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Archive for the ‘Murder’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: NICHOLAS PHAN-3 by Britten (Field Recordings, November 20, 2013).

This was 2013’s last Field Recording [Britten Goes Back To Brooklyn With Nicholas Phan].

In addition to providing some powerful vocals and introducing many (including me) to Benjamin Britten’s more down to earth songs, this Field Recording also provides a lot of historical information.

Composer Benjamin Britten, whose 100th birth anniversary falls on Nov. 22nd [2013], is so deeply associated with his native England that he’s on a new 50-pence coin issued by the Royal Mint. This British cultural icon felt so strongly his music should be of a particular place that he set down roots in the seaside town of Aldeburgh, England and stayed there for nearly 30 years until his death in 1976. But he had a surprising two-year sojourn living far from home — in a boisterous, bohemian group house in Brooklyn.

Coaxed to the borough in 1939 by a friend, poet W.H. Auden, Britten and his longtime partner, tenor Peter Pears, moved into 7 Middaugh Street in Brooklyn Heights (an address long claimed by the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway). Their housing situation there could only fairly be described as bohemian. Along with Auden, the house’s revolving cast of residents included novelist Carson McCullers, composer and writer Paul Bowles, and burlesque dancer Gypsy Rose Lee.

So in hopes of evoking something of that 1930s Brooklyn boho vibe, we invited an extremely fine young American tenor Nicholas Phan (pronounced “paan”), who’s become a champion of Britten’s vocal music, to return to Brooklyn on Britten’s behalf, accompanied by harpist Sivan Magen. We shot this Field Recording at 70 Fox House, a communal house in the Fort Greene neighborhood not all that far from where Britten and Pears lived and made their own art.

Amazingly Britten was still writing in the 1970s, and he made arrangements for these in 1976.

Witty and surprising, these songs are full of odd — but beautifully moving — harmonies and textures. It’s a perfect match for Britten and Brooklyn.

The first, “Lord! I married me a wife” is as funny as the title suggests.  Phan sings with great passion and exasperation: “I married a wife, she made me work in the cod rain and snow.”

“She’s like the swallow” is a prettier song with lovely harp playing to accompany it

“Bird Scarer’s Song” is a very different piece, with fast plucked harp that sounds more like piano than a harp and Phan singing aggressively and, yes, frighteningly.  With a big “Ha!” at the end.

[READ: November 5, 2018] “Backpack”

I have enjoyed several of Tony Earley’s stories, but I see that he hasn’t had a piece published in the New Yorker in several years.

Well, this one was great.

It is set up with something specific in mind.  John goes to various stores, buys several slightly questionable items, pays cash, and then heads home.

John is a professor, happily married for decades with a daughter just out of college.  But it is clear he is up to something.

From the items you can kind of imagine what he has planned. It is clear he is going to do harm to someone–either himself or someone else.  And when his wife leaves for the day, John shaves his head and shaves his beard (except for a Fu Manchu mustache), puts on sunglasses and a pirate bandanna and assumes the identity of Jimmy Ray Gallup. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE EBENE QUARTET-“Felix Mendelssohn: String Quartet No. 6 in F Minor Allegro assai” (Field Recordings, January 25, 2013).

I don’t quite understand why this Field Recording [The Ebene Quartet Powers Through Mendelssohn] sounds so great–it is rich and full with resonant bass notes.  Is it the recording or the quartet itself?

The title suggests it is the players.

The Paris-based Quatuor Ebene — the “Ebony Quartet” — has risen fast in the musical world with two separate artistic identities. In recent years, audiences have gotten to know the “other” Ebenes — the sophisticated cover band that plays everything from “Miserlou” (the Pulp Fiction theme) to jazz to “Someday My Prince Will Come” (yes, the one from Disney’s Snow White).

But when violinists Pierre Colombet and Gabriel Le Magadure, violist Mathieu Herzog and cellist Raphaël Merlin play classical music — whether Beethoven’s transcendent Op. 131 quartet or, as on their latest recording, works by brother-and-sister composers Felix and Fanny Mendelssohn — you realize the depth and beauty of vibrantly intense performances.

Felix Mendelssohn completed his String Quartet No. 6 in F Minor just two months before his own death, and very shortly after the death of his beloved sister Fanny. Even though this second movement, marked Allegro assai, is architecturally the “light” section in this piece, it’s full of dark colors, tense and moody and shaded with grey and black. The music provides rich counterpoint to the setting, the bright and spacious powerHouse Arena, a bookstore, gallery and performance space in Brooklyn’s Dumbo neighborhood.

We thought that the setting would appeal to the quartet’s double identities, given powerHouse’s signature mix of art titles and whimsical children’s selections, including a board book with a cute little piglet that clearly fascinated Raphaël to no end. And our idea worked: The shoot was bookended, so to speak, by the quartet browsing and buying. Maybe our idea worked a little too well? No matter — once the quartet got down to playing, the results were magical.

I have enjoyed Felix Mendelssohn’s music before, but this recording is outstanding.

[READ: October 20, 2017] “Strangler Bob”

I don’t enjoy prison stories.

This one is a little different, I suppose.  It concerns a guy remembering his days in prison.  He was eighteen and hadn’t been in too much trouble when his malicious mischief landed him a sentence of forty-one days.

His cellmate was an older guy, late forties, who was in the cell for doing “something juicy.”  The narrator would eventually learn that his roommate is Strangler Bob, and that his own nickname is Dink.

He befriended a guy his own age named Donald Dundun, who liked to stroll the catwalks and climb the bars spreadeagling himself against the jambs .suspended in the air. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JULIE BYRNE-Tiny Desk Concert  #788 (September 19, 2018).

Julie Byrne plays a quiet acoustic guitar and sings in a melodic whisper (almost).  She reminds me of Nick Drake in many ways.

Even in an office in broad daylight, Julie Byrne sings with both a husk and a whisper as if she’s gone a long time without speaking – as if she’s been alone, as if she’s been traveling. Her opening number at the Tiny Desk, “Sleepwalker,” sings of the road as a source of freedom.

I lived my life alone before you
And with those that I’d never succeeded to love
And I grew so accustomed to that kind of solitude
I fought you, I did not know how to give it up

Byrne’s guitar playing sounds very full as is each string gets its own special attention.

Julie Byrne’s hypnotic fingerstyle picking conjures a sense of wandering, a style she adapted from her father and a sound she grew up with until multiple sclerosis robbed him of that companionship and comfort. She now plays her dad’s guitar.

After performing “Sleepwalker” alone, Julie Byrne was joined by her musical companions, Marilu Donovan on harp and Eric Littmann on electronics. Together they conjure an ethereal compliment to Julie’s love of the open landscape.

“Follow My Voice” begins with just Byrne.  After a verse or so, the harp enters, making the song seem somehow even more delicate.  And the keys are there just to add a bit more substance–but not to solidify this delicacy.

“I Live Now as a Singer” is just the keys and the harp.  It reminds me a lot of Enya, with the washes of keys and Byrne’s deep but delicate voice.

[READ: January 5, 2017] “The Short History of Zaka the Zulu”

This story is set in a boys’ Jesuit boarding school in Africa.  The narrator is relating the story of a boy they nicknamed Zaka the Zulu. The narrator explains that Zaka was always odd but that they had never expected that hew would be accused of murder.

He was a very smart boy and he succeeded very well–which made him a little unpopular.  But he became even more unpopular when made head prefect.  He was so upright and sincere; he would get boys in trouble for the slightest infraction.  His worst punishment was when he made the younger boys stay for an extra period so that they could not watch the Mary Wards (the girls from Blessed Virgin Mary school) go for their weekly swim.

There were 40 or so Mary Wards every year.  They didn’t live with the boys, of course, but they were all part of the same school–the girls got the best Jesuit education the country could offer.   Only senior boys were allowed to mingle with the girls–particularly at the one or two dances each year.  It was felt that the girls had a civilizing effect on the boys. (more…)

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 SOUNDTRACK: PHISH Live Bait 14 (2018).

Phish has just released its 14th compilation of free downloads.  This one is a little over two hours with seven long songs.

Harry Hood (8/2/97 Gorge Amphitheatre – George, WA) 18:11
After a slow intro–it’s about two and a half minutes before the vocals come in–then there’s jazzy bass and funky keys.  The jam is pretty mellow, he even asks to have them kill the lights “so I can have the outdoor vibe here.”  A relaxed piano comes in around 12 and it’s not until 17 minutes that they sing the end of the song.

McGrupp And The Watchful Hosemasters (10/29/98 Greek Theatre – Los Angeles, CA) 11:45
This is a fun treat as they don;t play this song much anymore.  The piano opening is very quiet, but the middle is cool with a piano and splash cymbals.  The ending is twinkling piano that segues perfectly (despite being nearly a year later) into the next song.

Wolfman’s Brother (9/24/99 South Park Meadows – Austin, TX) 18:55
opens with a quiet piano but it quickly grows upbeat with a hot jam. Although the final section is dark for a bout a minute before it ends.

Gotta Jibboo > Saw It Again > Magilla (7/4/00 E Centre – Camden, NJ) 39:28
Gotta Jibboo brings back the lightness again. It’s got a happy solo with a pulsing high keyboard note that runs for almost ten minutes while Trey solos.  It turns funky/groovy around fifteen minutes in and then around 17 minutes in it shifts gears and grows slowly noisy and chaotic before sequing to Saw It Again.  Around 34 minutes, it slows down and segues into Magilla with really cool drums.

What’s The Use? (6/25/00 Alltel Pavilion at Walnut Creek – Raleigh, NC) 9:52
This is an instrumental that starts out sounding quite raw–the guitar is sharp with feedback moments.  After  couple of minutes the guitar fades and it gets quiet and pretty before the guitar returns and grows noisy again.

Runaway Jim (7/9/99 Merriweather Post Pavilion – Columbia, MD) 12:21
As always this song rocks.   Although the jam is pretty mellow and pleasant sounding.

Tweezer > Prince Caspian (8/22/15 Magnaball, Watkins Glen International – Watkins Glen, NY) 34:17
Most of the songs on this compilation are from the turn of the century, but this one is from just a couple years ago and it’s a big old “Tweezer” exploration.  This version sounds pretty loose–Trey even modifies the open chord riff somewhat.  Even the “Uncle Ebeneezer” noise is somewhat subdued.  It grows fairly calm before a funky guitar solo.  By 11 minutes, there’s a lot of piano added and then through 17 minutes “Prince Caspian” begins.  It’s a typically fun version of the song.  And by 31 minutes it feels like the song is circling back around to “Tweezer,” but it never actually gets there.  It just kind of ends.

Hard to complain about a free compilation, and there’s not much to complain about here.  Good selection of songs and great performances.

[READ: January 19, 2018] “The Blade”

This is story of tramps.  Hoboes.

There is a young kid who reminded Ronnie of himself from way back.  But it generally assumed the kid will be tossed off the train car before two long.

After some silence Vanboss and Stark begin talking.  Vanboss tells of a head on collision between two cars going 100 mph and how the cars were melded into a small cube but somehow a baby escaped unharmed.  No one believes that, so they talk of other deaths, brutal and extraordinary. (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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SOUNDTRACKALEJANDRA RIBERA-Live at Massey Hall (February 5, 2016).

I had never heard of Alejandra Ribera before. She has a beautiful deep voice that can really soar.

I love that she sings in English and Spanish (in the same song) and sometimes, because of her delivery it’s hard to tell which language she is singing.

The show begins with her talking about Massey Hall and how the trajectory from the [working in? a] bar to this moment is unexpectedly fast and natural (because when you’re in it, you’re in it) but it has been overwhelming with ‘pinch me’ moments.

She says, “I used to have a poster on my wall with all of these goals… to get played on the CBC and to play at Massey Hall.”

The band is minimal and they create terrific sounds with just (primarily) an acoustic guitar from Jean-Sebastien Williams and upright bass from Cedric Dind-Lavoie)

The first song “La Boca” has the acoustic guitar and upright bass moving briskly with her voice soaring (but low) on top of it–really mesmerizing.  She sings parts in Spanish.

“Goodnight Persephone” has a muted picked guitar and bowed upright bass (it opens in vaguely Velvet Underground “Heroin” way until the bowing becomes bigger and deeper).  Alejandra sings to Persephone in a wonderful wounded, pleading voice.  The ending build with the refrain “keep this light burning bright for me.”

Before starting the next song, “No Mi Sigas” she tells us (not the audience) that when she was a young girl, she had crushes on girls and at the time she knew it wasn’t okay so she started writing poetry that was metaphorical and laden in imagery so no one would know what she was writing about.  And now she’s older and it doesn’t matter who she is writing about but she has still taken this approach and it’s why all of her love songs are in Spanish because she lives in Canada.

It’s only a shame that they cut off part of this beautiful song so much while she is talking.  She plays guitar as well in this sultry love song while Jean-Sebastien plays some wonderful leads.

“I Want” is an award-winning song and her voice really reaches deep to sing it.  She sounds great in this moody piece.  And the lyrics are very cool too: “There’s so much labor just in breathing lately.”

“Carry Me” is a bit more uptempo and she sings with that great style of hers–I’d never guess she was Canadian, even with the line “all the snow in Montreal couldn’t bury this.”

Turns out she is of Argentine and Scottish descent but was born and raised in Toronto, Ontario, and has been professionally based in Montreal, Quebec.

The bridge of this song is quite compelling with the three of them singing just notes the rise through a scale–strangely compelling.  And then Ribera gives a great whistling solo–which people want to applaud for (and should) but no one does.

In the last segment, she says that before playing music publicly she had gone through a nasty depression.  She had seen that Ron Sexsmith was playing at Massey Hall and she wanted to go see him.  But the depression was too powerful and she checked into St Mike’s across the street.  She had checked in for a time and then one night went to the stairs to smoke and saw the Ron was playing at Massey Hall that night.  That was the pivotal moment–she was so close–and she decided to get on the other side of that door.

Once again, it’s a shame she talks over so much of her song “Led Me To You” which starts quietly but builds to a great powerful ending (with her on guitar again).

This series has been excellent in introducing me to new artists, and Ribera is a great one I hope to explore more.

[READ: January 9, 2017] “Fifty-Seven”

If you were paying attention, you’ll notice that I have been posting these old New Yorker stories on the date that they were published (no matter what the year).  There have been some exceptions (like when there was more than one story in an issue), but I thought it would be a fun thing to keep up).  I am making an exception for this because when I read this story and the one after it I felt like they were connected in some way.  So I’m moving this to July  because there’s a ton of stories to go in November.

I feel like this story was trying to make a point.  And I didn’t like it because of that.  Although I will say that it seems like Kushner really did a lot of work (unless she happens to know this much about the penal system).

This is the story of a murderer.  It is third person but from his point of view. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: NAIA IZUMI-“Soft Spoken” (TINY DESK CONTEST WINNER 2018). 

I didn’t pay much attention to the Tiny Desk Contest this year (even though there were lots of opportunities to watch various front runner videos).  But this year’s winner was just announced.

Naia Izumi is a 34-year-old musician from Georgia who regularly busks on the streets of Los Angeles, where he now lives.  And now he has gotten some national exposure.

Naia starts the song with a simple percussion loop and then he sets out on some amazing finger tapping jazzy guitar playing.  It’s impressive and pretty at the same time.  And then he starts singing on top of it!

The bridge or chorus (I haven’t figure doubt what’s what yet) is strummed with some cool fluid soloing and then it’s back to the tapping–such a great melody.  There’s a short but pretty solo in the middle and then a quiet section before he resumes the drum loop again.

He starts singing some great falsetto notes (a good vocal range too, this guy) and then the song returns to the fingertapping before it abruptly ends.

I have no idea how it compares to anything else, but it’s pretty darn good.

Watch it here.

[READ: January 15, 2018] The Iceman #2

A whole bunch of books from Holloway House Publishing Co. came across my desk recently.  Interestingly, in 2008

Kensington Publishing has acquired most of the publishing assets of Holloway House Publishing in Los Angeles, the original publisher of such classic black crime writers as Donald Goines, adding an historic trove of gritty African American popular literature to its publishing program. The acquisition includes about 400 backlist titles which will become part of a new imprint at Kensington called Holloway House Classics. Holloway House also publishes a range of popular fiction and nonfiction titles including biographies of famous African Americans.

So this book and many other are likely to be reissued.

But this particular book (and the ones that came with it) were originals gifted to the library from someone.  There were quite a few books written by Joseph Nazel and I decided I’d read this one because it looked awesome.  And it was.

The premise of this series is:

Henry Highland West – he rose up out of the streets of Harlem to become one of the richest, most powerful Blacks in the world, earning the nickname Iceman due to his cold, calculating will to survive. He owns The Oasis, a multi-million dollar pleasure palace glistening in the desert of Las Vegas. And his success is a thorn in the side of those who envy the phenomenal success of the Black man! He’s already fought one battle. One vicious, backstabbing betrayal that left the desert stained with Mafia blood. And now he’s challenged again as modern-day carpetbaggers, hungry for the glitter of gold and the merciless exploitation of slave labor in Africa, waste an old friend in hopes of getting the very land that The Oasis is built on! He’s not alone in the fight. Besides his old street friends he’s got his own private army of voluptuous women trained in the martial arts. And he’s going to need them all, as his survival is threatened by the gold greed of men out to take what he’s so desperately earned! It’s high-stakes action on chopped Harleys and dune buggies as Iceman pulls all the stops just to keep the honkies from giving him the shaft!

And it was just as good as that description sounds. (more…)

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