo” it’s a series of very quickly plucked notes that sounds almost like drums–its very cool. It lasts almost a minute and a half before the rest of the band kicks in.  There’s a great bass line throughout this track too–bouncy and a little funky.  I enjoyed the moment where Rich notices he’s on camera and gives a little smile.  As the song ends you hear them say “pretty pretty good” like Larry David.

Between songs Mahanthappa explains that all of the music on the album resulted from the Guggenheim Fellowship.  It went for research in India, looking for new ways to bridge certain areas of South Indian music and jazz with hip-hop and funk.  There’s also a funny moment when he introduces Rich and says, “He’s Canadian, don’t hold it against him.”  He mentions the CBC and then Rez says “And Tim Horton’s.”  Rich snaps “that’s not funny,” to much amusement.

[READ: February 1, 2016] Johnny Boo

Johnny Boo is a fun children’s series by James Kochalka.

Johnny Boo is a white ghost with a big swirl of “hair?” on top.  Has a pet ghost named Squiggle.  I love how simply these characters are drawn (as Kochalka tends to) and yet they are totally consistent.

As the story opens Johnny and Squiggle are playing around in the field.  Johnny is running while Squiggle is floating around   Squiggle has Squiggle Power and is able to float and swirl.  While Johnny has Boo power which is him shouting Boo very loudly and frightening Squiggle.

Squiggle is upset hat Johnny does this.  Squiggle gets mad, but Johnny says that they will get ice cream.  Which makes everything okay. (more…)

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squish-7SOUNDTRACK: CANTUS-Tiny Desk Concert #264 (February 4, 2013).

Cantus is an a capella cantusgroup of nine men with beautiful voices.

The blurb tells that there are many choral groups all over Minnesota (I had no idea):

Is there some kind of weird vocal vortex in Minnesota? The state turns out so many excellent choral groups — at the school, church and professional levels — that it can arguably be dubbed the choral center of the U.S.

Cantus went professional in 2000 and has cut 15 albums on its own label. Unlike some choral groups who specialize in one style of music, Cantus prides itself on diversity. Just take a look at the three songs its members chose for this concert.

“Wanting Memories” is a song steeped in African-American culture, written by Ysaye Barnwell from Sweet Honey in the Rock. “Zikr,” composed by A.R. Rahman — the same guy who scored the hit movie Slumdog Millionaire — has roots in the Sufi tradition, where deep chords and repeated phrases signal a slow burn toward religious ecstasy. And the group closes with German composer Franz Biebl’s gorgeous “Ave Maria,” a signature piece for the group that blends traditional plainsong (or chant) with delicate melody and voluptuous harmonies that ascend heavenward.

I was really impressed with this set.  “Wanting Memories”was very pretty all the way through.  From what I can tell there are two “bass’ singers who hum the melody while the others sing different parts with various harmonies.  (There’s also a shaker keeping rhythm, but that doesn’t count against the acapella in my opinion).  In the middle of the song, the basses stop the humming and sing along (in a fugue style).  The absence of those droning sounds is a dramatic change in the song. They resume the hums and end the song like it began–beautifully.

“Zikr” has incredibly low bass notes–they are genuinely impressive.   There is an occasional drum that adds some Sufi authenticity–but the sound like they have been singing in this style their whole lives.  It’s really impressive that they are doing something that seems so unlike the Minnesotans that they are.  The end of the song speeds things up a bit which is a very cool sound added to a very cool song.

In introducing “Ave Maria” they explain that they started in 1995 with four guys.  They expanded to 7 so they could perform this piece.  This turns out not to be the traditional Ave Maria.  It is very different indeed–with a traditional Latin (not Latin America, but Roman Latin) feel.  And here again there is the amazing deep voice of the bass and some amazing tenors.

It’s amazing how different they sound in each of these three songs–their range is tremendous.  There’s a comment in the blurb about the beauty of the human voice and that is really the case here–their voices are pristine and beautiful.  It’s a marvelous Tiny Desk.

[READ: July 20, 2013] Squish #7

I love the Squish books.  They’re funny and quick and often teach you a thing or two.  I also love that most of the characters are named after real microbes.  And each issue also has a Super Amoeba comic book scattered throughout.

As this book opens, we see Small Pond, where Super Amoeba lives.  Something flies out of the sky and crashes into the pond.

As with every time Squish reads this book though, he is interrupted,  This time it’s to go to school.  His friend Pod is drowsy walking down the street.  He was up late working on his top-secret project.  Squish asks is he can help, and Pod says yes–give him Squish’s Twinkie.

At school the teacher is showing them about acids and bases. The kids are bored until he pours vinegar into baking soda and they all wake up.

The next day on the way to school, sneaky Squish takes a bite out of his Twinkie.  So that when he offers it to Pod, Pod refuses.

But when Squish gets to school, his stomach starts to gurgle and he turns green (literally). (more…)

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