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Archive for the ‘Tiny Desk Concert’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: LALAH HATHAWAY-Tiny Desk Concert #769 (July 25, 2018).

I have no idea who Lalah Hathaway is.  The blurb doesn’t really help, giving her familiar lineage but not much more.

Lalah Hathaway comes from royalty: Her late father Donny Hathaway’s … set the bar for inspired, old-school soul singing. But living in that kind of shadow can also be a burden, robbing the offspring of an identity apart from that of the famous parent.

This was by my estimation, the most boring Tiny Desk Concert I’ve seen.  The blurb raves about her once but I found it dull and flat.  Her lyrics were uninspired and the music was spare to the point of nothingness.

I always watch a Tiny Desk twice to see if I miss anything the first time.  This one was painful to watch twice. At least it was only 11 minutes.

The younger Hathaway’s appearance behind the Tiny Desk pulls back the curtain a bit for a close-up encounter with her powerfully expressive voice  [powerfully expressive?]

In “Change Ya Life,” Hathaway’s dusky contralto paints an exciting portrait of blissful cohabitation — but on her terms. “I’m going to teach you how to treat me like I deserve,” she sings, adding, “I’ll give you the world.” She draws on a tradition of romance and sensuality in the best soul music, but with a feminist twist that eschews old-school, male-centric lyrics and attitudes.

I like the feminist twist, but when a song has twinkling keys (Lynnette Williams) and a cheesy bass line (Eric Smith) the line “I can fuck around and change your life” just doesn’t seem to fit.

“Boston,” her ode to her second home (she’s from Chicago), is a meditation on self-discovery and longing. The band perfectly straddles slow-jam R&B and a jazz-ballad sensibility.

She was signed in college and told to move to L.A. because Arsenio is there (did she work with him?).  She wrote this song about Boston .  It’s a slow torch song type of song (tikki tikki drums) that name checks tons of Boston area locations (Charles River, Cambridge, Downtown Crossing)

So much of the most powerful music from the Civil Rights Era wasn’t about literal accounting of injustices; many of those songs enshrouded morality plays in the guise of romantic longing. Hathaway introduces the set-closing title track of her new album Honestly as an explicit reflection “of my country at this time.” If you heard it for the first time without the introduction, it comes across as a lover’s lament. But Hathaway’s soaring vocals infuse it with the passion of resistance to bring her set to a close on a hopeful, joyous note.

I love the premise of this song and how it was written.  But even a cool, angry song like this is so tepid.  She asks the audience to sing along to these great lines:   “I don’t even want you no more.  You can walk out that door.”  And you can barely hear them (and the audience is certainly loud between songs).  She does a little of that R&B vocal gymnastics that I dislike at the end just to cap it off.

Not my thing, I guess.

[READ: January 15, 2018] “Family Means Nothing to Me”

This is an except from a story called “Family Means Nothing to Me and I Dislike Children.” I can’t really imagine what the context of the rest of the piece is, but this is  a funny/honest appraisal of the narrator’s self.

She says she finds her nephews and nieces odious.

She has had pets in the past but when she breaks up with a boyfriend she makes him keep the pet. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKÓLAFUR ARNALDS-Tiny Desk Concert #767 (July 19, 2018).

Arnalds plays four songs in this Tiny Desk.  For most of them he uses his prepared piano.  But it’s prepared in a very different way.

“Árbakkinn” opens with Arnalds on the piano.  After about a minute, three of the four strings (Unnur Jónsdóttir (cello), Katie Hyun (violin), Karl James Pestka (viola)), enter the song followed shortly by Viktor Arnason on lead violin playing a haunting melody over the top.

Up next is “Unfold,” which is a bit happier a bit poppier.  It starts with pizzicato strings and has percussion by Manu Delago.   Arnalds at the electronic keyboard but when he plays it, the two pianos behind him start playing.  I’ll let the blurb fill in:

Somewhere about midway through this Tiny Desk, as Icelandic composer Ólafur Arnalds performed on his electronic keyboard, two upright pianos were playing lilting melodies behind him, absent any performer at the keys. …  About ten minutes into the performance Ólafur looked behind him at the two pianos, looked to the NPR crowd and said, “well I guess you’re all wondering ‘what and why,’ to which there’s no easy answer.” He hit the keys on his electronic keyboard and the two pianos behind responded with cascading, raindrop-like notes. “What I can say,” he continued, “is that I’ve spent two years and all of my money on this — to make my pianos go bleep-bloop.” What Ólafur was referring to is software that he and his coder friend, Halldór Eldjárn developed. A computer, loaded with this musical software (which Ólafur calls the Stratus system), “listens” to Ólafur’s keyboard performance and responds by creating patterns that are musically in tune with the chord or notes Ólafur performed.

So why do this? Basically, it’s a way to break out of the box musicians often fall back on as performers — the familiar responses that years of playing can reinforce. With that is the hope that the computer will create a response that is unfamiliar and, in some cases through speed of performance and the sheer number of notes played, impossible for a human to have made. So, it breathes new life into the music for the listener and the performer.

Arnalds can play the pianos while they are being remotely controlled as well, as he plinked out piano melodies while the computer was playing those raindrop notes.  The end of the song has a very interesting electronic tympani sound as well.

As the second song fades, “Saman” begins with Arnalds back at the piano to play this beautiful and haunting solo piano melody.

“Doria” is a tribute to Halldór Eldjárn the creator of the programming “and his beautiful code.” It was the first song he wrote using this new technology.  Arnalds plays the beginning on the keyboard while the other pianos play along.  The strings accompany him and then about half way through, while the pianos are continuing to play, he jumps in the middle and plays the main melody on one of the pianos.  It’s really quite lovely.

It was a gently stunning and memorable Tiny Desk. More of these creations can be heard on Ólafur Arnalds’ brilliant, fourth solo album re: member.

[READ: January 31, 2018] “Colin Kelly’s Kids”

This story was written after Elkin had a heart attack (he lived for almost 30 years after the heart attack).

The tale is basically one of an old man playing pickup baseball.  It had been a superb spring. This had been his fifth week playing and the teams (rotating payers every week) seemed to get used to him.  He wasn’t very good–had a lot of power but couldn’t connect.

But they did allow him to play first. He always played first whatever the teams, so he felt coldly like he was being traded to a new team each week–professional. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE MIDNIGHT HOUR-Tiny Desk Concert #766 (July 18, 2018).

After a countdown of 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8, Adrian Younge, with an undone satin bow tie, plays a cool melody on the keys.

Then the strings (Stephanie Yu (violin), Bryan Hernandez-Luch) ring out, followed by the bass notes from Ali Shaheed Muhammad in a blue pinstriped suit and deep violet Fender guitar.

Drummer David Henderson (in a rose satin shirt) adds some beats before the sax (Jordan Pettay) and trumpet (DeAndre Shaifer) add o the “sultry jazz fusion.”  That’s how “Black Beacon,” an instrumental with a great 70s vibe starts out.  I love it.

So who is The Midnight Hour?

After years of produced releases and jam sessions, A Tribe Called Quest’s Ali Shaheed Muhammad and composer Adrian Younge formed The Midnight Hour in 2018 and released a 20-track album of hip-hop, R&B and jazz.

Younge says that “In creating The Midnight Hour we selected singers we love.”  This leads to Loren Oden and Saudia Mills singing “There is No Greater Love.”  Again with an 8 point countdown, this song has a cool funky bass but the vocals have an authentic lite-FM 1970s vibe that I don’t care for, although the accuracy is right on. It’s also really short.

Next up was 16-year-old Angela Muñoz.  Younge says she reached out to them on Instagram and said “hey guys, I make music” and there was something about this girl that was real.   She wrote  a song and we wanted it to be a part of the album.  She plays “Bitches Do Voodoo” her vocals are great but terribly affected–she’s been listening to way too much pop music with a delivery like that.  The song is short and there are a lot of repeats of the lyrics “Don’t let her get your heart, shes doing voodoo in the dark.”  The problem for me is that ‘dark’ is pronounced: “dah-eye-ah-eye-ark”

The group ended with the hopeful and key-heavy “Mission.”  It opens with a cool bass line and rumbling drums.  And a quick shoutout to guitarist Jack Waterson.

I prefer the instrumentals on this album, they write some tasty music.  A final thought o the way out:

“You know what the best time to listen to this is?”

[READ: January 28, 2018] “Crepuscule with Mickey”

This is an excerpt from a longer story.  The narrator of this story is a “wise guy,” with accent and mannerisms to go along with it.  It feels crazy and over the top.  I found it a little annoying at first but I started to enjoy him by the end.

The popular press says he is an heir to the gambling empire of Bugsy (which nobody called him anything but Ben), Siegel, which I do not care to dispute because it would involve splitting hair.

They all say Mickey Cohen lives extravagantly. Well, he sees no point in personal discomfort.

Kids, as they say, is a pain in the tuchis by trade, and while those belonging to others is something I ordinarily do no care to become involved with and generally speaking I am….

greatly opposed to guys who stick their nose into the business of other families, as I grow older I find it a pleasure to extend my authoritativeness on account of longevity into realms I might have
avoided in my youth.

Two people have come to see him, they are desperate.  He is using his best manners–picking the couple up at the airport in a Fleetwood–a limousine being unsociable. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MUMU FRESH Feat. Black Thought & DJ Dummy-Tiny Desk Concert #765 (July 11, 2018).

I recognized Mumu Fresh from when she appeared at a Tiny Desk with August Greene a few months ago.  Mumu Fresh was a true highlight of that show–her rap was political and personal and powerful.

Here she’s got her own concert (and DJ Dummy is back with her for this as well).

A regal combination of black power and Native American pride, Mumu Fresh — also known by her birth name Maimouna Youssef — is an abundantly gifted singer and emcee who prances between genres and styles. The Baltimore native fuses her rich multi-octave range and ferocious rap delivery with spiritually inclined lyrics so potent and mindful they precipitated a wellspring of emotion throughout the room.

Mumu began her own Tiny Desk in her native Lakota tongue with “Ink Pata,” signaling a call to prayer in a sacred ritual. Looped tribal chants of her own harmonies set the mood as delivered a stirring spoken word performance that journeyed through her ancestral lineage to the struggles of the present day.

Her looping is outstanding–she harmonized with herself perfectly.  After a minute and a half she speak/raps/reads a lengthy piece that is really powerful.

With a buoyant and thoughtful spirit, Mumu and her band transitioned into the classic-sounding “Miracles” from Vintage Babies, her collaborative album with group mate DJ Dummy. Declaring it a celebration of soul music, she mixed sweet tender melodies with lyrics to empower those devoid of hope.

She introduces “Miracles” by saying, we are always waiting for something to happen.  But what if your miracle is waiting for you to be prepared: “the teacher arrives when the student is ready.”  It was great having live strings on this track: Chelsey Green (violin), Monique Brooks-Roberts (violin), Kevin Jones (cello) and the backing singers (Amber Harmon) gave an excellent soul sound.

This song segued into the awesome “Work in Progress.”  Accented by the feel-good chords of The Roots keyboardist Ray Angry, and Chris Dave (drums) and Romier Mendez (bass), Mumu speaks t he truth.  With some of my favorite lyrics:

I wanna be a good role model to girls coming after
but sometimes I slip up and say some shit that’s wretched
Forgive me, I’m a work in progress

I don’t give a fuck about what you’re saying to me.
If I’m too big for my britches then give me a sheet.
I need room to grow I’m still figuring it out,
If you say you ain’t, you lying–what you talking about?

and my personal favorite

I’ve been through so much shit I’m surprised I’m still standing
so every time I see a mirror I pose dammit!

The set concludes with a new version of “Say My Name,” a song Mumu wrote about Sandra Bland, who died in police custody in 2015, and the impact it had on her. Starting off with a 1950s doo-wop circle, she blends traditional soul elements with politically relevant lyrics.

It opens with doo wop vocals and lovely pizzicato strings:

If I should die tomorrow at the hands of the policeman
and the papers say, hey, we’re going to call it as suicide
would you even question why?

We watched a woman get drug out and beaten
filmed on a highway
and all y’all could say was black women too mouthy
I’m vexed searching my timeline
See if people find time to criticize and villainize, call that shit a suicide.
What if Sandra Bland was your child

Audacity of hope
to believe you can succeed when everybody and their momma say no
Well fuck y’all. I’m different descendant of the fittest
I’ve been reincarnated just so i can handle business.

Black Thought comes out for a final verse, but it’s hard to hold a candle to what Mumu just laid down.  His flow is great though.  And she even tacks on an extra verse after the credits.

[READ: February 1, 2018] “The Requirement”

I rather enjoyed this simple story, told simply.  It begins with the narrator talking about how when you get older, you lose people.  You don’t care about people who have died until people your own age start leaving.

He says that when people who mattered to him died, he began to feel something was required of him. If he could do it, he did, but sometimes he didn’t know what the requirement was.

When his good friend Bog Ellis got sick he felt a requirement but had no idea what it could be or how to do it.

She tells us some great Big Ellis stories. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LOCAL NATIVES-“Fountain of Youth” (Field Recordings, October 5, 2016). 

I know and like Local Natives, although I didn’t know this song.

In 2010, Local Natives came clattering into the indie firmament with the U.S. release of Gorilla Manor, an irresistible blend of in-vogue sonic signifiers like Afropop guitars, rich harmonies and the hint of a folk sensibility. In 2016, the band’s run has continued with the synth-heavy Sunlit Youth.

For their Field Recording, Local Natives played one of the singles off that album, “Fountain of Youth.” Though the recorded version is lush and electronic, Local Natives stripped the song to a driving core. The band played, and then it was off again — guitars in hand, headed for the evening’s show elsewhere in Brooklyn.

They sound great stripped to just two guitars and a tambourine standing on the water’s edge. [Local Natives Strips Down Its Sound For A Riverside Show].  I love this introduction:

The East River Ferry is a very fast boat. Local Natives came hurtling toward our crew up the river one overcast evening this summer, shouting three-part harmonies over roaring engines for a surprised clutch of fans. When the ferry docked, three of the band’s members hurried over to our pier off WNYC Transmitter Park to play this Field Recording.

I’m not sure which of the five Natives these are, but they harmonize wonderfully. And I really like that the main singer is playing his guitar while the second guitar is silent until later in the song when his higher notes are used as an excellent accent.

[READ: January 15, 2018] “Kinderscenen”

This was a fascinating story because of how much detail was given and how little plot there was.

This is the story of a boy, Toby.  It is written in a kind of childish third person, almost by a benevolent guardian.

Sentences like:

What he does know is how Daddy’s cigarette looks in the evening when sitting on a wicker chair with the other grown-ups softly talking in a row, he flips it away its red star tracing lopsided loops before shattering into sparks on the bricks.

In his heart he knows that this is the best town in the world.

In the story, Toby helps his mother garden (by lifting the prickery bushes “holding up the bushes’ skirts” which has a naughty sound that nevertheless doesn’t make it fun. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ANDY SHAUF-Live at Massey Hall (November 23, 2017).

I know Andy Shauf from a Tiny Desk Concert.  I was fascinated then and am now by his long hair, soft-spoken voice and astonishing lack of movement in his body and mouth when he sings.

The record he is touring here is 2016’s The Party which propelled him onto bigger stages, including Massey Hall.  He says in his characteristically quiet way

Every stage is a little different.  I’m a big fan of that Neil Young record.  That was here.  That was here (smiles).

“Twist My Ankle” starts the show with his gentle guitar strums.  Twin clarinets (Daniel Pencer and Karen Ng) propel this song slowly forward.  It a wonderful melody.  Then Shauf starts singing with his unique vocal patterns.  I can’t figure out what it is about the way he sings, but the way he enunciates words is so peculiar.

Later he says that there was one interview when I said The Party isn’t a concept album, and that has followed him around.  It totally is a concept album, but I was thinking more of Mr Roboto or something.  The whole album is about a party with the common theme of humiliation and shame.  People are just making mistakes while drinking at a party–trying to navigate social situations.

“Twist My Ankle” ends with the line, “everybody’s laughing at me I wish I’d just stayed home.”

“You’re Out Wasting” has a simple, repetitive but very alluring guitar melody.  It’s a wonderfully catchy song about wasting time with the right guy.

“Quite Like You” is a bit more upbeat and catchy–the crowd reacts very warmly to it.   but again the lyrics are pretty dark.  It’s about a guy trying to pick up his friend’s girlfriend.

“Early to the Party” is a mellow song with wonderful instrumental interludes–the horns really brighten the song.  This is one of many places where his enunciation is so strange.  Especially since he sings so quietly: “tying you in nawts.”

“The Word in You” has an upbeat piano melody which his vocals follow perfectly. He says it’s exciting playing with strings and clarinets.  A lot of parts are six voices and now we have six voices–it makes the songs more exciting to play.  A lot of time you get sick of playing the same songs every night but this time the shows have gotten a little bit bigger so you can feel a different energy when people are excited to hear a song rather than trying to introduce your songs to people.

People respond loudly to “My Dear Helen.”  This song is just him on the guitar, the starkness really helps you to focus on the words.  It’s a letter to an old friend in which an old man confesses something terrible.

For the final song, “The Magician everyone comes back.  The addition of bass clarinet (Michael Sachs) is wonderful.  There’s pizzicato strings that turn into big swells from Emily Hau and Leslie Ting (violins) and Moira Burke (viola).  The doo doo doo doo part is really catchy.  The song builds and builds and is the most rocking thing with Olivier Fairfield’s drums really coming forward.  Colin Nealis on keyboards and Josh Daignault on bass flesh out this excellent set ender.

[READ: July 24, 2017] “Everything is Far From Here”

This story serves as an unrelenting indictment against immigration polices.

It opens with a woman having arrived, at last.  She is bruised and sunburnt, covered in birds and bugs and worn out.  She is told to sleep, but she cannot for she is awaiting her son.  She had been separated from him a few days ago being told there were too many of them.

She is finally able to ask someone where her son is.  The guard speaks Spanish and tells her about the family unit.  But among the children, her son is not there.   But one woman tells her that her own son arrived a while week after she did.

She decides to wait.  They let her store her clothes, her broken leather sandals, a plastic comb, and elastic hair band.  They take her pocketknife (no weapons) a sleeve of cookies (no food) and a tin of Vaseline (no reason). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JENNIFER CASTLE-Live at Massey Hall (November 23, 2017).

I didn’t think I knew Jennifer Castle, but I see that she has appeared as a guest singer on a whole bunch of records by artists that I know: Eric Chenaux, Bry Webb, Constantines and Fucked Up.

She has an unusual voice–soaring, delicate and whispery with a slight warble and yet you know she could belt out if she wanted to.

She starts the show saying Toronto has incredible beautiful old buildings and its rare these days to go inside one.  Inside Massey Hall it’s lit up to be another member of the band and to be part of the show.

I found the music to be incredibly spare–too spare in fact.  It is primarily piano and her vocals (with backing singers), but the piano (Jonathan Adjemian) is not a primary instrument, it is simply playing chords for her to sing over.  The sparseness was a little disconcerting.  But the backing vocalists (Victoria Cheeong and Isla Craig) are stellar–they really add a lot to the music and their voices soar in their own right.

But I think that sparseness allows her lyrics to really come through.  “Like a Gun” has the lyric “he was lik e gun [hah, from lovely backing vocalists] he was always going off.”

“Nature” has even better lyrics

Despite all my feelings of life parallel
Nature is happening without my goodwill
I called my friend up and she said it still
Happens to you even when you are ill

and ends with this interesting conceit

I lift my skirt for the economy

“Texas” is played on guitar with a very catchy “hoo hoo hoo hoo” clap-along.

I go down to Texas
To kiss my grandmother goodbye
She forgets things
But when I look her in the eye
I see my father
And he’s been gone so very long
In the name of time travel
Help him to hear to my little song

Jennifer plays electric guitar on “Truth is the Freshest Fruit” which changes the whole dynamic of her songs.  She plays guitar with piano accompaniment on “Sailing Away.”

She is the first person to mention the renovations Massey Hall is currently undergoing:

I know that Massey is going to go through a great big change but it feels good to play while the history is still on the paint.

The final song is absolutely wonderful.  She says she wrote “Please Take Me (I’m Broken)” because she knew they were coming to Massey and it celebrates the school of Greek mythology

The backing vocalists sing a verse by themselves and they sound great.  I love the chorus

Please take me cause something don’t seem right; something don’t compute.  I don’t belong here.
Please take me I’m broken;  I’ve woken up and I should be dreaming.
Please take me back to those other realms they seem much kinder on a dreamer like me.
I’ve always looked up to those ancient Greek stories.
I love the thrill of the scale; I like the the roll of the chorus.

A thoughtful and unique performer.

[READ: July 17, 2018] “Now More Than Ever”

I  feel like Zadie Smith’s recent stories have been exploring a new style for her, a more “in the present” kind of vibe.  This story has meta-elements and is very much an of the moment piece.  It seems to address current hot button issues and her own inability to fully wrap her head around them.

It begins: “There is an urge to be good. To be seen to be good. To be seen.  Also to be.”

This is what she told Mary.  She also told Mary that no one is called Marty these days.  “Could you get the hell out of here?”  So Mary left.  Then Scout came by–a great improvement.

Scout is active and alert on all platforms. She;s usually no later than the 300th person to see something.  The narrator was “the ten million two hundred and sixth person to see that thing.” (more…)

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