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SOUNDTRACK: LJOVA AND THE KONTRABAND-Tiny Desk Concert #611 (April 14, 2017).

Ljova and the Kontraband play a rollicking blend of gypsy music with a twist.

There’s a viola, an accordion, an upright bass and a hand drum.  And they play rollicking fast trad music as well as delicate sow ballads.

Ljova and the Kontraband embraces Western classical, jazz and an array of international styles including tango and Eastern European and Balkan folk music. These top-flight musicians, who hail from Russia, Lithuania, the U.S. and Switzerland, pile all of these sounds atop of each other with great glee, and emerge with creations that alight on totally new and exciting terrain.

The band is led by the composer, arranger and viola player Ljova (Lev Zhurbin), who comes by this musical eclecticism naturally: the Moscow native, who comes from a family heavily involved in the arts, has worked with an astonishingly wide and starry group of collaborators, including Jay Z, the Bollywood queen Asha Bhosle and cellist Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble. In this Kontraband setting, he and his bandmates (including Ljova’s wife, the preternaturally sweet-voiced, Lithuanian-born singer Inna Barmash) create performances of deep earthiness, fragile tenderness, ebullient humor and quicksilver shifts in texture.

“Love Potion, Expired” is one of those fast songs with twists and turns and all kinds of solos.  The middle section is practically a percussion solo by Mathias Künzli (from Switzerland).  While the strings and accordion are sort of fiddling away on a couple of notes, Künzli (on his box drum) plays a sophisticated solo on the box which also includes all manner of percussion–cymbals, clackers, shakers, finger cymbals and other things that clatter (he even includes his thigh at one point).

It’s followed by an appropriately wild accordion solo (and that instrument is gorgeous) by Patrick Farrell (from Michigan).  The song is played at breakneck speed and is really fun.

The second song introduces us to Inna Barmash (Ljova’s wife). She explains that “Ven Ikh Zol Hobn Fligelekh (If I Had Wings)” is a Yiddish folk song from Western Ukraine.  She says the beginning of the poem is translated as “If I had wings I would fly to you if i had chains I would pull you to me.”  It id played as pizzicato and strummed viola while Inna sings.

But the heart of their Tiny Desk Concert was the song “By the Campfire,” whose words have a long, strange history that goes back to the Middle Ages. The words originally come from 12th-century Germany; Ljova’s grandfather, a noted translator, translated this poem from German to Russian, which Ljova uses in his musical setting.

Barmash gave us her own English translation of this unsettling, stunning, and perhaps even prophetic text: “Lies and spite command the world / Suffocate its consciousness, / Truth is poisoned, dead is law / Honor killed — obscene extolled! / … And the wisdom of our days / Teaches theft, deceit and hate.”

There are a couple of parts to this song.  As it begins, the accordion sounds like flutes.  Barmash sings beautifully for a few verses.  And then in the middle she sings a long sustained note that seems to signal the band to start on a chaotic section with everyone playing things crazily for a few seconds.  Then she does another long note and the song turns into traditional Russian type of dance.  There are many parts and this song goes through all of them.

Before the final song Ljova apologizes for disturbing their lunch.  “Walking on Willoughby” was written by Patrick, it’s a fun, wild polka that’s seven minutes long.   There are many parts to this song as well.  At times the viola and accordion play off of each other.  There’s several opportunities from each of them to solo held together by that thumping bass by Jordan Morton (from Syracuse).

The middle slows down to a one two count as the accordion plays a disjointed sounding solo.  There’s even more after that as this song just spirals in all directions.

[READ: July 10, 2016] Lunch Lady and the Schoolwide Scuffle

This appears to be the final book of the Lunch Lady series.  The book ends on something of a cliffhanger but to the best of my knowledge, no book has come out after this one.

But don’t be sad because this is a very satisfying conclusion.

As we left book 9, Lunch Lady had been fired.  She is so despondent that when the opening pages feature bad guys doing bad things, she’s not even there to stop them. It’s the fifth bank to be robbed in two weeks and Lunch Lady is just lounging about eating ice cream.  Egads!

But even worse, the school is a shambles–the superintendent has put a portrait of herself in every room (even the bathrooms).  Te teachers have been replaced by convicts, the principal has been replaced by Mr Edison who was put away in book 3 and even more shocking, Milmoe is being nice to them–he realizes he’s in over his head as student council president. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DELICATE STEVE-Tiny Desk Concert #606 (March 24, 2017).

Delicate Steve is Steve Marion.  He plays instrumental music with great “vocal lines” that come from his guitar.

On record he plays everything himself, but for this concert he brought a backing band.  So the bass (Jessica Pavone) and acoustic guitar (Jon Wiley) play a fairly simple song structure while Steve plays gorgeous lead lines (often using a glass slide to create cool sounds and voices).  The drums area also particularly cool in these songs as drummer Max Jaffe really goes to down on the electronic drums he’s playing.

On the four songs, Steve has a Panasonic FM/AM Premium Stereo Cassette hi-fi, to plug his trusty custom guitar into.

“Afria Talks To You” is a great rocking song (the drums are particularly booming) and the backing music plays some big chords while Steve makes some great soloing throughout. I particularly love that his solos are just showing off, they are genuinely enjoyable melodies.

“Winners” has a delightfully upbeat almost cartoony sound for the first melody, before it switches into a really groovy sound (there’s also a middle section that sounds an awful lot like “Mrs Robinson” (think: “Look around you all you see are sympathetic eyes,” even the bass is the same), but the rest of the song is quite unique and really fun.

“Tomorrow” is a slow groovy song with some fun bass to start with.  Then there’s a great guitar line on top.  I really love the way these songs all seem to have so many things going on in them.  The middles section turns into a different type of song entirely without sounding like it’s disconnected.  There’s also some kind of synth coming through–although maybe its just his guitar making extra sounds?

Introducing the final song “Night Life” Steve says “We took all the words out because Bob said there were no microphones”.  This is perhaps the simplest melody of all of the songs.  But it doesn’t take away from the quality of the song overall.  The end is very funny because you know it’s supposed to end on a chord but he halts it without playing it….it just hangs there feeling unfinished.

He jokes, “we’ll play that chord next time.”  You hear Bob say “we gotta wait five years?”

Instrumental music can be a challenging prospect, but Delicate Steve makes incredibly catchy songs that don’t suffer in any way from a lack of words.

[READ: July 8, 2016] Lunch Lady and the Video Game Villain

Book 9 opens with Lunch Lady saving the day with some deadly honey mustard.

But this book is all about elections. And video games!

Turns out that Hector is distracted from running for student council president because he can’t find his X Station Mobile anywhere.  But he needs to focus on the campaign because bully Milmoe is running and has already spent a ton of money on banners and cookies and everything else that makes elections so much fun.

But beyond the elections, there’s a lot happening in the school.  A lot of electronics are missing although we see Gavin Computo has a new e-reader (and he’s rather smug about it).

News is also out that the new superintendent Eliza von Grindheimer (not Betsy DeVos) will soon be revolutionizing the schools.  She will be investigating their school soon. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RED BARAAT’S HOLI CELEBRATION-Tiny Desk Concert #604 (March 13, 2017).

Red Baraat is one of a few bands who have now made a second appearance on Tiny Desk.  This return is to celebrate Holi.  And celebrate they do!

I’m not really sure how to categorize Red Baraat’s music.  They are based around a traditional drum (the dhol) and yet they play a kind of jazz with lots of brass, but they also use a guitar and lots of percussion.

In the first song “Sialkot” they march through the audience playing the music until they get behind the stage. Once they settle in, the guitarist is using a bow (making some very cool sounds) and in the middle of the first song he’s all over the whammy bar.

So what does the blurb say:

Red Baraat’s fusion of bhangra, go-go, hip-hop and jazz is driven by frontman Sunny Jain’s percolating playing of the dhol, a double-sided drum which forms the rhythmic lattice of support for their boisterous horns and guitar. And though Red Baraat graced the Tiny Desk five years ago, we had to have Jain’s band back to celebrate Holi, the Hindu festival of color, of good over evil, and the coming of spring. Usually you’d see the dusting of brightly colored perfumed powders strewn in the air, covering bodies and clothing. The notion of doing that in the office was a fun thought, but the band (with my nudging) opted instead for confetti cannons and passing candied treats. It made for quicker cleanup, but their uplifting spirits lingered on, giving us a chance to shake off the final days of winter and demonstrating why music is so essential to the soul.

The second song is “Zindabad.” I love watching the sousaphone player who is really into the music.  And there is so much great percussion from the two drummers.

“Bhangale” opens with some super fast chanting from Jain and then some really fun chanting from everyone.  There’s so many cool moments in between the main horn playing where the guitarist is just playing these wild noisy guitar sounds. And then some really fast guitar solos.   There is so much chanting and singing amid the music that the joy is infectious.

  I had listened to the final song “Se Hace Camino” without seeing the title and I thought that they were singing in Spanish, which they apparently are.  This song has an almost ska feel, it’s so fast.  And again the fun is infectious, especially when the confetti starts flying all over the room.

I need to get involved in a proper Holi celebration next year.

Red Baraat is: Sunny Jain (dhol, vocals); Rohin Khemani (percussion); Chris Eddleton (drums); Sonny Singh (trumpet, vocals); Jonathan Goldberger (guitar); Jonathon Haffner (soprano sax); Raymond James Mason (trombone); Steven Duffy (sousaphone)

[READ: July 6, 2016] Lunch Lady and the Picture Day Peril

As Book 7 ends, Hector has a huge zit on his nose.  And picture day is coming up!  But before we can get to the photographic evidence, Lunch Lady has to stop the bad guys from stealing people’s lunch money–from an ATM.

But back to the Breakfast bunch.  Both Hector and now Terrence are covered in acne.  An it’s picture day.  The student council president tries to give everyone makeup for the photos, but Dee wants nothing to do with it.  It turns out that lots of kids are covered in acne so they start blaming the greasy food from lunch lady.  She rightly points out that the “link” between zits and greasy food is just a myth.  But clearly something has caused this outbreak.

The photographer comes into school and she is chic and fabulous. She loves meeting the “guybrarian” and fawns over lunch Lady’s look. (more…)

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  SOUNDTRACK: GARY BURTON-Tiny Desk Concert #318 (November 9, 2013).

Gary Burton has been on a Tiny Desk Concert before with Chick Corea.  I really enjoyed Burton then, and I enjoyed him even more this time.

Burton is a vibes player and he and guitarist Julian Lage play a delightful jazzy set.

I love the sounds of vibes already, but I really love the playing method—two mallets in each hand, spread to play a chord in each hand.  Its mesmerizing.

The first song is called “Out Of The Woods.”  The guitar is pretty and a delicate accompaniment.  Half-way through the guitar gets a solo and it’s interesting that the vibes seems to fade a bit even though he’s still going strong.

The second song “Remembering Tano” is dedicated to Arthur Piazollo, the master, whose nickname was Tono.  It has a very different feel with a mellow guitar solo at the end.

When Bob asks him about his playing style, he agrees that “4 sticks doesn’t look possible.”  But he explains that the vibes look like a piano keyboard, but the  advantage of this instrument is the visual impact it has for listeners.   He says that early xylophone players in 19-teens an 1920s played with four mallets a fair amount and then it went out of style.  He started playing in 1949 when he was 20 yeas old.   He grew up ion a farm town in Indiana by himself and when he played, it sounded empty so he needed harmonies.  Hence, four mallets.

The final piece was written for the show and is called “The Tiny Desk Blues.”  And it is fun and bluesy 3 fun and bluesy with a great vibes solo in between some nice guitar solos.

Vibes are definitely my favorite jazz instrument.

[READ: July 5, 2016] Lunch Lady and the Mutant Mathletes

As forewarned in Book 6, the Breakfast Bunch is serving a punishment for bailing on a field trip (true, it was to solve a crime, but such is the life of a secret super hero).  Their punishment is to join the mathletes team.

Before that we get a short episode of Lunch Lady foiling the bad guys from stealing ice cream from a family.  It’s the first time I’ve had to wonder if it’s the same bad guys every time.  From their reactions, I they are.

Lunch Lady feels bad that the kids are forced to join the mathletes so she makes cookies for the team.

While things are going on with the mathletes we see that angry janitor Mr Kalowski is more angry than ever. (more…)

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Frank Conniff–Twenty Five Mystery Science Theater 3000 Films That Changed My Life in No Way Whatsoever (2016)

tvfrankSOUNDTRACK: TA-KU & WAFIA-Tiny Desk Concert #576 (November 6, 2016).

Ta-ku & Wafia are Australian, and I knew nothing else about them.  So:

The chemistry between Australian singer-producer Ta-ku and his fellow Aussie singer-songwriter Wafia becomes apparent the instant you hear their voices intertwined in song. On their first collaborative EP, (m)edian, they draw on their individual experiences to touch on subjects like compromise in relationships as they trade verses and harmonize over hollow melodies.  With production characterized by weary low-end rumbles and resonant keys, the two float above the music, playing off each other’s harmonies.

Although the blurb mentions a few bands that the duo sounds like I couldn’t help thinking they sound The xx (although a bit poppier).

“Treading Water” especially sounds like The xx.  Both of their voices sound really close to that band (although Wafia’s high notes and r&b inclinations do impact that somewhat).  It’s funny that they are just sitting there with their eyes closed, hands folded singing gently.

“Me in the Middle” is another pretty, simple keyboard song with depth in the lyrics and vocals.

Introducing, “Love Somebody,” she says its their favorite on their EP and he interjects Go but it now, which makes her giggle.  Her voice is really quite lovely.  I could see them hitting big both in pop circles and in some alternative circles if they market themselves well.

[READ: November 10, 2016] 25 MST3K Films that Changed My Life in No Way Whatsoever

As you might guess from the title, Frank Conniff was involved with MST3K.  He was TV’s Frank and, as we learn from this book, he was the guy who was forced to watch every movie first and decide whether it could be used for the show.  This “job” was created because they had watched a bit of Sidehackers and decided it would be fun to use.  So Comedy Central bought the rights (“They paid in the high two figures”) and then discovered that there was a brutal rape scene (“don’t know why I need to cal it a ‘brutal’ rape scene any kind of rape ,loud or quiet, violent or Cosby-style, is brutal”) that would sure be hard to joke about (they edited it out for the show which “had a minimal effect on the overall mediocrity of the project.”

The book opens with an FBI warning like the videotapes except for this book it stands for Federal Bureau of Incoherence because the document contains “many pop culture references that are obscure, out of date, annoying and of no practical use to anyone.”   So each chapter goes through and explains these obscure references for us all. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: AGNES OBEL-Tiny Desk Concert #598  (February 15, 2017).

Agnes Obel recently played a show near me, but it wasn’t until after I watched this show that I realized I should have gone to see her.

Agnes Obel, a Danish singer and writer of deeply alluring music, brought her work into what you could call its opposite — an office in the daylight. While the setting is a bit contrary to her carefully plotted, vocally dense songs, she mapped out a strategy which included her own reverb and monitor mix in the (successful, I think) hope of giving the Tiny Desk an aesthetic more suitable to these focused and powerful songs.

Obel plays three songs from Citizen of Glass alongside her band, keeping it sonically spare.  “It’s Happening Again” opens with fairly standard-sounding piano chords.  Then Obel’s voice kicks in and it’s unique–not weird, but with a cool almost detached delivery.  Accompanying her is a cellist and keyboardist.  They each sing backing vocals (along with a third backing vocalist).  When they all sing together, it is magical–sometimes creepy, sometimes beautiful.  The song builds to the end with all of the strings growing louder as the cello plays some wild, sliding sounds.  It is quite striking.

For “Golden Green,” the cellist switches to percussion (which is a kind of clacky ball that she throws in the air).  The main melody comes from the mellotron.  Once again when the backing vocalists kick, in everything is magical, especially the way the final note ends with a dramatic rise in pitch from all of the singers.

On “Stone,” the mellotron player switches to (electric) ukulele.  The melody comes from the uke and it is quite quiet until the chord when the cello and keyboard adds some deep bass notes that seem to overwhelm the room–quite dramatic and quite lovely.

[READ: December 1, 2016] Bandette Volume Three

Bandette Volume Three is just as much fun as books one and two.  It opens with Bandette getting shot at as she gives her little dog Pimento an important note for Daniel.  Daniel calls her and she proceeds to tell him about an upcoming heist (while she is still being shot at).  She says that there is a fabulous emerald on display.  An emerald that was once owned by Madame Presto: fabulist, mesmerist, woman of impudent morals.

And later that night (after she easily dispatches the bad guys) she goes to that special event and steals… a film about Madame Presto.

The next night several people (and a dog) are hit with sleeping darts from a new villain–Dart Petite. (more…)

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  SOUNDTRACK: DANA FALCONBERRY-Tiny Desk Concert #292 (July 29, 2013).

This Tiny Desk Concert introduced me to Dana Falconberry:

Dana Falconberry’s songs are gentle, almost invariably delicate, sometimes mysterious and frequently feather-light. But her music’s sweet, intricate softness never stands in for strength: This is a confident songwriter, whether she’s ambling through six- and seven-minute epics (“Leelanau,” “Dolomite”) or chirping sweetly in the bouncy “Crooked River.”

The compositions on Falconberry’s most recent album, last year’s Leelanau, are sturdy enough to be stripped down for a space like Bob Boilen’s desk at the NPR Music offices. But each benefits immeasurably from the broad assortment of lovely flourishes she re-creates here with the help of five instrument-swapping backing players. What makes Falconberry stand out in a crowded field of singer-songwriters is her music’s unfailing impeccability, and this Tiny Desk Concert finds her and her crack band hitting every immaculately crafted mark.

I tend to agree with the blurbs, but this one really is spot on: delicate, impeccable, sturdy.  These are words I would absolutely use to describe these songs.  I would also use fantastical–not suggesting that there might be fairies floating around during these songs, but it wouldn’t surprise me if one made an appearance.

“Dolomite” is a beautiful 7 minute song with many different sections.  Falconberry’s delicate (but not wimpy, it must be said) voice works perfectly with the capoed guitar she’s playing.  After the first verse, she’s joined by a cello, banjo and backing vocals, and the song builds.  Then after almost 2 minutes the bass and drums jump in and the song, while staying basically the same, gets a whole new feel (the bassline is staccato and unexpected while everything else is so smooth).  At around 3 and a half minutes the keyboards start adding these pretty little runs that make the song seem even more magical.  The middle of the song has the three female singers rotating through a  series of oohs and ahs as they make a cool-sounding fugue.

For “Crooked River,” the bassist switches to melodica.  Once again there’s a great sequence where each of the female singers sings one note in a very complex melody–it’s quite enchanting.  The cello is plucked giving the whole song a very different feel from the first.

Before the final song Bob asks if she has had any desk jobs.  She says she has had her fair share.  “I currently have a desk job…I hope. We’ll see when I get home.”

For Leelanau, the keyboardist switches to accordion, and there is prominent banjo and delicate melodica.  The verse is really quite catchy, and after the verse there is a gently rocking section where everyone joins together–it bursts forth in contrast to the rest.  It is repeated a few times throughout the song, and each one is more fun than the previous.  The middle has a kind of slow break down with the cello scratching and the melodica and accordion sounding like they are running out of breath.  Dana even hit’s Bob’s gong.  The accordion is even “breathing” without making a musical note.  The song returns to that super catchy verse and jam section and just as you think its going to fade to an end, there’s very cool chime that echoes and then a huge buildup to the conclusion.

I was so entranced by Falconberry’s music that I need to hear more of it.

[READ: September 19, 2016] Bandette 2

Two years ago I wrote about Bandette Volume 1: “The book was very exciting and sweetly charming as well.  I’m looking forward to Volume 2.”  And I waited and waited for it to come out.  I even saw Vol 1 the other day and wondered when we’d get volume 2.  Well, apparently this has been out since 2015, but the library just acquired it.  So I’m happy to say it’s not my fault it took two years for me to get around to reading it.

Even though I didn’t exactly remember how book 1 had ended, Tobin & Coover added a helpful “Previously” section to get us caught up.

The wit and charm of the first book is back in spades. Bandette continues to be seemingly immune to the world around her–she says what she wants and does what she wants and no resistance will get in her way–whether it is verbal sparring or her uncanny gravity-defying stunts.  Her love of chocolate remains as well, of course.  And the tone retains that agelessness.  It feels like this book could have been written in the 1950s but for the cell phones and scooters.

Chapter One reminds us that Bandette is a civilizan as well  She has dark hair and a love of pastries–she even gives the bakery owner priceless urn (from where) as payment for the delicious sweets. (more…)

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