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SOUNDTRACK: PERFUME GENIUS-Tiny Desk Concert #626 (June 12, 2017).

Perfume Genius is a delicate-sounding band.  Singer Mike Hadreas has a gentle voice.  Oon the first song he’s almost drowned out by the (relatively quiet) guitar from Tom Bromley.  The songs are also deeply personal–he wrote most of the new album as a love letter to his boyfriend (the keyboardist Alan Wyffels).

Hadreas’ voice is really affecting, especially when you can hear him clearly.

“Valley” is in waltz-time (with the guitar keeping rhythm for much of the song before the drums and keys come in).  The drums (by Herve Becart) are simple but wonderfully deep and resonant

“Slip Away” reminds me (and I can’t believe how many singers have sounded like this guy to me) of the band Dear Mr. President, a kind of aching falsetto.  The guitar is a little louder, rockier.  But the best part of the song (and the part that does not remind me of DMP) is the gorgeous chorus where everyone sings along to some “ooohooh.”

The final song is an older one called “Normal Song” it is just Hadreas and Wyffels and it is the most tender and delicate song yet.  Hadreas plays some simple, quiet chords (in waltz time again) as he sings:

“Take my hand when you are scared and I will pray,”

“… And no secret, no matter how nasty, can poison your voice or keep you from joy.”

The delicate ringing keys in the middle of the song are really pretty and I like the way they don’t play while he is singing–it’s just him and his guitar.

[READ: December 28, 2011] “Fly Already”

The premise of this story is at once humorous and horrifying.

And on a reader’s note: as an American unless told otherwise, I imagine all stories are set here (I assume that’s not an uncommon reaction to fiction).  So even though I know that Keret is not writing in America, often his stories don’t really need a location (which is awesome).  But then he gives away one detail that makes you realize the story isn’t set here.  That detail will come in a moment.

As the story opens, a man and his son, P.T. are walking to the park.  En route they see a man on top of a building.  The boy (who is 5) says, “he wants to fly!”  But the father knows a more reasonable (and terrible) reason why the man is on the roof of the builidng looking over the edge. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LJOVA AND THE KONTRABAND-Tiny Desk Concert #611 (April 14, 2017).

Ljova and the Kontraband play a rollicking blend of gypsy music with a twist.

There’s a viola, an accordion, an upright bass and a hand drum.  And they play rollicking fast trad music as well as delicate sow ballads.

Ljova and the Kontraband embraces Western classical, jazz and an array of international styles including tango and Eastern European and Balkan folk music. These top-flight musicians, who hail from Russia, Lithuania, the U.S. and Switzerland, pile all of these sounds atop of each other with great glee, and emerge with creations that alight on totally new and exciting terrain.

The band is led by the composer, arranger and viola player Ljova (Lev Zhurbin), who comes by this musical eclecticism naturally: the Moscow native, who comes from a family heavily involved in the arts, has worked with an astonishingly wide and starry group of collaborators, including Jay Z, the Bollywood queen Asha Bhosle and cellist Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble. In this Kontraband setting, he and his bandmates (including Ljova’s wife, the preternaturally sweet-voiced, Lithuanian-born singer Inna Barmash) create performances of deep earthiness, fragile tenderness, ebullient humor and quicksilver shifts in texture.

“Love Potion, Expired” is one of those fast songs with twists and turns and all kinds of solos.  The middle section is practically a percussion solo by Mathias Künzli (from Switzerland).  While the strings and accordion are sort of fiddling away on a couple of notes, Künzli (on his box drum) plays a sophisticated solo on the box which also includes all manner of percussion–cymbals, clackers, shakers, finger cymbals and other things that clatter (he even includes his thigh at one point).

It’s followed by an appropriately wild accordion solo (and that instrument is gorgeous) by Patrick Farrell (from Michigan).  The song is played at breakneck speed and is really fun.

The second song introduces us to Inna Barmash (Ljova’s wife). She explains that “Ven Ikh Zol Hobn Fligelekh (If I Had Wings)” is a Yiddish folk song from Western Ukraine.  She says the beginning of the poem is translated as “If I had wings I would fly to you if i had chains I would pull you to me.”  It id played as pizzicato and strummed viola while Inna sings.

But the heart of their Tiny Desk Concert was the song “By the Campfire,” whose words have a long, strange history that goes back to the Middle Ages. The words originally come from 12th-century Germany; Ljova’s grandfather, a noted translator, translated this poem from German to Russian, which Ljova uses in his musical setting.

Barmash gave us her own English translation of this unsettling, stunning, and perhaps even prophetic text: “Lies and spite command the world / Suffocate its consciousness, / Truth is poisoned, dead is law / Honor killed — obscene extolled! / … And the wisdom of our days / Teaches theft, deceit and hate.”

There are a couple of parts to this song.  As it begins, the accordion sounds like flutes.  Barmash sings beautifully for a few verses.  And then in the middle she sings a long sustained note that seems to signal the band to start on a chaotic section with everyone playing things crazily for a few seconds.  Then she does another long note and the song turns into traditional Russian type of dance.  There are many parts and this song goes through all of them.

Before the final song Ljova apologizes for disturbing their lunch.  “Walking on Willoughby” was written by Patrick, it’s a fun, wild polka that’s seven minutes long.   There are many parts to this song as well.  At times the viola and accordion play off of each other.  There’s several opportunities from each of them to solo held together by that thumping bass by Jordan Morton (from Syracuse).

The middle slows down to a one two count as the accordion plays a disjointed sounding solo.  There’s even more after that as this song just spirals in all directions.

[READ: July 10, 2016] Lunch Lady and the Schoolwide Scuffle

This appears to be the final book of the Lunch Lady series.  The book ends on something of a cliffhanger but to the best of my knowledge, no book has come out after this one.

But don’t be sad because this is a very satisfying conclusion.

As we left book 9, Lunch Lady had been fired.  She is so despondent that when the opening pages feature bad guys doing bad things, she’s not even there to stop them. It’s the fifth bank to be robbed in two weeks and Lunch Lady is just lounging about eating ice cream.  Egads!

But even worse, the school is a shambles–the superintendent has put a portrait of herself in every room (even the bathrooms).  Te teachers have been replaced by convicts, the principal has been replaced by Mr Edison who was put away in book 3 and even more shocking, Milmoe is being nice to them–he realizes he’s in over his head as student council president. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: TASH SULTANA-Tiny Desk Concert #609 (April 7, 2017).

Tash Sultana is a force of nature.  I’d heard her song “Jungle” a bunch of times on the radio before seeing this.  I thought it was interesting and kind of catchy with some cool guitar work.  But it never occurred to me that Sultana was doing the whole thing BY HERSELF!

For this Tiny Desk, she recreates that song (and two others) entirely by herself with loops and loops and effects and all kinds of good stuff.

As “Jungle” opens, Tash plays the guitar chords and loops them.  And then she plays the opening riff.  And loops it.  And then more riffs on top and loops them.  She creates a huge sound for about a minute and a half.  Then when all that sounds good, she starts playing the drum machine.

It’s so much fum watching her dance around her little area (barefoot, mind you) tapping pedals and setting effects on and off.  And when she starts soloing, she’s got a perpetually big smile on her face just really enjoying all of the work she;s doing and the sounds she’s making.

She finally starts singing and she’s got two microphones–the chorus gets the second microphone which has a processor and echo to totally change her sounds.

And then towards the end of the song she starts messing around with a solo and has all kinds of effects at hand for whichever part of the solo she’s doing, including a wild, ass-kicking, classic-rock style solo that all mellows out into  sweetly echoed section and a gentle guitar ending.  The song itself isn’t that complicated, but holy cow she packs so much into its 7 minutes.

So who the hell is Tash Sultana?

This 21-year-old Maltese-Australian got a guitar from her grandfather when she was three, she says, and has played it every day since. It’s astonishing to watch Sultana’s fluidity on her instrument, like a natural extension of her body. (She also plays bass, saxophone, trumpet, flute and more, but kept it “simple” at the Tiny Desk.) I thought I had a lot of energy — watching her bounce from guitar to drum machine to two separate microphones — and then hopping barefoot from looping pedal to effect pedal as she builds her songs was exhilarating and exhausting.

She says she wrote “Notion” when she was having a difficult time with myself… and someone else.

It opens with that her singing “oohs” into that processed mic and it sounds otherworldly.  And then again she jumps around from guitar to drum machine looping more and more.  Although it’s interesting that most of the song stays kind of mellow.  Her melody is very pretty and her voice is great.  The only trouble is it’s kind of hard to understand what she;s singing.  But its fun that she’s singing some of the song without playing anything else (it’s all being looped) and how intensely she sings it.

After playing the song for some 9 minutes, she hits some pedals and the just takes off on a wailing guitar solo.

“Blackbird” is very different–it’s all played on acoustic guitar.  There’s no looping.  She says she wrote this while in New Zealand.  She was wandering and got lost in a cave.

But acoustic doesn’t mean simple folk song.  She plays some great riffs with her right hand while hammering-on with her left hand. The part around 19:15 is just fascinating to watch.  She must have an alternate tuning as well because when she plays opens strings it sounds great (and it’s 12 string as well, so it sounds even more full).

After singing a few verses she plays an incredibly fast section.

There’s just so much going on, and I have no idea if all of that is part of the songs or if she’s just going off into her own world.

I was so impressed by this set that I just got tickets to her when she comes to the area in a few weeks.

[READ: January 31, 2017] “Mo Willems’s Funny Failures”

I have never really written about Mo Willems, even though my family loves his books (I’ve even got an autographed copy of one of them).

The Piggy and Gerald books are wonderful first readers (and are fun for adults too) and Pigeon is the best bad-tempered character around.

Since I like Rivka Galchen and post about just about everything she writes, I wanted to include this here.  It is a biographical essay based on a few interviews she had with Willems. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SINKANE-Tiny Desk Concert #610 (April 10, 2017).

I’ve heard of Sinkane but I didn’t really know much about them.  Not knowing what to expect, it was really fun to watch this show and see such diversity in the band.

Their music kind of defies categorization, which the blurb addresses:

Sinkane is the music of Ahmed Gallab — and such hopeful music it is. He grew up in London and has lived in Sudan and in Ohio and, these days, New York City. His band reflects his own love for music from around the world; you can hear a great New York jazz band in the rhythms of Sinkane, but you can also hear the influence of Bob Marley and the hypnotic repetition of Sudanese desert sounds.

“U’Huh”is the first song.  Ahmed says “You can help us out with this song you just have to say ‘u’huh.'”  The song is fun right from the bat.  The verses are catchy, with each line ending with “u’huh” (although singing partner Amanda Khiri  looks a little intent as she sings that affirmative line).  Ahmed sings with a surprising falsetto–which plays off against the repeated “u’huh.”

The song contains the Arabic phrase “kulu shi tamaam,” which translates to “everything’s great — it’s all going to be all right.”  And when it gets to the chorus, it grabs hold and won’t let go.

I love that there’s kind of reggae guitars (by Johnny Lam) and a surprising amount of acoustic piano (which you don’t hear all that much in reggae) from Elanna Canlas.  I also love that all of s sudden yo become very aware of all of the percussion, like a small triangle and cowbell and other things.  Those are all played by guest percussionist Reggie Pace from No BS! Brass Band.

“Favorite Song” opens with snaps /claps and a slinky guitar riff, a pulsing bass (Ish Montgomery) and a fun piano melody.  No falsetto for most of the main vocal lines and the great chorus “wont you play my favorite song….”

“Deadweight” has a cool dark riff on bass and guitar and the guitar uses a glass slide as well.  The bass and drums (Jason Trammell) are a great rhythm section.  Ahmed and Amanda sing a duet and they sound great together.  Then the whole band sings together.  I love that the piano plays little melodies that seem to be different from the rest of the song and yet work perfectly.  The guitar solo at the end comes as a surprise but it sounds terrific.

This is a fun, uplifting set from a really interesting band.

[READ: February 1, 2017] “Underground”

I really enjoyed this story quite a bit.  Although, as I think about it more, it almost seems like three unrelated episodes and makes me wonder if this is an excerpt from something bigger.

This is the story of Michael Salter.  Michael is forty-seven.  He’s recently divorced and even more recently come out as gay.  He has three distinct portions to his day.

The first is him at home with his most recent “boyfriend” Jeremy, a twenty-something guy he picked up on Grindr.  Michael is old-fashioned and formal.  He dresses beautifully (and has done so ever since he was little–learning to tie his own bow tie in school).  [There’s an odd line here “Mr. Collins, his Latin teacher, had taught him, and after an hour of practice Michael had the knot mastered along with a boner-size bruise on his backside.”  I have several possible ideas about what this means, but the “boner-sized bruise” just doesn’t make literal sense to me.]

Anyhow, Michael is a fancy older guy and Jeremy is a young stud.  Jeremy posts selfies all day and has thousands of followers.  Somehow this is part of his job.  At seven dates, Jeremy had become Michael’s most serious boyfriend.  And yet Michael is constantly checking Grindr, more in sheer amazement at the technology and the ease of cruising than for actually wanting to do anything. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DELICATE STEVE-Tiny Desk Concert #606 (March 24, 2017).

Delicate Steve is Steve Marion.  He plays instrumental music with great “vocal lines” that come from his guitar.

On record he plays everything himself, but for this concert he brought a backing band.  So the bass (Jessica Pavone) and acoustic guitar (Jon Wiley) play a fairly simple song structure while Steve plays gorgeous lead lines (often using a glass slide to create cool sounds and voices).  The drums area also particularly cool in these songs as drummer Max Jaffe really goes to down on the electronic drums he’s playing.

On the four songs, Steve has a Panasonic FM/AM Premium Stereo Cassette hi-fi, to plug his trusty custom guitar into.

“Afria Talks To You” is a great rocking song (the drums are particularly booming) and the backing music plays some big chords while Steve makes some great soloing throughout. I particularly love that his solos are just showing off, they are genuinely enjoyable melodies.

“Winners” has a delightfully upbeat almost cartoony sound for the first melody, before it switches into a really groovy sound (there’s also a middle section that sounds an awful lot like “Mrs Robinson” (think: “Look around you all you see are sympathetic eyes,” even the bass is the same), but the rest of the song is quite unique and really fun.

“Tomorrow” is a slow groovy song with some fun bass to start with.  Then there’s a great guitar line on top.  I really love the way these songs all seem to have so many things going on in them.  The middles section turns into a different type of song entirely without sounding like it’s disconnected.  There’s also some kind of synth coming through–although maybe its just his guitar making extra sounds?

Introducing the final song “Night Life” Steve says “We took all the words out because Bob said there were no microphones”.  This is perhaps the simplest melody of all of the songs.  But it doesn’t take away from the quality of the song overall.  The end is very funny because you know it’s supposed to end on a chord but he halts it without playing it….it just hangs there feeling unfinished.

He jokes, “we’ll play that chord next time.”  You hear Bob say “we gotta wait five years?”

Instrumental music can be a challenging prospect, but Delicate Steve makes incredibly catchy songs that don’t suffer in any way from a lack of words.

[READ: July 8, 2016] Lunch Lady and the Video Game Villain

Book 9 opens with Lunch Lady saving the day with some deadly honey mustard.

But this book is all about elections. And video games!

Turns out that Hector is distracted from running for student council president because he can’t find his X Station Mobile anywhere.  But he needs to focus on the campaign because bully Milmoe is running and has already spent a ton of money on banners and cookies and everything else that makes elections so much fun.

But beyond the elections, there’s a lot happening in the school.  A lot of electronics are missing although we see Gavin Computo has a new e-reader (and he’s rather smug about it).

News is also out that the new superintendent Eliza von Grindheimer (not Betsy DeVos) will soon be revolutionizing the schools.  She will be investigating their school soon. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RED BARAAT’S HOLI CELEBRATION-Tiny Desk Concert #604 (March 13, 2017).

Red Baraat is one of a few bands who have now made a second appearance on Tiny Desk.  This return is to celebrate Holi.  And celebrate they do!

I’m not really sure how to categorize Red Baraat’s music.  They are based around a traditional drum (the dhol) and yet they play a kind of jazz with lots of brass, but they also use a guitar and lots of percussion.

In the first song “Sialkot” they march through the audience playing the music until they get behind the stage. Once they settle in, the guitarist is using a bow (making some very cool sounds) and in the middle of the first song he’s all over the whammy bar.

So what does the blurb say:

Red Baraat’s fusion of bhangra, go-go, hip-hop and jazz is driven by frontman Sunny Jain’s percolating playing of the dhol, a double-sided drum which forms the rhythmic lattice of support for their boisterous horns and guitar. And though Red Baraat graced the Tiny Desk five years ago, we had to have Jain’s band back to celebrate Holi, the Hindu festival of color, of good over evil, and the coming of spring. Usually you’d see the dusting of brightly colored perfumed powders strewn in the air, covering bodies and clothing. The notion of doing that in the office was a fun thought, but the band (with my nudging) opted instead for confetti cannons and passing candied treats. It made for quicker cleanup, but their uplifting spirits lingered on, giving us a chance to shake off the final days of winter and demonstrating why music is so essential to the soul.

The second song is “Zindabad.” I love watching the sousaphone player who is really into the music.  And there is so much great percussion from the two drummers.

“Bhangale” opens with some super fast chanting from Jain and then some really fun chanting from everyone.  There’s so many cool moments in between the main horn playing where the guitarist is just playing these wild noisy guitar sounds. And then some really fast guitar solos.   There is so much chanting and singing amid the music that the joy is infectious.

  I had listened to the final song “Se Hace Camino” without seeing the title and I thought that they were singing in Spanish, which they apparently are.  This song has an almost ska feel, it’s so fast.  And again the fun is infectious, especially when the confetti starts flying all over the room.

I need to get involved in a proper Holi celebration next year.

Red Baraat is: Sunny Jain (dhol, vocals); Rohin Khemani (percussion); Chris Eddleton (drums); Sonny Singh (trumpet, vocals); Jonathan Goldberger (guitar); Jonathon Haffner (soprano sax); Raymond James Mason (trombone); Steven Duffy (sousaphone)

[READ: July 6, 2016] Lunch Lady and the Picture Day Peril

As Book 7 ends, Hector has a huge zit on his nose.  And picture day is coming up!  But before we can get to the photographic evidence, Lunch Lady has to stop the bad guys from stealing people’s lunch money–from an ATM.

But back to the Breakfast bunch.  Both Hector and now Terrence are covered in acne.  An it’s picture day.  The student council president tries to give everyone makeup for the photos, but Dee wants nothing to do with it.  It turns out that lots of kids are covered in acne so they start blaming the greasy food from lunch lady.  She rightly points out that the “link” between zits and greasy food is just a myth.  But clearly something has caused this outbreak.

The photographer comes into school and she is chic and fabulous. She loves meeting the “guybrarian” and fawns over lunch Lady’s look. (more…)

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  SOUNDTRACK: GARY BURTON-Tiny Desk Concert #318 (November 9, 2013).

Gary Burton has been on a Tiny Desk Concert before with Chick Corea.  I really enjoyed Burton then, and I enjoyed him even more this time.

Burton is a vibes player and he and guitarist Julian Lage play a delightful jazzy set.

I love the sounds of vibes already, but I really love the playing method—two mallets in each hand, spread to play a chord in each hand.  Its mesmerizing.

The first song is called “Out Of The Woods.”  The guitar is pretty and a delicate accompaniment.  Half-way through the guitar gets a solo and it’s interesting that the vibes seems to fade a bit even though he’s still going strong.

The second song “Remembering Tano” is dedicated to Arthur Piazollo, the master, whose nickname was Tono.  It has a very different feel with a mellow guitar solo at the end.

When Bob asks him about his playing style, he agrees that “4 sticks doesn’t look possible.”  But he explains that the vibes look like a piano keyboard, but the  advantage of this instrument is the visual impact it has for listeners.   He says that early xylophone players in 19-teens an 1920s played with four mallets a fair amount and then it went out of style.  He started playing in 1949 when he was 20 yeas old.   He grew up ion a farm town in Indiana by himself and when he played, it sounded empty so he needed harmonies.  Hence, four mallets.

The final piece was written for the show and is called “The Tiny Desk Blues.”  And it is fun and bluesy 3 fun and bluesy with a great vibes solo in between some nice guitar solos.

Vibes are definitely my favorite jazz instrument.

[READ: July 5, 2016] Lunch Lady and the Mutant Mathletes

As forewarned in Book 6, the Breakfast Bunch is serving a punishment for bailing on a field trip (true, it was to solve a crime, but such is the life of a secret super hero).  Their punishment is to join the mathletes team.

Before that we get a short episode of Lunch Lady foiling the bad guys from stealing ice cream from a family.  It’s the first time I’ve had to wonder if it’s the same bad guys every time.  From their reactions, I they are.

Lunch Lady feels bad that the kids are forced to join the mathletes so she makes cookies for the team.

While things are going on with the mathletes we see that angry janitor Mr Kalowski is more angry than ever. (more…)

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