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Archive for the ‘New Yorker’ Category

 SOUNDTRACK: AJ DAVILA-“Es Verano Ya” (Field Recordings, September 24, 2014). 

AJ Davila is part of the “unhinged Puerto Rican garage-rock band” Davila 666. For this Field Recording [Garage-Rocker AJ Davila Unplugs In A Hair Salon] he plays an acoustic song in a hair salon.

Davila says that New York is like another town of Puerto Rico.  That people from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic have made their homes and communities here.

There’s a joke that says the biggest town in Puerto Rico is called New York. Several waves of diaspora have created a deep and complex relationship between Puerto Ricans and the city. Boricuas have had an immense influence on the Big Apple — its music, its literature, its landscape, and even its cuisine.

He says that a small place like a barbershop (or beauty salon) can feel like you’re in your house.  “This is a song about hanging out with your friends.  It’s a summer song.”

We asked Davila to delight a Spanish Harlem beauty salon with a summer song. It’s appropriate: He’s one of the warmest souls I know — someone with whom it’s a pleasure to discuss art and music, argue about politics or tell silly jokes. He’s also a uniquely talented musician, with a style that combines garage-rock, punk and even elements of hip-hop.

This song probably rocks, but this acoustic version is lighter, with some bouncy chords from the other guitarist Daniel Ortiz and delightful backing vocals from Lola Pistola.  It’s somehow even better when they laugh off a tiny mistake.

[READ: September 14, 2017] ”Sunrise, Sunset”

This is a story of three generations of a Haitain family.

Carole is elderly and is slowly forgetting a lot–a blank look comes over her face and she forgets that she put her keys in the fridge or that her daughter is related to her.

Her daughter, Jeanne, and son-in-law James (they were known as JJ) just had a son, Jude (now known as Triple J).  But Jeanne has been in the throes of post-partum depression. James is a saint about it but Carole is furious that her daughter is lying around.  Back in Haiti, Carole did not have the luxury of depression.

Carole lived under a dictator.  She watched her neighbors get dragged out of their houses by the dictator’s henchmen.  Carole’s father fled the country and she never saw him again. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JOYCE DIDONATO-“When I am Laid in Earth’ (Dido’s Lament)” (Field Recordings, February 4, 2015).

Joyce DiDonato is an opera singer with a wonderful voice.  She is also an outspoken LGBT+ advocate.

DiDonato, 45, straight and a native Kansan, is outspoken on LGBT issues and one of today’s most sought-after opera stars. At London’s popular Proms concerts she capped off the 2013 festival with “Over the Rainbow,” saying it was devoted to LGBT voices silenced by Russia’s anti-gay laws. At the Santa Fe Opera, she dedicated a performance to a gay New Mexican teen who took his life after being bullied.

For this particular performance, she was drawing attention to Mark Carson, a gay man fatally shot almost two years prior. The city’s police commissioner stated Carson’s death was clearly a hate crime.

The murder happened just blocks away from the famous Stonewall Inn, a historic gay bar.  And that is where she chose to perform this piece [Joyce DiDonato Takes A Stand At Stonewall].

“The idea of a murder happening blocks away from the Stonewall Inn is incomprehensible to me,” DiDonato says. “It shouldn’t happen anywhere. It tells me that we’re not done talking, and we are not done working for people to comprehend what equality is about and why it is important.”

On June 28, 1969, police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York’s Greenwich Village. A riot broke out, sparking successive nights of protest and, many say, the emergence of the modern gay rights movement.

LGBT rights have come a long way since that summer night 46 years ago, when there were still laws criminalizing homosexuality. But mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato believes there’s still work to be done, so she chose the Stonewall to gather a few friends, talk about equality and sing a centuries-old song that still resonates.

For this memorial she chose to perform a piece from Henry Purcell’s 17th-century opera Dido and Aeneas. The piece is called “When I am Laid in Earth” also known as “Dido’s Lament.”  She explains the piece: “‘Dido’s Lament’ is about a woman who is dying and she asks for absolution.  When I am in the earth, I hope that I haven’t created any trouble.  Remember me but don’t remember my fate.”

The aria unfolds slowly yet purposefully, with a refrain that seems to predict the mournful strains of an African-American spiritual.

The piece is beautiful and mournful.  And the musical accompaniment (students from Juilliard415) is understated and lovely.  The inclusion of the viola de gamba and the therobo is inspired.  Musicians:  Francis Liu and Tatiana Daubek, violins; Bryony Gibson-Cornish, viola; Arnie Tanimoto, viola da gamba; Paul Morton, theorbo.

[READ: April 15, 2016] “The Lower River”

This story looks at a man from Medford.  As the story opens its says the man, whose names is Altman, always imagined he’d one day return to Africa, to the Lower River.  He had loved it there when he volunteered in a village called Malabo.  He stayed for four years (longer than anybody else had).  He helped to build a school and taught at it.  He felt a real connection with the people there.

And now, some forty years later, as he was getting tired of Medford, as his clothing store was failing, as his marriage was failing, as he had very little left for himself in Medford, he decided, why not.  Why not go back to Africa and see if people remembered him at all.

The Lower River is the southernmost region of the southern province of Malawi, the poorest part of a poor country.  It is also the home of the Sen people.  They were a neglected tribe and rather despised by those who didn’t know them.  They were associated with squalor, credulity and incompetence.  And indeed, when he went there the first time people, were afraid to take him as far as the Lower River.

Now, Malawai is something of a vacation destination where rich people are pampered by the poor locals.  But when Altman arrives and asks for transport to the Lower River, people are hesitant to take him, there, making sure he knows where he is going.    Even after his driver drops him off he speeds away without any concern for formalities. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: APANHADOR SÓ-“Prédio” (Field Recordings, May 13, 2015)

Apanhador Só  is from Brazil.  At the beginning of the video you see the guys in the band gathering…junk.   Childen’s toys boxes of refuse and homemade instruments.

The video starts and the singer explains that Prédio means building.  He says the song is about a different vision of life, a different perspective.  As it pans back we see that the only conventional instruments are a floor tom and a guitar.  And all kinds of weird other things.

In this video, shot during SXSW in Austin (2015), its members coax rhythms and beats from a trunkload of found items, including a children’s bicycle and other playthings. The resulting performance of “Prédio” is the stuff of hip-swaying joy.

The song starts with one of them tapping a bicycle bell.  Soon he starts keeping time by spinning the wheel and clacking the spokes.  Then he switches to a jug of some kind that changes the sound as he uncovers the opening.

There’s even a kazoo solo.

Near the end of the song, there’s wonderful breakdown where you can see then hitting and kicking everything at their feet-all kinds of junk that makes a cool cacophony.  The song is really catchy and lovely, although I admit I was more focused on what they were playing more than what they were playing.  (The items rather than the melody).

[READ: January 4, 2017] “Invasion of the Martians”

This was the funniest , most enjoyable thing I’ve ever read by Robert Coover.  Probably because it is so base and straightforward, it transcended some of his usual stylistic things.

A Senator from Texas is in bed with two women–the Secretary of the Interior (whom he calls the Secretary of the Posterior) and his intern–when he gets the news that Martians have landed in his home state.

He greets them warmly with Southern hospitality, but they don’t seem to speak any civilized languages.  They also don’t have any papers.  As the Senator was explaining this to them, they shot him. (more…)

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 SOUNDTRACK: DANIEL BACHMAN-“Song for the Setting Sun II” (Field Recordings, May 21, 2015).

Daniel Bachman plays a gorgeous six string acoustic guitar.  He plays wonderful instrumentals full of melody and feeling which tell a story in their own way.

Bachman grew up around the Rappahannock River in Fredericksburg. It’s a quiet town in Northern Virginia that still has a pharmacy with cheap sandwiches and milkshakes.

The 25-year-old has been at the solo-guitar game since he was a teenager.  That’s why it felt right to bring Bachman back to the area that inspired River, a record surrounded by history, but guided by hands and a heart that know its bends and bumps.

In early March, we met Bachman in Fredericksburg to drive an hour east to Stratford Hall, home to four generations of the Lee family, which includes two signers of the Declaration of Independence; it’s also the birthplace of Robert E. Lee. Bachman knows it well, not only because his dad works there, but also because he can’t help but bury himself in history books about the region.   Bachman plays a version of “Song For The Setting Sun II” in what was the performance space at Stratford Hall. The song leaps boldly around the sunlit, symmetrical room, bouncing off walls decorated with paintings of buxom women and men in powdered wigs.

It’s a gorgeous piece with ringing strings that sounds massive in this Great Hall.  In the second half, he strikes a low E and it sounds like a cannon.  And when you hear that melody amid all of the ringing notes, it’s just sublime.

[READ: January 29, 2015] “F.A.Q.s”

Phoebe is in her mid 20s.  She returns from college withdrawn and single. Her parents are delighted that she is single, but not happy that she is so withdrawn.

Phoebe is also pretty unhappy with the changes that have occurred since she was at school.

A new coffeemaker was where the compost bucket had been.  The chicken coop lay empty (they had reverted so quickly to supermarket eggs).  An exercise machine was in her old room–however after several minutes of exercise Melanie usually ended up lying on Phoebe’s bed.  Her mom tells her that she bought rice milk and oat cakes   Later on she even tries to make her parents granola (her father was supposed to watch his cholesterol but didn’t and her mother nibbled Icelandic chocolate),

One of the few things that remained was Grandma Jeanne’s violin on the top shelf of her closet.  It was unmentioned. (more…)

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july 28SOUNDTRACKJazz Lives At Duke Ellington’s Resting Place (Field Recordings July 2, 2015).

Playing jazz at a cemetery during the day seems like an odd decision.  But it’s all part of the one-day Make Music New York festival (MMNY) which celebrates music and community.  It happens every June 21 with more than 1200 outdoor concerts across the five boroughs running from morning till night.

For the 2015 edition, the festival’s organizers invited musicians to six different burial grounds across the city to riff on the idea of “exquisite corpse,” a surrealist parlor game popularized by artists and poets in the 1920s. In the game, someone writes a phrase (or draws part of a figure or scene), folds that part of the page over, and then passes it to the next player, who then does the same. The game ends when everyone has had a turn. That game is a natural bridge to the art of improvisation, and to jazz.

Woodlawn Cemetery is a mecca for the jazz world — it’s the final resting ground of royalty like Duke Ellington, Miles Davis and many others, including Ornette Coleman now as well. So as a tribute to their musical forerunners, the group — singers Michael Mwenso and Vuyo Sotashe, trumpeters Alphonso Horne and Bruce Harris, saxophonist Tivon Pennicott, pianist Chris Pattishall, bassist Russell Hall, drummer Evan Sherman and tap dancer Michela Marino Lerman — took as their point of departure W.C. Handy’s 1914 tune “St. Louis Blues,” a tune essential to jazz’s DNA. But they made it their own via surprising and turns that saunter through many textures, colors and rhythms.

The song begins with vocals from “St. Louise Blues” from Vuyo Sotashe and accordion from Chris Pattishall.  After a verse, Michael Mwenso (whose voice sounds very different) takes over.  The accordion drops out and it’s just voice and bass.

They pass the baton along to the horns, two trumpets, one with a mute in, the other using the mute  and a saxophone play a lively instrumental break.  This is followed by the percussion.  Evan Sherman and Michaela Marino have a percussive call and response.  I could have watched that part for a lot longer.

When that’s over the whole group joins together to end the song.

[READ: September 10, 2018] “Audition”

The first line of this story reads, “The first time I smoked crack cocaine was the spring I worked construction for my father on his new subdivision in Moonlight Heights.”

A first implies a second (especially with crack).

The story is about a 19-year-old college dropout. He went to school to study theater but “unmatriculated” and has been working for his father’s construction firm.  His father came from nothing and build up this firm which is presently creating a development.  His father is not too happy about him wanting to be an actor and as such is paying him the same as everyone else (which isn’t much).

He still acts–in community theater, but usually to 15 people at a time.

No one knew that he was the owners son and he liked it that way–he was using this time to study the laborers to learns their mannerisms–he was acting in his job, too,   New workers came through all the time (the pay was lousy after all).

The crack came from a coworker Duncan Dioguardi who was not acting.  He was a laborer living in his mother’s basement and longing to party.

The narrator knew “party” meant get high. When Duncan’s car died and the narrator drove Duncan home (an hour out of his way), Duncan invited him to party. The narrator was intimidated, then intrigued so he did.  And that was the first time he smoked crack.

He marveled how the lump of crack looked like some drywall that could easily be swept away.  Duncan showed him how to smoke it.  It tasted like nothing.  It smelled like nothing.  It was ant climatic except for his new-found fondness for Duncan whom he now considers a good friend.

That following spring he received a call from his old acting teacher to audition for a role  It was a stage show. The character would be on stage for all three acts but would not speak a word.  The narrator didn’t know if this was a step forward or backward.  The audition went well and he was sure he would get the gig.

Duncan’s car broke down again and the narrator told him all about the potential role.  But the narrator was more excited about the option of partying some more.

The story ends soon after this, which is a little disappointing as it is told from many years later and we never learn how he turned out.  But i did like the details of the past like “wiring th ehouse for internet, whatever that was.”

For ease of searching, I include: Said Sayrafiezadeh

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SOUNDTRACK: JUPITER & OKWESS-Tiny Desk Concert #784 (September 7, 2018).

Jupiter Bokondji comes from the troubled capital of Democratic Republic of the Congo.

He and his band Okwess dress in wonderfully colorful garb.  Jupiter’s jacket is practically a zoot suit with blue and white stripes on one side, a red field on the other and giant white stars  He has a big hat as well.  But he can’t hold a candle on the shirtless drummer who is wearing a red white and blue wrestling mask the whole show.

The guitarist has a beautiful patterned gold shirt with blue lapels and the percussionist in addition to wearing another cool hat has on a terrific sweater.

The band plays “the vibe of Kinshasa street musicians, that feels both African and American” and indeed, “their fierce energy here is an astonishing performance.”

Then of course there’s Congolese rumba, the popular dance music from as early as the 1940s, not too dissimilar from some Cuban music of the day. And the message of the music has been steeped in the complicated politics of the region, stumbling between chaos, anarchy and oppression.

This is urgent music … that stems from the gut but has thought and theatrics to flesh out the feelings. It’s music to be experienced. This is your entry point.

They play 3 songs each with a similar feel but with a very different sound.

“Ofakombolo” is so wonderfully catchy with the percussionist and drummer chanting the chorus on the first time around.  On the second the rest of the band sings too, for a nice harmony.  The bassist gets what sounds like a rap guest verse before playing a kind of funky bass solo.  The percussionist is great for shouts and trills animals noises, too.  The music is nonstop, propulsive and fun, with a distinctive guitar solo sound.

“Pondjo Pondjo” starts with a quiet guitar intro.  But it is joined by the drummer whistling and the percussionist pulling a string through a plastic container, making a crazy squeaky sound that works wonders as a percussive sound.  The bassist seems to be singing lead on this song (a very different voice).

 Jupiter introduces “Ekombe” by saying “Let’s go to dancing!” It opens with a funky bass line and the drummer playing a fast hi-hat beat and chanting.  It’s a very dancey with a slinky guitar line running throughout the song.  There’s a nifty breakdown in the middle which features some fun on the bass and a wild solo to end the song.

This is a wonderful introduction to Congolese music.  Stay for the end, as they end the show with a post-credits kung fu pose.

[READ: January 5, 2017] “In the Act of Falling”

Boy this was a dark, dark story.  After the last line I actually said aloud, “Jesus, Danielle, what the hell.”

This is the story of a family: a woman, her husband and their nine-year-old son, Finn.  Finn was recently suspended from school for punching a fellow student in the mouth.

They live in a an old house that they imagined fixing up but two years later even the dining room is unfinished.

Finn is in the yard setting up a volleyball net–but he is doing it sideways like a hammock.  It turns out he is setting it up to catch ducks as they fall from the sky.  Birds were the next heralders of the apocalypse.  And, she had seen that all of the ducks in St Stephen’s green were dead–all of them.  She probably shouldn’t have told Finn this, but she did. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KALBELLS-Tiny Desk Concert #783 (September 5, 2018).

The opening of the first song “Craving Art Droplets” was kind of promising, with the backing singers (Angelica Bess on keys, Sarah Pettinotti on bass) all “yeahing” at the same time and their rather strange chord progressions (and synth bass).  But once the song started, I realized it wasn’t going to get any better.  Just layer upon layer of cheesey synths.  The only thing that saved it was the live drums (Zoey Brasher), even though they don’t add a lot.

Just before the break, the song builds in an interesting way with everyone chanting louder and louder. And just when I thought there was hope, it devolved into the worst thing ever–lead singer Kalmia Travera’s long cheesey sax solo.  Oh dear.

She introduces the next piece: “The next song we’re gonna play is a medley.”  That’s a strange intro for songs no one knows.  Wordless chanting starts “123456/Bodyriders” (along with a cowbell).  The lyrics… are puzzling at best “Six was the rest, six was everything” (?)  When it segues into “Bodyriders,” the Travera singing high notes over the chanted background is promising, but those synth sounds again…. (even when she bends the notes, it’s still cheesey). .

“Droolerz” is a new song and has an amusing lyric: “We could play drums and eat lobster at the opera.”  And the way the delivery comes across is enjoyable.  The chorus also wants to be fun

Dance in the back yard, lets party
Let out all our demons, in the heat
Hang out on the lawn, in the dark
Naked in the shower, till dawn

But the way it’s sung is such a downer I can’t stand it.  Maybe its the synths–but I feel like the song is struggling and failing to be bigger than it is.  It all feels really sad to me.

[READ: April 15, 2016] “Distant Relations”

Sometimes it’s easy to tell that a piece in the New Yorker is an excerpt.  And sometimes you just hope it is.  And in this case, my hope was founded.  “Distant Relations” is a chapter from Pamuk’s book The Museum of Innocence, (like this excerpt, it was translated from the Turkish by Maureen Freely).

The main reason I assumed it was an excerpt was because of one or two lines in the early section of this story.  The ending, while ambiguous, could have been a (relatively unsatisfying) ending, but those hints that there was more really made me want there to be more.

The story begins with the narrator talking about his fiancée Sibel.  It was 1975 and she had just noticed a purse in a shop window (by Jenny Colon).  He made a note to go back and get the purse.  Although they are in Turkey, both protagonists have been abroad,  He studied in America, while Sibel studied in Paris.

The next day he decided to go to the shop and buy the purse.  It was owned by a distant relative.  She wasn’t there when he went in, but instead there was a beautiful young woman there.  Before the transaction was finished, he recognized who it was.  It was his “cousin” Füsun.  I put cousin in quotes because it turns out that she is very very distantly related. (more…)

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