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Archive for the ‘Yo-Yo Ma’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: SILK ROAD ENSEMBLE–“Briel” (Field Recordings, March 26, 2014).

There have been many fun Field Recordings, but this one [Welcome to Yo-Yo’s Playhouse] is surely the most fun. The countless members of Silk Road Ensemble were taken to ACME Studio, a theatrical props warehouse in Brooklyn.  They were given pretty much free reign to put on costumes, to bring out mannequins, to do whatever they wanted and that makes this session seem even bigger than it already is (and it’s already pretty big).

That’s all not to mention that the Silk Road Ensemble is a pretty amazing group of musicians:

cellist Yo-Yo Ma and some of the world’s premiere instrumentalists and composers, including members of Brooklyn Rider, Chinese pipa virtuoso Wu Man, Iranian kamancheh virtuoso Kayhan Kalhor, Spanish bagpiper Cristina Pato, American percussionist Shane Shanahan and clarinetist Kinan Azmeh from Syria.

As we’ve had the opportunity to forge those bonds over time [many of these performers have done Tiny Desk Concerts], we’ve gotten to know the warm, generous-spirited personalities that come along with these immense talents. We thought that setting them loose in a props house, where they could pick and choose among the curiosities for little elements to bring into the camera frame, would bring those aspects of their personalities into sharper focus. What we wound up with was a magical afternoon of play in all senses of the word — not just having the chance to record these virtuosos and their instruments in a spirited performance of John Zorn’s Briel, here arranged by Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz, but also to capture them (and us) having an immense amount of fun.

I had no idea this was a John Zorn piece.  It sounded like a Hebrew composition and now I understand why.  But in the best world music tradition, this piece is arranged for musicians from all over the world–percussion, strings, brass and reed.  There’s a bagpipe solo, a kamancheh solo and a field of percussion.  The song is just way too short.

But to watch Yo-Yo Ma play the cello while holding a mannequin that looks like George Harrison is just one of the many highlights.

[READ: April 2018] Loner

Everything about the look of this book appealed to me.  The title, the crappy cover, the backwards type, the size, it all just seemed like a light, funny story.

Perhaps something about it should have read “creepy” too.

David Federman is a New Jersey native.  He went to Garret Hobart High School (named for New Jersey’s only vice president) He’s smart (he was accepted in to Harvard) but dull and, as we get to know him, pretty unlikable.  He imagines that Harvard will be a place where he (and other geeks like him) will flourish and kick ass.

He’s not wrong in thinking that–everyone he meets  seems to want to change.  But no one wants to change by hanging out with David.

David winds up in a freshman group that he hates–the Matthews Marauders (who are anything but).  In fact, nothing is going very well until he sees Veronica Wells.  She is everything he desires–a sophisticated New Yorker with money, intelligence and beauty. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK:  YO-YO-MA-Tiny Desk Concert #777 (August 17, 2018).

One needs to say very little to introduce Yo-Yo Ma, probably the most famous cellist in the world.  He is here because he has recorded Six Suites for Unaccompanied Cello by Johann Sebastian Bach.  Again.  For the third time.

Obsessed or awestruck, artists revisit great inspirations because they believe there is yet another story to tell – about life, about themselves.  Cellist Yo-Yo Ma brought his great inspiration, and in turn part of his own life story, to an enthusiastic audience packed around the Tiny Desk on a hot summer day. Ma is returning, yet again, to the Six Suites for Unaccompanied Cello by Johann Sebastian Bach, a Mount Everest for any cellist. He has just released Six Evolutions – Bach: Cello Suites, his third studio recording of the complete set and is taking the music on a two-year, six-continent tour. Ma’s first recording of the Suites, released in 1983, earned him his first Grammy.

Certainly one of the most brilliant cellists of modern times, he’s also a thoughtful, curious humanitarian, with an endless thirst to understand, celebrate, and connect disparate cultures of the world.

He plays three pieces from the Suites

J.S. Bach: “Prelude (from Suite No. 1 for Solo Cello)”  It is so beautiful and familiar, it sounds amazing on his cello.  he says “This was the very first piece of music I started on the cello… when I was 4 years old.  One measure a day.  It’s not painful to learn something incrementally.”  He describes how he recognized that the second measure was similar to the first and the third was just a variation.  He says, “I lived with this music for 58 years (plus 4, that’s my age).”

Ma has played the music for 58 years and along the way it’s become something of a practical guide to living, pulling him through hardships and celebrating times of joy. “It’s like forensic musicology,” Ma told the Tiny Desk audience. “Embedded in the way I play is actually, in many ways, everything I’ve experienced.”

J.S. Bach: “Sarabande (from Suite No. 6 for Solo Cello)”  The sarabande comes from many places.   All of these places have claimed it:  Guatemala, Mexico, Moorish Spain, via Portugal or Morocco.  He says the sarabande is the heart of the suites.

It has served dual purposes, Ma explained. “I’ve played this piece both at friends’ weddings, and unfortunately also at their memorial services.”

J.S. Bach: “Gigue (from Suite No. 3 for Solo Cello)”  He says for the last piece at the Tiny Desk, I’m going to play a tiny jig.  He says Bach goes from old dances to folk or popular dance.  Here is this German composer working a jog into the third suite.

The exuberant “Gigue,” from the Third Suite, with its toe-tapping beat, reminds us that Bach was far from a stuffed wig. Such is this sturdy, versatile and benevolent music, offering a full range of the human condition.

Ma is happy to teach the listeners what he is doing, to share the joy and love of music.  Sometimes literally

As soon as he arrived at our office to play, Ma unpacked his cello – a famed 1712 Stradivarius – and immediately handed it over, with his bow, and said, “Here play something.” It didn’t matter that I’d never held a cello. It was just another one of Yo-Yo Ma’s warm and welcoming gestures, another way to open up music to anyone and everyone.

It’s all beautiful!

[READ: August 27, 2018] “Ways and Means”

This story tackles sexual harassment at the workplace from an interesting angle (and is written in a great, fluid style that makes the story utterly compelling).

Hal (short for Haley-Ann, a name she always hated) is an engineer at a public radio station.  She was one of the first women to work in such a position and has been there for over a decade.  The story opens with her reading a public apology from an on-air personality, Oliver.  Oliver had worked at he station for over three decades and was a huge draw for both audience and pledges.

The apology went to everyone’s inbox and then went public.  She felt it was trite with words that he, Oliver, would never have said in real life like invalidated).

The accuser was unnamed but everyone in the building knew it was Molly, a 26-year-old podcast producer. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: I’M WITH HER-Tiny Desk Concert #722 (March 28, 2018).

I’m with Her is a kind of a folk supergroup comprised of Aoife O’Donovan, Sarah Jarosz and Sara Watkins.  As the blurb notes:

The three singers who perform together as I’m With Her sound like sisters. It’s as if they’ve known each other all their lives and share common roots and musical memories… All three are brilliant players with an ever-shifting array of stringed instruments, guitars, ukulele, fiddle, mandolin and banjo. As I’m With Her, they know how to gather round a microphone and sing directly from their heart to yours. Purity is the brilliance behind I’m With Her.

They also share coming to the Tiny Desk:

Sara Watkins was here with Nickel Creek (2014), Watkins Family Hour (2015) and The Decemberists (2011). Sarah Jarosz was here in 2013 and Aoife O’Donovan came along with Yo Yo Ma and Chris Thile as part of the Goat Rodeo project back in 2011.

They play three songs from their debut album.

The first is “See You Around.” Sarah sings this first song.  Sarah and Aoife play guitar and Sara is playing an oversized ukulele.  At the end of each section their harmonies are wonderful.  It’s a really pretty song, with a great melody.  Then at around 2 minutes the song switches gears to the “shiny piece of my heart” section which changes the timbre and tone of the song.  Aoife takes over a bit and the song grows a bit darker and their voices sound more powerful.

For “Game to Lose” Sara switches to fiddle, Aoife plays Sarah’s guitar and Sarah is on mandolin.  I absolutely love the violin part and the way it plays off of the mandolin.  After a few measures, when they sing in three-part harmony from the get go….  Wow.  I love Aoife’s voice as she sings the end of the chorus, the mandolin is just fantastic and the fiddle trills are exquisite.

As they tune before the final song, Bob asks how many instruments they brought….  The answer is, a lot.  And they couldn’t leave without some banjo.  Then Aoife asks about the pink lemonade gummy bunny.  Bob says people leave random things.  You’re welcome to leave something too.  Aoife says, “I thought you were going to say I was welcome to eat it.”

Sarah says I feel like we’re just settling in, I wish we could play all day (and so do I!).

For the final song, “Overland” Sarah switches to banjo. Aoife has the same guitar and Sara is on guitar too.   Sara sniffs a few times and then deadpans, “Sorry I’ve got a coke problem, it keeps sneaking up on me.”  Everyone laughs and Sarah cracks up.  Bob says we’ll just have to loop that and Sara says, “we need some scandal.”

The song begins with Sara on lead vocals and Sarah’s banjo.  It is the most country sounding of the three (which surprises a bit since I don’t think of Sara’s voice as sounding like that).  But again, it’s the harmonies that are huge.

[READ: January 15, 2018] “Chicken Winchell”

This story was published in Vicky Swanky Is a Beauty, although as with most of William’s pieces I don’t remember it at all.

This story, which is half a page long, mentions three women characters and then uses “she” for the rest.  So I’m not sure which “she” is being spoken about.  There’s a waitress, a daughter and a mother.  The waitress wonders why the daughter never returned.  But apparently she did.

The mother confides in the waitress. (more…)

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spacedump SOUNDTRACK: YO-YO MA, EDGAR MEYER, CHRIS THILE AND STUART DUNCAN-Tiny Desk Concert #175 (November 17, 2011).

yoyoYo-Yo Ma might be the most well-known cellist in the world.  I suspect that everyone has heard of him.  But it’s likely that people don’t know just how diverse his musical range is.  As the NPR blurb says:

He’s reached out to a broad range of musicians (and Muppets) to play not just Bach and Beethoven, but also Brazilian samba, Argentine tango, jazz, songs from Sesame Street and a smorgasbord of Asian music with his Silk Road Ensemble. American roots music also figures into Ma’s melting pot: He teamed up with double-bass master Edgar Meyer and fiddler Mark O’Connor 15 years ago for the gentle new-grass album Appalachian Waltz.

For this 2011 venture called The Goat Rodeo Sessions, he has created another Americana album, this time with mandolin master (and multiple Tiny Desk Concert player) Chris Thile.  Meyer is back on double bass and they have added Stuart Duncan on fiddle.

I can honestly say I never expected to see Yo-Yo Ma on a song called “Quarter Chicken Dark” but there he is, playing along as Thile begins the song on the mandolin.  The cello, fiddle and bass are all bowed so, despite the mandolin, the song feels a bit more classical (Thile has also made classical music on the mandolin, so the pairing actually makes a lot of sense).  I think Thile comes off as the star of this song with a wild solo in the middle.

For “Attaboy,” the mandolin starts the song again, but pretty quickly the strings dominate.  There’s a beautiful opening by Ma and a great fiddle interplay in which Duncan hints at the big Irish section he’s going to play.  There’s some wonderful fast mini solos from all of the instruments, including the bass, and then the whole song switches to a jig with Duncan playing a very Irish riff while Duncan and Ma keep the low notes coming.   Incidentally, I believe that Thile and Duncan are playing the exact same solo by the end, which sounds great.  But it’s watching Yo-Yo Ma’s fingers and bow move so fast that is really amazing.

For the final song “Here and Heaven” Aoife O’Donovan joins them on vocals.  And for a chance of pace Duncan switches from fiddle to banjo.  (Although mid way through the song he switches back to fiddle).  Donovan and Thile sing the song together.  On the first verse they are a little too quiet.  But once they start belting out they are fine.  This song is catchy and fun and the vocals really do change the feel of their music.

It’s clear that these accomplished musician are having a lot of fun together.  Meyer and Ma actually wave to each other during the second song, and Thile makes lots of little jokes.  And when he introduces Aoife, it’s funny to hear Yo-Yo Ma cheer like a little kid.

While Yo-Yo Ma if probably the most famous musician here, I like them all, and I’ll honestly listen to Thile do anything.

[READ: August 29, 2012] Space Dumplins

Craig Thompson has created a pretty diverse collection of books.  From the serious and beautiful Habibi, to the weird-looking and sad Goodbye Chunky Rice to this trippy sci-fi story.

The story is about Violet Marlocke, a young girl who lives out in a space trailer park.  Her father is a space lumberjack (whatever that means) and her mom is a seamstress.  They are poor but pretty happy, and that’s okay by Violet, since family is everything to her.

But as the book opens we learn that space whales (okay, I’ll stop putting “space” before everything, because he doesn’t) have just eaten her school.  The whales have been rampaging all of the planets in the area. At first Violet is happy to have no school but her parents have to do something with her.  So her mom brings her to work at Shell-tar where they try to see if she can enroll in the state of the art school there.  She can’t because her dad has a criminal record (and he’s opposed to the fancy school anyway).

While Violet is looking around, she meets Elliot Marcel Ophennorth, a small chicken who is incredibly smart (and has visions of the future).  We also meet Zacchaeus, the last Lumpkin in the world. He works at the dump.  Violet quickly befriends them both, although they don’t all get along very well at first.

Two things then happen pretty quickly back home.  Violet and her dad buy an old piece of junk space bike to fix up and Violet’s dad takes on a dangerous job to make some more money. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: The Best of Sessions at West 54th, Volume 1 (DVD) (1997).

Back in the 1990s, PBS ran one of their TV series devoted to contemporary music, Sessions at West 54th.  It was primarily, but not exclusively adult alternative music, with a mixture of jazz and country thrown in as well.  I never watched the show when it was on, but I was intrigued by this DVD because it has a number of artists that I liked quite a bit then. I haven’t watched it in ages, and when I watched it recently I was interested to see that I liked some other artists better than the ones I bought the disc for in the first place.

There was a recent radio show on All Songs Considered called Splitsville: Breaking Up with Your Favorite Band.   This is something that I think about from time to time–bands that I loved and no longer do.  Or bands that I loved and then stopped and maybe now love again.  This show dealt with that very issue.  Most amusingly, Robin Hilton, one of the cohosts had this wonderful quote that applies to me (and this DVD) almost directly.

It’s Not You, It’s Me (Bands We Grew Apart From): “I (dug) out my old CD books and dusted them off. And this recurring theme that came back at me, just haunting, I realized it was the whole Lilith Fair crowd. It was so painful. I had Shawn Colvin, Jewel, Sarah McLachlan, Indigo Girls, Paula Cole, Beth Orton. I just listened to that music non-stop. And now, maybe I’m not the sensitive, new-age guy that I used to be.” — Robin Hilton

So, what happened, Robin? The same thing happened to me.  I still love the concept of Lilith, but I really just don’t care about the music anymore.  And much of this DVD caters to the Lilith crowd. But it doesn’t start that way.  It opens with

WYNTON MARSALIS-“Back to Basics” A fantastic jazz number.  Wynton plays some wonderful stuff (I particularly like the “laughing” horns).  It’s a really rousing opener.

SUZANNE VEGA-“Caramel”  Vega is not a Lilith Fair person to me because I learned of her long before then.  This is not my favorite song of hers

RICHARD THOMPSON-“I Feel So Good” It’s funny to me that when I bought this I didn’t know who Richard Thompson was.  It’s always great to hear him rock out like this.

SHAWN COLVIN-“Diamond in the Rough” I like Shawn Colvin, although not as much as most of the other Lilith Fairers.  This is one of her songs that I don’t know very well

ANI DIFRANCO-“32 Flavors” I loved Ani and her self publishing empire.  And her songs were good too.  I saw her in concert once or twice and she totally rocked the house.  Then sometime in the early 2000s she went in a new direction and I completely lost touch with her and pretty much stopped listening to her.  It was nice to hear this song again, although it’s a bit slower than the way I know it.

NIL LARA-“How Was I To Know”  I didn’t know who he was then, I’m still not sure who he is or if he’s still around.  This is a pretty serviceable folk rock song

RICKIE LEE JONES-“Road Kill” I did not care for this song at all.

DANIEL LANOIS-“Orange Kay” this was a wild guitar solo and effects song.  It was really quite different from anything else here.

EMMYLOU HARRIS-“Wrecking Ball” This song had cool harmonies although I’m not a fan of Emmylou in general.

BEN FOLDS FIVE-“Smoke” I love Ben Folds, and this song is wonderful (seeing him play the “strings” of the piano is very cool.  And my god he’s so YOUNG!

KEB’ MO-“Just Like You”  I like Keb’ Mo’ quite a bit and this is a good song by him.

SINÉAD O’CONNOR-“The Last Day of Our Acquaintance”  Sinéad was another of those ladies who I loved before Lilith.  I fact The Lion and The Cobra was one of my favorite albums.  Then she got super political (and put out more amazing music) and then she got really weird.  And I stopped listening.  She’s an odd duck in this show as well (this was in her speaking only in falsetto phase, which is pretty odd.  And she has a little grunted /spoken bit in the middle of the song which is pretty odd too).  But for all of that, man is this song awesome. I haven’t listened to it in a long time, and holy cow I forgot how impactful it is. And live, with the electric guitars and the backing vocalists, it is really amazing.  A definite highlight of the disc.

YO-YO MA “Libertango”  Yo-Yo Ma is pretty awesome.  I wouldn’t listen to a lot of his stuff (I like classical, but in small doses) but man, he rocks the cello.  This is a great piece.

PATTI SMITH “People Have the Power” Patti Smith is a legend.  An icon.  Her early music is amazing.  So why do I hate this song so much?  The sentiment is wonderful, but gah, what a dreadful song.

JANE SIBERRY-“Love is Everything” I really like Jane Siberry.  She’s a strange lady with a quirky but wonderful voice.  This is a beautiful song, but a little slow (I find it works well amidst her other songs, but it’s a bit stodgy on its own).

It’s a fun collection of mellow songs (what I think of as the old PBS/NPR audience, since now they have shows that are much louder).  And it’ always fun to see artists perform in an intimate venue.

[READ: April 12, 2011] “Shock Jock”

This is the first play that The Walrus has published.  It is not so much in Acts as it is in Ten Scenes.  Scenes 1-3 are printed in the magazine, while Scenes 4-10 are only available online.  (Sadly 1-3 are not included online).

This is the story of a political shock jock, a Canadian version of Rush Limbaugh (these were the days before Glenn Beck).  The opening scene shows him railing against everything and nothing.  He proves to be very popular with his fans but when they call him up to tell him that, he abuses them too (but they don’t seem to mind–or to notice).  It seems like a pretty straightforward parody of a radio blowhard.

But the next scene shows him at home, where he is not so much meek as completely incapable of making a decision.  His wife seems like something of a harpy, but it’s clear that she has put up with this ineffectual man for nine years and has just had it with his inability to even communicate.  These two scenes play off each other as somewhat obvious counterpoint and yet, they are strangely compelling enough to keep you reading.  And it’s worthwhile to do so. (more…)

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