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SOUNDTRACK: CÉCILE McLORIN SALVANT-Tiny Desk Concert #790 (September 25, 2018).

The blurb talks about Cécile McLorin Salvant’s punk roots.  This made me thing that their might be some rough elements in these songs.

But these songs sound akin to old-fashioned-sounding jazz standards (even if she wrote them recently) in the vein of Ella Fitzgerald or Sarah Vaughn.

The nod to punk seems to come in the vaguely erratic piano which verges on atonality at times.  And yet:

From listening to McLorin Salvant’s exquisite performance here, I also couldn’t tell that when she was 15, she was listening to Alice in Chains, sported a Mohawk and was into what she calls “radical feminist punk stuff,” as she told NPR after the performance. “Sometimes I still really like Bikini Kill, and I still have my little Pearl Jam grunge moments.”

What can be heard in each song is a seasoned jazz singer with a vast vocal range, meticulous technical execution and a superb classical vocal foundation, which actually began when she was just 8. Her background in classical piano is evident in the inventive harmonic and melodic construction of the first three songs heard here; all are romantically themed McLorin Salvant compositions from her third album, For One to Love, recorded in 2015. The record won her a 2016 Grammy for Best Jazz Vocal Album.

“Fog” opens with some striking minimalist almost atonal piano playing.  The song veers through many different tones and styles throughout its five plus minutes.

About “Look At Me” she says, “This was originally called “‘Friend Zone’ which is a zone I know so well.”  The piano is delicate–twinkling–as she sings about being the friend when she wants more.

She says the next song is called “Monday,” “Lets see if I remember the lyrics.”  After introducing Foster, he comments, “I just learned this on the train here, so bear with me.”  This is notable because there is a lengthy, lovely piano instrumental part in the middle.

After a hog, Foster leaves and McLorin Salvant prepares for the last song.

McLorin Salvant closes with “Omie Wise,” an American folk song that tells the tragic story of murder victim Naomi Wise and her husband and killer, John Lewis:

Then pushed her in deep waters where he knew that she would drown
He jumped on his pony and away he did ride
The screams of little Omie went down by his side.

Feminist themes are common in McLorin Salvant’s music, and while “Omie Wise” addresses gender-based violence, she says she sings difficult songs like this to address an important historical legacy. “We don’t sing to our kids and we don’t know any of our folk music anymore,” McLorin Salvant says. “But like all of the history of race songs, coon songs, minstrel music, music from Vaudeville, all of that is like, ‘No, we’re not going to address that — that’s too ugly.'”

This song is especially powerful sung a capella and even more so when it is heard on the weekend that that piece of excrement Kavanaugh is having his Supreme Court hearings.

[READ: January 19, 2018] “Admiral”

T. Coraghessan Boyle is an incredibly prolific writer.  He writes about a huge variety of topics as well.  Some of his stories are down to earth and realistic while others, like this one, are based in a near-future fantasy.

The premise of this story is simple and not all that far-fetched (especially in 2007).  A rich couple has cloned their beloved dog, an afghan named Admiral, for $250,000.  They want to raise this dog exactly as the first Admiral was raised.  They believe in the cloning to create an identical dog, but they also believe in the nurture aspect which means they need the girl who dog-sat for him to do everything exactly as she did all those years ago.

That girl, now a woman, was recently laid off and needs some cash. So when Mrs Striker called and told her she had an opportunity, Nisha said… why not?

She returned to the house where she hadn’t been in four years but which was such a large part of her childhood. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CHILLY GONZALES & KAISER QUARTETT-Live at Massey Hall (February 5, 2016).

Years earlier, Chilly Gonzales had signed a record deal in Toronto but it didn’t go well “because I wasn’t prepared for what the job of being a true musician was.  I didn’t really have a narrative.  I couldn’t draw people in and guide them.  I thought the music would be enough.”

He went to Europe–Berlin–taking the name Chilly Gonzales and creating this persona.  He wanted reassuring satisfying elements and surprising, uncomfortable elements.  He wanted to  take a page out of the rappers playbook–embodying superficiality and depth ant the same time ridiculousness and seriousness at the same time.

Toronto was like the place where lighting hit the lab and turned him into a supervillain.  The failure of the label is his origin story.

They play primarily instrumental compositions, but ones that are very different and unlike anything else I’ve heard.

“Green’s Leaves” is a staccato piece with great melodies from the Quartett and lovey piano sprinkled throughout.  It’s a short piece with a lot of beauty.

He tells the audience he thinks of the Kaiser Quartett (Adam Zolynski-violin; Jansen Folkers-violin; Ingmar Süberkrüb-viola; Martin Bentz cello) as the world’s most expensive sampler.  He tries to use them in ways that string quartets might not be used.

“Sample This” is a simple request to rappers or producers to feel free to sample this piece of music (and of course call my lawyer beforehand).   He says you don’t have to have a rapper to make rap music–it is an attitude.  He says, “see if you can rap along in your mind.  Imagine what a rapper might say over this.”

This song moves along prettily at a rapid pace.  As it reaches the middle it slows down to a gentle piano with pulsing low notes from the strings and just as it feels like it has hit the end, Joe Elory (I wish it was filmed better) gets up and thuds the drums for one loud beat as the song resumes and picks up the pace.

The fact that he ends the song with quiet piano melody and a rapper pose and says “bitch” is really quite funny.

He says that a sampler can contain the history of all recorded music.  The Quartet plays  a bar of “Eleanor Rigby” which he introduces as “Elizabeth Ridley by the Rolling Stones.” Then they play Joseph Haydn–the song we all know– but says he wants the gansta version–put it into a minor key.  Then they play the opening of Schoenberg’s “The Rites of Spring.”  When Schoenberg played it, it caused a riot.  The dissonance is something.  He jokes that that was the verse now here comes the catchy part (it’s the same).  Is this offensive to you?  Or is this offensive that I’m wasting so much time playing this terrible music “hashtag fuckscheonberg.”

He mashed all the above together to make “Advantage Points.”  The loud and quiet parts balance nicely and its really quite catchy.

“Supervillain” has lots of high notes on the piano before the strings kick in.  And then its a rap (!).  The lyrics are good but the flow is only okay.  It’s funny but not comic.  When it’s over he affirms: “So you like rap music when it is over a waltz beat.”

“Knight moves” is a fast piano piece that builds to some really fun rollicking piano and even adds (minimal) drums by the end.  As it moves along he starts playing very very fast and heavy, including more or less pounding on the low notes for a low rumble.

“Smothered Mate” has a kind of action movie vibe.  There’s also percussion for the whole piece.  Unfortunately, he speaks over it for the end:

In the pre-Drake era there were not a lot of reasons to think that Toronto was on the musical map.  But Charlie Parker and Neil Young  showed this hall had glamour you dint get in a lot Canadian venues.

[READ: June 19, 2018] “Edison Labs, 1891”

This story goes in a direction I never expected and the anachronism of the humor is terrific.

Thomas Edison is working in his lab when his assistant, Jed, confesses that he screwed up again–he used centiliters instead of milliliters.  Which leads to a beaker exploding.

Edison believes that this boy is an idiot–useful only as a subject for medical experimentation.

Except for one other possibility.

He asked Jed to stand there in one spot.

Then he pulled over his new contraption, an apparatus made of metal and glass. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THIRD COAST PERCUSSION-Tiny Desk Concert #747 (May 29, 2018).

I have always been taken with percussion.  I especially love vibes and marimba.  But I love it even more when bands make music using unusual items.  Third Coast Percussion does both of those.  And the songs are beautiful as well.

The quartet of gentlemen who form the Chicago-based Third Coast Percussion [will] play their sophisticated, modern marimbas and vibraphones, but be on the lookout for the subtleties of tuned cowbells and 3/4″ galvanized steel pipes, like those found at the local hardware store. Add to that a glockenspiel, a MIDI synth, a melodica, a drum kit, children’s deskbells, crotales, a Thai gong and a singing bowl, and you’ve got significant noise-making potential behind Bob Boilen’s desk.

They play three beautiful pieces.  And the blurb sums them up quite well:

The mesmerizing opening number, “Niagara,” written by the group, is from the band’s latest album, the aqua-centric Paddle to the Sea. This water is fast-moving, with pulsing, repeating patterns in the vibraphone, punctuated by drum beats and a bed of low synth.

David Skidmore behind the drum kit is also playing the synth while Sean Connors has the main up and down melody on the marimba. The other two (Robert Dillon and Peter Martin) are playing the same glockenspiel until Rob starts with some drum hits (while David behind the kit plays accents of that main drum beat).  There is just so much going on!

There’s a wonderful moment about half way in when the marimba starts playing a slightly different melody and it’s really quite enchanting.  I am quite taken with the song.

The Third Coasters follow with another from the album, their own arrangement of a slowly rippling ode to the Amazon River by Philip Glass. Beginning with droplets on the glockenspiel and evocative bowing of both vibraphone and crotales (small bronze discs), the music flows softly, taking its time to fan out in all its quiet beauty.

The group busts out the children’s desk bells on the second song, a cover pf Philip Glass’ “Amazon River.”  Sean plays them while also hitting the glockenspiel.  David is bowing the crotales (which he later hits with mallets) while also playing a melodica.  Rob plays a four mallet marimba while Peter plays a four mallet glockenspiel melody.  Sean gets to hit the Thai gong before it almost stops and then he goes behind the marimba to join Rob with three mallets.  Meanwhile for thee second half of the song, David is hitting some small bell-like instrument and Peter has the singing bowl.  As the song ends, David gets to conclude with the Thai gong.

The final song is completely intense.

Torched and Wrecked is, as David Skidmore mentions, something that once happened to his band mate Sean Connors’ automobile. It’s also a butt-kicking ride that includes those steel conduit pipes, which the band cuts to specific lengths to get the desired pitches. Skidmore wrote the piece, but it’s Connors who appears to achieve a kind of cathartic glee pounding on the metal tubes.

There’s no funky instruments om this, but the song is great.  David (2 mallets) goes behind the marimba with Rob (4 mallets).  Peter is at the glockenspiel (4 mallets) and yes Sean has the metal tubes.  The song is fast and intense and I get lost with just who is playing what sounds by the end.  It’s really cool.

It’s also fun to see them all pop up at the end when they all finish at the same time.

[READ: January 14, 2018] “Six More Considerations”

Lydia Davis writes short, short pieces.  Flash fiction, they call them. Sometimes I think they are great. Other times they just irritate me.

This group falls into the irritation camp.

Anyhow, the six stories are

(more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KING CRIMSON-The Elements Of King Crimson – 2015 Tour Box (2015).

The Elements box set has become a tour staple since the band reformed in 2014.  This is the second set and it contains another fascinating cross section of music from throughout Crimson’s existence.

In addition to the music, these sets contain a booklet that is chock full of pictures and usually an essay that gives context to what you’re about to hear.

It also includes the seven Principles of King Crimson

  1. May King Crimson bring joy to us all. Including me.
  2. If you don’t want to play a part, that’s fine!
  3. Give it to someone else – there’s enough of us.All the music is new, whenever it was written.
  4. If you don’t know your note, hit C#.
  5. If you don’t the time, play in 5. Or 7.
  6. If you don’t know what to play, get more gear.
  7. If you still don’t know what to play, play nothing.

Of the four boxes, I think this is my favorite–although the second disc of 2017 is pretty awesome.  I really enjoy the first half of the first disc.  It’s all instrumental (even tracks that have words are instrumental versions).  It’s a great collection of  sometimes pretty, sometimes not, 70s prog rock.

The eight-minute instrumental version of “Epitaph” (Steven Wilson 2015 instrumental mix) is gorgeous.  Even though I like the words just fine, there’s something really thrilling about removing them on this song.  “Catfood” is (somewhat obviously) a rather goofy lyric, so hearing this complex song without words is also a treat.  “Bolero – The Peacock’s Tale” is listed as a Tony Levin overdub.  I don’t know exactly what that means, as it is taken from the Lizard recording sessions, but the song is lovely.

In addition to longer, complete songs, the Elements sets feature short snippets.  Like the two-minute extract of “Islands” (with oboe).  Or the four-minute jazzy “A Peacemaking Stint Unrolls” which is clearly the foundation for “Lark’s Tongues in Aspic.”

Although the set is largely chronological, there’s an excerpt from the 2014 tour rehearsals in which Fripp discusses how the band knows all of their parts.  They give a mellow example of how he and Jakko will play “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic (Part II)” which is followed by the full 6 minute version from 1974.  It’s followed by an 11 minute live version of “Fracture” from 1974 (the previous box’s version was from 1973).

There’s a “guitar extract” of “One More Red Nightmare” (less than a minute long)  from 1974 followed by a full performance of the song from 2014 which doesn’t feel like a jump of forty years in any way.

The disc jumps to the 1980s era with an extended remix of “Elephant Talk” followed by 1981’s “Absent Lovers.”

1983’s “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic Part III/Sleepless” is staggeringly good.

Disc Two suffers a bit in comparison, which I find surprising as I really like the later era of King Crimson–the more metal sounding stuff is really intense.

I enjoyed the first part–the late 1990s; work.  “Jurassic THRAK” sounds huge, and 2014’s drum solo “The Hell Hounds of Krim” works fine as a connector to the next four songs which highlight the late 90’s abrasive guitars.  It’s about 20 minutes of noisy coolness. “VROOOM,” “Coda: Marine 475” and “ProjeKction” (Performed by ProjeKct Four) all showcase that complicated music really delightfully.

Then things start to slow down somewhat. “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic – Part IV/the construKction of light” suffers in my mind because of the smallness of the band.  With only four members playing, the song doesn’t feel like a huge organism, it feels more like two guitarists playing next to each other.  Mind you, it sounds amazing if you can get away from the fact that it doesn’t feel terribly “full.”  Of course, I may be just spoiled from the great versions of LTIA I’ve seen with the 7-piece band.

Things really slow down and chill out for “Sus-Tayn-Z” (Performed by ProjeKct X), “Power to Believe,” “Ex Uno Patres” and the nine minute exceedingly mellow (with vocals) “The Light of Day.”  I do not love this style of Crimson.  It works as a palette cleanser between heavy songs, but too much is too much.

The “Ba Ba Boom Boom” drum solo and “ATTAKcATHRAK” ramp things up with the kind of noise that segues nicely into the blistering 2014 version of “21st Century Schizoid Man.”

This box set once again demonstrates that King Crimson is a multi-headed beast, liable to go in any direction at any time.

[READ: January 6, 2018] Heroes of the Frontier

Somehow I missed that Eggers had written this book. I saw it in the bookstore recently and immediately grabbed it and devoured it.

I was worried that it was going to be a woman-moves-off-the-grid-and-life-gets-better story, but it’s not that at all.  It’s far more complicated and a bit more unsettling.

Josie is a dentist in Ohio.  But as we meet her, she and her children are riding in a crappy rented RV through the highways of Alaska.

Josie has a large sum of cash with her.  She had been sued by a patient for a sum she could not afford.  Rather than trying to raise th e money to save her practice or giving it over to woman, she sold her practice in total to a dentist friend.  So now, she has the cash and, temporarily, no future.

She was also in a terrible relationship.  Her children’s father, Carl, had taken off on them.  He was always aloof and a loser, but this disappearance to Florida was something else entirely.

She took her kids, Paul (8) and Ana (5) and got outta Dodge.  The children are an interesting pair.  Paul is nurturing and worrying, especially about his sister. He looks after her more closely than their mother ever does.  Ana, meanwhile, is a disaster–she seems to have a natural gift for how to break something–she can find the weak point of any structure or situation and cause havoc wherever she goes–and Paul is happy to fix the situation.

Why Alaska?  Because she has a stepsister (sort of) who lives in Homer.  Sam is independent and successful (which Josie was as well, although she was unhappy). (more…)

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[LISTENED TO: September 2017] The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy complete radio series

The history of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is almost as convoluted as the story itself.

Douglas Adams (with help from John Lloyd) wrote the radio story in 1977.  It aired in 1978.  A second season aired in 1980.

Adams wrote the novel based on the radio series in 1979.  And then the second book The Restaurant at the End of the Universe in 1980.

Then they made the TV show.

Apparently Adams considered writing a third radio series to be based on Life, the Universe and Everything in 1993, but the project did not begin until after his death in 2001.  The third, fourth and fifth radio series were based on Life, So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish and Mostly Harmless which were transmitted in 2004 and 2005.

It’s interesting and a little disconcerting how different the radio play is from the story of the book. There are a lot of similarities of course, but some very large differences.

The first series obviously leaves a lot out from the book, since the book wasn’t written yet. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ROBIN OLSON-Tiny Desk Concert #724 (April 1, 2018).

Because the blurb is perfect, I am including it in it’s entirety.

“Not all pianists are created in equal temperament,” Robin Olson told a small but enthusiastic audience behind NPR Music’s storied Tiny Desk. The pianist, hailed as an “avant-garde gewandhaus” by Berlin’s Staubzeitung, is as celebrated for his cryptic maxims as he is for his inscrutable music.

Olson’s trademark style — shooting clusters of shimmering chords and solitary, pearlescent pitches into reverberant space — has led him to exalted concert halls and to work with a broad array of stars such as Yuja Wang, Aretha Franklin, Chick Corea and Emanuel Ax.

Drawing from the seminal Plink technique, cultivated among the Schlammstadt School of composers in the 1950s, Olson is regarded as a leading technician of the more expansive Neo-Plink style. “Intervals have coincident partials,” Olson explains. “They create a form of dissonance, called ‘beats,’ by which pitches are set for optimum harmonicity.”

From a bulging briefcase, Olson pulls out any number tools to alter specific pitches, as in his opening piece, “A 440.” He threads ribbons of felt between piano strings to mimic the muted cries of the Asian dung beetle in “The Temperament,” from his 2014 collection Infinite Chasms.

Olson surprised everyone at the Tiny Desk by debuting a new piece, “Tuning the Bass,” wherein his inventive command of the instrument’s lower register highlighted spaces between keening dark octaves.

He may be considered a challenging artist, but Olson, through the essential humanity of his performance, reveals the efforts of almost any other living pianist to be little more than a joke.

Set List

  • “A 440”
  • “The Temperament”
  • “Tuning the Bass”

I only wish I had seen this before the Editor’s Note revealed that it was an (excellent) April Fool’s joke.

[READ: December 27, 2017] Secret Coders: Robots & Repeats

Secret Coders 3 ended with a puzzle.  And I guessed wrong!  How embarrassing.  I see what I did wrong, but I still would have failed. I have a hard time with binary, too.

Anyhow, this book reveals some pretty amazing details about the ongoing story.

After selecting the correct door, the gang finds a floating triangle thing.  We learn that Professor Bee is not actually from this planet (okay now things are getting pretty weird, I must admit).   But he dismisses that (what??) so the kids can code some more using a construct made of “solidified light” which is pretty cool, although perhaps not as cool as an alien. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JOHN PRINE-Tiny Desk Concert #717 (March 12, 2018).

For all of the legendary status of John Prine, I don’t really know that much about him.  I also think I don’t really know much of his music.  I didn’t know any of the four songs he played here.

I enjoyed all four songs.  The melodies were great, the lyrics were thoughtful and his voice, although wizened, convey the sentiments perfectly.

The blurb sums up things really well

An American treasure came to the Tiny Desk and even premiered a new song. John Prine is a truly legendary songwriter. For more than 45 years the 71-year-old artist has written some of the most powerful lyrics in the American music canon, including “Sam Stone,” “Angel From Montgomery,” “Hello In There” and countless others.

John Prine’s new songs are equally powerful and he opens this Tiny Desk concert with “Caravan of Fools,” a track he wrote with Pat McLaughlin and Dan Auerbach. Prine adds a disclaimer to the song saying, “any likeness to the current administration is purely accidental.”

I thought the song was great (albeit short) with these pointed lyrics:

The dark and distant drumming
The pounding of the hooves
The silence of everything that moves
Late in night you see them
Decked out in shiny jewels
The coming of the caravan of fools

That song, and his second tune, the sweet tearjerker “Summer’s End,” are from John Prine’s first album of new songs in 13 years, The Tree of Forgiveness.

He introduces this song by saying that.  This one is a pretty song.  It might drive you to tears.  He wrote this with Pat McLaughlin.  We usually write on Tuesdays in Nashville because that’s the day they serve meatloaf.  I love meatloaf.  We try to write a song before they serve the meatloaf.  And then eat it and record it.

For this Tiny Desk Concert John Prine also reaches back to his great “kiss-off” song from 1991 [“an old song from the 90s (whoo)…  a song from the school of kiss off 101”] called “All the Best,” and then plays “Souvenirs,” a song intended for his debut full-length but released the following year on his 1972 album Diamonds in the Rough. It’s just one of the many sentimental ballads Prine has gifted us.

He says he wrote it in 1968…when he was about 3.

Over the years, his voice has become gruffer and deeper, due in part to his battle with squamous cell cancer on the right side of his neck, all of which makes this song about memories slipping by feel all the more powerful and sad.

“Broken hearts and dirty windows
Make life difficult to see
That’s why last night and this mornin’
Always look the same to me
I hate reading old love letters
For they always bring me tears
I can’t forgive the way they rob me
Of my sweetheart’s souvenirs”

The musicians include John Prine, Jason Wilber, David Jacques and Kenneth Blevins.

 

[READ: December 11, 2017] X

I really enjoyed Klosterman’s last essay book, although I found pretty much every section was a little too long.  So this book, which is a collection of essays is perfect because the pieces have already been edited for length.

I wasn’t even aware of this book when my brother-in-law Ben sent it to me with a comment about how much he enjoyed the Nickelback essay.

Because I had been reading Grantland and a few other sources, I have actually read a number of these pieces already, but most of them were far off enough that I enjoyed reading them again.

This book is primarily a look at popular culture.  But narrowly defined by sports and music (and some movies).  I have never read any of Klosterman’s fiction, but I love his entertainment essays. (more…)

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