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20SOUNDTRACK: ARTURO O’FARRILL-Tiny Desk Concert #303 (September 14, 2013).

arturo Arturo O’Farrill is not, as I expected, an Irish traditional musician.  He is, in fact, a Latin jazz pianist.  And the blurb states:

Latin jazz works best when the musicians involved are as fluent in Afro-Cuban rhythms as they are in the deep grooves and advanced harmonics of bebop. Arturo O’Farrill has that pedigree in his DNA: His father, Chico O’Farrill, was part of a groundbreaking group of musicians who created the mash-up of Afro-Cuban music and jazz back in late-’40s New York.

The octet you see in this video is a stripped-down version of the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra, which is at least twice as large — don’t think I didn’t try to get the whole band behind Bob Boilen’s desk — and dedicated to both preserving the legacy of the elder O’Farrill and documenting the younger musician’s efforts to move the music forward.

The octet includes trombone, trumpet, sax, bongo, conga, drums, bass and of course, piano.  And they play three pieces (for quite a long set).

“In Whom…” has a good swinging feel with O’Farrill’s piano running wild.  At one point they cut to the conga player and the lady behind him is checking her phone (rudeness even in 2013!).  But it’s not all about the piano, there s sax solo and then a fairly lengthy bass solo.  Indeed there are many bass solo moments in this concert–Arturo certainly shares the spotlight.

The second song is “Compay Doug.”  He explains that “compay” means some who is not family but who is as close as family or maybe even closer.  The main melody has a cool fast/slow riff and then there’s another long bass solo.  There’s some great conga work in the middle of the song ( you can hear the percussionist use a rain stick, too).  Late in the song there a trumpet solo.  So even though this is ostensibly a pianist’s performance, there is much more–but don’t be fooled, his piano playing is intense!

The final song is called “Mass Incarceration Blues.” He says many years ago it was called “Blue State Blues,” then it became “Stop and Frisk Blues” and now it’s called “Mass Incarceration Blues.”  NPR’s Felix Contreras joins them (he ha so many cameos!).  There’s a super fast series of opening piano runs.  Then there’s a surprisingly fun (given the name) staccato melody and lots percussion.  And, as if to get everybody a moment to shine, this song includes a trombone solo, a sax solo and Felix even gets a conga solo.

[READ: July 5, 2016] Goes for the Gold

This book came out in time for the 2016 Summer Olympics, and Babymouse joins the swim team!

The book begins with her doing a fantastic dive (called the Reverse Messy Whisker Dive) only to wake up in her backyard kiddie pool.

Despite her fantasy of doing dramatic dives, she actually spends all of her time after school reading and eating cupcakes.  Her parents insist that she do something–join a team or whatever.  She chooses to join the school swim team, “The shrimps.”  She figures how hard can it be, “I mean, swimming’s not even a real sport.”

Well not when you wear the suit that Babymouse has on.  She is encouraged to wear a proper swimming suit and goggles and a cap (to much amusement of everyone).

But swimming proves to be hard–between trying to go straight, the way the chlorine dries out your fur and the whale living in her locker (Moby-Dick, anyone?), it’s more than just splashing in a pool.

Especially when we see the other team–actual sharks!  And is that a giant squid at  the bottom of the pool?

But The Shrimps are very good and when Felicia Furrypaws dismisses swimming as not even a real sport, Babymouse has second thoughts–or at least would rather stay up late eating cupcakes.  Will she feel guilty about letting her team down?  Of course, she will.

But what will she do about it?

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19SOUNDTRACK: MARTIN HAYES & DENNIS CAHILL-Tiny Desk Concert #269 (March 11, 2013).

hayescahillEven though I have enjoyed much Irish music over the years, I was unfamiliar with Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill.

The blurb says:

You’re about to watch one of the best fiddlers on the planet and a subtle guitar master work their magic. For too many of us, Irish music is something that merely gets trotted out around … St. Patrick’s Day and the coming of spring — and made a cliche by commercialism.

But for a moment, stop, put aside your notion of jigs and reels, and just listen. Martin Hayes plays his fiddle with an exquisite touch and tone, as well as a magnificent sense of melody and rhythm that never ceases to astonish.

Hayes has worked with many accompanying musicians, and some are equal partners, but with Dennis Cahill you get delicate support. It’s a rhythm that keeps the tune in; that accents and colors it but never overtakes it. It’s brilliant restraint that serves the music and perfectly suits his partner. So with fresh ears, come join us in a rare treat with a familiar sound.

And indeed, this is just beautiful fiddle playing and understated guitar work.  It’s a fantastic pair.

They play three pieces (some of which are actually made up of smaller independent pieces).

“The Mountain Lark/Tom Doherty’s Reel” I’m not sure when the first part ends, but I love as they get near the end of the piece—the fast bowing is just great.   Hayes gets some really amazing sounds.

As with many great Irish players, modesty is the key.  He talks about how he learned while watching his father and how he enjoys other players.  He talks about how traditional Irish music is not slavishly about the past, but it incorporates new elements into an old tradition.  As you can tell by the name of the second half of this next pair: “P. Joe’s Reel/The Barack Obama Reel.”

He also says that it’s good to see you get music breaks.  Music breaks should be part of all work—lunch break and music break.  The final piece is in fact a traditional piece called “O’Carolan’s Farewell To Music.”  It was originally written for harp by Turlough O’Carolan and is rumored to be the final piece that O’Carolan played before he died.  The transposition to fiddle and guitar is perfect.

[READ: February 8, 2016] Bad Babysitter

Babymouse continues to delight with the funny stories and amusing spoofs.

This story opens with Babymouse dreaming about “The Old Woman Who Live in a Shoe” (which is instantly transformed into a bunny slipper).  She wakes from her daydream about comics to see an ad for a Super Scooter, only $79.  There’s no way Babymouse’s mom will pay for this, so Babymouse better save up!

The next day at school one of her friends say that there’s a babysitting job available if Babymouse would like it.  Babymouse imagines herself as Mary Poppins until the dream kitten (who looks suspiciously like Felicia Furrypaws) complains about her whiskers.

Babymouse is set to babysit for Mrs Ladybug whose child (she swears) is a sweteahrt and only cries when he is hungry.  And, he should sleep the night. Ha!  He is up all night and, just like with her goldfish, Babymouse overfeeds the baby until it throws up all over her.  This job ends with her watching a zombie movie (called Babysitting Movie) and causing serious damage to the hosts’ house. (more…)

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  desmondSOUNDTRACK: FATHER FIGURES-Tiny Desk Concert #273 (April 29, 2013).

fatherBob Boilen describes Father Figures as “It was brash, zany, brainy, scary and danceable.”  The band formed in NYU around 2007 with Adam Schatz on sax and effects, Jas Walton on sax, Spencer Zahn on upright bass, Ian Chang on drums and Ross Edwards on keyboards.

“Doomed To Fail” is fast and rocking but very jazzy.  The two saxes play fast romping riffs while the keys play along.  Then things slow down as the bass and keyboards play a trippy, spacey-sounding melody (with occasional accents from the saxes).  The middle is noisy and skronky with some great rock bass and drums holding it down.  The song builds and builds to a shrieking climax at which point the drummer gives  few clicks on his snare before the song resumes again for a brief coda

“This Is The Way We Mean” opens with the 2 saxes playing off of each other before the bass comes in and lays a rhythm down.  Then it slows down with more cool, echoing synth sections.  One of the sax players starts playing percussion—including things all over Bob’s desk.

The first two songs are about 5 minutes each, but the last one is ten.  “Where Did You Come From?” opens slowly  and kind of trippy but it slows even further at the 3 minute mark to just some taps on the snare and bass notes.  Saxes come in around six minutes but it’s really fun to watch Chang on drums as he’s quite animated.  This song is interesting because although it keeps building and building, there is no extravagant climax, it fades quietly as it began.

[READ: July 5, 2016] Desmond Pucket and the Cloverfield Junior High Carnival of Horrors

By now, the Desmond Pucket series is in full swing (how can Tatulli write these books as well as a daily comic strip?).  Desmond is headed to 7th grade.  I like that the events of the summer (the previous book) have a huge impact on this book and that things aren’t simply stagnant in the Pucket-verse.

Like the other two books, this one is a really fast read (it’s over 200 pages but feels like it’s about 50).  And it’s chock full of fun illustrations (that are by “Desmond”) as well.

In fact even though Desmond is heading back to the same school, this year he’s a 7th grader–he’s weirded out about being in the same building but in a different hallway (and the dorky outfit he has to wear for going back to school).

When he gets to the first class–writing, their teacher tell them to write something original about what they did that summer–but they can do in whatever style they want.  And so Desmond creates a graphic novel. I love that the graphic novel recaps the previous summer in a great fashion and sets us up for this action of this book.  He gets a B+and is pretty happy about that.  But he is unhappy about the note at the end of the book: The Cloverfield Jr High Carnival of Horrors is to be cancelled this year.

In sum: the junior high principal was awesome. She was open to all kinds of things and realized that the school could make a lot of money with a good haunted house.  And the money they raised went to the library (this book loves libraries so much, I have to sing its praises even more). (more…)

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pfilSOUNDTRACK: MACKLEMORE & RYAN LEWIS-Tiny Desk Concert #254 (December 3, 3012).

mackI missed the whole Macklemore & Ryan Lewis thing when it happened in 2012.  I was vaguely aware of “Thrift Shop,” but really didn’t know much about him until the hype blew up all over the place.

And now four years later, I’m catching up on him and finding it all pretty great.

This Tiny Desk Concert is interesting for a number of reasons.  All of the backing females vocals are prerecorded, but the trumpet is live (I gather that’s Lewis on the mixing board).  And he and the audience really get into it–I’m not sure when he was in his rise at the time of this show.

I gather that all three of these songs were well-known at the time.  But I’d never heard “Same Love” at all before. It is a surprisingly powerful and moving song about gay rights and human rights.  It seems to start out with a different tone altogether—he is scared that he is gay.  But it quickly turns into something much sweeter and loving. It’s actually quite a tear-jerker.  Then he changes the mood entirely.

“Thrift Shop” has an amazingly catchy melody for the chorus.  The vocal line is a sample as well.  And while I have heard the song before I never noticed the “this is fucking awesome” final line, which has been stuck in my head for weeks now.  This song is really funny.  The R Kelly line is hilarious [Probably should’ve washed this, smells like R. Kelly sheets (Pissssss…) But shit, it was 99 cents! ] and the whole bit about paying $50 for a T-shirt is spot on.  He hops around and is full of infectious energy.  There’s a live trumpet solo at the end.  Lewis plays with a set of sleigh bells and then knocks them off to much laughter.

As the song ends he grabs the Emmy and says, “Thank you, we’re outta here.  Peace.”

The final song is “Can’t Hold Us.”   The chorus of that song sounds so familiar.  I’m sure I’ve heard it before but I can’t imagine where (maybe roller skating?).  But man, is it catchy.  For this version, Ray Dalton sings with them.  I guess maybe he’s the guy who sang the original?  It sounds like there’s also a recording going with it, though, so who knows, and who cares.  The live trumpet is a nice touch.

As Bob notes: “The live, sweet, soulful sounds of singer Ray Dalton belting, ‘Like the ceiling can’t hold us’ had Macklemore standing on my desk and shaking the dust off the ceiling tiles.”  It is fun an exhilarating.  And as the show fades, you can hear him ask, “You guys have a shower?”

[READ: February 8, 2016] The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil

Saunders wrote this novella during the Bush administration. But it feels shockingly more relevant now.  This is the story of an unqualified buffoon who takes charge and attempts to force his will on a country.

But in typical Saunders fashion it is over the top and somewhat absurd, except that it is all quite real.

The story is about a small country called Inner Horner.  Inner Horner is so small that only one citizen can stand in it at a time.  The other five citizens must stand in The Short-Term Residency Zone.  Outer Horner is huge with lots of empty space.  The Outer Hornerites don’t really mind the Inner Hornerites being in the Zone, but they didn’t want to offer any of their own land to Inner Horner because, well, what if other countries wanted land too.

Then one day, a seismic shift makes Inner Horner even smaller.  Now only 1/4 of a citizen can fit in Inner Horner at a time.  Leon, an Outer Horner Border Guard noticed that this citizen (whose name was Elmer) was mostly in Outer Horn and he sounded the alarm that meant Invasion in Progress.

The Outer Horner Militia (Freeda, Melvin and Larry) came over and glared at Elmer.  They don’t believe in the shrinking–decent countries don’t shrink.  But the militia doesn’t know what to do.  And then Phil, a guy standing nearby, says why not tax them?

Phil was in love with Carol, a citizen of Inner Horner. But she had married Cal (another Inner Horner citizen) and they had a child, Little Andy.  This made Phil very bitter.  (more…)

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squish-7SOUNDTRACK: CANTUS-Tiny Desk Concert #264 (February 4, 2013).

Cantus is an a capella cantusgroup of nine men with beautiful voices.

The blurb tells that there are many choral groups all over Minnesota (I had no idea):

Is there some kind of weird vocal vortex in Minnesota? The state turns out so many excellent choral groups — at the school, church and professional levels — that it can arguably be dubbed the choral center of the U.S.

Cantus went professional in 2000 and has cut 15 albums on its own label. Unlike some choral groups who specialize in one style of music, Cantus prides itself on diversity. Just take a look at the three songs its members chose for this concert.

“Wanting Memories” is a song steeped in African-American culture, written by Ysaye Barnwell from Sweet Honey in the Rock. “Zikr,” composed by A.R. Rahman — the same guy who scored the hit movie Slumdog Millionaire — has roots in the Sufi tradition, where deep chords and repeated phrases signal a slow burn toward religious ecstasy. And the group closes with German composer Franz Biebl’s gorgeous “Ave Maria,” a signature piece for the group that blends traditional plainsong (or chant) with delicate melody and voluptuous harmonies that ascend heavenward.

I was really impressed with this set.  “Wanting Memories”was very pretty all the way through.  From what I can tell there are two “bass’ singers who hum the melody while the others sing different parts with various harmonies.  (There’s also a shaker keeping rhythm, but that doesn’t count against the acapella in my opinion).  In the middle of the song, the basses stop the humming and sing along (in a fugue style).  The absence of those droning sounds is a dramatic change in the song. They resume the hums and end the song like it began–beautifully.

“Zikr” has incredibly low bass notes–they are genuinely impressive.   There is an occasional drum that adds some Sufi authenticity–but the sound like they have been singing in this style their whole lives.  It’s really impressive that they are doing something that seems so unlike the Minnesotans that they are.  The end of the song speeds things up a bit which is a very cool sound added to a very cool song.

In introducing “Ave Maria” they explain that they started in 1995 with four guys.  They expanded to 7 so they could perform this piece.  This turns out not to be the traditional Ave Maria.  It is very different indeed–with a traditional Latin (not Latin America, but Roman Latin) feel.  And here again there is the amazing deep voice of the bass and some amazing tenors.

It’s amazing how different they sound in each of these three songs–their range is tremendous.  There’s a comment in the blurb about the beauty of the human voice and that is really the case here–their voices are pristine and beautiful.  It’s a marvelous Tiny Desk.

[READ: July 20, 2013] Squish #7

I love the Squish books.  They’re funny and quick and often teach you a thing or two.  I also love that most of the characters are named after real microbes.  And each issue also has a Super Amoeba comic book scattered throughout.

As this book opens, we see Small Pond, where Super Amoeba lives.  Something flies out of the sky and crashes into the pond.

As with every time Squish reads this book though, he is interrupted,  This time it’s to go to school.  His friend Pod is drowsy walking down the street.  He was up late working on his top-secret project.  Squish asks is he can help, and Pod says yes–give him Squish’s Twinkie.

At school the teacher is showing them about acids and bases. The kids are bored until he pours vinegar into baking soda and they all wake up.

The next day on the way to school, sneaky Squish takes a bite out of his Twinkie.  So that when he offers it to Pod, Pod refuses.

But when Squish gets to school, his stomach starts to gurgle and he turns green (literally). (more…)

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squish-6SOUNDTRACK: ALLISON MILLER’S BOOM TIC BOOM-Tiny Desk Concert #223 (June 7, 2012).

boom I hadn’t heard of Miller–who is a drummer primarily in jazz circles.  Although the blurb says that she has also played live with Ani DiFranco so it’s very possible that I saw her play a decade or so ago.

But this band is all about the jazz.   The quartet has an upright bass, piano, sax and of course Miller’s drums and percussion.

And yet for a band which has her name in it, the drums and percussion are not very prominent.  This was a little disappointing as I wanted to hear some wild percussion, it also makes sense since she’s writing these tunes with melodies in mind.

They play three songs. “Big And Lovely” is primarily a sax song with a few moments of piano playing by itself.  The drums are certainly present but they don’t seem like the centerpiece of this song (and I gather they are not meant to).  It is fun to watch Miller play, though—jazz drummers really do seem to smile a lot more than rock drummers.  This was written for Miller’s friend, musician and activist Toshi Reagon.  During the end of the song—when it’s just bass and piano, Miller breaks out all kinds of bells and percussion which is neat.

“Spotswood Drive” is where a man named Walter Salb once lived; “he was a beloved and respected drummer, and by most accounts a larger-than-life character.  His 2006 Washington Post obituary ran with the headline ‘Drum Teacher Was Scurrilous, Rude — and Greatly Admired.'”  Salb was her drum teacher.  She says he was a “mentor and great guy… sometimes great guy.”  The blurb tells us that “Salb’s mentorship remains so important that Miller started a scholarship fund in his name, and recently dedicated a new tune to him — a searching, slow-burning meditation with lots of percussive coloring between the lines.”  It’s a slow song with lots of interesting percussion which sadly doesn’t really make it to the forefront in the song.  There are gongs and bells and other interesting things—its fun to see Miller scrambling around back there to grab different items.   A few minutes in, there’s a cool bass line (which I’d also like to be louder) that rides under the sax.

She introduces “The Itch” by saying “There’s a story behind this too, (laughter) it’s a little personal…”  Bob says you can stop there.  This was my favorite of the songs.  It opens with a Miller playing the floor tom—but the floor tom has all kinds of things on it—a cymbal, bells, a gong of some sort and she hits them all while keeping rhythm on the tom.  Then she gets to do some really snappy drumming—nice paradiddles and whatnot.  It was a little funny to watch the sax player just standing there watching her for the first minute and a half before joining in. After she gets a rhythm going the bass joins in.  The sax and keyboard lines are interesting and a little wonky sounding.  There’s some piano soloing and then a dissonant section with the sax and the keys playing off of each other.

Overall, this was an enjoyable set.

[READ: March 18, 2016] Squish #6

This book is about admitting to your fears.   Everybody in town wants to go see The Water Bear, a scary horror movie–with a great scary poster.  It’s all anyone can talk about.

When they finally get to the movie, I love that the first scare is a cat jumping out at you (classic horror movie trope).  But then everyone is terrified by the genuinely frightening Water Bear.  A footnote informs us that the Water Bear is entirely real.  Fortunately, it is also only 1 mm long (click if you dare)

The movie is super scary and Squish is terrified for days afterward. However, his friend Pod thought it was cool and Peggy thought the kitty was cute (Squish notes that it was cute until it got eaten). (more…)

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pipSOUNDTRACK: DANIEL BACHMAN-Tiny Desk Concert #256 (December 9, 2012).

dan-bach Lars Gotrich, an NPR music dude, loves metal and weird music but also amazing Americana folk guitarists.  Daniel Bachman was an early-twentysomething when he recorded this Tiny Desk Concert.  And he is very impressive indeed.  Lars explains:

His approach to the American Primitive style of acoustic guitar — a sonically vivid fingerpicking technique developed by John Fahey and expanded by the likes of Robbie Basho and, later, Jack Rose and Glenn Jones — is conversational and uplifting, much like the man himself. After a rousing performance of “Honeysuckle Reel” from a forthcoming seven-inch single, however, Bachman turned beet-red in the NPR Music office and said, “I’m not going to lie. I’m pretty nervous.”

He only plays two songs, although each one is about 7 minutes long.  Lars says, “Strap on a pair of heavy boots and “Honeysuckle Reel” becomes an ecstatic dance tune or, at the very least, a foot-stomping good time.”  And he’s right.  It’s really amazing to watch him playing.  He uses a thumb pick and the low notes are constantly going–an incredibly fast rhythm, in contrast to the slower melody he’s playing on the higher strings while finger picking.  It’s a very pretty melody.

The second piece, “Seven Pines,” is slower and more reflective.  It comes from one of two albums he put out in 2012). The simple melody “dives in and out of low-string chord crashes and tumultuous swirls of dizzying fingerpicking.”

The sound he gets from his guitar is really fantastic and while I don’t tend to listen to guitar music like this, I really enjoyed this a lot and would like to hear more from him.

[READ: February 3, 2016] Ava and Pip

Since Tabby and I loved Ava and Tacoocat so much, we knew we had to read the prequel Ava and Pip as well.

This book is set up exactly as Tacocat is (I know that this book came first but since I read the other one first I’m comparing things backwards).

There are diary entries and it starts with Ava on her first day of school.  When she gets home she says that she is the only Ava in her class (which is frankly shocking as there are about 5 in my daughter’s grade).  Then we learn all about the Wren family and their love of palindromes.

Bob and Anna Wren had two daughters named Pip Hannah and Ava Elle.  And her diary entries wind up being chock full of spelled out palindromes (some obvious, others not). (more…)

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