Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Short Story’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: TAIMANE-Tiny Desk Concert #955 (March 6, 2020).

This Concert opens with super fast percussive guitar. No!  Not a guitar, a six-string ukulele!

Taimane wears a crown of flowers.  There are flowers in front of the desk and in other places.  Taimane is from Oahu Hawaii so this love of colorful flowers makes a lot of sense.

So much magic unfolded in such short order. Within the first moments of Taimane’s stunning set, we hear her play fiery flamenco, a famous phrase from the opera Carmen, a touch of Bach and more than a nod to her Hawaiian homeland, all on her ukulele.

As she plays, this medley of “Carmen,” “E Ala Ē,” and “Jupiter” Ramiro Marziani adds some guitar and then Jonathan Heraux adds in percussion on the cajon.

After a brief introduction the Marziani stars playing the bass line to Carmen and she starts playing the lead on her uke.  She also plays an amazingly fast flamenco “solo” on the uke.

The playing and percussive style are not unlike Rodrigo y Gabriela.

As Taimane starts singing, violinist Melissa Baethoven adds harmony vocals and then Li’o comes out to do a Polynesian dance.

In what is a first at the Tiny Desk, a dancer named Li’o performed in a hau skirt made from dried lauhala leaves, with a lei of white conch wrapped around his neck. His Polynesian dance, along with the stick percussion, added to the beauty and the intensity.

After a brief cajon solo, Li’o returns without the skirt to show off his impressive legwork as he dances to a super fast ukulele melody.

Taimane is a an amazing ukulele player.  She began playing ukulele at age five; these days, it’s seemingly become an extension of her body.

Taimane has five albums out.  She

chose to represent the elements of the earth on her latest album, Elemental, and she brought the most feisty of those elements to the Tiny Desk: “Fire.” This music draws inspiration from Cuban traditions, with moments that are sensual as well as ecstatic.

This song is fast and fiery, including some impressively fast strumming from Taimane.  Then Ramiro takes a solo as everyone claps along.  Then after another impressive solo from Taimane, things slow down: “this is the sexy part,” she says.

The final song came as surprise because she does not play anything, she sings.  This is a lovely slow song called “Maluhia” which means peace.  It’s like a delicate cool down after the fire of the previous song.

I never knew a ukulele could sound like that.  I realize that this is a six-string and is considerably larger than a tiny four-string, but it’s still amazing to hear (and see).

[READ: March 29, 2020] “The Interpretation of Dreams”

This is a fascinating story set in 1924.  A thirty-three year old man, Gūnter Zeitz tracks down Sigmund Freud to talk to him.

Freud has a lisp and seems cranky to be interrupted by Zeitz.  But Zeitz starts flattering Freud’s ego and starts talking about dreams.  And by the end of the conversation, Gūnter says what he has wanted to: “I want to be a psychoanalyst, and I am hoping you will train me.”

Freud agrees and says the training will consist of Gūnter’s own analysis and Freud will be his analyst. (more…)

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACK: KIRILL GERSTEIN-Tiny Desk Concert #957 (March 11, 2020).

I can’t really keep track of classical pianists. There are so many who are truly amazing.  But I love hearing them.  I also like it when they have a good sense of humor, which most of them seem to have.

The last time pianist Kirill Gerstein was at NPR we gave him a full-size, grand piano to play in a big recording studio. But for this Tiny Desk performance, we scaled him down to our trusty upright. “What will you ask me to play the next time,” he quipped, “a toy piano?”

Even if we had handed him a pint-sized instrument, I’m sure Gerstein could make it sing. Just listen to how Chopin’s lyrical melodies, built from rippling notes and flamboyant runs, flow like a song without words in Gerstein’s agile hands.

What sets Gerstein apart?  Perhaps its his connection to jazz.

The 40-year-old pianist, born in Voronezh, Russia, taught himself to play jazz by listening to his parents’ record collection. A chance meeting with vibraphonist Gary Burton landed him a scholarship to study jazz at Boston’s Berklee College of Music. At age 14, Gerstein was the youngest to enroll at the institution.

He opens the set with Chopin: “Waltz in A-flat, Op. 42.”  It is fast and amazing with some slow, jaunty parts.  Near the end, wow, doe he pound out those bass chords.

Before the second piece he says that it hasn’t been heard on a recording yet–it’s a newly written piece by Thomas Adès.  Two lovers want to hide in the closet and … sleep with each other.  They emerge dead in the morning, so its lascivious and morbid and a very beautiful piece.

The Berceuse for solo piano was written for Gerstein by Thomas Adès, adapted from his 2016 opera The Exterminating Angel. The work, both brooding and beautiful, receives its premiere recording at the Tiny Desk.

It is slow and beautiful, full of sadness and longing.  Until the end when the bass comes pounding and rumbling, full of ominous threat and dread.  And listen to how long he lets those last bass notes ring out!

Up next is a piece by Liszt who I am particularity fond of (even if I only know a few of his pieces).  Gerstein says that Liszt is perhaps the greatest composer that ever touched the instrument.  There are several hundred not famous pieces.  This is a late piece called “A quick Hungarian march.”  Technically it’s called “Ungarischer Geschwindsmarsch”

Gerstein follows by dusting off a truly neglected – and quirky – Hungarian March by Franz Liszt. To my knowledge it’s been recorded only once.

It is jaunty and spirited until the middle where it goes back and forth between fast runs and bouncy melodies.

Since I hadn’t read about his jazz background the first time I listened to this concert I was really surprised when he said he’d be playing the Gershwin-Earl Wild standard “Embraceable You” which he says is for dessert at this lunchtime concert.

Gerstein’s jazz background is still close to his heart. Which brings us to his lovely-rendered closer: Gershwin’s “Embraceable You,” arranged by the American pianist Earl Wild.

Like all master performers, Gerstein gives you the illusion that he’s making it all up as he goes along, even though the virtuosic transcription is intricately mapped out. And somehow, he makes that upright piano sound nine feet long.

It really does sound like he is working on the fly–playing beautiful runs. It’s hard to imagine transcribing and learning all of those notes instead of just improvising them, but that’s what make a great pianist, I guess.

[READ: November 2019] The Abyss

I saw this book at work and thought, a turn of the 20th century Russian author writing about the Abyss?  What’s not to like?

I had not heard of Leonid Andreyev, perhaps because much of his work has not been translated into English.  He died in 1919 and is considered “the leading exponent of the Silver Age of Russian literature.”

This book was translated by Hugh Aplin and it is remarkable how contemporary these stories sound (aside from obviously nineteenth and twentieth century details).

Bargamot and Garaska (1898)
Bargamot was a policeman–a big, thick-headed policeman.  His superiors called him numskull.  But the people on the streets he looked after were quite fond of him because he knew the area and what he knew he knew very well.  This story is set on Easter Saturday night.  People would soon be going to church.  But he was on duty until three o’ clock and he wouldn’t be able to eat until then. The day was going smoothly and he would soon be home until he saw Garaksa, clearly drunk, heading his way: “Where he had managed to get sozzled before daylight constituted his secret, but that he had got sozzled was beyond all doubt.”  Bargamot threatened to send Garaska to the station, but Garaska talked to him about the festivities of the day and was about to present to him an egg (a Russian custom).  But Bargamot’s rough handling smashed the egg.  This story turns surprisingly tender and sad, with a rather touching final line.

A Grand Slam (1899)
This has nothing to do with baseball.  It is about a card game called Vint, which is similar to bridge.  For six years these four people have been playing it: fat hot-tempered Maslennikov (whose name is Nikolai Dmitriyevich, we find out about five pages in) paired with old man Yakov Ivanovich and Yevpraksia Vasilyevna paired with her gloomy brother Prokopy Vailyevich.  Dmitriyevich desperately wanted a grand slam but he had been paired with Yakov Ivanovich who never took risks. Ivanovich was very conservative and never bet more than four–even when he ran an entire trick, he never bet more than four–you never know what might happen. They speak of news and local happenings (like the Dreyfus Affair), but Dmitriyevich stays focused on the game because his cards are lining up for a Grand Slam.  As he goes for that last card, he falls out of his chair, presumably dead.

Silence (1900)
This story is divided into sections.  Fr. Ignaty and his wife need to speak with their daughter Vera. They have a fight and Fr. Ignaty refuses to speak to her any more.  Soon enough she goes out and throws herself under a train [I would hate to be a train conductor in Russia].  In Part II silence has fallen over the house.  In Part III he tries to talk to his wife about his feelings and his sadness over their daughter, but she remains silent.  In the final part, Fr Ignaty finally breaks down.  But is it the silence that has gotten to him?

Once Upon a Time There Lived (1901)
Laventy Petrovich was a large man. He went to Moscow for someone in the city to look at his unusual illness.  He was a silent and morose man and he specifically asked for no visitors.  The hospital assigned Fr. Deacon to him.  Fr. Deacon was another patient, unfailingly positive.  He and Petrovich were at opposite sides of the spectrum.  But even as it became clear that Fr. Deacon was deathly ill, he remained positive.  Until Petrovich told him that the doctors said that Fr. Deacon has a week to live.  There was also a young student who was daily visited by the girl he loved.  They liked Fr deacon and did not like Petrovich. I’m not sure if the ending is a surprise, but it is certainly sudden with happiness doled out in very specific ways.

A Robbery in the Offing (1902)
That night there was to be a robbery and maybe a murder.  A man, alone with his thought is scared by nearly everything–he is very jumpy because he is the one about to do the robbery.  The man was frightened by a noise until he saw it was a little puppy.  The puppy was shivering and the man tried to frighten him to get him to go home. But the puppy seemed too ignore him.  So began the battle of wits between a big strong man and a tiny freezing puppy.  Imagine a man with a robbery in the offing worrying about a little puppy.

The Abyss (1902)
Two young lovers went for a walk.  Zinochka was 17 and very much in love.  Nemovetsky was 21 and similarly in love.  They wandered into an area they didn’t recognize and happened upon three men.  The men punched Nemovetsky and knocked him out then they chased Zinochka . When he came to, he found her body, naked but still alive.  This was a hard story to read.

Ben Tobit (1903)
This was one of the first stories in the book that I really really liked.  It is set on the day of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion.  On that day, Jerusalem merchant Ben Tobit had a terrible toothache.  Ben was a kind man and did not like injustice, but it was hard to be kind with this much pain.  His wife tried to help by giving him various medicines (like purified rat droppings). She then tried to distract him when the thieves came trudging past on their way to the crucifixion site.  It distracted him somewhat but mostly didn’t interest him.  She said, “They say he healed the blind.”  He replied, “If only he’d cure this toothache of mine!.”  The next day he felt better and they walked to the site to see what they missed.

Phantoms (1904)
Yegor Timofeyevich had gone mad so his relatives collected money to send him to a clinic.  He knew he was in a madhouse but also knew that he could make himself incorporeal and walk wherever he wanted.  He was exceedingly happy. There was a patient who would continually knock on any locked door.  He would walk through all the unlocked doors but when he got to a locked one he would knock and knock and knock.

There was a doctor’s assistant the hospital named Maria Astafeevna, whom Yegor was certain liked him.  He thought very highly of her.  But another man Petrov could say nothing nice about her.  He felt that she was like all women: debauched deceitful and mocking. This attitude upset Yegor tremendously.  Maria was actually in love with Dr Shevyrov. But she hated that he went to Babylon–where he drank three bottles of champagne each night until 5 AM.  She imagined that one day she would ask to be his wife bit only if he stopped going there.

The man Petrov was also terrified of his mother, believing that she had bribed officials to lock him up. He would become hysterical when she would visit.  It was only Yegor’s assurances to her that her son was a decent man that made her feel okay.

Most days things went on exactly the same, the same faces, the same conversation and the same knocking.

The Thief (1904)
Fyodor Yurasov was a thrice-convicted thief.  While on the train, even though he had plenty of money, he stole a gentleman;s purse.  As he tried to blend in, he imagined everyone thought he was an honest, young German (he came up with the name Heinrich Walter).  But when he tried to be civil, everyone ignored him.  Some were downright rude to him.  Later when he hears that the gendarme are looking for someone, he assumed it is he.

Lazarus (1906)
This story looks at what Lazarus’ life was like after he came back–appearing a few days dead and with a shorter temper.  People understood and forgave him, but still.  Soon, however, people began to avoid him and claimed that all of the madmen in the village were people whom Lazarus had looked upon.   It’s such an interesting (if exceeding dark) tale that no one bothered to investigate before.

A Son of Man (1909)
As Fr. Ivan Bogoyavlensky grew older he grew more disatisfied with his role in life.  He wanted to remove his surname and replace it with a five-digit number (The church elders assumed he’d gone mad).  He then bought a gramophone and listened only to stories of Jewish and Armenian life.  His wife hated it and it drove their puppy mad (?!).  Indeed he kept trying to get the puppies to listen to the gramophone and they consistently went crazy and eventually died.  The church sent a deacon to help Fr Ivan through this but he the deacon and Fr Ivan butted heads immediately.  Fr Ivan began mocked everything about their religion.

Incaution (1910)
A priest arrived at a railway station and saw a steam engine for the first time. There was no one around, so he climbed aboard.  It wouldn’t be dangerous to flick some switches and pull some levers.  Would it?

Peace (1911)
A dignitary was dying and an devil–an ordinary devil–came to his bedside offering him eternal life in hell.  The man didn’t want to suffer but the devil said that suffering was terrible until you got used to it and then it was nothing.  The devil makes a stronger and stronger case if only the man would take this pen and sign.

Ipatov (1911)
Nikolai Ipatov was a rich merchant who went bankrupt. Soon he became silent and despondent.  The local priest chastised him saying that the house of god was a house of joy.  He refused to let the merchant back in until he grew happy again.  Which he didn’t.  Eventually his children took over the situation and and put his house up for sale.  But when someone came to look at the house, they heard Ipatov’s moaning and grew existential realizing that a man without guilt could still be afflicted this way.

The Return (1913)
The narrator had been in a cell n St Peterburg for three years because of a political incident.  His wife, who was supposed to be waiting for him in a hotel room had stepped out with another man.  He hired a cab to follow them.  They kept driving around and around, some streets seeming to stretch on endlessly.  Then the cab driver told him that they had been at the same intersection many times.  He finally arrived at the gate and when he banged on it, who should open the gate but his prison guard.

The Flight (1914)
Yury Mikhailovich was an experienced pilot.  Twenty eight flights and no troubles.   He always felt, “If I crash, I crash, nothing to be done about it.”  Despite everything he had on earth, he longed to be up ion the sky…possibly forever.  It’s incredible that Andreyev wrote a story like this in 1914!

 

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACK: TERRI LYNE CARRINGTON + SOCIAL SCIENCE-Tiny Desk Concert #954 (March 4, 2020).

There is something that sets this apart from many other rap-centric performances.

Perhaps it’s because the music is complicated and fascinating–elements of jazz and prog and not just a 4/4 beat.

Perhaps it’s because on the first song “Trapped In The American Dream,” Kassa Overall on vocals doesn’t dominate the music, he is part of it.

Maybe it’s because singer Debo Ray has an utterly amazing voice, whether she is singing lead on “Waiting Game” (which sounds like it could be from a musical) or the amazing operatic backing vocals she contributes to the opening song “Trapped In The American Dream.”

It’s definitely because bandleader and drummer Terri Lyne Carrington is phenomenal:

In the jazz world, Carrington is a celebrity — a 40-year professional musician who’s won Grammy awards and performed with a seemingly infinite list of jazz dignitaries such as Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock and Geri Allen. An outspoken activist, teacher and mentor, she is also the founder and artistic director of the Berklee Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice, a multidisciplinary program whose motto is “Jazz Without Patriarchy.”

Her skills are really impressive and it’s fun to watch her really get into it.  There’s a moment where she is going super fast on the hi-hat and snare and it’s super cool.

“Trapped” has some interesting guitar melodies that run through the song.  When Ray sings along with them it’s quite magical.  The bass from Morgan Guerin sounds great and it’s quite a surprise when he busts out a saxophone solo.

“A Waiting Game” starts with just a piano and Ray’s voice.  There’s washes of guitar and Carrington hits her drums with her hands–flat open sounds.

The song is very pretty and ends with someone (I can’t tell who) playing bells.  As the bells ring out there’s rather a surprise as Malcolm Jamal Warner (yes) comes out to recite poetry “Bells (Ring Loudly),” in between verses from Ray.

The third tune, “Bells (Ring Loudly),” written by Parks and Carrington, features actor Malcolm Jamal Warner who also wrote the spoken word. Carrington had just seen the Philando Castile shooting and her powerful lyrics imagined what she would say to the offending police officer.

Throughout the set, pianist Aaron Parks plays some fantastic melodies and solos and guitarist Matthew Stevens seems to be perpetually filling the soundscape with little solos and accents.

Social Science [is] a collaboration with pianist Aaron Parks and guitarist Matthew Stevens (both performing here). In the works for some time, their project culminated in 2016 when the cultural divisiveness brought on by the presidential election inspired the trio to take action. “I think there’s an awakening happening in society in general,” Carrington writes on her website, “I feel a calling in my life to merge my artistry with any form of activism that I’m able to engage in.”

This performance features music from the band’s new album, Waiting Game. It’s story-filled, groove-music performed by a group of accomplished musicians who improvise, rap and sing over complex but highly crafted and accessible instrumental motifs. A perfect synthesis of jazz, indie rock and hip-hop influences, the four songs they played address important, culturally relevant protest narratives: mass incarceration, collective liberation, police brutality and Native American genocide.

The final song “Purple Mountains” features Kokayi rapping as Debo Ray sings beautifully with him.  The music in this song is outstanding–complicated and interesting (reminds me a bit of Frank Zappa, which I did not expect).

It opens with some really heavy chords from guitar and bass together while guitar play a cool atonal melody and Aaron Parks played an electric keyboard instead of piano.

The end of the song when Kokayi is rapping faster with yea yea yeas in the middle is really intense and cool.

“I hope that you can enjoy this music because it can be heavy,” drummer and bandleader Terri Lyne Carrington told the NPR crowd gathered for this Tiny Desk. “We’ve tried to figure out a way to make it feel good and still give these messages.”

“There is so much we can be angry about but you can’t really stay there,” Carrington told NPR. “Instead, you can reach somebody on a human level.”

I was totally won over by Social Science.

[READ: March 30, 2020] “Carlitos in Charge”

This story was really great and also an interesting (presumably true) look into what (might) happen at the United Nations.

This story was written in a fluid and ease to read style.  I especially enjoyed the lengthy passages of lists that he threw into the story.

Carlitos was nicknamed “Charles in Charge.”  Why? because he didn’t like standing out in an American middle school with such an ethnic name.  So he asked to be called Alex P. Keaton. But his father pronounced it like Alice, which didn’t help.  So he settled on “Charles in Charge.”

Carlitos has worked in the United Nations building for a little over a year assembling data for the Health Department.  And in that short time he has had sex with

the South Korean ambassador, the spokesman for the Swedish Mission, and Irish delegate, a Russian interpreter, an Iraqi translator, the assistant to the deputy ambassador from El Salvador, an American envoy, the chief of staff for the Ukrainian prime minister, the vice presidents of Suriname and the Gambia, a cultural attache from Poland, the special assistant to the Saudi ambassador, the nephew of the ruling party’s general secretary of Laso, a distant cousin of Castro, a film director from Mauritania, countless low-level staffers, a few guides, a half-dozen tourists and Brad.

He says that they had to leave their phones in a lock box on the second floor so cruising happened the old fashioned way.

He got the job through a college friend William Mycroft Quimby–Quim–an authentically Irish fellow living in Brooklyn. He says it was weird working for the world and not his country.  But really his jobs was “Convincing the U.S. to do no harm.”

The United States was immune to easily interpretable, commonsense data on everything–pollution, tuberculosis, birth control, breastfeeding, war, rape, white phosphorous, blue phosphorous, red phosphorous, lithium, P.T.S.D., G.M.O.s, slavery, winged migration, lions, tigers, polar bears, grizzly bears, panda bears, capital punishment, corporal punishment, spanking, poverty, drug decriminalization, incarceration, labor unions, cooperative business structures, racist mascots, climate change, Puerto Rico, Yemen, Syria, Flint, Michigan, women, children, wheelchairs, factory farms, bees, whales, sharks, daylight savings time, roman numerals, centimeters, condoms, coal, cockfighting, horse betting, dog racing, doping, wealth redistribution, mass transit, the I.M.F, CIA, I.D.F., MI5, MI6, TNT, snap bracelets, Pez dispensers, Banksy.  It didn’t matter what its was if the Human Rights Council (or Cuba) advocated one way, the U,S, Went the other.

He soon learned that people used their liaisons to influence decisions.

Do you mean blackmail?
Not blackmail, but, yes, blackmail.

Many of those dalliances resulted in changed results on important bills.

As for Brad, he met Brad at a bar.  Brad also worked at the U.N. but in a different department.  They started dating and got pretty serious. Their one rule was no talking about business.  That worked very well until something was bringing Brad down.  They tried not to talk about it but it soon became too much.

It turned out that Brad was working on a bill calling for a truth and reconciliation commission to investigate war crimes in El Salvador.  (Charles in Charge’s family is from El Salvador).

The problem was that China signaled support for it and the U.S. can’t go on record agreeing with China about a human-rights issue.  That would be a bad precedent.  Carlitos said he had been working at the U.N. long enough that this made sense.

China was supporting the resolution because El Salvador cut diplomatic ties with Taiwan. If El Salvador and Taiwan agreed with each other, that might change China’s decision.

Brad wonders of Charles in Charge cam have an impact on this momentous vote.

The way the story and the vote play out are both pretty surprising.

I enjoyed this a lot.

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACK: MELLOTRON VARIATIONS-Tiny Desk Concert #953 (March 3, 2020).

Most Tiny Desk Concerts list the musicians and what instrument they play.  So I got a kick out of this lineup:

John Medeski: Mellotron; Jonathan Kirkscey: Mellotron; Robby Grant: Mellotron; Pat Sansone: Mellotron.  [that’s the lineup left to right].

Indeed, Mellotron Variations are four guys standing behind Mellotrons making a universe of sounds.

The Mellotron was a magical 1960s invention that predates sampling. It’s a keyboard instrument, with each piano key triggering a tape loop — the sound could be a string ensemble, a flamenco guitar, a saxophone and so much more. Think about the flute sounds on The Beatles’ song “Strawberry Fields Forever” and you get the idea.

We’ve never had an original Mellotron at the Tiny Desk until now. Much like a Hammond organ, it’s big, heavy and fragile. When they fired it up, with all its mechanical gears turning tape loops and moving play heads, the 15-year-old geek in me blissed out.

Pat Sansone introduces the band and gives a fascinating history of the Mellotron and how it works.  Each of the 35 keys plays a magnetic tape like on a reel to reel player (I remotely understand that and it is cool to see the mechanism at work).  The modern ones, still made by Mellotron are all digital.

When Mellotron Variations keyboardist Robby Grant and I began discussing an all-Mellotron Tiny Desk, we quickly realized that having four of these beasts wouldn’t fit behind my desk. So Robby Grant, Pat Sansone (Wilco) and Jonathan Kirkscey performed on the portable — and still incredible-sounding — 21st-century version of the instrument. At the same time, John Medeski (Medeski, Martin & Wood) tackled the original beast.

The band plays three songs.  The first, “Agent Cha Cha” sounds like a trippy spy movie.  It’s really fun watching Medeski play the original machine and seeing him kind of forcibly make the sounds do what he wants–I guess he is literally slowing down the tape that’s playing?

Robby Grant seems to handle all of the drums and percussion.  It’s then fun to watch as Sansone holds down one key to get a 60’s cartoon melody mid song.

Jonathan Kirkscey and Robby Grant play some real spacey, synthy sounds as they segue into the next song.

“Dulcimer Bill” opens with some dulcimer sounds.  It is trippy and spacey sounding for a bit and then Sansone plays what S. immediately recognized as the opening to The Beatles’ “Bungalow Bill.”  I assume Sansone has simply sampled the guitar as he plays it with one key.  The end of the song sounds so incredibly 70s (Pink Floyd all over the place)

The sonic landscape they produce as Mellotron Variations is ingenious and impressive. It’s a score with the audience as collective filmmaker, each one of us capable of creating imagery in our heads to this music of mystery and sometimes comedy. In the words of my teenaged self, “it was a trip.”

The trip concluded with “Pulsar.”  The song opens with industrial space sounds from Kirkscey while Medeski plays flute loops. Grant adds the drums while Sansone plays a kind of harpsichord in space.

[READ: March 30, 2020] “Futures”

This is a story about tennis.

It reminded me a lot of David Foster Wallace’s essay about Roger Federer.  Not because it was like it in any way, but because the one character felt about Federer the way Wallace did.

But that aspect is somewhat minimal in terms of the plot.

The story Toby lives with his father.  Toby was supposed to become an professional tennis player, but he was never quite good enough.  But Toby’s father insisted upon hosting a young Asian tennis player every year–in part to bet upon his success (Toby’s father was a gambler) but also to have a tennis pro around to help Toby get better. (more…)

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACK: LAURA STEVENSON-Tiny Desk Concert #945 (February 14, 2020).

maxresdefault (1)I don’t know Laura Stevenson, but she has a very pretty voice.

She is a singer-songwriter who I gather plays fairly stripped down songs.  But Bob Boilen wanted to spruce things up–I’ve never heard of him directly interfering in a Tiny Desk before–I wonder how often he does,

It was supposed to be so simple. Laura Stevenson, a singer-songwriter whose new material radiates warm intensity, would come in and knock us out with an intimate acoustic solo set … So I came to Bob with the idea … but Bob is nothing if not a pesky dreamer — a man who lives his life in pursuit of beauty and the creation of hard work for other people — so he suggested a wrinkle. What if we commissioned string arrangements for three songs from Stevenson’s newest album, The Big Freeze?

And there they are.

So arranger Amy Domingues, who doubles as a marvelous D.C.-area cellist, dreamed up some charts and gathered a small ensemble (herself and violinists Shelley Matthews and Winston Yu) for accompaniment so gorgeous, Stevenson couldn’t stop remarking on it between songs.

After the first song, “Lay Back, Arms Out” she says “.”  Then she talks about being six months pregnant and how she wasn’t pregnant when she booked this show.  She says she has to move her guitar a bit but it looks cool.

“Living Room, NY” is really lovely–Stevenson’s voice is clear and pure and makes the lyrics even more poignant.

The final song is called “Dermatillomania” (which she doesn’t even define, but which is chronic skin-picking).  She says it’s the saddest one but it is the happiest-sounding.

And that’s true, at least the happy-sounding part–it’s super catchy.

But apparently the most exciting part happened after the set was over

we also got to witness what’s almost definitely the first-ever Tiny Desk marriage proposal. Shortly after Stevenson’s set had ended, Jonathan Zember got down on one knee as unobtrusively as possible and proposed to his girlfriend, Dena Rapoport; the two were attending the show as guests of an NPR staffer, and he figured it’d be a memorable spot for their big moment.

Dena said yes.  No word if Laura will write a song about it.

[READ: March 13, 2020] “The Liver”

I enjoyed Klam’s novel Who is Rich, which I found funny and fun.  So I was looking forward to this story which has a title I wasn’t sure how to emphasize.

Boy, was I surprised to read that this is a story about a premature baby.

In fact, the majority of the story is about the narrator’s stresses about this premature baby.

The story begins with Kathy in the hospital after having given birth–two month before her due date. (more…)

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACK: BURNA BOY-Tiny Desk Concert #911 (November 18, 2019).

I’ve heard of Burna Boy but I don’t know anything about him.  So:

The Nigerian singer and songwriter is one of the biggest African artists in the world. He’s also a pioneer of Afro-fusion which incorporates sonics and influences from a myriad of genres, laid on an Afrobeat foundation. The sound has been inescapable this year. The man born Damini Ogulu has been touring the world for the majority of 2019 and has at least 10 songs in the current nightclub rotation.

I was concerned when he started “Gbona” that I couldn’t understand him at all.  But it turns out the song is in Yoruba.  He even mutters something and I really like the rhythm of it, although I don’t know if its words or just sounds.

It’s weird that between the songs, there’s clapping and then silence.  No one in the band says anything.  And there’s some really long pauses.

The silence between songs must be atypical though:

his Tiny Desk performance offers something relatively different from what we’re used to seeing at his rowdy stage shows. He’s more reflective here and restrained, allowing his songwriting to shine.

“Wetin Man Go Do” opens up with some pretty, clean guitars from Gaetan Judd and some big fat bass sounds from Otis “Bdoc” Mensah.  The main melody of the song comes from Michael “Maestro” Masade Jr. or Jola Ade on the keys (they are not introduced, so I don’t know who is who).

The opening of the Tiny Desk Concert had a warning about explicit lyrics and I wondered how that would be if he didn’t sing in English. But in “Dangote” he gets this verse in

Choko, make you hustle, ma lo go
I no be olodo, I no be bolo
Wo Omo to ba lo fuck up

All of the songs feature some lovely backing vocals from Christina Matovu, although the last song, “Ye” features a sampled vocal (I thought it was Matovu’s voice filtered but it’s not).  Because she actually has a few call and response vocals and it’s nice to hear her voice alone a few times.

There’s some nice drum punctuation in the verses of “Ye” from Emmanuel “Manny” Abiola-Jacobs. Since there was some English in his songs, I thought he was saying Chewbacca (which seemed really unlikely).  So I had to look it up and this is a serious song and he’s actually saying “G-wagon”

My nigga what’s it gon’ be?
G-Wagon or de Bentley?
The gyaldem riding with me
I no fit, die for nothing

I really like the guitar sounds on this song, but overall this concert felt a little cold.

[READ: March 1, 2020] “The Fifth Step”

I started reading this story and was thinking how Stephen King’s stories used to be all about horror .  And now his stories are about people who have everyday issues and concerns.

Harold Jamieson was chief engineer of New York City’s sanitation department.  He was retired now at 68 and, despite his wife’s passing five years ago, he was pretty happy.  He enjoyed going to Central Park and reading the newspaper (if the weather was nice).

He was sitting, reading his paper, when a stranger sat on the bench with him.  He was about to get up when the man asked him for a favor.

Jamieson was definitely going to leave but the man pleaded with him and held out $20.  He said Jamieson could help save his life. Jamieson gave him five minutes.

The man, who said his name was Jack, said he was in AA and his new sponsor encouraged him to find a stranger and talk to him.  It was Step Five: Admit to God, to yourself and to another human being the exact nature of your wrongs. (more…)

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACK: BALÚN-Tiny Desk Concert #926 (December 20, 2019).

When I first listened to this Tiny Desk, I was delighted by the gentle way it started–pretty acoustic melodies on slightly unfamiliar instruments.  Although I usually enjoy noise and chaos, I really hoped that this whole set would stay like this.  And (for the most part) it did.

The set opens with sampled birdsong as “Vaivén” begins with a beautiful melody from Noraliz Ruiz on the Puerto Rican cuatro.  She’s joined by Enrique Bayoán Ríos-Escribano on the charango.  It’s a beautiful short piece that segues into “La Nueva Ciudad” and that’s when things changed a bit with the addition of electronics.

Their mix of traditional instruments with electronics creates not just a sonic treat but also a visual feast, as our eyes dart from one instrument to the other, drawn in by a Puerto Rican cuatro and a makeshift drum set.

Indeed

It’s impossible to not be drawn in by the visual specter of Balún. The band has refined their electronic roots with their turn toward self-discovery on beautifully crafted studio albums, and this set behind the Tiny Desk shows how expertly they deliver the same meticulous, artful music live.

“La Nueva Ciudad” opens with electronic-sounding percussion as Ríos-Escribano and drummer Shayna Dunkelman both scratch percussion instruments.  Then Ríos-Escribano plays a hand drum and José A. Olivares plays a little synth device as the melody unfolds.

Then we finally hear singer Angélica Negrón (with the purple hair).  She has a soft, high voice as gentle as the instruments around it.  Her voice is warm and inviting even if you don’t speak Spanish (it might make you want to learn).

For verse two Darian Thomas kicks in the violin with the charango adding its chords.  It’s a wonderful song, complex and fun.

Balún is from Puerto Rico and they dedicated the third song “El Espanto” to their island home.  Negrón says “El Espanto” is about cleaning up the bad energy and starting from scratch.    It opens with a fascinating percussive intro

I didn’t expect to be greeted by a mysterious, eighth member who made an appearance at the start of “El Espanto” in the form of programmed solenoids that struck the bottoms of pots and pans to create a rhythmic intro to one of their brilliantly crafted songs, mixing the folkloric with the modern.

The song starts with a weird synth sound (like an electronic folk instrument) which, along with the violin, pokes out the melody.  Electronic percussion fleshes out the staccato notes.  Midway through the song it gets huge with guitars, synths, who knows what else.  It brings a great alt rock sound and a hugely catchy melody (and Negrón’s voice is perfect for it).  Then the cuatro takes over the melody again.  The middle of the song has a ripping guitar solo from Raúl Reymund with Darian Thomas playing some wild violin.

I love that everyone sings along gently until the end of the song, when it’s a total freak out with loud electronic drums, noisy guitar, wild violin and all kinds of shaken percussion.  It’s the chaos I wanted after all!

Balún is part of a vanguard of bands that is expanding the musical landscape of Puerto Rico and it is a treat to watch them up close as they create an actual bridge between the ancient and the modern, set against a rich tapestry of vocals that extoll the virtues and challenges facing their beloved island these days.

“Punto De Encuentro” ends the set. It’s a new song.   Noraliz Ruiz picks up the bass (the first time a bass is used).  It opens with all kinds of electronics starting the song which turns onto a quiet, pretty ballad.  Thomas plucks the melody on the violin along with the synths.  Then the churango comes back with the bowed violin and all the while the complex percussion keeps the song moving along.

I had never heard of this band before this set and they totally won me over.  I’m looking forward to checking out their albums.

[READ: March 2, 2020] “Night Swim”

This story is set in Ireland.  I only find this surprising because in the story the narrator goes more or less skinny dipping which was something I didn’t think you could do in Ireland (do the lakes ever get warm enough at night?)–at least I’ve never heard of anyone doing that before.

But although that is the title and a crux of the story, it is not the entire story.

The story opens with the narrator, Michelle, driving her son Ben to a friend’s house.  Ben doesn’t talk much in general, but he seemed to open up in the car (I found that to be true about my own kids).

Michelle had not been to this friend’s house and was following the GPS map.  She was familiar with the area but not the route itself.

While she was driving, Ben began asking her “would you rather” questions: Would you rather drink a cup of lava or be drowned in a lava lake.  She doesn’t enjoy the game, but he is quite insistent.

When she answers she would rather neither of those things, he just repeats the question.

When he asks if she would rather drown in a lake or be strangled in the dark, she flashes back to the titular night swim. (more…)

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »