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Archive for the ‘NPR/PRI/PBS’ 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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SOUNDTRACK: CHAPEL OF DISEASESong of the Gods” (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.

Even though Lars is all over the place with the style of music he loves, he tends to return again and again to metal, especially lately doom metal.  It is fitting that Chapel of Disease ends the set.  Lars has introduced me to a lot of really heavy music often with growly vocalists.  But Chapel of Disease, despite their name does not sound like that exactly.  The vocals are deep and kind of growly but they are audible (for the most part) (and sound like they come from miles away).

This song is seven minutes long and opens with an almost middle-eastern sounding quiet guitar intro.  After 20 or so seconds, the main riff enters and sounds even more Middle Eastern, but when the bombastic bass and drums come in and the song turns from pretty guitar to heavy metal, that riff becomes a total classic rock song.  After 2 and a half minutes, the vocals come in, and honestly they are a little too low and growly for the music.  They almost feel like an afterthought for the music they are making.  At least the chorus (where that riff comes back) is easy enough to understand.

The guitar solo is actually quite pretty and understated–the whole song kind of pulls back a bit until we hit about 5 minutes when then real metal shows up and the raging solo and double bass drum take the song to a heavier point than they’ve hit thus far.   By 6 minutes, in true classic rock fashion it returns to the riff and the chorus and they play us to the end.

Lars calls this “Death-metal Dire Straits” and then immediately says “No, wait, come back!”  I don’t really hear the Knopfler guitar but I’ll allow it.  I totally agree with him that on their

third album Chapel of Dissease embraces ’70s hard-rock swagger, proggy sorcery and, most surprisingly… fluid melodicism… all atop death-metal growls and chugged riffs. There’s no reason why this should work, and it’s a testament to Chapel of Disease’s heavily worn record collection, as the group now raises fists and beer to the storm.

There’s only 6 songs on the album and none are shorter that 6 minutes.  It’s a cool change form typical death metal.

[READ: January 6, 2019] “Train Dreams”

This is an excerpt from a novel, which means that the ending is not as open-ended as it seems.

Xiao Yuan was a teacher but now she mostly took business trips as an administrator.  While she is setting up her train’s bunk for the night, a man settles in across from her.  He is Dr. Liu and he sells herbal and non-herbal medicines.  As they lay down in bunks that faced each other, Xiao Yuan put out a pocket watch, a small digital clock and a radio next to her pillow.

Dr Liu was made restless by her timepieces–he sensed an evil aura from the woman across from him.  He got up to switch bunks but Xiao Yuan immediately asked him what he was doing.  She said it was 2 in the morning “Do you want to die?  You’ll be taken for a criminal and arrested.  What a hick…”

She laughed as Dr Liu looked at her and he saw her tuning her radio.  It regularly reported the time but each instance stated it was eleven PM.  Dr Liu knew he could not sleep so he lay wake until Xiao Liu asked him about his job.  She hated Chinese medicine, believing it was mystical and always associated with sex.  But she found herself agreeing with a lot of what Dr Liu said.

She then conceded that she was controlling the radio with her thoughts. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: HEATHER LEIGH-“Soft Season” (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.

Opening with a kind os squealing feedback and heavy bass and drums, it is pretty hard to believe that Heather Leigh is playing the pedal steel guitar but Lars assures us that’s what’s happening

Heather Leigh is among a group of artists who are reshaping the sound of the pedal steel guitar. [Her new] solo album stretches her noise/improv background into songwriting territory. With an elastic sense of time and a beguiling voice, Heather Leigh hears a new world drenched in aqueous echo.

After a brief opening Leigh starts singing–a kind of high operatic voice that works well with the feedbacking style of guitar she’s playing–like she’s almost singing along to the guitar melody, but not exactly.  The middle is quieter, more mellow, a “prettier more conventional sound.”  The song cycles through the original noisy sound, and back to the quieter music before ending on that feedback opening.  That powerful music crescendoes and then the song closes out with an a capella couple of lines.

You can her it and a couple other songs on her bandcamp site.

[READ: January 3, 2019] “Come In, Come In”

This story concerns a woman and her contractor, Louie.  He came highly recommended but he is taking forever.  Every time she assumes he will finish a project in her bathroom, he seems to have messed something up and needs to replace it.

The tiles were askew.  Even the tub was askew. He apologized and fixed it of course, but come on.

And if that weren’t bad enough, he had just sent her a text love letter.  “Lady Joanna, the more I see you the more I want to see you.”

She was annoyed at the absurdity “single woman + contractor = absurd.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK:공중도둑 (MID-AIR THIEF)쇠사슬 (Ahhhh, These Chains!)” (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.

공중도둑 (Mid-Air Thief) is from Korea (obviously).  Beyond that, virtually nothing is known about him (Lars confirms that it is a he, even if many of the vocals are by Summer Soul–she is his guest singer).

Mid-Air Thief makes beautiful but weird, glitchy folk music.  Every time something really lovely seems to come along, there’s always some kind of twist to make it not what you think.  This, of course, keeps everything interesting and fun.  But despite that, the whole album is bright and cheerful.  There’s feelings of Dungen and Beck and even some Kishi Bashi.  There’s even a sense of the more psychedelic Flaming Lips songs (but without the over-loud low end).

It’s really great.

“쇠사슬,” which translates into the delightfully odd “Ahhhh, These Chains!” opens with a pretty, fast-picked guitar and delicate voices.  The song builds as electronic sounds are placed throughout adding tension but never overriding the pleasantness of the guitar and soft voices.  After a slight break into a “chorus” the song resumes almost doubled in sounds and power, but never losing that sweetness.

I love how the song seems like it’s going to end after around four minutes but it still has a bashing coda to show off before it finally ends at five minutes.

Bob Boilen has sent out a plea to Mid-Air Thief to do a Tiny Desk Concert, and boy I hope that happens.

Plus how great is Mid-Air Thief’s avatar (on the left).

[READ: January 6, 2019] “It’s All Over Now”

This story is about a young woman, living alone and fearful in a sketchy part of Mexico.

Tina Reyes is the single woman.  She boards a bus to visit her friend Rosa.  She hopes Rosa is all right–Rosa had looked tired last week. Tina thinks about Rosa with her husband and children and she grows rather sad and melancholy thinking about her own life and how she will never have anything like that.

Is her status a self-fulfilling prophecy or is she just sensible about the word around her?

As soon as she gets off the bus a man approaches her.  She is freaked out by his request:

Pardon me senorita, may I walk with you? (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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