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Archive for the ‘Guns’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: AMADOU & MARIAM-“Wily Kataso,” (Field Recordings, April 11, 2012).

The story of Amadou & Mariam is fascinating.  I was really made aware of them in 2018, where I saw their Tiny Desk Concert and learned

Amadou Bagayoko and Mariam Doumbia met when they were children in Mali’s Institute for the Young Blind. Both had lost their sight when they were young and they began performing together. Later, in the 1980s, they married and began a career together.

This Field Recording [Amadou And Mariam: Finding Mali In Harlem] is six years prior to the Tiny Desk and Amadou & Mariam are on a bench outside The Shrine in New York City.

One major gathering point for Africans and non-Africans alike in this neighborhood is The Shrine, a nightclub and restaurant whose clout belies its small size. So when Malian breakout superstars Amadou and Mariam happened to find themselves with an extra day in New York recently, we invited them up to The Shrine to sing a quick, unplugged set.

There’s not a lot in New York City that looks much like Bamako, the capital city of Mali, but there are pockets uptown where a West African might feel a little closer to home. With increasing numbers of immigrants to Harlem from countries like Mali, Senegal, Guinea, Gambia and beyond, jewelry shops sell the beautiful, bright gold twisted hoop earrings traditionally worn by Fulani women; men stride along the street wearing the elegant, flowing robes called grands boubous; and restaurants sell bissap, the sweet cold drink made from hibiscus flowers that’s beloved across the region.

Amadou plays a simply guitar melody and Amadou starts singing with a repeated refrain of “Baro bom baro negé ta na” which means something like: Away, away, Go home.

The song almost becomes a drone since the music is repeated almost constantly throughout.  There is one part near the end where Amadou plays something a little different on the guitar–a kind of solo–but that’s the only variation.

It was just their two powerful voices, Amadou’s blues-soaked guitar and an incredibly catchy melody that lit up The Shrine.

They are mesmerizing and their voices are wonderful.

[READ: January 10, 2017] “Of Window and Doors”

This story was depressing and brutally honest.

It is about Saeed and Nadia and how their (unnamed) city was constantly at war.  Neighborhoods fell to militants quite easily.  Nadia was living alone and Saeed was with his parents.  He continually tried to get her to move in–chastely of course–because it was so unsafe for her to be alone.  But she refused.  Until Saeed’s mother was killed.  Then she agreed to be with them.

The title refers to actual windows and doors.  Window were now the border through which death was likliest to come–windows could not stop ammunition and they turned into more shrapnel.  Many windows were broken, but it was winter and people needed to keep the cold out.

Saeed’s family did not want to give up the windows, so they covered them with bookcases and furniture to block out the light and visiblity and to make them less vulnerable.

Doors were something different.  Rumors began to spread that doors could take you elsewhere–to places far away.  Some people claimed to know others who had been through the doors. And that an ordinary door could becomes a special door at anytime.  But others believed that this was all superstition.

Saeed and Madia get word of a possible door through which they can escape.  The rest of the story concerns their attempts to escape without being captured by militants.

This story was well-written and powerful.  It made me really fear for what life would be like if our country ever turned into a lawless land like this.  It was really frightening and real.

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SOUNDTRACK: DAVID WAX MUSEUM-“Born With a Broken Heart” (Field Recordings, January 12, 2012).

This was the third Field Recording in the series [David Wax Museum: Folk Among The Ruins] and it seems to have started a trend of recording musicians in the ruins at the Newport Folk Festival

The video opens with the band climbing through a broken down house.  Then the music starts with David playing the charango and Suz Slezak clapping.  It’s a catchy fun song with handclaps, wonderful vocal harmonies and oohs.

Two minutes into the song a tenor horn adds some depth and bass to the music, making it sound much bigger.  Around three minutes the whole horn section is playing along with a kind of mariachi feel..

At the end of the song you can hear cheering–presumably for the festival itself and not them, but it seems apt as well.

[READ: November 15, 2017] “The Hotel”

I feel like this is an excerpt.  If it’s not an excerpt than I don’t know what.

It’s basically about a woman who lands at an airport.  She is discombobulated from all of the flights and transfers (which seems unlikely but whatever).  The story starts with no explanation at all as to why the woman has flown from Dublin to New York to Milan.  She is now at a layover in Germany or Switzerland or Austria (the signs are all in German).

She can’t read the signs.  It’s very late. The airport seems to be closing down.  Her next flight is leaving in 5 hours.  She figures she will need to be back at the airport in four.  So instead of camping out at Gate 19, she decides to go to look for a hotel.  By the time she checked in , she would get max three hours sleep.  It’s just not worth it in my opinion, but whatever. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DANIEL HOPE-three pieces (Field Recordings, August 21, 2013).

The only thing I like more than a Field Recording set outside, is one set in an unlikely building, like the way this Field Recording [Daniel Hope’s Earth And Sky Expedition] is set in the American Museum of Natural History.

When Daniel Hope was a boy, the only thing he loved as much as his violin was his telescope. Gazing into the night sky, he pondered the vastness of space. Now a grown man, Hope still has a penchant for wonder and discovery — especially when it comes to music.

In his latest album, Spheres, Hope returns to the spirit of those early astronomical adventures. His idea, he says, is “to bring together music and time, including works by composers from different centuries who might perhaps not always be found in the same galaxy.” The unifying factor is the big question: Is there anything out there?

What better place to play with that ancient query than the Rose Center for Earth and Space at New York’s American Museum of Natural History. We invited Hope and jazz bassist-composer Ben Allison into the “performance crater” in the Hall of Planet Earth.

As if the Hall isn’t interactive enough — with its glowing orbs and 4.3 billion-year-old zircon crystal — we wrangled afternoon museum-goers to participate in our own Earth and sky expedition. Equipped with small flashlights, they became the twinkling stars surrounding Hope and Allison in the darkened room.

The music seems to live and breathe in the space, as each of the three pieces (spanning four centuries) reverberates a unique voice. “Imitation of the Bells,” with its rippling arpeggios and tolling bass line, comes from the long forgotten Johann Paul von Westhoff, a German violin master who crisscrossed Europe a generation before J.S. Bach. In “Berlin by Overnight,” from contemporary Max Richter, Hope’s violin asteroids whiz past while Allison’s bass propels through outer space. And finally, the otherworldly beauty that is Bach’s “Air on a G String” floats in a safe, gentle stasis.

It’s neat watching the little kids swing their flashlights around while the older kids watch on, bored, from the balcony during “Imitation of the Bells.”  Hope’s violin is flying in a flurry of activity while the bass keeps things grounded.

I’m not sure that I have heard many violin pieces performed with a bass accompaniment.  The bass doesn’t add a lit of melody to the violin work, but it adds a very cool feeling of grounding and rhythm especially in “Berlin by Overnight.”  The piece feels very contemporary with a cool, fast, Glassian kind of repetitiveness.  And the bass adds occasional notes (that feel like rock bass notes, he plucks so hard) to keep the pace going.

The bass is much more pronounced on the familiar J.S. Bach: Air on a G String.  I feel an imperceptible sitting up straight once the first notes ring out of the violin.  But I keep coming back to the bass.  The violin melody is so pretty and so familiar that it’s interesting to listen to the way the bass plays off those notes.

[READ: February 9, 2018] “The Botch”

I have not enjoyed Means’ stories in the past.  They’re usually pretty violent and just not my thing.

This one was a bit more enjoyable until the end.  The only problem with it per se was that it was about a bank robbery and I feel like there’s not much you can say about a bank robbery that hasn’t been said in films and stories already.

But there’s some interesting tweaks.  It is set around the Great Depression–tommy guns and wise guys.  And the mastermind behind the scheme has thought out everything ahead of time.  There is a repeated refrain of “the idea is” which I kind of liked.  Although for some reason it bugged me when it was switched to just “idea being,” which I know is how it would be said, but it bristled. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS “Halloween Eyes” (?).

This song is somewhat legendary among Rheostatics stories.  I’m not really sure when they wrote it (a long time ago).  I’m not even sure if there’s more to it than this verse.  Every time I’ve heard it played it has lasted about a minute.

It’s a simple guitar riff with some quite ridiculous lyrics

Don’t look at me with your Halloween eyes Awhoooo
Don’t hit me with your pumpkin pies Awhoooo
Devil’s got horns, devil’s got a tail–666, gonna fuck you up
Some people say that he got scales—666, you’re a sitting duck
Awhooo Awhoo etc etc.

They play it live from time to time (as recently as 2017) and each time they play it they seem to add to the mythology

“These guys really were stoned when they wrote that.”

Is it scary?  Nope.  Is it safe to add to a party playlist?  Nope.  Is it dumb?  Yup.  Do they know that?  Yup.  Is it fun anyway?  Yup.  Sounds like Halloween to me.

[READ: October 20, 2018] “Gray Matter”

Just in time for Halloween, from the people who brought me The Short Story Advent Calendar and The Ghost Box. comes Ghost Box II.

This is once again a nifty little box (with a magnetic opening and a ribbon) which contains 11 stories for Halloween.  It is lovingly described thusly:

The Ghost Box returns, like a mummy or a batman, to once again make your pupils dilate and the hair on your arms stand straight up—it’s another collection of individually bound scary stories, edited and introduced by comedian and spooky specialist Patton Oswalt.

There is no explicit “order” to these books; however, Patton Oswalt will be reviewing a book a day on his Facebook page.

Much respect to Oswalt, but I will not be following his order.  So there. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CAFÉ TACVBA-Tiny Desk Concert #794 (October 12, 2018).

Back in the 1990s I was quite the fan of Café Tacvba (I was exposed to a lot of rock en Español in the 90s and Café Tacvba stood out).

I’d never seen them and wasn’t even sure they were still together.  So it was great to see them in this Tiny Desk Concert.[“the four principal members together for almost 30 years”].  I didn’t know much about them back then (their liner notes are all in Spanish).

As usual, lead vocalist Rubén Albarrán is a captivating central presence, evoking a sense of down-home camaraderie with his ever friendly smile that has become the band’s most outward image. Having seen the band play in front of dedicated fans in massive stadiums in Mexico City, it’s striking to see his movements limited to a few careful spins and dance steps while still managing to embody the intense energy of their music.

The first song is “Olita del Altamar” (“Waves from the High Seas”) from the group’s 2012 album El Objeto Antes Llamado Disco.   Albarrán says it is “dedicated to the sacred water–not for mining, not for fracking but for humans and all living beings.”

It’s essentially an incantation of the magic that transpired during their performance behind Bob Boilen’s desk. The lyrics sing of the comings and goings of waves, symbolic of the passage of time and fueled by the Mexican folk rhythm son jarocho, a favorite of the band’s since their start almost 30 years ago.

The song has a real folk quality.  Their instruments are all acoustic (two of those tiny Mexican guitars and a full-sized guitar).  There’s a delightful solo on the melodica. Despite the song’s poppiness, at one point Albarrán begins screaming happily away from the microphone and dancing.

They then fast forward to “Diente de León” (“Dandelion”), from their 2017 album Jei Beibi. It’s a majestic, stripped-down version that puts the emphasis back on the lyric, a plea for existential and environmental harmony using the metaphor of the weedy flower.

It’s a beautiful song with Albarrán’s voice at times gruff and at times soaring.  The addition of electronic percussion is a little jarring, but it is quiet and works well with the music.

The third song is one that I knew and it was great to hear it again.  Introducing “The Flowers,” he says, “When we play this live we ask the people to raise heir hands so we can see a beautiful garden of different colors, different perfumes.  if you want you ca try it, it’s free.”

Their song “Las Flores,” from their 1994 album Re, slips into the ska groove that attracted fans to rock en Español in general and to Los Tacvbas in particular, a beat that captures the adventurous musical energy that swept all of Latin America in the early 1990s.

Clearly this energy is what swept over me in 1994.  Once again that melodica solo is delightful.  But so is everything else about this song–the guitar notes, the upright bass and of course, Albarrán’s infectious singing.

Not all bands would end their set with a power ballad, though very few bands hold their audience’s attention and dedication like Café Tacvba. But that’s just how they close their set.

“Que No” is their latest single, a pretty ballad.  Once the full band kicks in, it’s got a fun beat (that upright bass really keeps he beat).  Albarrán’s once again steals the show.

[READ: January 31, 2018] “The Death of Lazarus Averbuch”

This is an excerpt from The Lazarus Project.  It is story set in 1908 Chicago and one that I wasn’t very interested in until the very end.  Read as a short story it takes way too long to get where it is going, but as a part of a novel its a nice build up to the climactic scene.

A scrawny young man went to the house of the chief of police.  The chief’s wife told the man the chief didn’t see anyone before 9 AM.  The young man leaves and says he’ll come back.  Chicago is cold, bitter cold, and the man is sick of being so cold.  He had a nice summer here and even a  lovely autumn day in October, but he want the cold to end.

He decides to go into a grocery store because of the smell of warm bread.  The owners suspect of the man immediately–his stomach growls when he smells the fresh bread.  Meanwhile, another man walks in and has a friendly chat with the owners. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ANTHONY ROTH COSTANZO-Tiny Desk Concert #789 (September 21, 2018).

The first thing you see when you look at this Tiny Desk Concert is the amazing harpsichord–large and decorated like an old-fashioned leather-bound book.  It is stunning.

But you’re only likely to notice it if you haven’t first heard Costanzo’s voice and then had a look at him.

A word about Costanzo’s voice. He is a countertenor, a man who sings in the range of a female alto. The roots of the tradition date way back to the 1500s, when young male singers, called “castrati,” were castrated in order to preserve their high, flexible voices.

“I’ve managed to do it without castration,” Costanzo joked to the audience of NPR staffers. These days, countertenors sing in falsetto, and while as recently as 30 years ago it was considered something of an androgynous novelty, now countertenors are part and parcel of the opera world.

The music is exceptional and is wonderfully modern with that classical feel that opera naturally seems to add.

Costanzo performs songs from his new album, which pairs music by George Frideric Handel with Philip Glass. Strange bedfellows perhaps, and born more than 250 years apart, but somehow Glass’ repetitive, staccato beats and Handel’s long, flowing melodies manage to shake hands across the centuries.

The first piece is by Philip Glass.  And the music sounds like perfect chamber pop.  The flute plays the Glassian up and down melody while the bassoon plays the wonderful, peculiar bass notes.

One obvious common thread is the arrangements, by Nicholas DeMaison, that Costanzo commissioned expressly for this performance, featuring harpsichordist Bryan Wagorn (playing a beautiful double-manual French-styled instrument built by Thomas and Barbara Wolf), along with flutist Alice Teyssier and bassoonist Rebekah Heller.

Glass’ “Liquid Days,” begins with a recitative introduction, similar to a Handel aria. But the lyrics, by David Byrne, depict love, in all its quotidian splendor.

It is somewhat strange to hear a countertenor (or even if he were a female singing alto) singing lyrics in English.  His voice is truly amazing.

It is even more peculiar to hear the word “television.”  But Byrne’s lyrics are pretty awesome:

We are old friends
I offer love a beer
Love watches television

Love needs a bath
Love could use a shave
Love rolls out of the chair and wiggles on the floor
Jumps up
I’m laughing at love
I’m laughing at love

And all the while Costanzo’s voice sounds operatic, serious, significant.

Costanzo’s agile voice, with its polished tone and patrician phrasing, is a singular reminder that we live in a golden age of countertenors – guys who sing high in music both ancient and modern.

Up next is Handel’s “Pena tiranna” (From ‘Amadigi di Gaula’) which means, I have a tyrannous pain in my heart and I can never hope to find peace.  It opens with harpsichord and bassoon, a wonderful combination.  The flute then enters to play a harmony with his voice.

“Pena tiranna,” from Handel’s undervalued Amadigi di Gaula, is a compelling example of how well the composer can spin a gorgeous melody to evoke the deepest anguish.

The final piece is from Glass: “In the Arc of Your Mallet” (from ‘Monsters of Grace’)” which has a text by the 13th-century Persian poet Rumi.  It speaks of longing in sexy undertones.  He says that in this translation brings out the strange, layered longing–sometimes dirty–meaning under the surface.

Anthony Roth Costanzo is a feisty performer who knows a thing or two about busting down barriers in classical music. After all, opera singers don’t normally belt out arias behind office desks, and they don’t insist on lugging harpsichords with them. They also don’t routinely sing in Bronx middle school classrooms and get students talking about emotions. But Costanzo is fearless. (And after seeing this amazing Tiny Desk performance, watch him melt the hearts of distracted sixth-graders.)

[READ: January 9, 2017] “The Driver”

I never anticipated where this story was going.  And the direction it took to get there was really interesting.

It begins with the story of Mrs Quantrill, a respectable woman who managed to get their house listed on the Nation Register of Historic Places.  She and her husband were philanthropists and they threw legendary parties.

There’s an aside that says when their son Spencer inherited the house, he demolished it and replaced it with storage units.

But at the time of this story Spencer is 9 years old.  And Mrs Quantrill has been called into the principal’s office because Spencer is struggling.  Spencer is nervous and doesn’t know what to do with his, feet, his eyes or his hands. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKPLANTS & ANIMALS–Live at Massey Hall (December 1, 2016).

This is the start of the fourth season of Live at Massey Hall.

I didn’t really know any of the six artists, but they have recently begun adding new bands about whom I am pretty excited.

Of course, as with many of these shows, it’s the bands I don’t know which blow me away.

I didn’t know Plants and Animals, but I loved their set.

Drummer Matthew Woodley says that he and Warren Spicer (guitars and vocals) met in Halifax and had a series of bands until they moved to Montreal and met Nick Basque (guitars, keyboards).  They started as an instrumental band and then Warren started to craft words and now we’re a normal singing, dancing and playing band.

“We Were One” opens with feedback and some cool mechanical sounds that come from one of their guitars.

Warren sings kind of quietly and plays acoustic guitar.  Mid way through, the song shifts gears with some big guitar sounds from Nick with a great little autocratic guitar run and riff before a big chord ends it all.

“All of the Time” is a cool moody piece with loud pianos from Nick, rumbling guitars and backing vocals from bassist Josh Toal.

During the break, one of them says, “we like an element of danger… if I go to a show and everything is under control it’s still fun if you like the music, but as an experience if you forget about the music,  the feeling it’s just going to play out…   they’ll get two encores and we’ll go home….  But we’d rather feel, “Oh, but this is cool whats going to happen?” The first band they toured with was Wolf Parade and they had a “wow, anything can happen, they might just stop.”  That’s the kind of show we want to pursue–something that feels a little bit dangerous.

“Flowers” opens with some cool falsetto vocals and then a moody middle section.

“So Many Nights” opens with synths and a cool bass line.  It sounds a bit like Air (French band) with some lengthy guitar solos from the acoustic guitar which sounds very cool.  The slows down and slows further and then builds and build and builds and builds further to a noisy crescendo with them chanting “your feet are heavy, carry on.”

“A L’oree Des Bois” opens with pretty, intertwining guitars while Nick talks about making records in his Québécois accent.

Before the final song they bring out a tiny boy (Aaron Spicer) who sings a quiet song in French–to rapturous applause.

“No Worries Gonna Find Us”  Is a great humping song that repeats the title and “no worries gonna be the boss of my mind.”

They say “you guys are gonna get your faces ripped off by Half Moon Run.”  But it was Plants and Animals that really impressed me so far.

[READ: July 8, 2018]  “Active Shooter”

I always like when David Sedaris talks about visiting with his sister(s).

Sedaris and his sister Lisa were driving “in her toy-size car” to her home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

She is bemoaning a woman at Starbucks with a tiny monkey on a leash (in a pink dress).  She wanted to yell at woman, “What do you plan on doing with that thing once you lose interest in it?”

I love that this piece is about guns, but he is willing to throw in a bit about pet owners.

Like a lot of pet owner, I know, Lisa is certain that no one can take care of an animal as well as she can.

But as she was saying of  the woman “It’s a monkey, of course she’s going to lose interest in it” they drove past a firing range called ProShots. (more…)

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