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Archive for the ‘Graphic Novel’ Category

meanSOUNDTRACK: ENDANGERED BLOOD-Tiny Desk Concert #214 (May 7, 2012).

bloodThe Brooklyn jazz quartet Endangered Blood was formed so its members could play benefit concerts for their friend, saxophonist Andrew D’Angelo, who’d been diagnosed with a brain tumor. D’Angelo eventually made a full recovery, but the group — Trevor Dunn (bass), Jim Black (drums), Chris Speed (tenor saxophone) and Oscar Noriega (alto saxophone) — realized that this ensemble had potential to become a real working band. In 2011, the four released a self-titled debut album.

Endangered Blood’s music draws from the members’ diverse backgrounds and influences, combining post-bop, 20th-century chromaticism, traditional New Orleans funeral marches, avant-garde jazz and post-punk to create a sort of mad-scientist concoction. Its compositions are cerebral, but they’re also gritty and full of energy.

The band plays two songs and the description above really gives a feel for what they sound like–kind of all over the place

“Iris” is a slow song that has a real Tom Waits feel (although no vocals).  It has a slow nightclub jazz feel and I love watching the drummer do that kind of swaying lots of arms but quiet hitting drum sound.  There’s an interesting (although quiet) bowed upright bass solo in the middle of the piece.

“Uri Bird” opens with a lengthy bass and drum solo (the drummer seems to be having a ton of fun–including hitting his sticks off the walls and floor).  Then the two saxes come in playing the exact same riff.  This has a bit more bebop feel with the saxes trading off solos.  It ends with a fast wail and a solid beat.

[READ: March 6, 2016] Johnny Boo and the Mean Little Boy

I love how the Johnny Boo universe is so small that characters keep returning.  Like in this one, the fourth book, Johnny Boo tells Squiggle that they can’t play today because his playing with his new friend Rocky the Rock.  This is the same rock that he threatened to make his best friend in the first book.

Johnny promises Squiggle that they will play together soon, as long as Squiggle can give him a “hooray.”  But Squiggle’s hooray is not very enthusiastic.

Squiggle says that he will go off and find other friends, too.  But it turns out to be not so easy.  And then a butterfly starts flying around him.  At first Squiggle is annoyed by it but then he thinks they can be friends. (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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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-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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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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