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Archive for the ‘Tiny Desk Concert’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: NICHOLAS PAYTON TRIO-Tiny Desk Concert #801 (November 2, 2018).

I feel like the Tiny Desk hasn’t had a good old-fashioned jazz trio on in a while.  With the Nicholas Payton Trio you get drums, upright bass and Payton on organ, trumpet and sampler.

All three compositions in this set are from Payton’s 2017 album, Afro-Caribbean Mixtape. “It is often said that New Orleans is the northernmost region of the Caribbean,” says Payton on his website. “Africa is the source of all rhythms. The Afro-Caribbean Mixtape is a study of how those rhythms were dispersed by way of the Middle Passage throughout Cuba, Haiti, and Puerto Rico, then funneled through the mouthpiece of New Orleans to North America and the rest of the world.”

The first song is “Kimathi.”  I love the simplicity of the organ that he plays while the rhythmic precision of his band mates keeps the song going.  Drummer Jonathan Barber is going pretty nutty (albeit gently) on that minimal kit and bassist Ben Williams is playing nonstop.  And then around four minutes, Payton switches to trumpet, playing a melody and then echoing it on the keys.

Just to impress even more, while playing a melody on the keys, he holds a note on the trumpet for 25 seconds.

Payton dazzled the audience, simultaneously playing his trumpet and a Fender Rhodes. It’s his signature, resonant sound.  Payton’s genius virtuosity captivated both faithful fans and anyone in the NPR crowd just discovering his music for the first time.

The nine-minute song is an incredible start.  It’s followed by “Othello” a song that starts off so quietly that Barber plays the cymbals with his fingertips.  Even Payton’s trumpet feels subdued on it.

This song has vocals (from Payton) which I like less than a good instrumental.  While this seems like it would fit well in a smoky night club, it’s too slow for my tastes.

The final song “Jazz Is A Four-Letter Word,” comes from the title of a book Max Roach was working on before he passed away.  The song features samples of Roach speaking.  There’s a great bass line and gentle keys as Roach speaks.  I feel like Payton singing the title is a bit redundant since the samples are so effective (if not a little overused).

Racial constructs are notably relevant in the last tune, “Jazz Is A Four-Letter Word,” which was inspired by the autobiography of drummer and activist Max Roach. You can even hear Roach’s sampled voice, fused into the infectious groove, a narrative of black consciousness on display. Ideology aside, the music was on point and the audience couldn’t help but sing and clap as the trio took us out on a soulful rhythmic vamp.

The middle of the song is great as the tempo picks up and the bass is just walking all up and down the fret board as Payton jams along.  And although I initially dismissed Payton singing the title, the end sing-along is pretty cool.

[READ: December 10, 2018] “Chaunt”

“Chaunt,” the story tells us, is a place.  A place where there was an old chapel–more rubble than chapel now.  It was a place that Jane Click’s son Billy and his friend Jerome rode their bikes to all the time.

The boys say that the place is full of animals and not made-up animals, either.  Not an elephant or a lion or a polar bear, not exactly.  “They were waiting, but they weren’t waiting for us.”  The boys watched the animals and then the animals became motionless “but still animals.  All the animals yo’;d ever hope to see.”

It’s a weird story.  But it’s also a horrific story because we find out pretty early on that these two boys have been killed.  They were riding their bikes home from Chaunt and were both struck by a car.  The driver was not found at fault (which I think is impossible) because he couldn’t see them in the dusk. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LINIKER E OS CARAMELOWS-Tiny Desk Concert #800 (October 29, 2018).

I listened to this Tiny Desk Concert for a few minutes before watching it and when I clicked over to it, I was quite surprised to see Liniker, whose voice is quite deep, look so feminine.  It was also confusing because as I clicked over one of the backing singers was singing in quite a high register so I honestly wasn’t sure who was who.

I also love that the NPR doesn’t address this at all.

Watching this performance is to witness a spell being cast, note-by-note. Liniker e os Caramelows (Liniker and the Caramelows) are from Brazil but steeped in the tradition of soul from here in the U.S. They started their turn behind the desk with the ballad “Calmô,” a testament to the power of slow songs dripping with soulful emotion. It was a bold statement of just who they are as a band and what they stand for.

As for Liniker’s look, the second paragraph uses the feminine pronoun (although Liniker’s [Google-translated] Wikipedia page uses a male pronoun, saying Liniker:

began to invest in an androgynous visual identity. As an artist, his vision began to mix turban, skirt, lipstick and mustache in his musical performances that incorporate scenic elements into his voice “sometimes hoarse and grave, sometimes clean and sharp, which forms a Brazilian black music, but stuffed with pop elements “, according to O Tempo.

The Tiny Desk blurb is certainly more current and more reliable:

Lead vocalist Liniker Barros has obviously done her share of listening to soul singers and she effortlessly slides from lower registers to an emotional falsetto.

They play three songs which cover a lot of styles and sounds.  “Calmô” is a  light jazzy number with some gentle guitar pieces and twinkly keys.  The percussion is notable for the shakers and drums, giving it a cool Brazilian feel.

It’s also fun to listen to Liniker speak.  He sings in Portuguese, although his English is excellent, except for some of those fun words like “percoosion” and “fell-ix” (referring to Felix Contreras).

You have to go back to the co-mingling of jazz and Brazilian music in the late 1950s to appreciate the affinity our two countries have had for each other musically.

“Tua” is a great song that  sounds like it could be a Tindersticks song–jazzy and noir, except that Liniker voice ventures high instead of low like the Tindersticks.  The second half of the song adds a great 70s keyboard riff to and some “ohh ah ahs” (and a deep sax solo).  It s a fun example of

Brazilian funk … complete with a mid-song, church-revival breakdown, featuring tenor sax.

It’s hard to pick a favorite song although “Remonta” the final song might be it.  It covers multiple genres in its five minutes and Liniker is smiling throughout.  The band moves:

from ballad to a reggae bridge, eventually exploding into a majestic African-based Candomblé rhythmic finish.

The end is a great with lots of percussion, great 70 keys, and a robust, but not wild, fuzzy guitar solo.  The band’s joy at the end is infectious.

[READ: January 24, 2018] “My Fanon Project”.

This is an excerpt from his Wideman’s novel Fanon.  In this excerpt he is writing to Frantz Fanon, who fought for Algerian independence and then died in 1961.  This project has been on his mind for over forty years, since he read The Wretched of the Earth. [That part is all real].

After reading this book he wanted to be like you, Fanon, a writer committed to telling the truth amid racism and oppression.  He couldn’t live up to that so the project shifted to writing about disappointment with “myself and my country.”  He had published many books over the years hoping to at least never dishonor Fanon.

Then he changed the project, instead of living Fanon’s life maybe he could write it

Okay, so far so good. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JIM JAMES-Tiny Desk Concert #799 (October 26, 2018).

Jim James is the singer of My Morning Jacket.  And I think he’s pretty great.

Although I like his band work more than his solo work, i was happy to see him in this Tiny Desk Concert.

Especially since he started with “I’m Amazed,” the terrific song from MMJ’s Evil Urges.  I think what’s most striking about this version is how stripped down the music is.  The song has become mostly about the words.  And, reading the blurb, that seems to be the point lately for James.

A single voice can send a powerful message – and that’s just what Jim James did at the Tiny Desk, with just his voice and an acoustic guitar. His lead-off song, “I’m Amazed,” comes from My Morning Jacket’s 2008 album Evil Urges. It’s a prophetic song in many ways – it speaks not only of a divided nation and the need for justice but also to the beauty in the life and plight of others. It’s something Jim James would find greater appreciation for after he fell from a stage at a My Morning Jacket concert, just three days before Evil Urges was to be released, sustaining life-threatening injuries. It would be a life-changing event and the inspiration for his first solo album years later, in 2013, Regions of Light and Sound of God.

Jim James’ second song at the Tiny Desk, “Same Old Lie,” comes from an album he released just days before the 2016 Presidential election.

This is a much darker song musically and lyrically.  Once again the (fingerpicked) guitar is lovely, almost all the higher strings.  But the lyrics are pointed:

The lyrics take on a deeper meaning now, just days before the 2018 elections. “It’s the same old lie you been reading about / Bleeding out – now who’s getting cheated out? / You best believe it’s the silent majority / If you don’t vote it’s on you, not me.”

James’ voice sounds a little off.  Not terribly, but perhaps it’s a little strained (these early morning shows are tough for musicians).  He also doesn’t say anything.  He’s just right there to start the third song, the strummed “Over and Over”

We fight the same fights / we drop the same bombs / put up the same walls, over and over again.

His closing tune, in what I think of as a purposeful trilogy for these political times, is from two albums he’s released this year, Uniform Distortion and Uniform Clarity. The albums contain the same songs, performed with his blistering electric guitar on one and on the other, as here, acoustically.

It’s a message of exasperation and hope, all set to a pretty melody.

After 20-some odd years of putting out music, Jim James is full of fervor and compassion for others as he sings, “How can we make / The same mistakes / and still carry on / Living the same we did yesterday / Have we learned nothing at all?”

[READ: January 12, 2017] “Tiny Man”

I have really been enjoying the Sam Shepard stories in the New Yorker.  They are surprisingly raw and gritty and feel a bit like a throwback (Shepard is 73 after all) to a more blunt storytelling style.

This one has two main sections, the Tiny Man part and the Felicity part.

The Tiny Man sections start like this: They deliver my father’s corpse in the trunk of a ’49 Mercury coupe.  His body is wrapped up tight in see-through plastic…   He’s become very small in the course of things–maybe eight inches tall.  In fact, I’m holding him now, in the palm of my hand.

Woah, what’s going on there? (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CAUTIOUS CLAY-Tiny Desk Concert #798 (October 24, 2018).

Cautious Clay has a wonderful name.  And that’s really all I knew about him.

He came to the Tiny Desk with friends, a lot of friends. In fact, Josh Karpeh, best known in the music world as Cautious Clay, put together a backing vocal ensemble of friends he’s known since his days as a music student at The George Washington University here in D.C. And so, with five singers – Sanna Taskinen, , Sam East, Claire Miller and Michael Ferrier – along with a drummer, keyboardist and a bassist – Cautious Clay brought a warm, thoughtful and chill vibe to the Tiny Desk.

Clay sings three songs and he shows off a lot of musical skill as well as a delightfully chill voice.

 Here at the Tiny Desk, Cautious Clay opens with “Cold War,” a song that I interpret to be about commitments within relationships. The line, “In it for the monetary growth and power / But we divided at the bottom of this whiskey sour” shows the humor and insight that I love in his lyrics.

Eric Lane (Keyboard/keybass), plays a cool riff on the keybass (an instrument I’d never heard of before), but I’m more interested in the cool sounds he’s getting out of the other keyboard.  Clay gets some nice falsetto notes as the backing singers join him.  The big surprise for me was when Clay pulled out a saxophone and played a tidy little solo.  I’m not sure it works with the music, but it sounds fine.

For the second song “Call Me,” Clay grabs a (tiny seeming) guitar and plays left-handed. It’s mostly delicate chords high up on the neck.  Midway through this song, Clay picked up a flute and played an all too brief solo.  It was a real highlight for me since I’ve been really enjoying the flute lately.  Chris Kyle switched from guitar to bass for this song, but he’s back on guitar for the final song.

The only person who doesn’t get to really shine is drummer Francesco Alessi.  The drums are pretty quiet and pretty uneventful for most of the show, but I guess they get the job done.

For the final song, “Stolen Moments,” the singers depart, leaving only the four piece.  There’s some pretty. simple guitar and another sax solo.

All three songs are a little too soft rock for me, but it’s clear that Cautious Clay has a lot of talent.

[READ: November 21, 2018] “The Dog”

The sign on the gate says “Chien méchant,” and the dog is certainly méchant.

Every day she walks past the dog and it hurls itself at her, snarling and ferocious.  She knows it is not personal–it hates everyone.

But she wonders how deep is that hatred.  She doesn’t know but she feels the dog gets satisfaction from the encounter–from being feared.

She knows that St. Augustine says that we are base animals because we can’t control  our fears and our bodies: (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKALFREDO-RODRÍGUEZ-Tiny Desk Concert #796 (October 18, 2018).

As this Tiny Desk Concert started,  I was sure the main musician was the bassist.  Given his fascinating outfit and his amazing bass playing, I was sure it was all about him.  I was still more impressed with the bass even after learning that:

Cuban pianist Alfredo Rodríguez gave our office audience a very quick lesson on why pianists from that island nation are so impressive: they treat the piano as the percussion instrument it is. Rodríguez immediately let fly with an intense flurry of notes that were as melodic as they were rhythmic.

But really, once Rodríguez starts playing you can tell that he is the composer and creator, even if guitarist/ bassist Munir Hossn is the exciting splash on the music.  I didn’t mention that Hossn also plays guitar.  It’s on a stand which he walks over to play in between amazing bass runs.

“Dawn” opens with some singing and a very simple rocking kind of feel.  Then Hossn plays some wonderful guitar soloing notes while Rodríguez plays his complicated main lines.  Meanwhile, Hossn has switched back to bass and is playing some amazing jazzy lines–fast, furious and at times really high notes.  It’s pretty cool.

There’s a lengthy guitar solo (with Rodríguez clapping) before the main song resumes with two very distinctive styles of music.

The mash up of European lyricism and Afro-Cuban percussion is at the heart of the Cuban piano tradition and it is very present in the first song. It wasn’t long before Rodríguez dug deep into rapid-fire syncopation along with drummer Michael Olivera.

Listen to the expansive and lyrical exploration of the second song in this Tiny Desk set, “Bloom.”

It opens with a lovely piano melody twinkling along the keys.  But it’s that great low-end and the simple drums (check out Olivera’s jacket) that takes it beyond “European lyricism.”  There’s some wonderful interplay between the musicians and some great effects from Hossn on bass (how does he get those super high notes?).

The final song is called “Yemaya.”  It opens quietly with Rodríguez singing before turning into a frenetic piano melody with Hossn’s intricate guitar pyrotechnics.  The song is eight minutes long and features many components including a lengthy, beautiful (and impressive), piano-only section.  But I still love watching Hossn (as he hat falls off) the most.

West Africa-based Yoruba spiritual tradition, commonly known as Santeria, infuses so much of Cuban daily life in music and Rodríguez closes with his take on the music dedicated to the Orisha Yemaya, the goddess of the ocean and all waters. The song’s melody is a derivation of the song associated to Yemaya and the Tiny Desk trio explores the rhythms of the melody, up to and including the sing-along at the end.

Every exposure to Cuban music presents an opportunity to walk alongside historical music figures and Santeria spirits alike.

Especially when it ends with an engaging sing along like this one does.

Actually they seem to be having so much fun that they refuse to end the set by playing one more wild coda to top everything off.

[READ: November 28, 2018] “Children are Bored on Sunday”

The December 3, 2018 issue of the New Yorker was an archival issue, meaning that every story was taken from an earlier issue.  The range is something like 1975-2006, which is odd since the New Yorker dates back so much longer.  Although the fiction pieces are at least from the 1940s and 1950s.

This story was written in 1948 and it is certainly of a certain time and place–specifically The Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1948.

Emma is a young, single woman browsing the art gallery.  She is excited to see a Botticelli, but as she nears the room, Alfred Eisenburg is standing there right in front of “The Three Miracles of Zenobius.”  She liked Alfred and even flirted with him at a party “in some other year.”

At most other times she would have been pleased to see him, but she turned quickly back the way she had come. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: FLORENCE + THE MACHINE-Tiny Desk Concert #795 (October 16, 2018).

Florence + the Machine has slowly won me over.  When I first heard their (her) songs, I wasn’t impressed.  I felt there was something missing.

I don’t know if I changed my mind on those early songs, or if she did something more in her layering but I suddenly found her songs intense and really powerful.

Florence Welch and her band play three songs at the Tiny Desk.  I have so much grown to love the full production that I wasn’t sure I would enjoy it as much when stripped down.  For the Tiny Desk it’s just her on vocals, with a guitars a synth an d a harp!  And man her voice has just become a force unto itself–she could sing a capella and it would be great.  But the backing vocals add an amazing and unexpected punch.

She starts the show with the lovely “June.”  It begins with her voice and some harp notes.

Florence performed with her eyes closed.  Within seconds of hearing her first note, the raw power of her un-amplified voice was chilling.

Then the guitar joins in and the lovely “oh ooh, oh ooh, woah” fill in the gaps perfectly.  Even something as simple as Florence’s hand clap add an interesting percussive element to the climax of the song.

It’s impossible to talk about Florence without her backing band. Tom Monger adds exquisite ethereal textures to the songs with his stunning mastery of the pedal harp. Hazel Mill’s backing vocals and anthemic power chords on the keys accentuate the poignancy of the lyrics at just the right moments. And Robert Ackroyd’s rhythmic, steady acoustic guitar drives the music forward.

The second song “Patricia” builds slowly over its time.  The harp plays a kind of haunting melody that is accentuated by two almost sinister deep notes.  The song feels like it’s heading to an end after about three minutes, but that’s just the middle section.  After a big smile, the hand claps continue as the song grows louder and louder as they sing “it’s such a wonderful thing to love.”

The intensity of the musicality is almost secondary to the message in her lyrics. Ear-worm melodies coupled with repetitive phrases create universal, awe-inspiring anthems.

Her nervousness was palpable and stood in stark contrast to her fully produced stage show. “I’m sorry I’m shy,” Florence Welch told the crowd of NPR family and friends gathered for her Tiny Desk performance. “If this was a big gig, I’d probably be climbing all over here and running around.”

The final song is the one that won me over, “Ship to Wreck.”  She reveals her humorous side when she says, “We haven’t practiced this.  It could be terrible.  Especially for you.”

I love the hugeness of the recorded version of the song.  This version replaces some of the power with more interesting subtleties in the harmonies and the lovely melodies.  It’s a striking version of the song.

[READ: November 28, 2018] “A Diamond to Cut New York”

The December 3, 2018 issue of the New Yorker was an archival issue, meaning that every story was taken from an earlier issue.  The range is something like 1975-2006, which is odd since the New Yorker dates back so much longer.  Although the fiction pieces are at least from the 1940s and 1950s.

This particular piece is a collection of vignettes from Dawn Powell’s diaries which range from 1933 to 1963 (she died in 1965).

I have wanted to read Dawn Powell for years and yet I keep finding other books that jump in front of me first.  As I read this I wondered if maybe Powell isn’t for me, as I really didn’t know what in the world she was talking about for many of these entries.  but there were many glimmers of the wit that Powell is known for poking through.

There’s also the problem of context.  I have virtually none for most of these entries, so even if there are clever comments, I probably have no idea. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: STEVE COLEMAN-“Ritual” (Field Recordings, April 27, 2012).

This Field Recording was filmed at the Newport Jazz Festival [Steve Coleman And The Invention Of New Languages] is one of the few where the artist speaks over the music.

Coleman talks about the tradition of making vocal sounds with music.  He says that Jen Shyu was a classical singer before she started singing with them.  She is Taiwanese-American and after working with them making sounds (not necessarily words), sometimes she sings snippets of any of the languages she speaks, and sometimes not.

The Asian-American singer Jen Shyu speaks several languages, among them English, Spanish, Portuguese and various East Asian tongues from China, Taiwan and East Timor. But then she started performing with saxophonist Steve Coleman. None of her native tongues would serve for his knotty tunes; “doo-bop-a-da” scat singing wasn’t going to cut it, either. So she had to devise her own sound and fury — perhaps signifying nothing formally, but full of intense personal feeling.

This short piece is trumpet and sax and Jen’s voice and they all seem to be doing their own thing, but it all melds nicely.

Steve Coleman has long been known as an inventor of language — a composer who draws equally from rigorous examination of music theory, esoteric natural science and myth, and Charlie Parker. But you don’t have to speak his language to be entranced by it. There’s flow, and pulse, and delightful chord changes. And, yes, it’s a little disorienting, which seems like part of the point.

Coleman’s vision was on display when his band Five Elements played the Newport Jazz Festival last year. But we wanted to know more. So we brought him, Shyu and trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson into the ruins of Fort Adams for a more intimate, stripped-down look at his music. We also asked him for a translation into the English language: “If anything, that’s what this music is…  It’s a lot of different influences, coming from different places — plus, whatever’s coming from inside you, which is the main thing.”

It’s pretty cool to hear what you know is nonsense but still feel it embued with meaning.

[READ: April 10, 2016] “Alone”

I have read a lot of stories by Yiyun Li and I have consistently enjoyed them all.  What I especially like about them is that while none of them are ever “exciting,” (since they are all about small human dramas), none off them are ever boring and none are ever quite the same)..

Most of the stories are an encounter between one to four people and they have something in common (or not) which brings them together.  It’s the commonalities that vary so greatly in each story–and those commonalities are virtually never the “interesting” or “dramatic” part of the story.

This story begins with Suchen, a young woman, sitting in a cafe.  The waitress has just asked her how she is dealing with the smoke.  There is no smoke so she just nods.  The man sitting next to her leans over and fills in that there have been wildfires in the north.

There is an older couple sitting at the table next to her as well.  She imagines what it would be like to be with someone you trusted until you were that age.  For the time being anyhow, that won’t be her as she and her husband Lei have recently separated–on pretty much mutual terms although Lei is the one who started the proceedings. (more…)

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