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Archive for the ‘NPR/PRI/PBS’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: JIMMY EAT WORLD-Tiny Desk Concert #938 (January 29, 2020).

I’ll never understand the logistics of the Tiny Desk Concert setup.

This Concert features Jimmy Eat World, an unarguably huge band (at one time at least).  They’re doing something cool–playing their songs acoustically with no drums.

And they play for … less than 12 minutes.

Meanwhile the previous Tiny Desk Concert was by a young reggae person who, while she won a Grammy, is certainly not as well known or regarded as Jimmy Eat World.  And she got 15 minutes.  I’m okay with bands that I like playing a short set, it’s just frustrating that so many bands that I don’t know–usually in genres I don’t like as much–get two and sometimes three times as much air time.

But whatever.   Maybe the bands don’t want to play for that long.  But Jimmy Eat World came for their Tiny Desk Concert looking to have fun.

Jimmy Eat World showed up to the NPR Music office all smiles and no guitars, goofing off with toy instruments behind the Tiny Desk and cracking jokes. They borrowed a couple acoustics, a miniature gong and tambourine emblazoned with Bob Boilen’s face, which set the tone for a slightly silly, but altogether gracious performance.

They open with “Love Never” which features Jim Adkins singing lead and Robin Vining singing harmony.  I never noticed how fantastic their harmonies are–they are really spot on.  I wonder if it’s more noticeable in this stripped down format (or maybe it’s because Vining is a touring member and was picked because his voice is amazing).

What’s really funny during this song is that drummer Zach Lind is standing behind them the whole time doing nothing. And then for the last note, he hits Bob Boilen’s gong.  It’s pretty funny and everyone cracks up.

The next song, “All the Way (Stay)” comes from the band’s tenth album, Surviving.  [They have been around for twenty-seven years!].  Zach plays the tambourine.   Again, the vocal harmonies are outstanding as Robin picks out the melody while Jim strums.

Introducing the final song, Jim says their new songs reflect their earlier song ideas: “Your sense of self-worth coming from external validation is an empty pursuit,”

Guitarist Tom Linton joins the band for the final song.  During the introduction, Adkins gets distracted by Tom’s guitar (and goofs about throat singing) before getting everyone super excited that they’re going to play “The Middle.”

I’m fascinated to realize that I’ve known this song for nearly 30 years.  It’s still fun to sing along to–which the audience does.

this feel-good Bleed American single has remained a constant source of goodness in a sometimes bleak world. When the audience joins in for the last chorus, an uplifting catharsis streaked through our hearts as we all sang, “Everything, everything will be just fine / Everything, everything will be all right, all right.”

I’m always thrilled when bands like this get a Tiny Desk and I hope there’s more to come!

[READ: February 1, 2020] Rust Volume 1

Volume 1 picks up right where the prologue left off.  We are at Roman Taylor’s farm.  Roman is typing a letter to his (deceased?) father.  He says that mom is doing good and the little ones are fine. He hopes little Oswald will stick round, he could sure use help on the farm.

Then he tells about Jet Jones.

How on the day he arrived, Jet came screaming through the sky like he’d been shot out of a cannon.  He crashed through the barn and into the field.   When Roman went to look at him he heard a sound coming from behind the barn.   It was a large machine, clearly on a mission

The machine grabbed the boy and hurled him into a tree–which snapped in half. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KOFFEE-Tiny Desk Concert #937 (January 27, 2020).

I can honestly say I didn’t know that there were musicians making new reggae music.  I mean, obviously there are–it’s not like the genre just stopped or anything–but I never hear about them.

So I was pretty surprised to play this Tiny Desk Concert and hear a reggae song start up.

Koffee is a 19 year-old Jamaican reggae star.  She just won a Grammy for best Reggae album (for an EP).  She is the first woman and the youngest artist to win the category.

She sings four songs.

“Raggamuffin” opens with her shouting out NPR quite a lot (is that all improvised or is she modifying existing lyrics?).  While the music has the typical reggae rhythm (although faster than old school reggae to be sure), her delivery is really amazing.  She sing (raps?) so fast during the verses.  It’s really an impressive display even if I can’t understand a word she says.

Her band is from different places around the world

“Rapture” has her singing along with her backing singers, Zhayna France and Shanice Drysdale (both from Jamaica) who really flesh out her voice.  There’s some cool moments where the lyrics pause to allow her to say a pointed word.  This song has a guitar solo from Thomas Broussard (from Paris).  It’s also really fun watching drummer Stephen Asamoah-Duah (London) and percussionist Stephen Forbes (Jamaica) communicating with each other and high-fiving at the end of the song.

Koffee centers her music around faith, resilience and gratitude. She has a new perspective to add to the pantheon of mostly male reggae greats and it’s resonating with a new generation that’s just getting hip to the iconic sounds. As her Tiny Desk performance shows, Koffee makes the best of her surroundings, channeling the day’s buzzy energy into a balancing act of youthful heart and old-pro precision, proving why she has become one of the most invigorating voices in reggae.

“Toast” opens with a fun keyboard melody from David Melodee (London).  Then the full song kicks in with a groovy five string bass from Nana Pokes (London) and acoustic guitar strumming from Broussard.  Mid song he switches back to electric for a brief solo.

“I want to thank everybody who’s been involved,” Koffee told the crowd halfway through her show. “You have now become a part of my journey.”

The final song “W” is her latest single.  It’s a slower ballad.  I realize that she has a pretty heavy Jamaican accent but I really can’t tell how many times she says the letter W in the song.  It sounds lie a lot, but perhaps she’s rhyming it with something ele.

[READ: February 1, 2020] Rust Volume 0

Royden Lepp was born in the Canadian prairies which I’m sure had some impact on the design of this book–set in fields and farms and colored with sepia tone.

I saw this book series at the library and thought it looked really interesting.  Royden Lepp’s artistic style (and color palette) are really cool and the premise of a military weapon that looks like a little boy is pretty fascinating.

The book starts 48 years ago in the middle of a war.  Amid the human carnage there is a boy with goggles on.  He has on a jetpack and appears to be flying around saving people.  He saves them from a large robotic monster/creature which someone calls a kamikaze drone.

The first forty or so pages are almost wordless–its’ all battle sequences.  It is quite exciting, but it is also without question, a little confusing,   Especially since this a world that is not quite like ours.  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: J.S. ONDARA-Tiny Desk Concert #936 (January 24, 2020).

WXPN has been playing J.S. Ondara quite a lot since his album came out.  And while the DJs would often give some details about his life story, he gives a bit more here.

J.S. Ondara’s journey to the Tiny Desk is a fascinating one. From his home in Nairobi, he listened on his sister’s radio to American artists, including Nirvana, Jeff Buckley, Death Cab For Cutie and, most importantly, Bob Dylan. He wanted to be a folk singer, so he moved to Minnesota, Dylan’s home state.

In between songs he narrates his life in a wonderfully comically understated style.

Ondara told us his story. “I remember, at one point, someone told me about this contest that you guys do called ‘the Tiny Desk Contest.’ And I was, at the time, desperately trying to be a folk singer. And I’m not quite. I’m not a big fan of contests, but I like NPR. So I figured I’d give it a shot. And I’d just written that song, ‘Lebanon.’ So I made a video of me playing that song, and I submitted it. And I suppose that things didn’t go quite in my favor. So I figured I’d find a bit of a roundabout way to get here, which involved making a record and touring it relentlessly and stalking Bob [Boilen] all around South by Southwest. (I actually didn’t do that part.) I was thinking about it. And now I’m here. The journey would have been a lot shorter had I just won the bloody contest. It’s on me, not you, I suppose, I should have written a better song.  But in the very wise words of Miley Cyrus, ‘it’s not about how fast you get there, it’s about the climb.’  I can’t stop quoting that song, it’s one of those words even when I don’t want to.”

“Lebanon” is a slow ballad with Ondara’s unique singing style (S. and I genuinely didn’t know if Ondara was a man or a woman upon hearing his song “Saying Goodbye” because his voice is so multivaried.  I really like the passion of the lyrics and how it is countered with the slowness of the music.

In the water, fire
I’ll go wherever you go
In the valley, in the canyon
I’ll go wherever you go
Hey, love, I’m ready now
Can’t you see this riot
Inside of my veins
Hey love, I’m overcome
By desire
How must I wait?
Up next is “Days of Insanity” with this fascinating lyric

There is a bear at the airport, waiting on a plane
There is a cow at the funeral, bidding farewell
There is a goat at the terminal, boarding the C-train
There is a horse at the hospital, dancing with the hare
Somebody call the doctor, from the university
Somebody call upon the witch and the wizardry
Somebody call the rabbi, the pastor and the sheikh
Coz we are coming on the days of insanity
The days of insanity.

In talking about this song he says it is such a rich time to be a folk singer in America.  He wrote the song while making the record.  He was watching videos of kittens and puppies as he does every night before bed and the video suggested watching Stephen Colbert with John Mulaney.  Mulaney took a trip to Japan and described things in America as being like seeing a horse loose in a hospital.  It’s like something no one’s ever seen before.  Ondara encourages us to watch the clip and he is right–it is hilarious!

“Saying Goodbye” is the song that’s been getting the airplay.  It’s passionate and powerful and when he sings in the higher register it really is otherworldly.

This live version is quite a revelation.  His delivery is different–much more slow and deliberate.  But he can still hit that glorious high notes..

Amazingly, Tales of America was nominated for a Grammy award for Best Americana Album (not bad for a guy from Kenya).  Sadly it didn’t win.

[READ: June 2, 2018] Cleopatra in Space Book Five

It took Maihack seventeen months to make this book!  He says that sixteen of those months were spent growing the bear on his author picture.

This story is action-packed with some fascinating twists and turns.  Consequently, seventeen months is a long time to go between books.  Fortunately, Maihack’s quality of illustration and storytelling has maintained its high standards.

The book opens with a flashback to the moment when Cleo first disappeared from Gozi while they were having target practice (back in book 1).

The actual story has followed Cleo on her adventures.  But now we see what happened to Gozi.  He was attacked by … someone … and imprisoned.  Gozi believes that whatever happened to Cleo–it was her choice not to return and help him.

I have to admit I was more than a little confused as to just what happened next, [Gozi explains things later on].  IN the montage of events, there’s a spaceship and lots of cats (I suspect that if I had read the other books more recently this would be more clear).  In whatever happened, Gozi is badly burned and the pain never goes away.  He was wrapped in bandages but that didn’t really help at all.  Then we see exactly what happened to make Gozi tun into Octavian and to agree to use the Lion’s plasma to carry out the ruin of the galaxy. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MAX RICHTER-Tiny Desk Concert #935 (January 22, 2020).

Max Richter is a composer and pianist.  His music is emotional and even more so when you know what has inspired it.

The first piece “On The Nature Of Daylight” was written as a response to the 2003 Iraq War.

In Daylight, which has been effectively used in movies such as Arrival and Shutter Island, a simple theme rolls out slowly in the low strings until a violin enters with a complimentary melody in a higher register. Richter, at the keyboard, adds a subterranean bass line for added gravitas, while high above another violin soars sweetly, mournfully. With all elements interlocked – and sensitively played by members of the American Contemporary Music Ensemble [Clarice Jensen: cello & artistic director; Ben Russell, violin; Laura Lutzke, violin; Isabel Hagen, viola; Claire Bryant, cello] – the piece gently sways, building in intensity. It all adds up to a six-minute emotional journey that, if you open yourself to the sounds, can leave you wrung out.

The music reminds me of the kind of repeating motifs you might hear in someone like Michael Nyman.

In between the two emotional string-filled pieces, he plays a solo piano piece called “Vladimir’s Blues.”

Its delicately toggling chords are an homage to novelist Vladimir Nabokov who, in his spare time, was a respected lepidopterist, obsessed with a subfamily of gossamer-winged butterflies called the blues. Richter plays the piano with the practice pedal engaged for a warm, muted sound.

The final piece, “Infra 5” is a ballet that he composed as

a meditation on the 2005 terrorist subway bombings in London… he counters violence with calming, thoughtful music.

This piece is much like the first in that it is beautiful and repetitive and thought-provoking.  This one is interesting because Richter does not play on it.  He just stands there and listens, no doubt deep in thought.

Richter is a truly amazing contemporary composer and his music is just wonderful.

[READ: January 23, 2020] Giant Days Early Registration

I found out recently that there is an end to Giant Days. In fact I believe it has already ended, but there are still three or so collections left to come out.

When a beloved (and award winning) series nears its end, it is time to put out early issues and special features collections.  Usually they come once the series has ended, but this one has come early.

Early Registration is a collection of the first self-published comics that John Allison made of our heroes Daisy, Esther and Susan.  This book is drawn by him (in the style that I initially preferred although I have now come to love Max Sarin so much that these pictures look weird).

This book begins with Esther’s parents sending her off to college (I didn’t realize until recently that Esther de Groot was in Allison’s previous comic Scary Go Round and that this is a spin off of sorts.  I don’t know that comic but am sure looking forward to reading it. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: WALE-Tiny Desk Concert #938/Tiny Desk Fest October 30, 2019 (January 21, 2020).

Back in October, NPR allowed fans to come watch some Tiny Desk Concerts live.  October 30th was rap night featuring Wale.

Washington D.C. rapper Wale stands as one of the most distinctive figures in hip-hop today. More than 10 years ago, the man born Olubowale Victor Akintimehin created a local buzz in the D.C. area through a host of mixtapes showcasing his skills atop popular instrumentals. What separated him from the hundreds of hopeful MCs trying to make names for themselves online was his ability to fuse go-go music — D.C.’s homegrown spin on funk — with hip-hop.

I’m always amazed when I have never heard of someone who is objectively huge.  So Wale (whose name I didn’t know how to pronounce until he said it) is a hugely popular rapper.

In 2011, Wale joined forces with Rick Ross and his Maybach Music Group and had a real breakout with “Lotus Flower Bomb,” the lead single from his sophomore album, Ambition. It went on to earn him a Grammy nomination for Best Rap Song in 2013.

A native of the D.C., Maryland and Virginia area (or DMV), Wale’s calling card remains the rap ballad, a streak he continued on his 2019 album, Wow… That’s Crazy, which debuted at No. 7 on Billboard’s Top 200. It reveals a man more self-aware than ever, exposing flaws and struggles while keeping his self confidence fully intact.

One of the things I really like about Tiny Desk is hearing rappers performer with a live band.  In this case, the band is

Tre And The Ppl (formerly UCB). Tre is Wale’s right hand on stage and their effortless chemistry has been intact since the beginning.

Tre was founder of the go-go band UCB which almost succeeded in “introducing go-go’s hyper-local rhythms to the rest of the planet.”

Tre sings mostly choruses but some leads to Wale’s rapping.  And Tre sounds just like Aziz Ansari when he sings.  I guess Tom Haverford would have supported UCB back in the day.

What really struck me about Wale was his frankly astonishing ego for someone who is somewhat understated.  Things like

This is a big stage but luckily I’m a giant as well.

and

I’m at an important place in my career … and I got here because of this city.

He is full of love for D.C. (“don’t mute D.C.” he says at the end).  And when he introduces

“Lotus Flower Bomb” he says, “Have you heard of this before?  If you haven’t, you can leave now.”  He’s very funny, making amusing mellow jokes throughout the show.

This song is really pretty with gentle keyboards from Glenn Cobb and some quiet guitar licks from Stanley Thompson.

Wale asks, “Are you all allowed to clap in here? I saw Lizzo got you clappin'”

“LoveHate Thing” has a cool five-string bass line from Daniel Bennet that jumps to a funky middle section.  I love the addition of the percussion from Jerry Venable throughout all the songs.

Wale shouts out to D.C. and says, “I hope the Nationals win tonight.” (They won the world series that evening).

He says he wants to introduce “some of my b sides.”  The song “CC White” [Cocaine White] is “written in metaphor about something that plagued this city since the 80s.”

As the song starts he holds up a little Washington D.C. flag that he wants to “put here for aesthetics.”  The little flag won’t stand up after several tries.  He says, “I knew that wasn’t going to fit … that was a gag by the way.”

He takes a sip of tea and then says “how many of you think that’s tea in there?”

Up next is “Sexy Lady” which is sung by Tre and which Wale says “is one of the classic songs that came out in any genre.”  Tre encourages everyone to “feel free to dance if you want to.  Feel free to get close to each other if you want to.”  People sing along right from the start.  I enjoyed the dirty but not lyric

“I’m gonna pick you up on Saturday, maybe you can give me some whats her name.”

For this show, Wale gets more than three tracks,  He gets six, in fact.  The second to last song is “Sue Me”  which he says “is special to me.  I feel like I’m a next level person when I get to the last verse.”  I was pretty fascinated by his lyrics

Maybe ’cause I was searchin’, I found me the perfect person
But me and her didn’t work out, she buried what she worked for
And I carried the bitterness of a kola nut
Nigerian shit, my parents never showed much
Womanizer, probably could’ve been a feminist
‘Cause I respect ’em, but Lord, I got polygamy problems

But it’s the chorus that is so nice:

Sue me, l’m rootin’ for everybody that’s black

He also says “pro-black isn’t anti-white” which a lot of people forget.

There’s some cool guitar and keyboard soloing in this song some cool soloing.  And I like the open hi-hat sound that Eric Curry uses on this song and some others.

He ends the set by saying, “I got one of the biggest songs in the country right now so let’s get into it.”  Again, I’ve never heard of it, I guess the music world is horribly siloed.  Before the song starts he thanks the audience for their energy:

It’s not like a show live crazy turnt up energy.  It’s more like a I gotta get to work in the morning, I’m not as turnt up as you.  And maybe like some of my superiors are watching me so…  shout out to everybody with a Finsta who can show they here

For “On Chill” he encourages everyone “You ain’t gonna get in trouble for clapping for yourself.”

Wale really won me over by the end of this set.  I went from never having heard of him, to hoping for more success for him.  And I’m not the only older white guy to feel that way.

Wale‘s Seinfeld-inspired The Album About Nothing an extension of his 2008 The Mixtape About Nothing, marks the first time the comedian has featured on a Number One album.   You can hear about the 60-year-old comic’s unlikely friendship with the 30-year-old rapper and what attracted him to the Wale’s music in this NPR interview.

[READ: January 26, 2020] “You Will Never Be Forgotten”

This story starts out in a shocking way: “The rapist is such an inspiraton that he started a newsletter to share his story.”

I couldn’t believe what I was reading.

The rapist chronicles his transformation from a nerdy ducking into the muscular entrepreneur swan he is today.

It turns out this newsletter began “as a motivational tool for his annual charity triathlon” but it is now a meditation on health, tech culture and “of course, pushing through limitations and not understanding the meaning of the word ‘no.'”

Then we see the whole story: “the woman has been following the rapist on social media since the rape, though her accounts don’t officially ‘follow’ the rapist.”

I love that the story  doesn’t let up on calling him what he is.

But I also loved that the story is about more than this.   For the woman works as a content moderator at the world’s most popular search engine, in a room with no windows or ventilation system. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: YOLA-Tiny Desk Concert #933 (January 17, 2020).

Yola was just nominated for a Grammy for best new artist.  And it does seem like she just came out of nowhere.  But she has been making music for a least a decade (with the band Phantom Limb) and was singing backing vocals for bands like Massive Attack before that.  She finally went on her own a few years ago and then released her Dan Auerbach-produced debut album last year.

This Tiny Desk features Yola singing three songs from that debut album and wow, what a voice she has.

With her bouncy Afro and a big smile, Yola’s presence behind the Tiny Desk was commanding, her energy captivating and, oh, that voice!

I had the exact same reaction as Bob Boilen:

I assumed her background was as a southern gospel singer, until she spoke. Her British accent was a shocker.

She’s very funny between songs as she chugs water and then jokes how she puts it here and it comes out here (on her forehead).

Yola’s affection for American music, from Dolly Parton to Aretha Franklin, is at the center of her character and expression. It’s likely one of the reasons she chose to write and record her debut album, Walk Through Fire, at Dan Auerbach’s Easy Eye Sound Studio in Nashville, and why it was such a perfect fit for her.

The second song, “”I Don’t Wanna Lie” is a “newie” and it is my favorite song of hers.  I absolutely love the chorus–so catchy and powerful.  It’s a shame it’s only on the deluxe version of her album.  Instead of piano, the keys are a great organ sound and the main riff on bass (from Taylor Zachry) and the great guitar licks (from Andy Stack) make this song a great soulful rocker.

For the last song, “It Ain’t Easier,” she picks up the acoustic guitar and is accompanied by slow guitar lines and that cool organ sound.  Drummer Jamie Dick is using brushes to emphasize the gentleness of this song.

I’m not sure what it takes to get someone to go from backing and guest vocalist to making a way for herself.

Now this singer from Bristol, who once sang for Massive Attack, and sampled by Iggy Azalea and The Chemical Brothers, is front-and-center.

But it was a great decision.

[READ: January 23, 2020] Giant Days Vol. 8

In this book, friendships are fractured and the future of our trip is in doubt!

As Chapter 29 opens we see Esther looking fabulously academic as she heads to her Romantic Lit class. She is the star of the class and always has the right answer. Until today.  McGraw’s ex-girlfriend Emilia has just started taking the class and as Esther rants “It’s not fair to sing that good, look that good, and think that good.”

Meanwhile Ed Gemmell is trying out a new look–overalls and a braid and, boy howdy, Daisy does not like it.  She asks, “Are you ‘fine’ because you joined a cult and they’taken away your pain?”  He says he’s tried so many things but girls are not interested in him.  Daisy sets him up with her friend Kathy with whom he should have lots in common.  She’s geeky and sexy!  But when she tries to move things forward he demurs.  Daisy is furious, “she could not have been any more your type if she’d been the result of a lab experiment to create the perfect Gemmell mate in one of those nightmare sci-fi shows you both like so well.”

The Esther/Emilia issue resolves itself at a literature professor’s soiree.  When one of the teachers gets handsy with Esther. It is Emilia who is there to help her out. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JOYCE DiDONATO-Tiny Desk Concert #932 (January 15, 2020).

I was sure that Joyce DiDonato had performed a Tiny Desk Concert before, but I actually knew her from a gorgeous NPR Field Recording from 2015.

the last time we filmed the down-to-earth diva, she insisted on singing an opera aria at the Stonewall Inn, the iconic gay tavern in Greenwich Village.

DiDonato is an opera singer and her voice is amazing–she can soar and growl and everything in between.  But this Tiny Desk is not what you’d expect.  For although DiDonato sings in her beautiful operatic voice, the music the band is playing is anything but.

When opera star Joyce DiDonato told us she wanted to sing centuries-old Italian love songs at the Tiny Desk we weren’t surprised. But when she said she was bringing a jazz band to back her up, we did a double take. But that’s Joyce, always taking risks.  On paper, the idea of jazzing up old classical songs seems iffy. At the least it could come across as mannered and at worst, an anachronistic muddle. But DiDonato somehow makes it all sound indispensable, with her blend of rigor, wit and a sense of spontaneity.

The first song is by Alessandro Parisotti.  “Se tu m’ami” sets the stage for what this show is going to be like.  Gorgeous jazz with DiDonato’s impressive voice.

The musical formula for these unorthodox arrangements makes room for typical jazz solos while DiDonato molds her phrases to the flexible rhythms and inserts old-school trills and flamboyant roulades.

A cool trumpet solo from Charlie Porter takes a cool trumpet solo while DiDonato admires his skill.

After three minutes they segue seamlessly into Salvator Rosa’s “Star vicino.”  This one features a piano solo from Craig Terry which he begins with a line from “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.”  The song also features a muted trumpet solo with a few drum breaks for Jason Haaheim

My favorite moment in the set comes just before 6 minutes where she sings a beautiful lilting melody and then hits a growly note that I was sure was the trumpet until Porter played the same note on his muted trumpet.  It was very cool and kind funny.  Especially when she says

there’s no soprano in the world who could get away with that

Less than a minute later she runs through her enormous vocal range from low to very high to soaring.  It’s amazing.

She says that in the classical world, the standard is perfection–rarely achieved.  Young singers try so hard to get it perfect that they lose the “grease” as the jazz players say.  So this project was designed to put the swing back in these old love songs.

The third song she says is by anonymous, but it is credited to Giuseppe Torelli. “Tu lo sai” is a love song that says, “you have no idea how much I love you.  No matter how much you scorn me, I still love you,”  She says they giving this the Chet Baker treatment.  I’m not exactly sure what that means, but there is some wonderful trumpet work in this song.

It has a slow opening with piano and voice.  The other instruments slowly come in and there is a wonderful moment during Porter’s trumpet solo where she picks up the note from him and runs with it.

Bassist Chuck Israels (who has played with everyone from Billie Holiday to the Kronos Quartet) never solos but he keeps the whole enterprise running perfectly.

For the final song Francesco Conti’s “Quella fiamma” they bring out Antoine Plante on the bandoneon.  She says, “Yea we’re going to South America in a minute.”

Porter uses a different kind of mute which creates a unique sound.  Then the bandoneon comes in and the South American flair is complete.  There’s an incredible moment at the end of the song where Joyce just trills away–showcasing so much of what she can do.

As the blurb says, despite how great the band is

the star of the show is the continually amazing DiDonato, whose voice is certainly one of the great wonders of her generation. The flexibility of the instrument, the colors she conjures and her fine-tuned dynamic range are a few of the reasons she’s still at the peak of her powers. She looks and sounds like she’s having the time of her life.

I see that she sings in Princeton pretty often.  Next time she;s in town I will make sure to check her out.

[READ: December 20, 2019] The Raven’s Children

This story was fascinating in the way it started as a very real story, suddenly added magical realism and then turned into an utterly fantastical story.  And yet it all works perfectly well as an allegory of the oppressive regime under Stalin.

Not bad for a book with talking animals.

This book was translated by Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp and she brings this story to life.

Shura is a young boy living in Leningrad.  He lives with his mama and papa as well as his older sister and a little brother.  They live in an apartment building and he and his sister are lucky enough to have a room to themselves.  The amusing set up is that they have to walk through a wardrobe that their father set up to separate the rooms (he removed the back but you can’t tell from the front).  This weird construction actually saves them later in the story.

Shura’s friend is named Valya.  His parents don’t want him hanging out with Valya, but they like to do the same things, so he disobeys.  Today they are putting pennies on a railroad track.  They had been doing this for long enough that they can tell how heavy a train is by the way the resulting items come out.

On this occasion the train that went by seemed to be full of people.  People crammed into each car.  As it sailed past, a piece of paper sailed out.  Valya grabbed it. Neither of the boys could read very well but they could see some numbers on it.  Shura was sure that the paper was important and he desperately wanted it. But he didn’t know how to get it from Valya without making him want it more.

They walked home and by the time they got to Shura’s place, they were physically fighting.  Shura manged to snatch the paper and Valya threw a rock at him.  The rock smashed a window of an older lady’s apartment in their building.  Shura knew he was in trouble for the window.  But it was Valya’s fault.  Of course, he wasn’t supposed to be playing with Valya. (more…)

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