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Archive for the ‘Short Books’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: SILK ROAD ENSEMBLE–“Briel” (Field Recordings, March 26, 2014).

There have been many fun Field Recordings, but this one [Welcome to Yo-Yo’s Playhouse] is surely the most fun. The countless members of Silk Road Ensemble were taken to ACME Studio, a theatrical props warehouse in Brooklyn.  They were given pretty much free reign to put on costumes, to bring out mannequins, to do whatever they wanted and that makes this session seem even bigger than it already is (and it’s already pretty big).

That’s all not to mention that the Silk Road Ensemble is a pretty amazing group of musicians:

cellist Yo-Yo Ma and some of the world’s premiere instrumentalists and composers, including members of Brooklyn Rider, Chinese pipa virtuoso Wu Man, Iranian kamancheh virtuoso Kayhan Kalhor, Spanish bagpiper Cristina Pato, American percussionist Shane Shanahan and clarinetist Kinan Azmeh from Syria.

As we’ve had the opportunity to forge those bonds over time [many of these performers have done Tiny Desk Concerts], we’ve gotten to know the warm, generous-spirited personalities that come along with these immense talents. We thought that setting them loose in a props house, where they could pick and choose among the curiosities for little elements to bring into the camera frame, would bring those aspects of their personalities into sharper focus. What we wound up with was a magical afternoon of play in all senses of the word — not just having the chance to record these virtuosos and their instruments in a spirited performance of John Zorn’s Briel, here arranged by Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz, but also to capture them (and us) having an immense amount of fun.

I had no idea this was a John Zorn piece.  It sounded like a Hebrew composition and now I understand why.  But in the best world music tradition, this piece is arranged for musicians from all over the world–percussion, strings, brass and reed.  There’s a bagpipe solo, a kamancheh solo and a field of percussion.  The song is just way too short.

But to watch Yo-Yo Ma play the cello while holding a mannequin that looks like George Harrison is just one of the many highlights.

[READ: April 2018] Loner

Everything about the look of this book appealed to me.  The title, the crappy cover, the backwards type, the size, it all just seemed like a light, funny story.

Perhaps something about it should have read “creepy” too.

David Federman is a New Jersey native.  He went to Garret Hobart High School (named for New Jersey’s only vice president) He’s smart (he was accepted in to Harvard) but dull and, as we get to know him, pretty unlikable.  He imagines that Harvard will be a place where he (and other geeks like him) will flourish and kick ass.

He’s not wrong in thinking that–everyone he meets  seems to want to change.  But no one wants to change by hanging out with David.

David winds up in a freshman group that he hates–the Matthews Marauders (who are anything but).  In fact, nothing is going very well until he sees Veronica Wells.  She is everything he desires–a sophisticated New Yorker with money, intelligence and beauty. (more…)

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 SOUNDTRACK: COLD SPECKS-Live at Massey Hall (May 23, 2014).

After enjoying the Rheostatics Live at Massey Hall video, I thought it would be interesting to check out some of the other artists in the series.

The very first artist to play was Cold Specks.  I had never heard of Cold Specks and I was blown away by their set.

So who is Cold Specks:

Cold Specks is the stage name of Canadian singer-songwriter Ladan Hussein, who was previously known as Al Spx. Her music has been described as doom-soul. The name Cold Specks is taken from a line in James Joyce’s Ulysses (“Born all in the dark wormy earth, cold specks of fire, evil, lights shining in the darkness.”).

As the set opens, Al Spx (for that is what she was known as at the time) speaks about Massey Hall, learning about it from Charles Mingus and Neil Young albums.

And then the band comes out and they play “A Broken Promise.”  There’s such a great moodiness to the melody and the sound of the guitar (and bass pedals).  There’s interesting keyboard effects throughout as well as a spare but powerful unconventional drum rhythm.  And then there’s her voice powerful and a little menacing–arresting and gripping.  There’s a Nick Cave vibe to what she does, but with a very different texture because of her voice.

“Bodies at Bay” is a bit more uptempo and rocking with a wonderfully dramatic slow down for the powerful chorus.  I hear a bit of Marianne Faithfull and some of the more out there vocals of Tina Turner in her voice.  But the contrast between her voice and the music is very engaging.  “Living Signs” is a bit more spare–really focusing on her voice.

She describes “Hector” as “an old one” (which means it came from her other album).  Al Spx plays guitar and I love the way her guitar adds a new layer of music.  The melody in the bridge/chorus is fantastic.

“Let Loose the Dogs” starts a capella.  She sings it off mic (I wonder who could hear her) and then the band comes in with a quieter synth sound.  It’s a much less dynamic song, but a nice mellow moment.

She explains that she doesn’t play Toronto very much and yet this is her fourth time at Massey Hall. “I’ve informed my booking agent that shows in Toronto will be strictly limited to Massey Hall.

“Old Knives” is slow and moody but builds really nicely–a great song overall.  The big, crashing middle section is intense.  As the song ends, they let the music ring out as the guys leave.  As they are walking off, she says, “they fucked off before I could introduce them.”  So they are: drums: Loel Cambpell; guitar: Tim D’eon; the magic corner over here, including Marxophone: Jim Anderson.

While they are gone she says she’ll play “a song or two on my own here.”  She plays guitar and sings “Blank Maps.”  It has the same moodiness just unplugged–the guitar melody is simple, but very cool.  I’m glad I watched this, it has made me a fan.

You can watch the footage here.

[READ: March 19, 2018] To Kick a Corpse

At the end of the previous book, the Qwikpick Adventure Society was in trouble.  Lyle (whose parents work at the Qwikpick and the kid who has access to all of the Qwikpick goodies) was seen as bad influence on the other two.  His best friend Dave had been grounded, but that has finally been lifted.  But Marilla, the girl on whom Lyle is massively crushing (and the funnest girl ever), has been banned from ever seeing him (or the Qwikpick) again.  It was so bad that her parents even told the school principal that she was not to be seen talking to or eating lunch with Lyle (somehow Dave was not deemed so guilty).

It’s a pretty sucky couple of months.

One day the local historical group came by with fliers looking to Save Greenhill Plantation, a local farmhouse that belongs to Colonel Shergood.  Dave and Lyle were joking about the terrible speech when they were tapped on the shoulder and given in-school suspension.

But then Marilla, who is a rule follower to the letter and never wants to upset her parents, broke the rules and shouted “Good” when she heard the plantation was being turned into a Kmart. This guaranteed her an in-school suspension as well.  When they asked her why she would do that, she explained that she hates Colonel Shergood and she wants to “go kick his dead *&%!”

Marilla has never said a bad word in her life, and the boys are shocked.

Why is Marilla so upset? (more…)

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 SOUNDTRACK: ÌFÉ-Tiny Desk Concert #736 (April 29, 2018).

ÌFÉ is from Puerto Rico.  Creator Otura Mun has a fascinating history as to how he wound up creating this band:

Otura Mun started out in the world as Mark Underwood, a Goshen, Ind., native whose parents were Mennonites and who managed to snag a coveted spot on the University of North Texas’ drumline. But that was before a flight mixup landed the percussionist, composer, DJ and producer with a free trip to Puerto Rico. Two years later, he moved permanently to the island, became a Yoruban high priest and began creating electronic music that channeled the African diaspora.

Woah.

So ÌFÉ (pronounced ee-faye) combines traditional Afro-Cuban drumming and chanting with a kind of Jamaican dancehall sound.  Midway through the set, Mun explains that he drilled holes into the traditional acoustic drums and has attached electronics to them, essentially making them triggers, but with the traditional acoustic sound as an overtone.  It’s pretty amazing.

The group’s debut album, IIII+IIII, (pronounced “Edgy-Og-Beh”) is a fresh electronic take on tradition that’s winning over even the most devout practitioners of the western African-based spiritual ceremonies that form the base of their music. That’s hard to do with ritual music.

Although interestingly, for the first song “House of Love (Ogbe Yekun),” they play acoustically.

For their turn behind the Tiny Desk, Otura Mun and his ensemble unplug their drums for their first tune, an acoustic version of their “House of Love (Ogbe Yekun)”.

This acoustic sound is quite compelling in itself.  Yaimir Cabám plays a beautiful acoustic guitar (pretty, simple chords) and sings, I believe wordlessly.  Meanwhile, the rest of the band plays various percussion: simple electronic percussion and shaker and various hand drums.  Anthony Sierra on congas keeps the rhythm.

After a verse, Otura Mun joins in on vocals (with deep backing vocals from Beho Torrens).  It’s a quiet, soothing song with occasional punctuation from the drums.  When the melody finally changes after 4 minutes, it sounds like a massive shift even if it’s just a few notes.

“Prayer for Oduduwa (Para Meceditas)” opens with bells and shakers and some interesting electronic splashes before the massive amounts of electronics take over the song.  I believe Rafael Maya joins them and was not their for song one.

The sound of the second song here is what startled me when I heard the band’s debut CD last year: the parts normally performed on Afro-Cuban bata drums and chekeres are electronically treated for a traditional prayer for the deity Oduduwa.

They sing in a traditional chanting style including an awesome low chant (from Torrens) that sounds otherworldly.

By the last tune, “Bangah (Pico Y Palo),” the electronics have created a sonic playground that plays perfectly against the battery of Afro-Cuban rhythms.   “Bangah,” focuses on a reflection of the Orisha Ogún, the owner of war in the religion, whose main tool is the machete.

Mun says he wanted to play urban music you could improvise and to use percussion as the basis–Cuban rumba combined with Jamaican dancehall.  He demonstrates some sounds and then a deep rumbling bass: “we got your nasty subs that you know from that the stuff that’s nasty.”

The song is a shout out to those struggling against the vestiges of colonialism still prevalent in Puerto Rico.

They begin the song with a “breathe in” [inhale] let it out Ahhh!

I love the way the various voices are processed.  Torrens sound deeper and Cabám’s voice sounds alien and like it is three voices at once.  The various lines are interspersed with interesting vocals sounds: grunts and screams that punctuate the verses.

It’s a very cool set.

[READ: March 19, 2018] The Rat with the Human Face

In 2014, Angelberger’s first book The Qwikpick Adventure Society was reissued as Poop Fountain.  He then wrote two more books in this trilogy.

This is the second book (written in 2015) and it opens with this

This is the second of three stacks of papers this guy found in a storage room at the old Qwikpick gas station in Crickenburg.  The guy, who asked me not to use his name, called me because one of my old newspaper articles was in the first stack.  (You know I was a reporter before I wrote the Origami Yoda books, right?)

Then he reminds the readers that this book is set in 2000–kids didn’t have iPhones or smartphones.  They didn’t have phones at all and cameras took forever to charge the flash and they drained the batteries fast.

So the entire Qwikpick Adventure Society: Lyle, Marilla and Dave is back, but this story begins with bad tidings–the Qwikpick Adventure Society was disbanded after this adventure.  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: VICENTE GARCÍA-Tiny Desk Concert #701 (February 2, 2018).

Singer-songwriter Vicente García plays a delicate acoustic guitar and has a pretty crooning voice.

The blurb says that he

is still relatively under the radar, but performances like the one he gave at the Tiny Desk are starting to turn some heads.

García’s music isn’t dominated by his native Dominican Republic, but you can hear it in every note. His poetic lyrics are like short stories, sung by a voice both plaintive and evocative, yet always distinct.

“San Rafael” is quite a pretty song echoing the beauty of San Rafael.

Before “A La Mar” (the title of second album which means ‘to the sea’) he introduces [unclear] Vasquez from Dominican Republic on percussion and Ricardo Muñoz from Bogota on the keys.  There’s a neat moment where he plays a harmonic on the guitar in a rather unusual way.  The delicate percussion really adds a lot, as does the bass line plays on the keys.

“Dulcito e Coco” opens with a lovely guitar melody and a close up of the fascinating percussion box that Vazquez is playing–a purple, strangely-shaped box that seems to get different sounds where you strike it.  The song stays quiet throughout although it does get a bit bigger by the end.

 

[READ: November 13, 2017] Silly Rhymes for Belligerent Children

I was so excited to see Trace Beaulieu in person.  Ans even though this book is available everywhere, it was especially neat to buy it from the man himself and get him to autograph it.

It is subtitled A Yucky Big Book of Rainy Day Fun for Belligerent Children & Odd Adults with Nothing Better to Do.  The illustrations are by Len Peralta who apparently has not done anything else I’ve read even though his work looks so familiar and is really good.

So what is this?

Well the title is pretty accurate.  Trace has concocted snarky funny poems.  Most of them are pretty short (and in this format are often two or three lines per page) and accompanied by an illustration). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ARTISTS FROM THE “TAKE ME TO THE RIVER” TOUR-Tiny Desk Concert #692 (January 15, 2018).

This is a touring band playing classic soul.  But I found the modern updates to be unpleasant and almost undermined the tone of the show.  The blurb says:

“Take Me To The River” is a 1974 song from the legendary Al Green and guitarist “Teenie” Hodges. And though it wasn’t a big hit at the time, this song’s mix of religion and desire has become part of pop music’s canon.

Here at the Tiny Desk, some of the original players of this deep southern soul have come together to honor and update this tradition. It’s a celebration of Memphis soul old and new, with 13 musicians wedged behind the desk.

Some of those players of the old include singers Bobby Rush and William Bell; on the Hammond organ, Rev. Charles Hodges and LeRoy Hodges on bass. But it’s what’s new that makes this more than a look back – the addition of southern rappers Frayser Boy and Al Kapone – that truly puts this project on new musical ground.

But it is this update–Frayser Boy and Al Kapone who really ruined this show for me.

I’m not suggesting that the original lyrics to “Push and Pull” are profound.  They are not, but Frayser Bay’s rap is just up front and graphic whereas the original song is more understated (as much as something called “Push and Pull” can be).  Bobby Rush is a great singer and he looks spectacular in his sequined jacket.  Rush has a nice harmonica solo too.  That rap just seemed to come in and mess the whole thing up.

“I Forget To Be Your Lover” suffers from the same problem.  William Bell has a great sound–a cool rough voice.  And the original has this conceit: “I forgot to be your lover and I’m sorry.”  Al Kapone  comes in with a fairly explicit and hardly apologetic rap.  And what’s even stranger is that Rev. Charles Hodges who plays an outstanding organ throughout the show (I loved seeing the organ’s spinning fan that makes the great organ sound), plays really sour notes while Kapone is rapping.  Each verse has this weird nauseating sound. In every other section it sounds amazing, but during the rap it’s almost like he’s commenting on the rudeness of the rap.  The contrast is even more stark when Bell takes back the song mid way through and holds a high falsetto note for about 10 seconds–which really shows his power and range.

The backing vocals by Ashton Riker and Evvie McKinney are a nice touch.   Then on “Take Me to the River” Riker shares lead duties with Bobby Rush and they sound great together.  Riker hits some powerful high notes while Rush keeps it all together.  This is the song that really sells the show.  But look at how uncomfortable Frayser Boy looks during this song.

The rest of the band sounds just fine, playing quiet and understated:  LeRoy Hodges (bass), Edward Cleveland (drums), Andrew Saino (guitar), Jamel Mitchell (sax), Scott Thompson (trumpet), Martin Shore (percussion).

[READ: November 10, 2017] The Talented Ribkins

I saw Ladee Hubbard on Seth Meyers.  She was really interesting (and went to Princeton) and her book sounded fascinating.

On the surface the book is fairly simple, even fairly uneventful. Johnny Ribkin has to come up with $100,000 in a week because he has run afoul of a powerful man.

A few things separate this from similar books.  The first is that over the course of his life, Johnny buried various amounts of money and possessions in random places around the state of Florida.  He should be able to find the money fairly easily.  The reason why he buried all of this is part of the story.

Another thing is that he and his siblings all have special powers.  Not exactly superpowers, but certainly special powers.  And while these powers don’t exactly come into play in the quest, they are ever-present and unavoidable.

So what the heck is going on here? (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JULIEN BAKER-Tiny Desk Concert #690 (January 10, 2018).

Julien Baker joins a handful of artists who have now made a second appearance at a Tiny Desk Concert.  (If they start inviting artists back regularly, they’ll never get ANY work done at the NPR offices).

I was quite enamored with Baker when I watched her first Tiny Desk Concert.  And I was totally smitten with her when I saw her open for The Decemberists.

Julien plays three songs here.  I’m intrigued that in the blurb Bob says “I reached out to ask if she would be willing to do something different this time around.”

It makes it sound as if she’s going to do some kind of dance/electronica show.  But I guess the difference is that last time, she just played electric guitar and this time she mixes up instrumentation and adds a violinist.

The first two songs, “Hurt Less” and “Even,” were accompanied by Camille Faulkner, with Julien on piano for the opening tune and acoustic guitar on the second.

If Julien Baker sounds delicate with just her electric guitar, she’s twice as delicate on piano.  But her voice sounds exquisite–powerful, honest and a little raspy, adding a slight edge.

I love seeing her sticker-covered acoustic guitar as she sings on “Even”:

Putting my fist through the plaster in the bathroom of a Motel 6 / I must have pictured it all a thousand times / I swear to God I think I’m gonna die / I know you were right / I can’t be fixed, so help me

She tends to play her guitar a little louder than the piano, so this one is a bit more dynamic.  The violin adds some aching sounds over the top.

I love that she plays each song in a very different style:

For the final song, Julien put together an arrangement of “Appointments” that begins on electric guitar, which then was looped as a backdrop to her on piano and voice.

It’s always fun watching someone loop guitar melodies.  And I like that she continues to loop long after it seems like the looping is done.  This allows for some of her gorgeous ringing chords.  They continue to ring out as she plays the piano.  It’s even cooler that she can stop parts of the guitar looping while she is completing the song.

All along her voice, which seems so delicate when she starts proves to be really powerful, especially during “Appointments” when she builds to a powerful high.    When I saw her live, she held a really long note that was quite impressive.  Don’t be fooled by the quietness of her music, Julien Baker rocks.

[READ: October 27,2017] Threads of Blue

This is the sequel to Beautiful Blue World, a book I really enjoyed.

In the first book, Mathilde’s country of Sofarende was being attacked by Tyssia.  She was sent to a special location to work on the war effort–they needed precocious children and she was picked for her empathy.  As the book ended, Mathilde followed her empathy and, while their encampment was under siege, released a teenaged prisoner of war because she felt that he was a good person who was just caught up in the war.

This act caused her to leave her group (and her best friend Megs) and to miss the conveyance to safety.

As this book opens, Mathilde wakes up on a boat that is bringing her to the country of Eilean.  She has secret documents and an order to be secretive.

The book picks up right where the previous one left off (I could have used a slight refresher, honestly). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LO MOON-Tiny Desk Concert #688 (January 5, 2018).

WXPN has been playing “This is It” quite a bit lately and I’ve realized that it sounds way too much like Mr. Mister (I think it’s Mr. Mister, or something else cloyingly 80s) for me to really enjoy.  [Speaking of Mr. Mister, how is it possible that Pat Mastelotto, currently touring with King Crimson, was the drummer for Mr. Mister?  Are they better than “Broken Wings.” There’s hardly any drums in that song at all and Mastelotto is awesome].

Anyhow back to the history of Lo Moon, lead singer and instrumentalist Matt Lowell says he created the song “Loveless” 5 1/2 years ago in a basement studio in New York.

He then moved to Los Angeles and linked up with Crisanta Baker (guitar, bass, keyboards and backing vocals) and multi-instrumentalist and principal guitarist Sam Stewart. They spent months in a backyard shed with gear and guitars everywhere. There they learned to feed off each other, sometimes jamming on two-chord drones for six hours straight without even saying a word. With the lights turned down, it was a comfortable space for the band to catch its artistic wind and create a celestial sound.

No word on when Sterling Laws was added as a drummer.

The show starts with “This is It.”  Lowell is on piano, and the song sounds pretty faithful to the recording. It’s the combination of the four note melody and the synth sound of those four notes at the end of the chorus that really rings Mr. Mister to me.  The addition of the backing vocals (ahhhing) is a nice addition to the song.

For “Real Love” Chrisanta switches to piano, Sam switches to acoustic guitar and Matt goes to electric guitar.  He plays a pretty melody on the guitar, but I can’t help feel that his voice is too soft, too middle of the road.

The same is true for “Loveless.”  They switch back to the original instruments.  Like “Real Love” it’s a pretty song, but ironically, without those Mr. Mister notes, there’s really no hook.  The songs just sound like pretty, generic songs on some kind of soft rock station.

[READ: September 9, 2017] Pip Bartlett’s Guide to Unicorn Training

I enjoyed the first Pip Bartlett book.  It was funny and had a good time with magical creatures.

In the first book we find out that Pip Bartlett is a young girl who can speak to magical creatures–unicorns, silky griffins, fuzzles–but no one believes her (because no one else can).  This is a drag because she loves magical creatures and her Aunt Emma is a veterinarian of magical creatures (people know magical creatures exits, they just don’t think people can talk to them).

Pip loves Unicorns and in the past has assisted Mr Henshaw with a very timid Unicorn–Regent Maximus–who was afraid of his own shadow.

I love the tone of the books.  This one opens: I was shoveling Greater Rainbow Mink poop. This wasn’t as bad as you might think. Greater Rainbow Minks only eat brunt sugar, so their poop literally smells like candy.  (It’s NOT candy, of course, It’s very important to remember that no matter how good its smells, it’s still poop).

And then we see (or actually we don’t see) a Rockshine who can only say the word Hey, but most often says “Heyyyyyyyyyyy!”  Rockshines are dull sheeplike creatures who turn invisible when frightened–which is often. (more…)

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