Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Letters’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: ZEUS-Live at Massey Hall (September 11, 2015).

I had never heard of the Canadian band Zeus.  They seem pretty well-known (and have since become the backing band for Jason Collett when he’s not doing Broken Social Scene).

The band has been active for nearly a decade, but have only released a couple of albums (it is mentioned during the set that they are working on new material, but that was three years ago).

They talk about the amazing sound in Massey Hall.

Massey Hall is the furthest from a giant gnarly arena you can get.  We’ve played places with similar capacity and similar sound but there is something different here.  It sound really good and clean.  Maybe I would be intimidated if I played on this stage but you remember that not just anybody gets to pay here–you get asked to play here. This takes some of the onus off of being intimidated–you feel important in here.

Carlin says, “You never wanna say you had a shitty show at Massey Hall.  But you can hear yourself really well here, maybe that’s why they are all so good.  There’s always legendary shows there.

Everyone in the band switches instruments throughout.  It’s hard to keep track of what everyone is doing.  The only one who doesn’t move is Mr Robert Anthony Drake on the drums.

“Come Home” starts with a Carlin Nicholson on bass and Mike O’Brien on the electric guitar.  They share a microphone and the harmonies.  Neil Quinn is on acoustic guitar off to the side. adding a third voice.  It’s a surprisingly short song.

“Where is My Love” has Neil, still on acoustic, singing lead with his deep voice and an occasional falsetto on certain notes.  This song is quiet for the beginning with just the acoustic guitar and keys before the rest of the band kicks in.  The song shifts gear and musically sounds like a slower Sloan song (whom they were paired with that night) but the vocals are quite different.  Mike has shifted to keys with Carlin still on bass.  Jason Haberman is also playing multiple instruments–he’s on guitar for this one.

“Miss My Friends” has a kind of funky, almost disco rhythm.  Carlin has switched to keyboards and Mike O’Brien is on bass where he sings lead vocals.  Neil Quinn plays electric guitar and c Habermans has switched to electronic percussion.

Carlin introduces the next song, “This goes back to the very first Zeus record, “I Know.”  It’s got Carlin on keys and lead vocals. Neil on bass, Mike on guitar and Haberman on acoustic guitar.  Carlin invited people to sing is they know it but I can’t hear of anyone does.

Neil shifts to a pretty melody on the keys with a gorgeous intertwining melody from Mike.  It’s a great opening to “Heavy on Me.”  There’s cool 70’s sounding keyboards and a great bass rumble.  There’s a lot of quieter moments where the bass is all there is and the riff is cool and slinky.  The song ends with great jamming session with a noisy rocking guitar solo and heavy drums.

After the applause, Neil says, “Thank you.  This is just what this band needs right now–a house fill of love like this.”

“Air I Walk” has a shuffling beat with (questionable) electronic percussion hits.  Carlin back  bass with Neil on acoustic guitars and lead vocals.  It sound kind of mid 8os Dire Straits

“Throwdown” doesn’t sound like a throw down as it opens.  There’s quiet guitars and gentle vocals from Mike.  But it gets really big by the middle and sounds like a non-synthy 80s classic rock songs.

The show ends with “Are You Gonna Waste My Time.”  Just like the opening, Neil is on guitar and vocals, Mike plays a great lead guitar and Carlin is on bass.

I really enjoyed this set quite a lot.  Zeus is a little soft rock for my tastes, but their musicianship and songwriting is top notch.

[READ: May 21, 2018] “Seven Years of Identity Theft”

Rick Moody had his identity stolen.  We all hear about this happening, but he really shows you how much of a real pain in the ass it is.  It’s not just a matter of getting new credit cards.

This essay is written as a series of letters.

The first letter is to the Most Honorable President of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari.  He writes of leaving his bank card in an ATM in Macon, Georgia and that’s when he assumes it all started–the theft of his identity–back in 2011.

A week later his replacement card was rejected and ultimately deactivated due to fraudulent transactions. (more…)

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACK: ROY AYERS-Tiny Desk Concert #712 (March 1, 2018).

I hadn’t heard of Roy Ayers, although I imagine I’ve heard his work somewhere before.  I love the vibes so I was looking forward to his set.

I was a little bummed to hear him singing–I assumed it would be all instrumental. Especially since his songs aren’t exactly lyrically masterful.  But the jazzy funky solos were pretty great.

Roy Ayers [is a] 77-year-old jazz-funk icon.  He sauntered through the office with a Cheshire grin on his face, sharing jokes with anyone within earshot. Accompanying him was a trio of brilliantly seasoned musicians — keyboardist Mark Adams, bassist Trevor Allen and drummer Christopher De Carmine. Later during the performance, pride washed across Ayers’ face as his bandmates took the spotlight. (Be sure to watch as Adams woos not just the room but brightens Ayers’ face during his solo.)

The set began with one of Ayers’ more recognizable hits: an extended version of “Searching,” a song that embodies the eternal quest for peace and love.  The vibes solo at 2 and a half minutes is worth the wait, though.

The lyrics are essentially.  I’m searching, searching, searching searching. It takes over a minute for him to even get to the vibes!  It’s followed by a groovy keyboard solo that starts mellow be really takes off by the end.

During “Black Family” (from his 1983 album Lots Of Love), you’ll hear him call out “Fela” throughout. That’s because Afrobeat legend Fela Kuti was a huge influence on Ayers in the late 1970s; the two eventually collaborated on an album, 1980’s Music Of Many Colors. “Black Family” is, in part, a tribute to Fela, even if the original version didn’t include his name.

Again the lyrics: “lo-lo-lo-lo-long time ago” and not much else repeated over and over and over. But it’s all lead up to a great vibes solo (as the band gets more and more intense).  I love that the keyboardist has a keytar as well and is playing both keys at the same time–soloing on the keytar with an awesome funky sound.  There’s even a cool bass solo.

Concluding this mini-concert, Ayers closed the set out with his signature tune, “Everybody Loves the Sunshine”, a feel-good ode if there ever was one. The essence of this song flowed right through him and out to the NPR audience.

Another terrific vibes solo is followed by a keytar solo which is full of samples of people singing notes (they sound like Steely Dan samples)–it’s weird and kind of cool.

[READ: August 2017] McSweeney’s No 46

As the subtitle reflects this issue is all about Latin American crime.  It features thirteen stories selected by Daniel Galera.  And in his introduction he explains what he was looking for:

DANIEL GALERA-Introduction
He says it used to be easy to talk about Latin American fiction–magical realism, slums and urban violence.  But now things have expanded.  So he asked 13 writers to put their own Latin American spin on the crime story.

And of course, each McSweeney’s starts with

Letters

DANIEL ALARCÓN writes passionately about Diego Maradona’s famous “Goal of the Century” and how as a child he watched it dozens of times and then saw it thousands of times in his head.  When he learned of Maradona’s questionable “Hand of God” goal, his father said that his previous goal was so good it counted twice.  But Daniel grows sad realizing that the goal of the century also marked the beginning of Maradona’s decline.

LAIA JUFRESA this was a fascinating tale about a game called Let’s Kill Carlo that her family played.   It involves a convoluted history including her mother “inventing” a child in order for her husband to come to Mexico from Italy and avoid conscription there.  But when this child “Carlo” “came of age” they had to think of reason why he wasn’t there anymore–so they invented the Let’s Kill Carlo game.

YURI HERRERA waiting for a bus in New Orleans as a man lay in the gutter also waiting.

VALERIA LUISELLI her friend recently moved to Minneapolis with her nervous wreck Chihuahua named President.   He was diagnoses with terminal cancer and the vet encouraged all manner of alternative therapies.  This friend was a very sweet person and had many virtues. And yet perhaps through her virtue the alternative therapy seems to have worked.

FRANCISCO GOLDMAN wants to know why immigration officers at Newark Airport are such dicks (and this was before Trump–#ITMFA).  He speaks of personal examples of Mexican citizens being treated badly.  He had asked a friend to brings books for him and she was harassed terribly asked why did she need so many bags for such a short stay.  Another time he was flying back to NYC with a Mexican girlfriend.   She went through customs and he didn’t hear anything for hours.  He didn’t know if she would even make it though customs at all–even though she’d done nothing wrong.   He imagines wondering how these officers live and what their lives must be like that they seem to take pleasure in messing with other people’s lives. (more…)

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACK: LILA DOWNS-Tiny Desk Concert #591 (January 13, 2017).

This is yet another example of musicians, artists who are bridging the divide that certain politicians have been trying to wedge int our country.  Between the translated works of Zambra and the multilingual works of Lila Downs, it’s pretty obvious that cultural racism is just stupid.  #ITMFA

The blurb tells us

Downs has spent her career exploring the furthest reaches of Mexican folk music. With a voice that borrows heavily from opera, Downs performs the kind of full-throated mariachi singing that would fit right in at Mexico City’s Garibaldi Square — ground zero for mariachi.

She can also coax the most tender moments from romantic boleros. But Downs is at her best when she and her band gather all of those influences to create cross-cultural expression that breaks down musical barriers. Entertaining and inspiring, she’s as much a storyteller as a singer, and her between-song banter lays bare the Mexican soul, only to have it punctuated in song.

She plays four songs and dedicates the first “Humito De Copal” to “all the journalists in the line of fire.”

Even though this song has many components of traditional Mexican folk, the size of the bad (nine pieces) and the big sound she creates transcends folk and makes it sound really catchy for all.  I love it when midway through, the song takes off in a fun fast dancing section

She is really striking and her voice is amazing.  She’s also playing a cool scratchy/grater item.

“La Promesa” comes from a series of song about he ritual and the offering of the Day of the Dead.  She asks, “what does the homeland mean to us as Latin Americans as Mexicans and as Mexican Americans. It begins with a great electric guitar sound and cool organ accompaniment.  And then she sings in quite a low voice holding notes for amazingly long (about 18 seconds).  It turns into a bluesy song with a lengthy bluesy guitar solo.

The third song, “Viene La Muerte Echando Rasero” was written by a campesino, a farm worker, about rich and poor and young and old being taken by death.  He says “even hit men are going to die.”  She switches to a jarana, a small eight-stringed guitar-like instrument.  After a slow intro the song picks up a bit with a kind of reggae feel.  There’s already a big echo on the mic already but in the middle she cups her hands and gives the whole sound a much bigger echo.  It has a catchy ending with everyone singing along.

She introduces the final song, “La Patria Madrina” by saying “In Mexico, you wake up and put on the news and see a lot of depressing things and you wake up and hope today will be better…and it isn’t.  But despite all of this everything will be better tomorrow.”  It’s a slower song with more reggae sounds and dramatic flourishes.  This time there’s a kind of slide guitar running through the song.

The band consists of : Lila Downs (vocals, jarana); Paul Cohen (sax); George Saenz, Jr. (trombone); Hugo Moreno (trumpet); Marcos Lopez (seated percussion); Yayo Serka (seated drums); Rafael Gomez (electric guitar); Leo Soqui (jarana); Luis Guzman (bass).

[READ: August 28, 2016] “Reading Comprehension: Text No. 3” 

I’ve enjoyed a lot of Zambra’s works and this one is no exception.  I’m particularly intrigued by the “quiz” portion at the end of the piece which really takes the story in a different direction.

The structure of the story is similar to other stories I’ve read by him–I have to assume that he is being reasonably autobiographical about his youth and his life with the woman who would be his son’s mother.  If not then he has really appropriated this character.

A man is writing a letter to his son.  I loved the way the beginning started with the narrator telling his son to forget all of the thing that he has said or done: “mitigate my shouting, my inappropriate remarks, and my stupid jokes.” (more…)

Read Full Post »

1999 SOUNDTRACK: JANE BUNNETT AND MAQUEQUE-Tiny Desk Concert #548 (July 12, 2016).

bunnettJane Bunnett is a soprano saxophonist and flautist from Toronto who performs largely with Cuban musicians.  She has been traveling there for about 30 years and has performed with all kinds of musicians.  For this Tiny Desk and her current she is playing with the women from Cuba in a band called Maqueque (they won a Juno award last year).

And they sound great together.  It’s interesting that Bunnett takes something of a back seat (or position anyhow) to singer Melvis Santa (who seems to mostly sing sounds (ah ah ahs, bop bop bah dah dahs, as opposed to words) .  But when it’s time to shine, Bunnett is there to impress everyone with her skill.

Felix Contreras says “If you want to hear what Cuba sounds like today, then be sure to listen.”

“Little Feet” features Bunnett playing a cool solo on her sax and Santa singing notes along with her.  But for this song Bunnett really wails.  (she’s quite winded by the end).

Of the three songs, the ten minute “Maqueque” is my favorite.  That’s in part because I don’t really like the sound of the soprano sax (she plays flute on this one) but also because the band membranes really get to show off their chops.  It starts with a simple piano melody and pretty vocals.  Then Bunnett plays the melody on the flute as Santa sings along.   When Bunnett gets her solo on, you can hear her vocalising a bit as she plays the flute.

After the song Bunnett says that women in Cuba don’t get the exposure they deserve, so she picked these woman to let the world hear them.

About 4 minutes in Dánae Olano plays an amazing 2 minute piano solo–fun to listen to and to watch as she is all over the keys–she plays  some great trills and riffs.  She’s very impressive.  About 8 minutes in Yissy Garcia (who Dave Matthews has said plays drums like Jesus) plays a great drum solo.  On the drum kit she is using her palms and fingers to play all of the drums and cymbals–she switches to sticks at the end. The percussionist Magdelys Savigne accompanies her, and while not actually soloing, she is keeping rhythm as well.

Celia Jiménez plays bass.  She doesn’t get to do anything fancy–no solos, but she keeps the rhythm perfect.

bunnett2“25 New Moves” has Bunnett back on sax with Santa singing along to her melody.  It’s a short (4 minute) catchy piece with another cool fast solo from piano and a few cool bass lines as well.

It’s a pretty great set with lot of cool jazzy Cuban melody and rhythms.  I enjoyed this set quite a lot.

[READ: November 3, 2016] The Complete Peanuts 1999-2000

This is the final volume of Peanuts strips. After 50 years, it finally came to and end.

Schulz was diagnosed with cancer in 1999.  He died in February of 2000.

I was hoping that this book would be shockingly good–full of great “I’m finishing the trip” closure.  But as I understand it, he wasn’t ready to finish the strip, so things move on more as less as normal.

In fact, I found the first few weeks of 1999 to be kind of dull.  The punchlines just didn’t make me smile as much.  Of course there is something to be said for the consistency of the strip.  Linus still has his blanket, Rerun is still coloring (he has become a dominant force in the strip), Patty is still getting things wrong and Sally still doesn’t want to do anything. (more…)

Read Full Post »

1997SOUNDTRACK:LOS HACHEROS-Tiny Desk Concert #546 (July 5, 2016).

hacherosLos Hacheros play “Afro-Caribbean music that provides the source material for modern salsa and all of its permutations.”

This music swings and bounces and with such simple instrumentation: an upright bass and a guitar.  With the main melodies constructed by the trombone and vocal (the trombonist doubles on violin).  But the rest of the band is there for percussion–cowbells, shakers and the conga.

The band plays three songs all sung in Spanish.  It’s fun to watch them get into the groove and begin to sway in unison to the music.

“Baila Con Los Hacheros” features a violin solo that is pretty intense “Papote’s Guajira” features an acoustic guitar solo that is complex and fun to watch. It also has a lengthy flute solo (the violinist also plays the flute!). “Bambulaye” features NPR’s own Felix Contreras on congas–he gets a solo–apparently he has been playing in bands for years.  What a nice surprise.

[READ: November 3, 2016] The Complete Peanuts 1997-1998

This is the second to last book of collected strips from Schulz.  Rerun features quite prominently and Linus has faded somewhat.  Snoopy is no longer playing characters (except for the soldier..always soldiers) and Charlie is still pining for things he won’t get.

1997 opens with Charlie showing Linus his autographed Joe Shlabotnik baseball.  But Linus thinks it’s a forgery.  Cue a week of strips about an autograph forger (who tries to hire Charlie as his accomplice).  I love that Schulz went on strange little tangents like this, but I always feel like he doesn’t follow through with these funny ideas. The whole premise of this just ends never to be heard from again.

And then in a surprise to me, Snoopy starts acting like a Revolutionary War patriot standing guard at Valley Forge.  He seems to have given up on WWI and gone back in time to a far less dramatic role–he mostly just stands around in the cold.  Strips about that occur from time to tome with him talking to General Washington.  The last one is in December 1998 where he realizes he is only guarding snow. (more…)

Read Full Post »

peanuts-1995SOUNDTRACK: TINARIWEN-Tiny Desk Concert #184 (January 5, 2012).

tinariwenTinariwen are a band from northern Mali, whose members met in the training camps of Col. Moammar Gadhafi. Much has been written about them and their story, which is pretty amazing.  I’m only going to talk about this Tint Desk Concert.

Typically, they play an interesting electric guitar kind of trance music.  But for this one they were all acoustic.  As Bob Boilen notes, they are his “favorite electric-guitar-based band on the planet.”  But he says he was:

“initially worried and disappointed when I learned that it was coming to play the Tiny Desk as a trio carrying acoustic guitars. My heart sank a bit more when the three Tuareg musicians from the Sahara arrived in jeans and polo shirts instead of the beautiful, flowing robes I’d seen them wear on stage so many times.

But they switched clothes and they do not disappoint on acoustic guitar.

I don’t know their music all that well, but it feels like the acoustic nature of this show is even more soothing and trance inducing.  The two acoustic guitars interweave–one playing lead (which is mostly hammered notes–not a “solo” per se) and the other strumming.  The percussion is the sound of two hands rubbing, clacking (with a cigarette lighter) and pounding (for bass drum) a large gourd.

The songs tend to be almost looping.  Like they could go on forever.  There’s no real verse chorus structure that I can tell.  It’s more of a meditative sound.

All of the vocals are in Tamashek and I have no idea what the songs are about.

On “Adounia” both guitarists sing and the voices sound very traditional, almost atonal. “Takkest Tamidaret” opens with a more conventional sounding guitar lick, but it’s all so quiet in the mix, that you can’t tell how much his fingers are moving.  The lyrics are a bit slower, but still in that droning style.  I love the way “Tenhert”  has a a cool riff from the lead guitar–one that probably sounds more intense on electric guitar.  He sing/speaks incredibly quickly.  “Tahlamoyt” is a much slower song with the lyrics pretty much all spoken word.

The “Mali sound” is pretty distinctive and Tinariwen are great proponents of it, spreading it around the world for all to hear.

[READ: June 8, 2016] The Complete Peanuts 1995-1996

I was under the impression that these last few volumes of books would show a serious drop in quality.  I had assumed that with the amount of product the Peanuts characters were sponsoring that these strips would be more cute.  But that is far from true.  I enjoyed this book as much if mot more than some of the other recent volumes.

I was also surprised to discover that I really enjoyed the Sunday cartoons more than the dailies.  In the past I haven’t really gotten big laughs form the Sundays–it seemed like the big stories and jokes were in the dailies and the Sundays were unrelated one offs with varying degrees of punch.  But I enjoyed a dozen or so in this book.

One of the major additions in this book is the inclusion of a slightly older Rerun.  He is now mobile and even heading to kindergarten (I love that he is aging while the others aren’t).  But rather than using Rerun for obvious cute child jokes (he’s no longer riding the back of his mom’s bike) Rerun is now making funny “outsider” observations about the world of Peanuts–he is constantly disenchanted with the way  things are going and with the belief that people are always lying to him.  There are also a ton of strips of him trying to shoot a basketball and failing miserably.  Schulz has always tended to take an idea and run and run and run with it, but this one is pretty good for the number that he uses it. (more…)

Read Full Post »

1993-1994 SOUNDTRACK: LEON BRIDGES-Tiny Desk Concert #469 (September 8, 2015).

leonLeon Bridges has a great old soul voice.  Indeed, I had no idea he was so young until he started speaking after the third song and all manner of young person chat came out of his mouth: “Thanks to my main man, you all looking beautiful man.”  His voice is pure and clean and hearkens back to 1960s soul singers like Sam Cooke.

The way he sings “baby baby baby” in “Coming Home” is classic soul.  And his enunciation of “mouth” is just gorgeous.  This song features the backing vocals of his sister Jesse.

“Smooth Sailin'” features a sax solo and Bridges on guitar.  Since there are 2 guitarists already Bridges’ guitar doesn’t  add much, but for me it’s all about his voice anyhow.

“Twistin’ & Groovin'” is about how his grandparents met.  He says the first time he saw her at a party the thing he noticed first about her was her long legs.

“River” is just him on acoustic guitar with Jesse singing backing vocals.

It’s a solid set and Bridges’ star has continued to rise since this show.

[READ: September 18, 2016]  The Complete Peanuts: 1993-1994

I didn’t like the previous book all that much, but this one picked things up a bit.

The year starts with Snoopy taking a test in school and acing the true false part–the only one to do so!

1993 has Schulz’ first celebration of MLK day.  Patty mentions the “I have a dream speech” but I love that she just mentions it without making it a big deal, it quickly changes to an unfair lunch swap between a carrot stick and french fry.  Speaking of old words, Lucy begins insulting Linus with: blockhead airhead, noodleneck but then finds that these older words work better: puzzlewit, dimbulb.

In pop culture notes, April 1993 sees Snoopy as Joe Grunge and in May 1993 Sally asks why is Barney purple? (more…)

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »