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Archive for the ‘Graphic Novel’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: LARA BELLO-Tiny Desk Concert #728 (April 10, 2018).

I was quite taken with the instrumentation on this Tiny Desk Concert.  Although Lara Bello sings in Spanish and the main instrument is flamenco guitar, the addition of the clarinet (Jay Rattman), was a real treat.  It was a sweet surprise in the beginning of the first song “Nana de Chocolate y Leche” and then it was like the addition of a new culture in the main body of the song when it had a more klezmer sound.

I love the percussion that Arturo Stable is playing.  In addition to the box drum, he’s got a wooden bowl with clattering stuff in it that he is manipulating with his foot.

I’m glad to note that the instrumentation was a deliberate choice and an eccentric one:

Lara Bello occupies the space between genres where magic happens. Born in Spain, she was raised with not only Spanish traditions like flamenco and canto but also pop music and jazz. The instrumentation she assembled for her Tiny Desk reflects that elastic approach to genre: acoustic classical guitar, clarinet, violin and a percussionist who didn’t keep time so much as color the proceedings.

None of this should detract from the amazing work of Eric Kurimski on guitar. It’s only about midway through the first song that you realize that all of the music that’s not clarinet or violin is coming from him.

Bello says that “Nana de Chocolate y Leche” is a lullaby for her friend who had twin babies one born with skin more the color of chocolate and one with skin more the color of milk. The na na na section was a lot of fun and felt like it could be any language especially as that section seems to drift every so slightly from flamenco.

“Suave” (soft) is about a butterfly that wants to reach the moon.  It opens with a beautiful violin (Janet Sora Chung) melody and a delicate clarinet addition.  The middle section of just guitar and violin is gorgeous.  I love hearing her sing the word “suave” at the end of the song.

“Sola” means “on my own” and is dedicated to everyone who has fallen deep and had to learn again how to fly again and once they did it, they flew higher.  It’s a pretty song with an extended clarinet solo.

After just three albums, Bello has become a noteworthy presence in the community of Spanish musicians who deftly mix jazz, classical and other traditions from Spain. That world can seem like a secret society to those who don’t understand Spanish, but you’ll see during Bello’s performances that the lyrics double as another flight of exploration as they float like wisps of smoke through the sonic spaces carved out by her collaborators.

[READ: January 2, 2018] Vapor

Max is an illustrator from Spain (his full name is Max Bardin).

I really enjoy Max’s works.  Although not too many have been translated into English (this was translated by Carol Gnojewski), his visuals are pretty striking and “simple” and are easy to enjoy even if you can’t read the words (usually of dialog).

Max’s stories and pictures are usually pretty surreal.  I enjoy his pictures as much as the stories, although the stories are often quite funny and enjoyable even if they don’t always make perfect sense.  The fact thar the epigram is from Dinosaur Jr is pretty awesome: “I feel the pain of everyone / and then I feel nothing”

The main character of this story is a man with a crazily long, boomerang-shaped nose. He is lying in a desert saying he feels like he is floating.  Up walks a cat with a similarly large nose.  The cat says the man is just hungry.  The man says he is not.  The cat asks if he’s one of those self-righteous people.  The man says no, he is just looking for meaning.  The cat asks if he means God.  “No , God is only a contaminated and infectious idea.  I don’t pursue ideas, I seek experiences.”

Then he goes on to talk about Absolute and Transparent things, vacancy, silence, paradoxes. (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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SOUNDTRACK: VAGABON-Tiny Desk Concert #710 (February 23, 2018).

It’s always my favorite artists who play the shortest Tiny Desk Concerts.  August Greene was okay and it went 36 minutes but Vagabon didn’t even manage ten.  Neverthless, there’s something magical about Vagabon.  Her voice is unique, she brings a new perspective to indie rock and she seems pretty nice too.

Laetitia Tamko, the artist known as Vagabon, is a 25-year-old, Cameroon-born musician with a big, tenor voice just bursting with new musical ideas. Though all the songs here are about love, Vagabon also speaks proudly to black women on her 2017 album, Infinite Worlds. There aren’t a lot of black women in this bedroom studio community of independents, a community that, especially in New York, has welcomed her and where she mostly found stimulus and guidance.

Her pride shines bright in her smile and as well it should. For someone self-taught and who’s been playing for only the past four years, her arrangements are adept and thoughtful in an independent rock music scene that can often be lyrically lazy and texturally tepid.

Her album is quite big with loud guitars and crashing drums.  But in this Tiny Desk, it’s just her and her equipment (and a stellar bassist on the second and third songs).

For the first song “Fear & Force,” she plays electric guitar.  There’s some lovely picking and great chords before she sings in her unique voice–whispered and deep (so much deeper than her speaking voice).  I love that she is still picking as she uses her left hand to start the electronic drum machine that makes the song sound so big.  The album version gets really big in the middle but she keeps things quiet here.  The chorus is wonderfully powerful and elliptical.

“Freddy come back, I know you love where you are, but I think I changed my mind.”

I love the abrupt ending too.

We were also treated to a new song during this Tiny Desk performance called “Full Moon In Gemini,” which, coincidentally, was performed on the day of a total lunar eclipse in Leo – she warned us all to “watch yourselves.

It’s amazing to hear her sing so powerfully after her delicate speaking voice.  She introduces Evan Lawrence on bass and his live bass is a tremendous addition.  He plays great lines that really flesh out her playing.  I love the way the song ends.  She sings “I lay in my bed with you it fees so …  so … good,” and the drums and bass continue for ten seconds before she shuts it all down (having already grabbed her mug and taken a sip).

Before the final song she explains that she taught herself how to play these instruments about four years ago.  Since then she’s been “hauling ass.”

Vagabon’s poetry speaks to love. You can hear it in “Cold Apartment.” While she closes the Tiny Desk set with it, it was the first song she ever wrote and one that came to her during a difficult time in her life.

“And we sat on my cold apartment floor
Where we thought we would stay in love
Stay in love”

She says she finds it very gratifying to share it in this powerful way.  The song has a terrific guitar melody with an outstanding accompany bass.  This is all especially true during the bridge/chorus when the bass gets really low and works perfectly with what she’s playing.  I find it actually works even better than on record where the drums are terrific but kind of drown out the bass.

I really hope she comes back around for a tour soon.

[READ: December 30, 2017] Beyond the Western Deep 

Tabby brought this book home and thought I’d enjoy it.  Which I did.

It’s a story of war with rather cute animals drawn by Bennett

It opens with some story telling about the history of this land.  It looks almost like cave drawings chaos and endless nights of war.  Eventually a treaty was signed and the land was divided into four places.

The Ermehn were driven from ancestral lands and made to live in the Northern Wastes (they’re not happy about it).
The Canid established the Kingdom of Aisling and has the strongest army in the land.  They are ruthless and humorless.
The Felis built the crowing achievement city of Gair.
The Vulpin live in the desert kingdon of Navran.
Sungrove is ruled jointly by the Lutren and Tamian races

The seafaring Polcan are poised to invade Sunsgrove.

Confused? Me too. It’s a heck of a lot of backstory for what is a fairly short and simple first part. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: AUGUST GREENE-Tiny Desk Concert #709 (February 21, 2018).

A collective of artists is at the core of August Greene: Common (Lonnie Rashid Lynn), keyboardist Robert Glasper and drummer Karriem Riggins have known each other for a long time.

The blurb says

August Greene was born at the White House in 2016 during a special Tiny Desk concert. It was during that unprecedented performance that the then-untitled ensemble premiered the powerful “Letter to the Free,” an original song for Ava DuVernay’s Netflix documentary 13th that eventually won an Emmy for Outstanding Original Music and Lyrics.

Common says they came together to be an inspirational collective who wanted to foreground women and put women in the foreground.  It is unfortunate, then, that the first song features all men.  But their hearts are in the right place “That’s important in hip-hop, which has long been dogged by an old-line adherence to misogyny, as it lays claim to the world’s most popular genre.”

For the trio’s first visit to NPR headquarters, they brought some special guests: vocalists Brandy, Maimouna Youssef and Andra Day. The band performed four tracks from its upcoming self-titled album (out March 9 on Amazon Music), an impromptu freestyle, and Day’s Oscar-nominated collaboration with Common, “Stand Up For Something,” from the film Marshall. Common described the theme of the Tiny Desk as “Foregrounding Women,” alluding to the attendance of Brandy, Day and Youssef, as well as the spiritual presence of Glasper’s younger cousin, Loren, who passed just a few days prior.  [Common says she “transitioned” which I thought meant she was undergoing gender reassignment surgery–euphemisms are dangerous, people].

This five song Tiny Desk Concert is over half an hour and I enjoyed most of it.  I really like Common and his delivery.

August Greene’s latest single, “Black Kennedy,” connotes dreams of an African-American dynasty, the kind only a royal family assumes. The stark contrasts of disenfranchisement are highlighted by every wish expressed.

Common does the rap, which is solid (Common’s voice is so good) and Samora Pinderhughes sings the chorus. I’m rather surprised by how wimpy his voice is.  He sounds either nervous or like he can’t hit the notes he wants.  And yet somehow I find this charming and his part of the song to be very catchy.  I like the D Dummy is there scratching as well.

Up next is “Practice.”  Glasper doesn;t say much during the show, but he is hilarious when he does.  Common says Robert was playing these chords in the studio.  Glasper: “It was the best thing he ever heard” after some laughs, Common retorts: “I was like it’s a’ight.  Once we my raps, the song turned out right there.

“Practice” is how “Life takes work.  You gotta work on yourself and any craft, any relationship”  The song features one of the queens, Maimouna Youssef, we call her Mumu Fresh.  She sings backing vocals and then does a great rap

sometimes being a woman is like being black twice
i gotta shout fire instead of rape
and you tell me to act nice
look pretty stay slim don’t talk loud
don’t think, don’t feel, don’t act proud
but if I’m at my lowest how are you 100%
god made woman and man for the balance of it
so will the real men please stand up.

While Common is talking a phone goes off.  “So yo, who phone is that?”  ha ha

He talks about one of their favorite songs, “Optimistic” by Sounds of Blackness.  As a hip hop artist, I usually don’t do remakes, but as August Greene I can do what I want.

Common: Anything yo want to say rob?
Robert: Yes, i wrote your rhymes.  Just want everyone to know that.
Common: Yea that’s why on this song my rhymes are sub par cause her wrote them

Rob said we need to get brandy.  Brandy came in with that light.

With a buildup like  that I wanted to like this song a lot more than I do.  Even though Brandy’s voice sounds good, I don’t like her delivery. This was my least favorite song of the day.

He introduces: Burniss Travis on the bass; DJ Dummy, on the 1s and 2s; Karriem Riggins on drums

Common shows off a truly great freestyle.  There’s some great rhymes referencing previous tiny desk episodes, and lines like “rob g cant rhyme like me.”

Introducing that amazing “Stand Up for Something,” he says that people worried with this administration that the world is ending.  The world ain’t ending it’s just god bringing the best out of us.  What’s more important than standing up for something you believe in.  It is designed to inspire hope, to bring the message of Thurgood Marshall to a new generation: “it all means nothing if you don’t stand up for something.”

We had to bring in a revolutionary to sing it so we got the sister Andra Day here.  She jokes “I usually like to underpromise and overdeliver.” But she nails it.  She sounds amazing.  It is by far the best song of the day and a great song in general with a great old-school soul sound.

Common ends with this great rhyme

a president that trolls with hate
he don’t control our fate because god is great
when they go low when we stay in the heights
I stand for peace, love and women’s rights

Later, in “Let Go,” vocalist and August Greene collaborator Samora Pinderhughes sings of overcoming darkness within yourself and finding hope at the bottom of Pandora’s box. It’s about releasing the demons so the hands can hold the blessings.

Common says they first called it “Nirvana” because it reminded them of Nirvana “the group from the 90s who we all love.”  (I love that he had to qualify that).

Pinderhughes, sings “I need to let go.”  It’s such a nice sentiment with a groovy opening bass line and pretty keys at the end.

I love the idea of hip-hop rising to this terrible moment in our history and working together to make things better.

[READ: December 4, 2017] Pelé: The King of Soccer

When I was a kid, Pelé was the be all and end all of soccer.  He was the man like nobody else was.  So I have been surprised in the previous two decades or so to find that he is barely mentioned among the greats.  And I have a theory about that.

Most of the people who care about soccer are not from the States (this is changing a little).  And most of the people I know who support soccer are from Europe.  Pelé is Brazilian and, more importantly, he defeated a lot of Europeans.  Plus, and this is probably the real crux, Pelé was instrumental in introducing soccer to the U.S.–right when I was impressionable enough to fall for it.  My then close friend’s family was really into soccer and we went to a New York Cosmos game (I wonder when that was.  Did I see Pelé play?  I must have).

Anyhow, Pelé was a pretty amazing player, and I’m glad to have this book confirm that for me.  What’s interesting about this book, though, is that it also talks about his personal life.  He was amazing for the kids of Brazil, but a little less amazing for his family (I was surprised to see his terrible personal life in there, primarily because this is a kids book.  But it’s important not to gloss over that kind of thing, too).

I also realized that I knew absolutely nothing about Pelé.  Like, nothing at all.  So this was a great book to fill me in. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BETSAYDA MACHADO Y PARRANDA EL CLAVO-Tiny Desk Concert #707 (February 16, 2018).

How can you not love a band that is decked out in wonderful colors and whose only instruments are percussion?

I love the first song, “Santa Rosa.”  The chorus is super catchy and when they raise the note in the chorus on the “Oh! Santa Rosa” the song just soars.  Although Betsayda Machado sings most of the songs, this one opens with one of the men (in yellow) singing and I really like his voice, too.  I could even figure out the gist of the words.

And the percussion?  Two floor drums, 2 hands drums, shakers and that friction drum.  So cool.

So who are these folks?

The roots of the music of Betsayda Machado y Parranda El Clavo extend to the Venezuelan slave trade, and while the vocals are in Spanish and not an African dialect, the instruments the group plays date back more than 500 years.

The large bamboo cylinders, the djembe-like drums and the large friction drum together create a symphony of interlocking polyrhythms that was unlike anything I’d heard. Machado’s vocals soar over the unrelenting rhythms, and when she harmonizes with the other singers, it creates a choir-like display of African call-and-response vocals.

When discussing African-influenced music from the southern hemisphere, we often focus on countries like Brazil and Cuba, places where the folk music eventually made its way into popular music. Afro-Venezuelan culture and music is rarely featured or even acknowledged outside of the country. As you’ll see in this video, that should change once music fans take in the beauty of Machado’s voice and the power of her historical message.

“Alaé Alaó” is much more somber, but the percussion is incredible–three men playing bamboo sticks against bricks–the details of what they do are fascinating.  The song starts to pick up with bongos and other hand drums as the guy starts singing again.  During the middle of the song one of the women goes out dancing on the main floor with some of the crew.  This can only lead to more dancing.

“Sentimiento”  The guy in yellow sings the beginning of the song and then Betsayda comes in.  The friction drum is back along with all the shakers and percussion.  I love the way they all stop perfectly at the end.

The band includes: Betsayda Machado, Nereida Machado, Youse Cardozo, Blanca Castilo, Adrian “Ote” Gomez, Jose Gomez, Oscar Ruiz.

[READ: November 20, 2017] Science Comics: Dogs

I have enjoyed every Science Comic that has come out, but this might have been my favorite.

In addition to being about a great topic: dogs, it was also updated with a ton of new information that I had no awareness of.  On top of that there’s a ton of scientific information about genetics, evolution and natural selection.  To top it off, it’s narrated by an adorable pup named Rudy who loves a tennis ball.

Once Rudy drags his owner to the dog park, Rudy can tell us all about dogs.

He explains that all dogs are from the species lupus, and yet look at how different all of the breeds are.  So Rudy rushed back to 25000 BP (before present). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ALICE SMITH-Tiny Desk Concert #700 (January 31, 2018).

I had never heard of Alice Smith before, which I guess isn’t totally unsurprising given the blurb:

For those not familiar, Smith made a big splash among true-school heads in 2006 with the release of her debut album, For Lovers, Dreamers, and Me. That record, whose title is a play on “The Rainbow Connection,” brimmed with an arcane magic, and it created a legion of lifelong fans.

Smith’s live performances usually highlight songs from For Lovers, Dreamers, and Me, her 2013 album, She, and her repertoire of cover songs. But for her Tiny Desk performance, Smith gifted us with three stunning song premieres that left the room entirely in her thrall.

Smith’s voice is great (although I found the voice of her backing singer, Kristin Brooks, to be even prettier.  I don’t think you could hear the other backing singer, Chauncey Matthews, at all).

Since the blurb talks about each song, I’m just adding my comments at the end

The first song, “Mystery,” feels like walking into the home of that friend of yours who is clearly more worldly than you, where there’s always a cool breeze, no matter the season.  [I really liked the low-key nature of this song].

The second song, which is so new that it doesn’t have a title, exudes the liminal uneasiness of being out of tune with yourself. The wisdom of the song draws from the notion that the top of Maslow’s pyramid is found within. [Alice’s voice is really nice in this catchy, rather conventional R&B song].

The closing “Something” is an undulating soul search that attacks and recedes like a cloudy beach morning. Smith was unabashedly in her pocket here, alternating between falsetto, tremolo and touches of jazz. This dash of Broadway at an office cubicle is what makes the Tiny Desk series so special.  [This sounds very Broadway in the beginning. I didn’t care for all of the keening and whooping near the end though].

So I am clearly not a true-school head (nor do I know what that means).  But I did think her voice was quite nice.  She introduced the band at the end, first name only.  The blurb has their last names, but didn’t include guitarist Frank at all: Dennis Hamm keys, Greg Clark drums.

[READ: November 5, 2017] All’s Faire in Middle School

I really enjoyed Jamieson’s Roller Girl.  It was a great story and it featured roller derby!

I was excited to read this story, but I was a little concerned that Jamieson was going to try to shoehorn in a conceit that Middle School is like the Middle Ages or something.  Well, I needn’t have been.  Jamieson does something that might be even cooler than Roller derby–she sets her story at a Ren Faire!

Imogen and her family work at the local Ren Faire and have done so for years.  Her father is a part- time actor (and pool salesman) but his passion is being the bad guy at the Ren Faire.  We meet a whole cast of characters who work the Ren Faire.  Some stay put and only work there, but others travel and work the circuit.

But Middle School is also in the title.  It’s not just that Imogen is going to middle school.  Up until this point she has been home-schooled.  So she is starting middle school and school at the same time! (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: GEORGE CLINTON & THE P-FUNK ALL STARS-Tiny Desk Concert #697 (January 24, 2018).

George Clinton is famous for being from outer space and for bringing the funk.  That was a pretty long time ago.  He’s now 77, but he still has the energy and the passion, although it is weird to see him looking so…normal.

He’s just got on a cool coat–no colored dreadlocks, no dresses or sequins.  But he still holds a room’s attention.

P-Funk’s lineage runs 50-plus years. From The Parliaments to Funkadelic to Parliament Funkadelic to the P-Funk All Stars, George Clinton has conducted the mothership as a reliable father figure. When he commands you to “put a glide in your stride and a dip in your hip, and come on up to the Mothership,” he’s presenting to you the first law of Funktonian physics. We at NPR pledged our groovellegiance when he and his P-Funk All Stars touched down to bless the Tiny Desk.

I love that Clinton has kept the spirit and familial nature of P-Funk alive all these years:

Clinton has brought his own bloodline into the most recent lineup of P-Funk: His grandchildren are the newest backup singers, while another grandchild serves as tour manager. Though this was a much smaller outfit than their traditional stage shows — no horn section, no dancers, no Sir Nose D’Voidoffunk — the extended family was also in full effect. Garrett Shider on rhythm guitar, filling in for his late father, Garry Shider, aka Starchild. Even original trumpeter Bennie Cowan, who still tours with the group but didn’t make it to the Tiny Desk, typically plays alongside his son Benzel on drums. Blackbyrd McKnight and Lige Curry cement the foundation as elder statesmen who’ve been rocking with Clinton since 1978.

They play three songs.  I don’t know how much Clinton sang back in the day–was he the lead singer or just a bringer of the funk?  But in “Standing On The Verge Of Getting It On” most of the vocals are chanted and sung by the backing vocalists (Tonysha Nelson, Patavian Lewis, and Tairee Parks).  Clinton is more like the hype man–getting everyone worked up, clapping and making noise.  Rhythm guitarist Garrett Shider takes a lead vocal, keeping the funk going.  The song is big and the riff is great and the funk is entirely in the house.  Dwayne Blackbyrd McKnight plays an awesome funky guitar throughout the Concert.

“One Nation Under A Groove” is a more mellow (relatively), smoother song.  I love the guitar sound, and there’s some suitably funky and retro-sounding keyboards from Danny Bedrosian.

“Give up the Funk (Tear the Roof off the Sucker)” is the real classic.  Clinton is really into this one–dancing and clapping and the bass by Lige Curry and drums by Benzel Cowan are terrific.

He may not have the interstellar look, but Clinton still has the funk.

[READ: October 25, 2017] Birthright: Volume Five

This is the first Birthright volume that I didn’t love.  There was a lot of demon head ripping off and tentacles and splatters.  Fire and blood and gore, but not a lot of coherent action.

It started out quite good with Rya’s back story. We see her as a baby on a battlefield being rescued by, of all creaturs…an orc.  He told her of the prophecy to defeat Lore.  And then she met young Mikey and “knew that the prophecy was a load of razorbeast dung.”

Then we see Mikey quickly develop into the man he is–and then disappear.  It was rumored he was killed but then Kallista gave away that he was still alive.  That made Rya really mad. (more…)

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