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Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: JUPITER & OKWESS-Tiny Desk Concert #784 (September 7, 2018).

Jupiter Bokondji comes from the troubled capital of Democratic Republic of the Congo.

He and his band Okwess dress in wonderfully colorful garb.  Jupiter’s jacket is practically a zoot suit with blue and white stripes on one side, a red field on the other and giant white stars  He has a big hat as well.  But he can’t hold a candle on the shirtless drummer who is wearing a red white and blue wrestling mask the whole show.

The guitarist has a beautiful patterned gold shirt with blue lapels and the percussionist in addition to wearing another cool hat has on a terrific sweater.

The band plays “the vibe of Kinshasa street musicians, that feels both African and American” and indeed, “their fierce energy here is an astonishing performance.”

Then of course there’s Congolese rumba, the popular dance music from as early as the 1940s, not too dissimilar from some Cuban music of the day. And the message of the music has been steeped in the complicated politics of the region, stumbling between chaos, anarchy and oppression.

This is urgent music … that stems from the gut but has thought and theatrics to flesh out the feelings. It’s music to be experienced. This is your entry point.

They play 3 songs each with a similar feel but with a very different sound.

“Ofakombolo” is so wonderfully catchy with the percussionist and drummer chanting the chorus on the first time around.  On the second the rest of the band sings too, for a nice harmony.  The bassist gets what sounds like a rap guest verse before playing a kind of funky bass solo.  The percussionist is great for shouts and trills animals noises, too.  The music is nonstop, propulsive and fun, with a distinctive guitar solo sound.

“Pondjo Pondjo” starts with a quiet guitar intro.  But it is joined by the drummer whistling and the percussionist pulling a string through a plastic container, making a crazy squeaky sound that works wonders as a percussive sound.  The bassist seems to be singing lead on this song (a very different voice).

 Jupiter introduces “Ekombe” by saying “Let’s go to dancing!” It opens with a funky bass line and the drummer playing a fast hi-hat beat and chanting.  It’s a very dancey with a slinky guitar line running throughout the song.  There’s a nifty breakdown in the middle which features some fun on the bass and a wild solo to end the song.

This is a wonderful introduction to Congolese music.  Stay for the end, as they end the show with a post-credits kung fu pose.

[READ: January 5, 2017] “In the Act of Falling”

Boy this was a dark, dark story.  After the last line I actually said aloud, “Jesus, Danielle, what the hell.”

This is the story of a family: a woman, her husband and their nine-year-old son, Finn.  Finn was recently suspended from school for punching a fellow student in the mouth.

They live in a an old house that they imagined fixing up but two years later even the dining room is unfinished.

Finn is in the yard setting up a volleyball net–but he is doing it sideways like a hammock.  It turns out he is setting it up to catch ducks as they fall from the sky.  Birds were the next heralders of the apocalypse.  And, she had seen that all of the ducks in St Stephen’s green were dead–all of them.  She probably shouldn’t have told Finn this, but she did. (more…)

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SOUNDRACK: T.I.-Tiny Desk Concert #780 (August 27, 2018).

Sarah asked me to describe trap music and I couldn’t.

So Wikipedia tells me:

Trap music is defined by its ominous, bleak and gritty lyrical content which varies widely according to the artist. Typical lyrical themes portrayed include observations of hardship in the “trap”, street life, poverty, violence and harsh experiences that artists have faced in their urban surroundings.

It’s interesting that the music isn’t really mentioned in this description.  Because it was the music that I was most attracted to in this Tiny Desk Concert.  The riffs and melodies are really interesting–especially in this concert in which he brought along high school students from a non-profit Atlanta Music Project, who put a classical twist on his street anthems, adding strings and brass in place of 808 bass.

Tip “T.I.” Harris has lived the last 15 years of his life on the big stage. Fans have watched him rise, fall and ascend to new heights again, remaking himself each step of the way. From dope boy to dope emcee. From inmate to activist. From reality star and box-office draw to real estate developer and film producer.

Rapping along to a group of high school string players instead of his classic tracks. Without his usual audio prompts, he kept lyric sheets close at hand while running through the definitive street hits “Rubber Band Man,” “What You Know” and the Billboard 100 chart topper featuring Rihanna, “Live Your Life.” He may have stumbled a few times, but when you’ve successfully reinvented your career as often as Tip has had to it’s probably hard to stick to the same old script.

This Tiny Desk Concert is barely 8 minutes long–one of the shortest I can think of and certainly the shortest for a major act like this.  I didn’t know any of his songs before this, so I was puzzled why each song appears to be barely a minute long (he is either using only his verses because he has guests on the record, or he is only doing a verse and chorus).

The first song, “Rubber Band Man” has a great melody–made even better by the live instruments.  But he seriously plays it for one minute (the band plays it for two).  After a verse or so he

kept his set funky with off-the-cuff stories of the drama behind his music — like the time when he found out, after shooting the video for “Rubber Band Man” with Puff Daddy, that his home had been raided by police. “This music was about the elements that people have to endure in their lives every day and find a brighter side and make a way out of no way,” he said. “That’s what this music represents.”

I love the melody of “What You Know” (I listened to the recording and like this version much better).  The crowd really responds to him as if he were a preacher.  Again, this is a short song, just a verse, and at the end he says he goes into the studio to  bring some soul and funk to get you through the day–to reach the best side of yourselves.

He is super polite and friendly and is very kind to the kids:  “That’s a true example that really says that you’re never defined by your environment unless you want to be,” Tip said, crediting the youngsters for their commitment to craft.

Introducing “Live Your Life” he says that Rihanna ain’t here so…and the crowd responds “we got you!”  It’s fascinating that his original songs are some 4 or 5 minutes long.  This one is reduced once again to a minute or so.

[READ: January 22, 2018] “Thirteen Dreams”

This is indeed a list of thirteen dreams.  They were translated from the Arabic by Raymond Stock.  The full book is described that in his final years, Egyptian Nobel Laureate Naguib Mahfouz distilled his storyteller’s art to its most essential level. Written with the compression and power of dreams, these poetic vignettes… telescope epic tales into tersely haunting miniatures.

I’m not sure why they chose these 13, but I’m summarizing without the endings.

Dream 105
All men get their beard trimmed at Uncle Abduh’s salon by a beautiful woman.  One day he was walking down the street and she came close to him.  He had to stare, but she soon turned into a block of wood.  When he turned around…

Dream 106
There was a coup d’etat and an older man said he’d heard such a thing once in his youth.  The dreamer said he knew who started the coup and he laughed with pride.  But the old man said he once laughed with pride about such things…. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LAWRENCE BROWNLEE AND JASON MORAN-“There’s A Man Going ‘Round Taking Names” (Field Recordings, February 17, 2016). 

I know of Brownlee from a Tiny Desk Concert.  But this is a whole other order of magnitude.  He and pianist Jason Moran are playing a spiritual about death in an active crypt.

Brownlee’s voice is powerful and soaring, but full of anguish.  And Moran’s piano is so intense, especially at the end.  He plays the melody but he allows for a lot of overtones and echo to nearly overpower the music.

At the very end, he plays some high notes by literally chopping at the keys like a karate chop–powerful, sharp and dissonant.

Here’s the blurb for more context:

Opera singer Lawrence Brownlee is known for portraying kings and princes. But lately he’s been thinking about real people: Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Freddie Gray, to name a few.

He’s been thinking about the Black Lives Matter movement and an old spiritual called “There’s a Man Going ‘Round Taking Names.” Decades ago, singers like Paul Robeson and Lead Belly recorded it. Brownlee, with jazz pianist Jason Moran, revives the old song to tell a new story for the 21st century.

“Jason and I chose this song because we felt it accurately captures a growing sentiment that’s in society today,” Brownlee says. “So many senseless deaths of young African-American men.”

A crypt, they thought, would be an appropriate setting to perform their version of the song. So we took our cameras and microphones — and a lovely piano — deep into the active crypt below the historic Church of the Intercession in Harlem. The 1915 structure at 155th Street and Broadway is a New York City landmark and a dramatic setting for occasional concerts, including a December 2015 recital by Brownlee.

“I know that the ashes of the parishioners of this church are here in this crypt,” Brownlee explains. “You can feel the weight of death, you can feel the sting. It adequately captures the atmosphere, the somber mood that we are trying to capture with this song.”

In this arrangement, an already solemn song becomes even more dark and agitated.

“What [Jason] has done with the piano part has made it build, and you feel the unrest, the turmoil, the tension that is underneath,” Brownlee says. “This is something that is painful and difficult to deal with.”

Woah.

[READ: January 31, 2018] “Self-Portrait with Beach”

This is the story of an older couple who have been together for a while.

They go to the beach, she removes her top and asks “Is the body the house for the soul or are body and soul and one and inseparable.?”  He looks at her and says, “Your body is my soul.”

She laughs that his soul is bound for decay but he continues, ‘Nothing of you will decay as long as I am alive.”

Out of nowhere a man in white comes and offers his homemade beverages.  He says they have unique powers. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MOBY-One Song, Two Days, Three Versions (Project Song: May 4, 2010).

Project Song was a nifty little show that NPR Music created.  The premise was that NPR would give a musician some prompts and a recording studio.  They then had two days to write and record a song.  I don’t know how much of the process was to be filmed, but presumably most of it. Then it would be edited down to a fifteen minute show.  The results are pretty cool and it’s a shame they only made five of them.

The fifth and (presumably) final one they did was about six months after the previous one.  This Project was offered to Moby.

Moby generally works alone in his New York apartment, but for Project Song, we asked him to bring along a collaborator. He picked Kelli Scarr, a Brooklyn-based singer and songwriter with a breathtaking voice. They arrived at NPR, a bit nervous and eager.

It takes weeks, even years, to write a song. NPR Music’s Project Song challenges musicians to do it in just two days. And every Project Song participant has worked right up to the last-minute — that is, until Moby.

He and collaborator Kelli Scarr finished their song in a little more than a single day. In fact, they had so much time left over, they recorded a second version of the song. And after that, they gave a small concert for the staff at NPR.

I kicked off the songwriting process by showing them a series of photographs and words. The surreal images came from New York artist Phil Toledano; you can see more of his work at NPR’s Picture Show blog. Moby and Scarr are both drawn to an image of a man in the woods wearing a trenchcoat. [Moby: “A disconcerting loneliness that I really like”].  There’s a brown briefcase on the earthen floor beside him, and his head looks like a glowing storm cloud.

Next, I gave them a series of words to choose from. Moby picked the word “flight.” Scarr chose “Sunday,” which Moby calls “the most depressing day of the week.”

Not too long after, Moby puts the card with the word “Sunday” printed on it, along with the photograph, on a nearby chair. He picks up a bass guitar and immediately starts playing a riff in the key of E. Turns out, this hastily played bass line would become the bedrock for their new song.

Just six hours later, the first of three versions of “Gone to Sleep” was recorded.

When he arrives he says he thought about cheating with chords ahead of time, but he likes the idea of jumping headlong into a project.  And as the blurb says, within minutes he’s got a bass line, some synths and drums.  Then a guitar line and more keyboard sounds.

Then they work on lyrics.  Moby says, “My favorite type of unsettling art is art that isn’t immediately unsettling.”  he cites the classic example of “Mack the Knife.”  You first hear it and it’s happy and then you listen to the lyrics and its terrifying.

The end of the video clip plays the whole song, guitar and piano and atmospheric.  Then over the closing credits they play a somewhat less atmospheric, gentler version of the song.  And then there’s the Tiny Desk which is altogether different.

It’s like Moby broke Project Song by making it seem too easy.

[READ: July 27, 2017] “Christina the Astonishing (1150-1224)”

I’ve read a few things by Vladez Quade, but this one is quite different from anything else.  It’s actually quite different form anything else I’ve read, period.  The closest author this reminded me of would be Brendan Connell, who likes to thoroughly investigate a historical character (real or imagined).

But this story is based on an actual; person:

St. Christina the Astonishing has been recognized as a saint since the 12th century. She was placed in the calendar of the saints by at least two bishops of the Catholic Church in two different centuries (17th & 19th) that also recognized her life in a religious order and preservation of her relics.

The story tells of her life from the point of view of her older sister and is written in a rather formal, almost canonical, style with section headings in an old style: “How She was Led Forth from the Body and How She Lived Again.”

The narrator, Mara, tells us that Christina lay dead in her coffin, a grave awaiting her.  Mara is sad, she loved Christina, “I see this now.  She was difficult, unknowable but I loved her.”

But at the same time she says that perhaps if they had hastened, outrun the melody.  If we’d only got those last words out, “He might have spared us our miracle.”

For indeed, the dead Christina not only rose bodily from her coffin, she levitated to the rafters. The narrator and her sister Gertrude clutched each other in fear. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: EMILY HAINES AND THE SOFT SKELETON-Live at Massey Hall (December 5, 2017).

I really like Metric a lot.  They hit all the poppy sweet spots that I like with enough rough edges to keep them interesting.

I had heard a song from Haines’ Soft Skeleton album and really liked it–the bass line outstanding.  When this tour came to Philly I conisdered going but ultimately didn’t.  So I’m glad I get to see an abbreviated version of it here from Massey Hall.

This is also the final show (I assume) of the fifth season of Live at Massey Hall as the historic venue now undergoes two years of renovations!

Haines says that Massey Hall is the place that when you’re growing up on Neil Young that you dream of playing someday. She did two nights with metric in 2010 and now to do it solo is an incredible honor.

The show starts with chirping birds and Emily walking around the stage which looks made up like a bedroom.  She takes off her coat, puts on a dressing gown and a sleep mask and lays down on a “bed.”

An alarm goes off and when she shuts it off, a piano melody starts with backing vocals.  It’s the song “Planets,” and she lays down on the bed and sings the lyrics.  The pretty piano melody and swelling backing voices are lovely.  Then she brushes her teeth and a voice (hers?) starts talking to her.  What are you doing here?  Did you sleep at all?

What revelation are you after?  Do you want to go back or are you scared you never left?  This is an introduction to “Nihilist Abyss.”  For this song, she plays the piano and sings.  As the song ends the voice returns, calling “Emily” (echoing) “come back now its time to come back.  You’ve got to get dressed, you have to play a show tonight.  You booked a tour for some reason and you’re on it now….”

“Put on your jacket…”  She stomps around the stage as the rest of the band comes out–Jimmy Shaw, guitar; Sam Goldberg, bass; Justin Peroff, drums (all of whom were in Broken Social Scene, which Haines performed in as well).  She sits at the piano and a robotic voice introduces “Emily Haines and The Soft Skeleton.”

“Our Hell” has  thumping drums and bass as washes of guitars flood in while Haines plays piano and sings.   It’s a dramatic change from the first songs, but not as immediate or poppy as Metric.

“Detective Daughter” is interrupted by her saying that this record and band are a different state of mind than metric–challenging in a different way.  The music and her role is to push herself to the threshold of emotion without cracking.  “It’s raw strong and real.”  There’s more intense guitar from Shaw (who has worked with her on nearly everything she’s done).

“Minefield of Memory” has a scratchy guitar playing a rhythm with the drums, while “Legend of the Wild Horse” has the biggest chorus yet.

“Doctor Blind” has a woozy da da da da middle section along with the echoing distorted guitars.

The set ends with “Fatal Gift,” the song that I love from this album. It starts with a slow piano but after a few minutes the song gets bigger and louder and that bass line is just a knockout.  I don’t rally like the that she repeats over and over “you own it and it owns you,” as it takes away from the music.  But this section of the song is so good the music is intense and wonderful.

I’m not disappointed that i didn’t see this live, although it sounds like an interesting theatrical experience (the venue is usually standing but for this show seats were being sold).

Over the credits she comments that now “because of technology people can use algorithms to pander and give the people what they want a feeling of pandering.  But what I have to offer is a glimpse of someone attempting to access their authentic self.”

[READ: April 15, 2016] “The Five Wounds”

This story surprised me right from the outset with the line “This year Amadeo Padilla is Jesus.”  There’s a few ways that could be taken and I was wrong about all of them.  The closest I came was thinking that Amadeo was a boy in a school play.

But no, Amadeo is a 33 year old man and being Jesus is very real.

People in the village are saying that Amadeo is the best Jesus they’ve had in years.  People are lining up to peek through the chain link fence and watch Amadeo.  He has build his cross out of heavy oak, not pine, and he’s even thinking of adding more nails to make it heavier.

But whats so surpring is that Amdeo is pockmarked and bad-toothed and worse.  If you name the sin, he’s done it: gluttony, sloth, fucked a second cousin on the dark bleachers at the high school.

Amadeo is working so hard at his cross that he is sweating–typically he only ever sweats when he eats and drinks too much. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: REV SEKOU AND THE SEAL BREAKERS-Tiny Desk Concert #765 (July 10, 2018).

I was not at all interested in a preacher and his church band, but wow these guys rock.

Rev Sekou says that the Seal Breakers are from Brooklyn but he’s from Arkansas.  I didn’t like the way he started the show by talking about his grandparents who worked from can’t see morning to can’t see night and then they’d go to the juke joints and then to church on Sunday.  I thought it was going to be rather preachy (he is Pentecostal) but no,

Rev. Osagyefo Uhuru Sekoum this author, activist, intellectual, pastor and singer tosses off his large-brimmed, black hat, shakes his dreadlocks and demands freedom with these words: “We want freedom and we want it now!”

Do you wanna get free?  He sounds like Richie Havens at Woodstock–gravelly voice but with a preacher intonation.  The song has got some gospel flow but with a roaring distorted electric guitar.   It’s got a big catchy chorus and a wailing guitar solo.

Resist!  Resist when they tell you what you can and can’t do.

Before the second song, he says he went to Charlottesville to organize against the white supremacist march but they couldn’t leave the church because of the Nazis.

When he went outside, he watched Heather Heyer take her last breath.  He says this is an anthem for Charlottesville called “Bury Me.”

he recalled the horrors of the white nationalist march in Charlottesville, Va. last summer. He said he spent weeks in preparation, organizing clergy for what he says was “the largest gathering of white supremacists in modern history,” then watching the activist “Heather Heyer take her last breath” after she was struck by a car that plowed into a crowd of marchers. The song “Bury Me” is a bluesy anthem to freedom that honors those who have died in that struggle for racial equality and freedom. In his free-form preamble to the touching ballad, Rev. Sekou works himself into a passionate frenzy, before airing his intense indignation for President Trump.

Bury me in the struggle for freedom…say my name.  He powerfully sings the names of people who have died in racially motivated hatred.  There’s power in the name.

The songs with a chorus of “This Little Light of Mine, I’m gonna let it shine,”

The Rev. says they need to leave that one, “I’m Pentecostal, I can go 2-3 hours, but I don’t think Brother Bob wants us in here that long.”

The  end with “The Devil Finds Work” which opens with bluesy piano.

After two minutes it becomes a big clapfest as suddenly The Saints Go Marching In.  They swing, and Rev. Sekou and we pray that you get free and he walks off while the band finishes.

Osagyefo Sekou (Vocals), William Gamble (Keys), Reggie Parker (Bass), Cory Simpson (Guitar), James Robinson Jr. (Drums), Gil Defay (Trumpet), Chris McBride (Saxophone), Brianna Turner (Background Vocals), Rasul A Salaam (Background Vocals), Craig Williams (Percussions)

[READ: January 25, 2018] “Company Towns”

This is an excerpt from “Work and Industry in the Northern Midwest.”

I’m not really sure what to make of these three short stories about work.  I found them rather comical because each supposedly normal business event ended in some kind of peculiar death.

The Whitefish Bay Merchant and Traders Bank
In 1947 the narrator traveled from Interlakken Switzerland to Whitefish Bay, Michigan to check on a bank that his father had acquired in a set of financial trades).  The bank had become extremely profitable and his father wanted to know why.  He flew to the states, stopped for two weeks in New York and another week in Cleveland before getting to Michigan.  The employees were quite jovial–in fact the guy who picked him up shared a flask with him–they were both drunk by the time they got home.  They also had a very formal, fancy diner.  The bank made its money because of an ambitious cook.  He helped to innovate the short line cooking process–a way to cook for 100 men quickly.  He was aided by a chef who ensured they used quality food.   The bosses didn’t think the employees needed this kind of delicious food, but when they saw how much it improved morale and didn’t cost that much they were on board.  And the bank, in addition to giving them a loan, took a 20 percent stake in the firm and they made a ton of money.

The narrator asked to meet these men but both had recently died.  One from drinking something he shouldn’t have and the other was involved in a shooting– the details are what makes the deaths amusing, if not really funny. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: HALF MOON RUN-Live at Massey Hall (December 1, 2016).

I hadn’t heard of Half Moon Run before this show.  They are a Canadian band who put out their second album a year or so before this show.

So it’s pretty impressive to have gotten a gig at Massey Hall and to have the crowd be that crazy about you after just two records.

There’s a lot to like about the music–great moody sounds, and spectacular drumming, but there’s also something really “pretty” about the singer that makes me wonder if they are too commercial.  Or if I should even care.

The band consists of four guys and they each play a multitude of instruments.  Devon Portielje is lead vocalist.  He plays guitar and on one particular song a smashing drum. Conner Molander plays keys mostly but also guitar and he sings too.  Dylan Phillips is the drummer but he also plays keys and Isaac Symonds plays percussion as well as mandolin guitar and keys.

I love the old-sounding keyboards of “21 Gun Salute.”  There’s a latter-period Radiohead vibe on this song with the eerie backing vocals and the ringing guitar.  I’m not sure if the guitar solo actually works with the song, though.

“Call Me in the Afternoon” starts with Portielje taking of his shirt (to whoops of course).  He has an undershirt on at least.  Rather than playing the guitar, he plays a small drum and throws the sticks into the audience.  There’s some nice harmonies on this song but again, it’s the drums that are very cool.  I also like the unexpected bass line that runs through the song.

“Everybody Wants” is from the newer album.  It introduces a resonator guitar which brings a whole new sound ( I thought it was a banjo at first).  This is a ballad but it builds slowly over the song with great backing vocals–soaring notes–and then it takes off at the end with some more tremendous drums (I love that one of the drummers (can’t tell them apart) is playing one-handed while paying keys with the other).

“Give Up” is an older song which also has a Radiohead kind of feel in the guitar/piano pattern.  It’s a slower moodier song and the strings come out for this song.  String are provided by Quatuor Esca:  Sarah Martineau, Camille Paquette-Roy, Edith Firzgerald, Amelie Lamontagne.

“Consider Yourself” opens with thumping drums and feedback before shifting to an almost gothy-dancey keyboard melody.  It’s cool and even moodier when the piano is added but the chorus is big and brash with a big noisy ending.  It’s a pretty great song and sounds quite different from their other ones.  It’s on the second album where I guess they diversified their sound more.

“She Wants to Know” opens with staccato note and voices and “Full Circle” has a nice interplay of acoustic guitar and electric lead with more of those thumping drums and the audience is right there to sing the chorus–it was their first single.

It’s interesting that the majority of this show is songs from their first album.  Is that editing or did they just want to play their earlier stuff?

I’m going to have to check out their studio recordings to see what they sound like.

[READ: January 25, 2018] “Credit Gone Away”

This is an excerpt from the novel Broken Glass, translated by Helen Stevenson.

This excerpt is listed as a monologue and it is just that–a full-page and a half of unbroken text.  I found it more than a little confusing because it seems to be a tirade against a bar. And I assume the bar is called Credit Gone Away (at least something is called that–it’s a weird name for a bar).  The Church people opposed the bar right away.  Saying it would be the end of Sunday mass, slippery slope until everyone is gong straight to Hell

Then the weekend and bank holiday cuckolds waded in saying that it was Credit Gone Away’s fault that their wives no longer cooked for them.   And another group of complaints from ex-alcoholics. (more…)

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