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Archive for the ‘New Yorker’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: MIGUEL ZENÓN feat. SPEKTRAL QUARTET-Tiny Desk Concert #814 (January 4, 2019).

When I saw that the artist was a quartet, I assumed this was classical music.  But then I saw that the main guy played saxophone.  So was this jazz?

In the end it doesn’t matter.  It’s glorious, modern instrumental music with instruments that at times fit so perfectly, you don;t realize there’s a reed in the strings.  And at times an instrument that stands out like its own unique thing.

Saxophonist Miguel Zenón is a big thinker — that much is clear from his recorded output, with its deep and inspiring connection to the folk traditions of his native Puerto Rico. But you also get that sense from his turn behind the Tiny Desk, where we can watch the concentration on his face and those of his adventurous band, the Spektral Quartet. This is life-affirming music with curious twists and turns, expertly performed by amazingly talented musicians.

The three songs work on mainly the same principle: fast, intricate string melodies with sudden time changes.  And a saxophone that either accompanies them or solos around them.

“Rosario” opens with the strings and sax playing an almost warm up sound before the pizzicato strings support the main sax melody.  There’s some very modern frenetic striking string music (with no sax) which is followed by the same strings with a lead sax solo over it.  The end of the piece features a delicately plucked cello and a lovely violin melody.

“Milagrosa” opens with everyone playing the same melody.  It’s fascinating how much the sax does not contribute–until it does.  But I’ll let the blurb talk about the amazing ending of this song:

There are two ways to marvel at the stunning unison playing that comes about three-quarters of the way through “Milagrosa.” First, listen with your eyes closed. The notes cascade at a such a fast clip, it can leave you breathless. Now, watch with your eyes open: It’s a joy to see Zenón and his band read the notes from the page, at times sneaking in visual cues with smiles just below the surface. It must be such a pleasure to make music like this.

The way the song starts and stops and starts again with such speed is really spellbinding.

He says that these songs were inspired by cultural and musical traditions from Puerto Rico.  Specifically, the final song, “Villabeño” alludes to a subgenre of Puerto Rican music–from the mountains

It is the quietest and lest intense song of the bunch.  The strings, even though they are largely playing staccato, are kind of hushed as Miguel plays the most jazzy solos of the set.  There’s a brief moment near the end where the strings come back to the fore, but it’s more as a supporting agent than a competitor.  It’s quite cool.

[READ: January 11, 2019] “Wrong Object”

I loved the way this story revealed the heart of itself.

It is written from the point of view of a therapist.  She writes that she has a new patient and he is very dull: “He is a nondescript man.”

He said his problem was himself–that his wife was thoroughly nice.  While she preferred a self-critical patient to a blamer, there was just nothing to him.  Usually her notebooks were full after a session, but she wrote very little about him: “Talks about wife, what a good person she is.  Annoying.”

She actually had to google him to find out even a little bit of information about him.  She felt bored by him.

She was about to suggest he seek a new therapist when he finally revealed what he had been holding back.

“I’m a pedophile,” he said. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: HAROLD LÓPEZ-NUSSA-Tiny Desk Concert #812 (December 14, 2018).

This was the final Tiny Desk Concert of the year and it featured a pretty traditional jazz trio (piano, bass, drums) from Cuba.  There have been a number of Cuban musicians on Tiny Desk, but I always defer to the blurb:

Cuba is known as much for their pianists as their percussionists — you’ll see why with this performance.

They play three songs.  The first is “Elegua” which opens

with some help from a recording of famed Afro-Cuban folkloric singer Lázaro Ros. Ros is both a musical and spiritual guide for this performance; the trio dug deep into the ritual music of santeria for inspiration with “Eleguá,” a tribute to one of the Afro-Cuban deities.

After about two minutes, Harold plays a nifty staccato riff on the piano while the bass plays a cool  related melody.  The song runs about six minutes and mid way through Ros returns to recite over the music.

When the song is over, Harold introduces his “brothers.”  His literal brother Ruy on drums and his brother from an other mother and father Gastón on bass.

(Special mention should be made of Harold’s brother, Ruy López-Nussa, on drums, and bassist Gastón Joya, who both fill the spaces between the beats while elegantly leaving breathing room within the performances.)

Joya is a treat to watch as he has a contented smile on his face for much of the set.  But it’s Ruy who is the most fun.  With his suit and bow tie and the unconventional way he holds the sticks he is fascinating to watch.  He looks like he is trying to be funny, the way he is playing.  Maybe he is just having fun but his playing is spectacular.

“Preludio (to José Juan)” is shorter–quiet and pretty.  It opens with a lovely melody on the piano.  There’s brushes on the drums and a quiet, subtle bass solo on the middle.  The song is much shorter and the closing minute is just beautiful.

“Hialeah” has the recognizable piano riffs — called guajeos — that we can recognize as originating with Cuban dance music, but the trio deftly melds that rhythm to a complex jazz exploration, without compromising its dance able pulse.

The melodies are recognizable, and yet he is basically riffing with them.  The piece opens with frenetic finger work on the piano with some complex drumming.  The rhythm is playing a dancey melody with some wild soloing on his right hand.  By around 14 minute into the set, he is an amazing blur pf speed and melody.  After a brief one second pause they come back with a phenomenal little drum display.

[READ: January 11, 2019] “All Rivers”

I have really come to enjoy Amos Oz’s stories–they are never about what I think they will be about.

This one was surprising for the way it was constructed as well.

The narrator, Eliezer is fondly remembering a woman ,Tova, who has a profound impact on his life. He says the name Tova was simple and popular and, he felt, didn’t suit her, a young poetess.  He doesn’t remember the color of her eyes, although he does remember the color of her trousers–dark blue/gray and tattered coarse material.

As he is describing her he interrupts himself.  He explains that he wants to be systematic and do things in order, but that he keeps getting ahead of himself  Every time he thinks about her, everything rushes to be first. (more…)

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 SOUNDTRACKLONELY LEARY-“Flaneur” (2018).

At the end of every year publications and sites post year end lists.  I like to look at them to see if I missed any albums of significance.  But my favorite year end list comes from Lars Gottrich at NPR.  For the past ten years, Viking’s Choice has posted a list of obscure and often overlooked bands.  Gottrich also has one of the broadest tastes of anyone I know (myself included–he likes a lot of genres I don’t).  

Since I’m behind on my posts at the beginning of this year, I’m taking this opportunity to highlight the bands that he mentions on this year’s list.  I’m only listening to the one song unless I’m inspired to listen to more.

One of the things that I love about Lars, and this list is a great example, is how effortlessly multicultural he is.  He doesn’t listen to music because it’s from somewhere, he listens to music wherever it;s from because he likes it.  So this band, with the decidedly English-sounding name Lonely Leary is actually from China.  Lars says that the

The excellent label Maybe Mars documents the current Chinese underground music scene, from the psych-rock of Chui Wan and surfy shoegaze of Dear Eloise to P.K. 14, Beijing’s experimental rock pioneers.

Lonely Leary is a post-punk band which sounds like they would fit right in with Protomartyr or even The Fall, Sonic Youth or Joy Division.  The fact that they are from China and sing in Chinese doesn’t affect the tone and overall feel of the music, it somehow makes it more intense (to my ears).

Lars describes their debut album as one “where noise needles into perversely kitschy surf riffs and hoarsely barked punctuation marks.”  Although I hear less kitschy and more Dead Kennedy’s guitar and feedback noise.

The sounds they achieve throughout the album are great.  “Flaneur” opens the disc with a screaming feedback followed by a rumbling bass.  There’s some great guitar lines from Song Ang (which remind me of Savages) and then Qiu Chi barks his dissatisfaction through to a satisfyingly Dead Kennedys-ish chorus.  There’s even some Savages-esque chanting as the song squeals to and end.

This is great stuff.

[READ: January 4, 2019]  “Father”

Here is a new year and a new essay from Sedaris that perfectly mixes emotional sadness and hilarious light-heartedness.

The night before his fathers 95th birthday, his father turned in the kitchen and fell.  David’s sister and brother-in-law discovered him the next day and brought him to the hospital.  They felt the most disturbing thing was his disorientation, including getting mad at the doctor: “you’re sure asking a lot of questions.”  He was lucid the following day, but he was quite weak.

David was in Princeton on the night his father fell [at a show that I could have been at–we opted not to go this year].   He called his father and said that he needed him to be alive long enough to see trump impeached.

A few months later, his father moved into a retirement home.  David and Hugh visited and at first he seemed out of it, but hr recognized both of them instantly.  The thing was that he was no injured.  He had tried to move his grandfather clock (one of the prized possessions he brought to the home) and it fell on him (for real).  Many family members called the clock Father Time, so David said to Hugh “When you’re 95 and Father Time literally knocks you to the ground, don’t you think he’s maybe trying to tell you something?” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKMIKE SCHIFLET-“00:00:00:00” (2018).

At the end of every year publications and sites post year end lists.  I like to look at them to see if I missed any albums of significance.  But my favorite year end list comes from Lars Gottrich at NPR.  For the past ten years, Viking’s Choice has posted a list of obscure and often overlooked bands.  Gottrich also has one of the broadest tastes of anyone I know (myself included–he likes a lot of genres I don’t).  

Since I’m behind on my posts at the beginning of this year, I’m taking this opportunity to highlight the bands that he mentions on this year’s list.  I’m only listening to the one song unless I’m inspired to listen to more.

Mike Schiflet released a 24 hour drone composition this year called Tetracosa.  This is the opening movement from it.  It is fifteen and a half minutes of slightly disconcerting drone composed of “effervescent guitar, blasted noise and electro-acoustic detritus.”

The drone is surprisingly “fast-paced” if that can be said of something without a beat.  The sounds and textures change and undulate at a pretty good clip.  At times it feels soothing, but then it throws in a note that pushes things a little off-kilter.  At times it is soothing but then comes zapping electronics which would certainly make for restless sleep.

I cannot imagine listening to this for 24 hours, although it would be a fascinating day if you did.

[READ: January 4, 2019] “Philosophy of the Foot”

This is the first story of the year and Soomro’s first published story.

It is set in Karachi and there is a boatload of subtext in this story.  As well, of course, as a lot of cultural information that I don’t understand.

Amer is an adult male (the younger boy calls him “uncle”) who stops to talk to the shoe repair boy. The boy has a cart and equipment and he takes great care of the shoes he has.   He is very knowledgeable.

Amer goes into his apartment and talks to his mother asking if they have anything for the shoe boy.  The ayah (a native maid or nursemaid employed by Europeans in India) suggests that Amer’s father had a trunk full of shoes which they could have sold.  Instead, Amer takes an old pair of his father’s shoes to be repaired.  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KASVOT VÄXT-“Turtle in the Clouds” (1981/2018).

Back in 1994, Phish started covering a classic album for its Halloween costume. In 2015 they covered the Disney album: Chilling, Thrilling Sounds Of The Haunted House, which pretty much meant all bets were off.  So in 2018, they decided to cover an obscure Scandinavian prog rock band called Kasvot Växt and their sole album, í rokk.  This proved to be a big joke–they were a nonexistent band.  They had so much fun creating this band, that they even enlisted others to expand the joke.  This included impressively thorough reviews from WFMU and from AllMusic.

The joke is even in the name: when translated together Kasvot Växt and í rokk means “Faceplant into rock.”.

Here’s some more details they came up with:

The Scandinavian prog rock band purportedly consists of Jules Haugen of Norway, Cleif Jårvinen of Finland, and Horst and Georg Guomundurson of Iceland.  The album’s label, Elektrisk Tung, supposedly went out of business shortly after the LP’s release and little information about the record appears on the internet. Bassist Mike Gordon made a tape copy of í rokk in the mid-’80s and Phish would play it “over and over in the tour van in the early ’90s.” In the Playbill, guitarist Trey Anastasio insisted, “Every time the Halloween discussion comes up, we talk about Kasvot Växt. We honestly were worried we wouldn’t have the chops to pull it off or do justice to the sound, but when it came down to it, we just couldn’t resist any longer.”

The decision to go with an obscure album few have heard or even heard of appealed to the members of Phish. “We’ve paid tribute to so many legendary bands over the years, it felt right this time to do something that’s iconic to us but that most people won’t have heard of,” Gordon said as per the Phishbill. “And with these translations we’re really performing songs that have never been sung in English before.” Keyboardist Page McConnell added, “I love the mystery surrounding this whole thing. If those guys ever hear we did this I hope they’re excited because we absolutely intend it as a loving tribute.” As for what Phish fans can expect? “A weird, funky Norweigan dance album! Get out there and put your down on it!” exclaimed drummer Jon Fishman.

While the listings for the 10 tracks on the original í rokk were in a Scandinavian language, the titles appear in English in the Playbill. Phish called upon a Nordic linguist to translate the lyrics to English for tonight’s performance.

These songs do not really sound like a Norwegian prog rock band.  They do sound an awful lot like Phish (although with a more synthy vibe overall. The band has this part of their live show streaming on Spotify under the Kasvot Växt name.  And I’m ending the year by talking about each song.

This song is super funky–from the cool bass and keys sound to the lay it down riff.  It’s also got a fun singable chorus.

The juxtaposition of the two sections is great.  This is a highlight of the disc for sure.

[READ: December 20, 2018] “Acceptance Journey”

Carol moved to Rhinehorn for a six-month job at a private college.  She had also just broken up with her “boyfriend”: “More exactly, she’d run out of their motel room after he’d become enraged at her for singing “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” in the shower and accused her of wanting to sodomize him.”

Carol was 57 and divorced and had debt from her ex-husband’s failed life-coach business.  The temp job was routine and mindless, just what she wanted.  She intended to make friends with no one until one day the neighbor, Duane, called over to her.  He explained that his wife, Dana, knew the woman she was replacing (maternity leave) and teat they would love to have her for dinner.

It was a lovely family dinner.  The food was good, and the children were charming.  They prayed before eating.  And somehow it made Carol shy of seeing them again.  Where she used to walk in the neighborhood, she now felt the need to drive around.  She drove out of town on various roads looking at billboards.  One continued to catchy her eye.  It was for something called The Acceptance Journey. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: H.E.R.-Tiny Desk Concert #811 (December 12, 2018).

I vaguely remember H.E.R. from the concert they mention below (my entire mention of that Concert which I did not like at all is that she has a nice voice).

It’s nice that she came back and her concert is much better than the guy she guested on.

H.E.R. stunned us as a special guest for Daniel Caesar’s Tiny Desk concert earlier this year, in an appearance that showcased her vocal mastery. That earned her an invite to play again, front-and-center. She attacked her second go ’round with more fervor than the first, highlighting her skills as a multi-instrumentalist, maneuvering between acoustic and electric guitars, then the Fender Rhodes.

She plays four songs.  The first “Going” (Interlude) is short and very cool.  A nice introduction to her electric guitar playing and her cool deepish voice.  It leads into “Feel A Way” which showcases her deep soulful voice.  Her backing singers are great, but the highlight for me is the instrumentation in the middle of song–the guitar and piano both play excellent riffs together.  It sounds fantastic–it’s a shame the singers have to vamp all over it.

For “Hard Place” she switches to an acoustic guitar which sounds even better with the piano.  The melodies and vocals are quite nice on this song, although I hate the way she sings the end the song–find a note and stick to it.

The final song is apparently her biggest hit and I hate it.  She switches to keys, which are lost among the piano.  But the problem for me is that she just goes off on that awful R&B warbling that plagues so many pop songs. I know that’s what people love, but I HATE it.  The pseudo-scatting at the tail end is much more preferable to that nonsense.  But man it makes the okay song just endless.

While H.E.R. stands for “Having Everything Revealed,” she’s an artist who’s built her reputation on a certain degree of anonymity. The cover art for her debut, 2016 EP, H.E.R. Volume 1, shows a woman’s silhouette over a blue backdrop. Her visuals never provide the audience a clear shot of her face and her signature accessory for every outfit is a pair of large, dark sunglasses.

Most other bands only get three songs.  I wish she did as well.

[READ: January 6, 2017] “Bedtimes”

This was a short, sad story about a marriage disintegrating.

And the way it was done was wonderfully subtle.

Thomas and Mary have grown children.  On Monday night, he is working on his laptop and Mary is Skypeing.  She decides that he is working all night so she goes to bed.  When he comes up an hour later, she is “sound asleep, face to the wall.”

On Tuesday, Mary takes their dogs for a walk around bedtime.  So Thomas decides to go up to bed.  When she comes up later, he is “Sound asleep, face to the wall”.

On Wednesday, she goes to sleep first. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DIRTY PROJECTORS-Tiny Desk Concert #809 (December 4, 2018).

In my head Dirty Projectors are a noisy, chaotic band who make weird songs.  But this Concert could not be further from that understanding.

The music is beautiful, the harmonies are outstanding and the instrumentation is gentle and pretty.

The blurb seems to suggest that the music is often quirky:

Dirty Projectors’ eighth album is often loving and forgiving. It’s full of the quirks of production and rhythm and rhyme that had me fall for their music when I first heard it about a dozen years ago.

and maybe some of their earlier music exaggerates the quirks.  But watching this band with their acoustic guitars and candles makes this a delightfully warm and sweet Tiny Desk.

When Dirty Projectors let us know they couldn’t make it to the band’s Tiny Desk performance until late in the day, we were sad because the clocks had recently turned back for the fall, we knew that our beautiful, natural light would be gone and it’d be dark. But with candles left over from a late-winter day performance by Rhye — and some LED panels and spots — we were set up right on time for David Longstreth to sing these words: “The sky has darkened, earth turned to hell / Some said a light got shined where darkness dwelt / So I won’t cry or collapse, overwhelmed / Time like a song just might rhyme with itself.”  What’s wonderful about this Tiny Desk Concert is watching these talented people arrange this complicated music without amplification and seeing the joy on their face when it all worked out.

The band plays three songs:

The first one, “That’s a Lifestyle” has such a delightful guitar melody.  I love it.  I also love that the three female singers sometimes harmonize, sometime follow and sometimes both.  Felicia Douglass (vocals, percussion, keys), sings “that’s a” over and over while Kristin Slipp (vocals, Rhodes, Wurlitzer), follows each instance with a series of words.  I also love that both Longstreth and Maia Friedman (vocals, guitar), are playing this wonderfully complex guitar section–while he sings leads and she contributes extra backing vocals as well.

“Right Now”  has a great middle section where Douglass sings the first “Now… Now” and then Friedman and Slipp harmonize the repeated “nows” after that.  Slipp plays an awesome little melody on the keyboard as well.  And all along there’s a rather complicated guitar going throughout.

Nat Baldwin (bass) switches between finger plucked and bowing on the upright bass to add yet more textures to the music.

“What Is The Time?” opens with a wonderfully complicated drum pattern (Mike Johnson) before settling down into more delicate folk.  There’s more gorgeous harmonies on the chorus and an amusing moment where the lyrics are “say hello” and Longstreth waves “Hey, NPR.”

All in all, this blew away all my expectations for Dirty Projectors and was a great Tiny Desk.  I’ll have to explore their music a little more.

[READ: January 18, 2017] “Spiderweb”

This is a very long story in which not a lot happens, but in which tension builds and builds between major characters.

The narrator goes to visit her aunt and uncle in Corrientes:

My aunt and my uncle were the custodians of the memory of my mother, their favorite sister, who was killed in a stupid accident when I was seventeen.

But the aunt isn’t happy about the situation: “You got married and we haven’t even met your husband!  How is that possible?  You’re hiding him from us?”  She explains: (more…)

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