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Archive for the ‘Boxing’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: ANDREA CRUZ-Tiny Desk Concert #836 (March 27, 2019).

I was really surprised by the music that Andrea Cruz played, especially when I learned she is from Puerto Rico.  It felt very folk-music, in the way she strummed and the trombone (Jomar Santana) was used more as a solo instrument rather than a dance-accompaniment.  That’s certainly reductive, and yet the blurb backs me up:

It’s important to note that the instrumentation of the band that traveled with her (keyboard, two percussionists and trombone) hardly fits what you’d expect music from the island to sound like these days. But Cruz is part of a movement in Puerto Rico that emphasizes largely acoustic instruments and a folk-based approach to interpreting life before and after the hurricane of 2017. It’s a bold creative statement in a land of reggaeton and salsa.

I was very pleased to see that Cruz’s live performance is very much like the stripped-down sound on her album and the handful of singles she’s released. In fact, I would say her music is a perfect soundtrack to a growing, back-to-nature movement in Puerto Rico that encourages local farming and a careful stewardship of the environment.

Cruz sings three songs, all from her first album, 2017’s Tejido de Laurel.

“No Toquemos Tierra,” opens with a lone trombone and Cruz’ guitar.  I love the delicate keyboard accents from Antony Granados. It looks funny that there are two of them playing the tiny percussion kit, but that changes later.  The way Cruz plays her guitar here I almost expected her to bust out into something like Laura Marling a few times.  The coda at the end is really pretty, too.

The emotion of the lyrics of the first song, “No Toquemos Tierra,” is evident in her angelic voice as she makes a declaration of love for the earth as a metaphor for a lover. The beauty of the song is in her poetic lyrics set to a melody that defies language.

“Santas Flores” is a prayer to the flowers.  I love in the middle that everything drops away except for the percussion and her voice.  I’m very curious how that trombone is so quiet.

“Canción de Amargura” begins with a martial beat from Francisco Marrero but when Ángel Rafael Rivera plays the cuatro venezolano, the mood lightens.  Despite the fact that this is an intense song

there was no mistaking the intense feeling behind her song about femicide on the island in the song, “Canción de Amargura.”

Their voices raised in harmony at the end are really powerful and the way her own voice just soars in the last few seconds is really lovely.

“Contigo” is listed as a fourth song but she doesn’t play it, I don’t think.

[READ: March 31, 2019] “The Match”

This is an excerpt from Whitehead’s not-yet-released book The Nickel Boys, which is set around 1964.

This part is about a boxing match at The Nickel Academy, a reform school for boys.  The main competitor is a black boy named Griff.   He is a miserable bully most of the time and the other boys really hate him.  But if he has the chance to defeat a white boy, they are all for him.

The “colored boys” had held the boxing title for fifteen years.  “Old hands on the staff still remembered the last white champion [Terry (Doc) Burns] and talked him up.”

Griff arrived at Nickel just after the last champ turned eighteen and was released back in to the free world.  Griff pulverized his opponents.  At the end of the school year, they would pit the dorm’s best fighters against each other and then in the finale, the best black fighter fought “whatever chump the white guys put up.”

Obviously, racism is inherent in this system.  Indeed, Trevor Nickel who opened the Academy was a member of the Klan.  During one of the brief asides, Turner, brought Elwood to the two trees in the back.  There were rings embedded in the trees, part of the trunk now: “Human bones would break before it came loose.”  This was where the black boys who disobeyed were brought.  The official word was that they escaped, obviously they did not. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: GORDI-Tiny Desk Concert #740 (May 7, 2018).

I had an idea of what Gordi sounded like (a much more rocking band, who was I thinking of?)  Rather, Gordi is Sophie Payten a woman with a piano (and a harmonium and a guitar).  Gordi has a lovely deep voice (dusky and evocative) that is not afraid to break.

The blurb says her voice

usually gets enshrouded somehow: It often sounds like it’s echoing down a stairwell, or else she’s bathed it in vocal effects a la Imogen Heap or Gordi’s occasional tourmate, Justin Vernon of Bon Iver. But Payten’s voice is an expressive and powerful instrument on its own, as her debut appearance behind the Tiny Desk demonstrates.

Aside from a bit of looping — in the strangely infectious notes that open “Heaven I Know,” from last year’s terrific Reservoir — Gordi here keeps her voice both unadorned and centered within warm, cool arrangements that include piano, acoustic guitar, pedal steel, a harmonium named Barbara, a saxophone played by Yellow Ostrich’s Alex Schaaf, and more. The effect here is rawer than on Reservoir, but that’s part of the point: These songs stand up to being stripped down, every time.

“Heaven I Know” is really pretty with a staggering sense of loss.  She met her backing badn while they were playing with The Tallest Man on Earth.  She plays piano, there an electric guitar and some kind of synths in the back.  And the drums (played by Zach Hanson) crescendo as needed.  The song runs a little long but it’s quite pretty.

For “Can We Work It Out” guitarist Alex Schaaf switches to saxophone.  Gordi pulls out the harmonium.  She says she bought the harmonium on the Australian version of Craigslist called Gumtree.  She bought it from an Indian lady named Barbara so the harmonium’s now called Barbara.

For the final song, “On My Side” she’s on guitar and Ben Les switches from keys to pedal steel.  The song is a little faster with some great harmonies from the drummer.

This is really lovely stuff.

[READ: October 10, 2017] Death of the Pugilist

Okay, so this is a boxing story.  That means that there is going to be a fight and the guy he is writing about is either going to win or lose.

That’s the attitude I took when I started this story–I don’t care for sports stories in general and feel that they have to work very hard to be more than just win or lose.

This story is a little different because each section starts with a question.

Who was Burke? His beginnings. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BRAVE COMBO-It’s Christmas, Man (1991).

This is one of my all time favorite Christmas records.

I love that it plays around with the styles and tempos of traditional songs and yet it remains very faithful to the spirit of the holidays

Brave Combo is a band who likes to have fun, and they certainly do that here.

This record may have been the first time I’d heard “Must Be Santa” (Polka) back in 1991, and their version is peppy and wild.  In my mind it is the accurate version.  There’s lots of fun percussion and crazy sounds.  It’s got a klezmer beat and a conga session at the end.

“Oh Christmas Tree” (Samba) is a 3 minute nearly all instrumental wild version. The vocals come in about 30 seconds from the end to zip through it.  “It’s Christmas” [Cha Cha] I love this song.  It is catchy and fun and is just the epitome of Christmas to me.

“Corrido Navideño” [Ranchera]  This is a mellower song, sung in Spanish.  That’s an unexpected change, but Brave Combo celebrates all kinds of musical styles.  “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts)” [Ska] is upbeat and dancey and so much fun.  Although the vocals at the end are a bit understated for the rhythm.
“Christmas In July” They have some fun with the lyrics: “bells on the ice cream truck” “Rudolph the sunburned reindeer.”  “Have yourself a merry, steamy Christmas.”  It’s fun, fast and dancey.  “Please Come Home For Christmas” is a bluesy song.
“Hanukkah, Oh Hanukkah” [Hora]  This is fast and punky and a wonderfully jazzy version.
“Frosty The Snowman”  This is a short jazzy version of the song with horns taking the vocal melody.
“The Little Drummer Boy” [Guaguanco]  I love the various styles of drums which makes this song more vibrant to me than many other versions.  It feels calypso to me.  “Santa’s Polka” [Polka] This song is outstanding, funny and sweet.
“Feliz Navidad” [Cumbia] The album kind of slows down a bit at this point.  This is a little too slow for my tastes, especially given the wonderful faster versions that are out there.  It’s not bad it just sounds like it’s designed for older people.
“Ave Maria”  This is a pretty operatic version of the song.  It is just acoustic guitars and the singer’s lovely operatic voice.  It is completely out of place on this disc.  If anything it should have gone last, right?
“Buon Natale” [Waltz]  I never realized how strange this song is until I listened closely to this fun, upbeat waltz.
Far away across the sea
In sunny Italy
There’s a quaint little town
Not a clock has been wound
For over a century
They don’t know the time or year
And no one seems to care
And this is the reason
The Christmas season
Is celebrated all year
“Jingle Bells” is only 45 seconds long and it is zippy and minor key in a klezmer sort of way.  A jolly fun way to end the disc.

[READ: December 1, 2017] “Dogs of Cuba”

Once again, I have ordered The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This year, there are brief interviews with each author posted on the date of their story.

Hello. Welcome. It’s finally here: Short Story Advent Calendar time.

If you’re reading along at home, now’s the time to start cracking those seals, one by one, and discover some truly brilliant writing inside. Then check back here each morning for an exclusive interview with the author of that day’s story.

(Want to join in? It’s not too late. Order your copy here.)

This year I’m pairing each story with a holiday disc from our personal collection. (more…)

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cardboardSOUNDTRACK: MARY HALVORSON QUINTET-Tiny Desk Concert #267 (February 25, 2013).

maryI had never heard of Mary Halvorson before.  And that makes sense because she is an avant-garde free-jazz guitarist, a sound I like (sometimes) but one which I do not follow.  So a little background is in order:

As a sidewoman, [Mary Halvorson] is often tapped to play in open improvising situations….  Among her sonic signatures are craggy distortions, bent strings and delay-pedaled blurts through a hollow-body guitar….  Halvorson has now recorded two albums with her quintet, one with alto saxophone (Jon Irabagon) and trumpet (Jonathan Finlayson) up top. (The rhythm section is also among New York’s finest, with John Hebert on bass and Ches Smith on drums.) From the way her songs balance order and entropy, you can hear that she’s studied how golden-era hard bop blended those voices, and how later generations morphed, rephrased and imploded those ideas.

The Quintet plays two pieces.  I would have guessed they were improvised but not only do they have titles, they have sheet music!

“Love In Eight Colors” (No. 21) starts out as a slightly dissonant mellow jazz piece.  Then about 45 seconds in, Mary throws in an unusual guitar lick—a slightly weird note.  And then a minute later things get noisy until a simple trumpet solo takes over.  When the music resumes, Mary is playing some strangely discordant chords over the solo—everyone seems to be doing their own thing.  Around 4 minutes in, it turns into something new with an interesting, mesmerizing guitar solo riff.  When the band resumes, the sax takes over and the trumpeter literally stands stock still like a statue staring forward–it’s almost creepy.  At 8 minutes, they introduce a two-minute drum solo.  It’s fun to watch all the strange things he does—elbow on the drum head, vibrato with his hands changing the sound, clicking the sides of his drum.  Then the band resumes until the end.  And it’s more dissonance.

She introduces “Hemorrhaging Smiles” (No. 25) without smiling.  There’s a lot more melody in this song–the sax and trumpet sound groovy.  Even the guitar is pretty. Then she throws in a bizarre scale which cycles throughout the song.  It’s strangely addicting and I enjoyed hearing it every time it came back–even though it wasn’t exactly pretty.  The guitar has a lot of vibrato on it, although about six minutes in she switches the sound of her guitar to a bit more conventional sound and she plays a wicked solo. The second listen through made me appreciate what was happening a lot more.  Even if the song is pretty out there.

Mary Halvorson’ Quintet is not for everyone.  It might not be for many at all, but if you like your jazz free, check her out.

[READ: June 19, 2016] Cardboard

I’ve had mixed feelings about TenNapel’s books.  I loved Ghostopolis, and didn’t love Tommysaurus Rex.  So I picked this up with some hesitation.

But I found that I really enjoyed this weird book a lot.

For a kids’ graphic novel it’s actually quite long.  And, for a kid’s graphic novels there’s a few adult themes (like unemployment and widowhood) that a kid may not get or care about all that much (or maybe they would, what do I know).

As the book opens we see Mike, a big burly carpenter, begging for work.  But he gets nothing.  And as he walks away we see a very strange-looking man (TenNapel’s book are chock full of weird-looking characters) who offers to sell him a gift for his son.  Mike has no money, so he can’t buy the cool gift.  But the man says that for 78 cents (the exact amount in his pocket) he can have this giant cardboard box.

Mike is appalled at the idea of getting his son a box (even if it can be a creative play toy–ha!), but he’s got nothing else.  So he drives home with this box muttering “worst present ever.” (more…)

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sweater SOUNDTRACK: ÁSGEIR-Tiny Desk Concert #397 (October 18, 2014).

asgeirÁsgeir Trausti Einarsson is an Icelandic singer songwriter.  He has a beautiful soft soaring voice.  He released his debut album Dýrð í dauðaþögn in Icelandic (it became the biggest-selling debit in Icelandic music history).  A year later he reissued it in English (with translation help from John Grant who was living in Iceland) as In the Silence and finally (the version I have, as a 3 disc set with the Icelandic and English discs as well as a selection of bonus songs.

“On That Day” is a pretty, guitar based song (Ásgeir plays the main melody line and has guitar accompaniment (and backing vocals) from his childhood friend Julius Róbertsson.

For the final two songs, Ásgeir switches to piano.  “Torrent” has gorgeous vocal harmonies. It’s interesting how much more deliberate this song feels–not quite staccato, but the piano chords don’t really ring out, letting each note stand on its own.

For this Tiny Desk, he stripped down the songs, getting to their core.  They’re not flashy, they’re just lovely.

The final song he plays, “Higher” is the first song on the record (interestingly “On that Day” is the final song on the record).  It has a very slow, delicate piano melody and is also soothing and beautiful.

And in a cool synchronicity at the end of the show Bob tells Ásgeir  that he’s playing at the same piano that John Grant played on a few months earlier.

[READ: July 2, 2016] Sweaterweather

Back in 2003, Sara Varon published her first book called Sweaterweather.  This collection includes all of the original 8 stories as well as a few more.  Each story gets a brief introduction from Varon which makes me like her even more (she’s quite funny).

Most of the stories are short(2-3 p[ages) and most don’t seem to have a title.  The contents page is actually thumbnails from each story.

When I first saw Varon’s style, I wasn’t sure what to make of it.  It is so innocent and childlike.  And I have really grown to love it–especially when these sweet animals characters (they’re pretty much all animals) tackle some intense feelings. (more…)

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10SOUNDTRACK: FATHER JOHN MISTY-Fear Fun (2012).

fjmI can’t get over how much I’ve been enjoying this album for the last two years.  Father John Misty is J Tillman from Fleet Foxes.

This disc is a gentle folk album with vaguely country leanings.  The arrangements are spare and yet the verses and choruses are so great to sing along to. “Funtimes in Babylon” has this infectious chorus: “I would like to abuse my lungs, smoke everything in sight with every girl I’ve ever loved.  Ride around the wreckage on a horse knee deep in mud.  Look out, Hollywood, here I come.”  “Nancy from Now On” has a great propulsive chorus with oohs and tinkling bells and pianos and Misty’s engaging falsetto.

I was introduced to this album by “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings” which opens with the super catchy line, “Jeeeeesus Christ, girl.”  I love the big crashing drum sound he has here.  “I’m Writing a Novel” is a fun romp, with the great line “I’m writing a novel because it’s never been done before.”  “O I Long to Feel Your Arms Around Me” introduces a great organ sound.  It’s a full song at only 2 and a half minutes.

“Misty’s Nightmares 1 & 2” opens with a slide guitar and turns into a stomping song with more Ooohs and a great chorus.  “Only Son of the Ladiesman” has a great chorus with the fun couple: “I’m a steady hand, I’m a Dodgers fan.”  “This is Sally Hatchet” has cool guitar blasts and a great bridge.

“Well You Can Do It Without Me” is a countrified 2 minute stomper.  “Tee Pees 1-12” is a big stompin’ honkey tonk song with fiddles and slide guitar.  The disc ends with “Everyman Needs a Companion” a slow ballad with a great piano melody and a fun to sing along with verse and chorus.

I love the lyrics on this album, especially the song “Now I’m Learning to Love the War” a slow ballad with a great story:

Try not to think so much about
The truly staggering amount of oil that it takes to make a record
All the shipping, the vinyl, the cellophane lining, the high gloss
The tape and the gear

Try not to become too consumed
With what’s a criminal volume of oil that it takes to paint a portrait
The acrylic, the varnish, aluminum tubes filled with latex
The solvents and dye

Lets just call this what it is
The gentler side of mankind’s death wish
When it’s my time to go
Gonna leave behind things that won’t decompose

In addition to all of the great music on here, the CD packaging is fantastic with that great cover, done in a cardboard gatefold sleeve including two huge books full of words and drawings and lyrics and everything.  I’m really looking forward to his next release.

[READ: September 14, 2014] Grantland #10

Despite my being in the middle of reading several other things, I was looking for a short article to read the other night and grabbed my Grantland 10.  And, of course, once I started, I couldn’t stop. I put everything else on hold and blasted through this issue.

And so all of my loves and hates are the same with this issue.  I never know how anything they talk about nearly a year ago turned out, which stinks.  And yet I get so wrapped up in the writing that I don’t care.  I’m not sure what it is about the writing for Grantland that i enjoy so much.  It is casual but knowledgeable.  Often funny but not obnoxiously silly. And I suppose that now I feel like I’m in on all of the secret stuff they talk about so I’m part of the club.  I fear that if I were to ever go to the website I would get sucked into a black hole and never emerge.

I often wonder how they choose what goes into the book.  This issue has some new writers and the surprising absence of some regulars.  I wonder what went on there.  And as always, the book could use some editing and maybe actually listing the urls of the links that were once in the online version.  But I think I’m talking to deaf ears on that one.

This issue covers October-December 2013 (that’s ten-twelve months ago!  Some of this stuff feels ancient!)

(more…)

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  grantland8SOUNDTRACK: RALPH STANLEY-Tiny Desk Concert #31 (October 13, 2009).

ralpRalph Stanley is apparently a living bluegrass legend, although I’ve never heard of him.  He plays a clawhammer banjo (and apparently has for 63 years).

The concert lasted only 6 minutes, but in that time he sang three a capella songs: “Gloryland,” “Turn Back, Turn Back” and “Amazing Grace.”

It’s hard to assess a legend based on this performance.  I’ve no idea how good his voice was back in the day.  He sounds fine here, albeit understandably quite old.  I’d have liked to hear his banjo.

[READ: January 3, 2014] Grantland #8

It is becoming apparent to me that Grantland loves basketball.  Like, a lot more than any other sport.  This issue had a ton of basketball in it.  And, I have to admit I was a little tired of it by the end–there was a lot less pop culture stuff, too.  So, it felt especially basketball heavy.  I realize of course that the time frame covered was the playoffs, but still.

BILL SIMMONS-“Searching for a Superman”
A lengthy article about Dwight Howard, discussing the pros and cons of signing him again.

MARK TITUS-“How Did He Get So Good?”
A look at Paul George and Danny Green doing better than expected in the NCAA playoffs.

CHARLES P. PIERCE-“A Dark Day in Boston
Pierce wonders about Boston after the Boston Marathon bombing–he says the city will come back stronger. (more…)

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