Archive for the ‘Natasha Wimmer’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: ROY AYERS-Tiny Desk Concert #712 (March 1, 2018).

I hadn’t heard of Roy Ayers, although I imagine I’ve heard his work somewhere before.  I love the vibes so I was looking forward to his set.

I was a little bummed to hear him singing–I assumed it would be all instrumental. Especially since his songs aren’t exactly lyrically masterful.  But the jazzy funky solos were pretty great.

Roy Ayers [is a] 77-year-old jazz-funk icon.  He sauntered through the office with a Cheshire grin on his face, sharing jokes with anyone within earshot. Accompanying him was a trio of brilliantly seasoned musicians — keyboardist Mark Adams, bassist Trevor Allen and drummer Christopher De Carmine. Later during the performance, pride washed across Ayers’ face as his bandmates took the spotlight. (Be sure to watch as Adams woos not just the room but brightens Ayers’ face during his solo.)

The set began with one of Ayers’ more recognizable hits: an extended version of “Searching,” a song that embodies the eternal quest for peace and love.  The vibes solo at 2 and a half minutes is worth the wait, though.

The lyrics are essentially.  I’m searching, searching, searching searching. It takes over a minute for him to even get to the vibes!  It’s followed by a groovy keyboard solo that starts mellow be really takes off by the end.

During “Black Family” (from his 1983 album Lots Of Love), you’ll hear him call out “Fela” throughout. That’s because Afrobeat legend Fela Kuti was a huge influence on Ayers in the late 1970s; the two eventually collaborated on an album, 1980’s Music Of Many Colors. “Black Family” is, in part, a tribute to Fela, even if the original version didn’t include his name.

Again the lyrics: “lo-lo-lo-lo-long time ago” and not much else repeated over and over and over. But it’s all lead up to a great vibes solo (as the band gets more and more intense).  I love that the keyboardist has a keytar as well and is playing both keys at the same time–soloing on the keytar with an awesome funky sound.  There’s even a cool bass solo.

Concluding this mini-concert, Ayers closed the set out with his signature tune, “Everybody Loves the Sunshine”, a feel-good ode if there ever was one. The essence of this song flowed right through him and out to the NPR audience.

Another terrific vibes solo is followed by a keytar solo which is full of samples of people singing notes (they sound like Steely Dan samples)–it’s weird and kind of cool.

[READ: August 2017] McSweeney’s No 46

As the subtitle reflects this issue is all about Latin American crime.  It features thirteen stories selected by Daniel Galera.  And in his introduction he explains what he was looking for:

DANIEL GALERA-Introduction
He says it used to be easy to talk about Latin American fiction–magical realism, slums and urban violence.  But now things have expanded.  So he asked 13 writers to put their own Latin American spin on the crime story.

And of course, each McSweeney’s starts with


DANIEL ALARCÓN writes passionately about Diego Maradona’s famous “Goal of the Century” and how as a child he watched it dozens of times and then saw it thousands of times in his head.  When he learned of Maradona’s questionable “Hand of God” goal, his father said that his previous goal was so good it counted twice.  But Daniel grows sad realizing that the goal of the century also marked the beginning of Maradona’s decline.

LAIA JUFRESA this was a fascinating tale about a game called Let’s Kill Carlo that her family played.   It involves a convoluted history including her mother “inventing” a child in order for her husband to come to Mexico from Italy and avoid conscription there.  But when this child “Carlo” “came of age” they had to think of reason why he wasn’t there anymore–so they invented the Let’s Kill Carlo game.

YURI HERRERA waiting for a bus in New Orleans as a man lay in the gutter also waiting.

VALERIA LUISELLI her friend recently moved to Minneapolis with her nervous wreck Chihuahua named President.   He was diagnoses with terminal cancer and the vet encouraged all manner of alternative therapies.  This friend was a very sweet person and had many virtues. And yet perhaps through her virtue the alternative therapy seems to have worked.

FRANCISCO GOLDMAN wants to know why immigration officers at Newark Airport are such dicks (and this was before Trump–#ITMFA).  He speaks of personal examples of Mexican citizens being treated badly.  He had asked a friend to brings books for him and she was harassed terribly asked why did she need so many bags for such a short stay.  Another time he was flying back to NYC with a Mexican girlfriend.   She went through customs and he didn’t hear anything for hours.  He didn’t know if she would even make it though customs at all–even though she’d done nothing wrong.   He imagines wondering how these officers live and what their lives must be like that they seem to take pleasure in messing with other people’s lives. (more…)

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secretevilSOUNDTRACK: ABAJI-Tiny Desk Concert #47 (February 15, 2010).

abajiThis is the only time I have heard of Abaji. He is an unimposing man with roots in Greece, Turkey, Armenia and France.  He sings gently (often in Arabic with some English) and he plays while he sings.

The impressive thing about Abaji is his skill and love of musical instruments.  The notes say “when recording his latest album, Origine Orients, he played 10 different instruments, many of them simultaneously, with no second takes or overdubs. It took him just two days.”

“Min Jouwwa” (which means “From Inside”) is played on  what looks like a normal guitar but which sounds so very different. The notes say it’s “a tricked-out Western-style guitar with extra strings, giving it the sound of an Egyptian oud.”

“Steppes”  is a brief haunting instrumental.  It’s played by bowing a soft-toned kamancheh (a three-stringed instrument that you hold upright on your lap for a scratch, middle eastern sound).  He often times rocks the instrument instead of the bow back and forth.

The final song is played on the Greek bouzouki (with whistling as accompaniment).  “Summertime” is the Gershwin song (which is only recognizable from the words–the first verse anyhow, which he sings in English–the second verse he sings in Arabic).  It sounds nothing like the original with the serpentine riffs and that unique bouzouki sound.

I only wish the cameras were still rolling after the set because “he demonstrated a large duduk (an Armenian cousin of the oboe), an Indonesian suling (flute) and a Colombian saxophone (of sorts) made from bamboo that looked more like a snake.”

This is what I love about the Tiny Desk–seeing very different instruments and unconventional performers up close.  Abaji is fun to watch.

[READ: May 7, 2015] The Secret of Evil

This has got to be the final posthumous collection of writings from Bolaño.  The Preliminary note from Ignacio Echevarria explains that this book is a collection of the final fragments that were found on Bolaño’s computer.  As such, the book consists primarily of works that are unfinished (some barely even started).

This isn’t as disappointing as it sounds because Bolaño seemed to write very thoroughly right form the beginning with his stories.  So even though they are incomplete, the section that is written feels fully fleshed out–and you can imagine that more will be coming. Echevarria says that “Bolaño rarely began to write a story without giving it a title and immediately establishing a definitive tone and atmosphere.”  This of course made it difficult for Echevarria to know what to compile here.

Not everything in this collection if unfinished.  And indeed, with Bolaño sometimes it’s unclear if the unfinished things were actually unfinished. (more…)

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lumpenSOUNDTRACK: WE ARRIVE ALIVE-“Walls” (2011).

wallsI discovered We Arrive Alive from the Girl Band bandcamp site (it says the bands are friends).  They are from County Wicklow and play very cool post rock instrumentals.  They have three EPs, all of which are available for free on their bandcamp site.

Their first is called Walls.  The opening song “Walls” has fast guitar with a slinky Sleater-Kinney kind of guitar progression. Unlike S-K, there is bass and no vocals. The middle section feels like any number of post-rock instrumentalists like Explosions in the Sky.  But it’s not derivative–it’s expansive and beautiful.  “Save Me from the Morning” is a much faster song with a more intricate bassline underneath the guitar riffs. The structure of the song makes it seem more like a conventional song (ie one with words). But there are no words, and the guitars fill in very nicely for where vocals might appear. But 90 seconds in, the songs switches gears and becomes a bit more jazzy.  Then around 3 minutes the bass takes over with big loud notes—it’s a great transition. There’s yet another part, a quiet section, that ends the song.  That’s a lot of music packed into 6 and a half minutes.

“This is a City” is the final song.  A seven minute slow building instrumental. It starts quietly and the intertwining guitars get louder as they echo more.  I love the way at around 5 minutes the song shifts gears entirely to a sort of electronic feel with pinging notes.  It ends with a  fantastic closing riff.

I’m glad to have discovered these guys, I love a good collection of instrumentals.

[READ: March 17, 2015] A Little Lumpen Novelita

This may be the final extant untranslated book by Roberto Bolaño.  Although I have yet to read The Secret of Evil (that fell right off my radar), as far as I can tell, the only things left untranslated are:

  • Diorama (this book is unpublished at all, so it’s unlikely to be translated anytime soon)  AND
  • Consejos de un discípulo de Morrisona un fanático de Joyce, 1984  [Advice from a Morrison Disciple to a Joyce Fanatic] which has yet to be translated and I don’t know why, so I assume it never will be.

I don’t fully understand the use of the word “Lumpen” in the title, but don’t let that odd word (which is in the Spanish title, so we can’t blame excellent translator Natasha Wimmer) keep you from reading this breezy and entertaining (if not a bit dark) book.

As with many books by Bolaño, there’s not a lot of plot, per se.  In this book, a young woman (Bianca) and her brother have been orphaned at a young age.  Their parents died in a car crash in Italy (which is where they live).  They try to cope as best they can, but they ultimately decide to drop out of school and do nothing except watch a movie a day.  Bianca tells her brother that they can’t afford that lifestyle (especially since he just seems to get X-Rated films), but he continues to do so anyway.

They realize that they will need money of course, so Bianca gets a job as a hair washer at a salon.  Her brother gets a job cleaning floors at a gym.  It seems to be enough for the time being. (more…)

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univSOUNDTRACK: BECK-Mutations (1998).

mutationsThis is the first album that shows a wholly different side to Beck. It is pretty much an entirely traditional album.  There’s no samples, just consistently strong songwriting.  The overall feel is mellow and it comes as quite a shock after the chaos of Odelay!

Although the album has a very consistent vibe, it’s not all samey.  There’s a lot of different instrumentation like the harpsichord on “Lazy Flies,” and the old-timey piano and slide guitar on “Canceled Check” which has a very country feel.  It’s not all simple and normal though, as “Check” ends with a strange musical breakdown that keeps it from being a smooth song.  “We Live Again” is a very mellow track with Beck singing sweetly over the waves of music.

As befits the name “Tropicalia” has a very tropical feel, it’s totally danceable and was a very wise choice as a sample.  “Dead Melodies” has a classical music feel (with vocals of course).  “Bottle of Blues” is, unsurprisingly, a somewhat rowdy blues song.  “O Maria” is a slow but upbeat piano song that also feels old timey.  “Sing It Again” has a melody that is similar to “Norwegian Wood,” but the song is nothing like that Beatles classic.  This is gently sung and played acoustic guitar number.  And “Static” is a quiet disc ender.

This disc also feature a “bonus” track, and this is the first one that is actually enjoyable.  It is a fleshed out song (and a good one at that). It is comparatively rambunctious and noisy and quite different from anything else on the disc.  It’s called “Diamond Bollocks” and has a great bass line and cool backing vocals.  This song could easily have been a hit if it weren’t tucked away at the end of the disc.  (Well, and there are some weird moments to, but overall, easily a hit).

Despite all that Beck is known for his crazy songs and samples, Mutations is an extremely cohesive record with enough diversity to keep it from ever getting dull.  It’s a great record and is somewhat overlooked in his catalog.

[READ: March 16, 2014] The Unknown University

This is a collection of almost all of Roberto Bolaño’s poetry.  Some (but not all) of the poems from his collection The Romantic Dogs are included here, although some of those are apparently modified a little.  It also includes what was earlier released as Antwerp but is here called “People Walking Away.”  (I found Antwerp and “People” to be quite unusual and would never remember what is the same in the two.  But translator Laura Healy says that she more or less uses Natasha Wimmer’s translation of Antwerp for the parts that are the same (a task which must have been harder than it sounds if the two pieces weren’t exactly the same).

This book is 830 pages with facing pages of Spanish and English.  According to the publisher’s note, this collection was found on Bolaño’s computer as is—a collection of all of his poems from throughout his career.

Most of the early poems were written when Bolaño was young (in his 20s).  Even at such a young age, he writes powerfully.  Not all of his poems are great of course (how could they be when there are so many) but there are dozens and dozens of poems that I thought were fantastic.  I’m going to include some below, but I also wanted to get some criticisms out of the way too.

He tends to revisit ideas quite a lot, which is normal for a poet, but it seems weird to revisit an idea in subsequent poems (especially when the poems are just a few lines long each).  It almost feels like he fixated on a subject and thought of a number of ways to work with it and rather than make one long poem, he made several short ones.  Like this strange occurrence: (more…)

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woesSOUNDTRACK: ATERCIOPELADOS-Live at Bumbershoot, September 5, 2010 (2010).

atercioA rock en Español band who have returned after a brief hiatus, Aterciopelados have changed a bit since their early more punk days.  Their last album Rio came out in 2008, I knew them back in the mid nineties.  This brief set (7 songs) at Bumbershoot showcases their more mellow tracks (there’s pan pipes) on “El Estuche.”  The Colombian band has always been political, but it seems like they are much more explicit about it on this record.  As singer Andrea Echeverri introduces a number of song, she talks about how they are “important” and are meant to bring attention to the troubles of Colombia.

“Ataque de Risa” has a wonderfully catchy melody (and I believe she says her daughter is singing with them on it).  The song “Bandera” (which means “Flag”) is pointedly directed at Arizona’s anti-immigrant law.  She introduces it as saying that all peoples are together under a rainbow flag.   It’s a more angry sound for Echeverri’s voice, but she does a great job.  Her voice is really impressive.  “Rompe Cabezas” has a rollicking chorus that’s a lot of fun and “Bolero Falaz” ends the set with a very cool and catchy song.

Here’s a video of El Estcuhe

[READ: December 2, 2012] Woes of the True Policeman 

This is yet another unfinished novel from Roberto Bolaño.  Bolaño knew that he was dying and he created a lot of work in anticipation of his legacy.  The afterword of the novel says that they found all of the various parts of this novel in various locations among his work–hand written and computer drafted.  And they all mention this titles, so they are pretty certain about the order and that it is as finished as it could be.

Unlike some of his other posthumous releases, this one must be deemed pretty significant since it was published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux instead of New Directions (publisher of most of Roberto Bolaño’s other smaller works).

And really what it reads like is a kind of prelude to 2666.  For this is the same Amalfitano as in 2666.  But it is his story from before he moves to Sonora, Mexico–before all of the murders started.  Indeed, there are parts of 2666 which make Amalfitano’s past seem like it is unknown but this story fills in the gaps quite well.  One of the details in 2666 is that Amalfitano’s teaching contract had expired at the University of Barcelona, although this book gives the behind the scenes reason why it expired.

Bolaño has many many stories in which he explores the past of a character from a different story.  Typically, it is a novella in which a minor character from a bigger novel gets his or her own story told.  And that seems to be the case with this as well.

The story is set up in five sections (just like 2666).  Section I of this story (part of which was as excerpted in Harper’s recently) is called The Fall of the Berlin Wall and tells how Amalfitano, a professor, fell for a young poet named Padilla.  He wound up having an affair with him, which ended his career (I’m unclear whether it is because he is a student or because the affair was homosexual that the University wanted him out).  Amalfitano had never had homosexual desires before, and he was a proud husband and father, but he found that Padilla really affected him.

And so Amalfitano and Rosa, his daughter, moved to Sonora and the only school that would have him. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK:  JEFF THE BROTHERHOOD-Tiny Desk Concert #165 (October 8, 2011).

This was my first exposure to JEFF the Brotherhood, a rollicking duo who blast out the walls of the NPR studios.  The guitarist and drummer play simple, power punk (quite well) and they sound like a whole band, not just two guys.

“Diamond Way” reminds me of the Meat Puppets–echoey lazy-sounding punk.  ANd the oh oh oh oh oh is very catchy.  And then, after describing an NPR host as sounding like Ira Glass–if he were an old woman (and then apologizing if he offended anyone), they play “Bummer”–shirtless—presumably a first for the NPR offices.

“Bummer” is a mellower song and their sound doesn’t sound less full for the mellowess–especially when he kicks on the distortion pedal.  “Bone Jam” is one of my favorites–more ooh’s and the simple but wonderful lyrics “Gonna grind your bones to make my bread.”  It’ s amazing that two guys can sound this good.

[READ: August 17, 2010] “The Ruin of Amalfitano”

Natasha Wimmer has translated yet another posthumous work from Roberto Bolaño, this one called Woes of the True Policeman, due out this month.

This may already exist, but I hope someone is compiling a family tree of all of the Bolaño characters who have appeared in different locations.  For instance, the Amalfitano in this story appeared in 2666, indeed he has a whole chapter about himself.  And we know it’s the same Amalfitano because they both have a daughter named Rosa.  This story is set before 2666 and these fascinating events would shed some light on the state of Amalfitano when we do meet him in the novel.  Of course, Bolaño’s writings don’t seem to follow a conventional strategy so who knows if he intended any of this to be part of the “missing” Part 6 of 2666.

Anyhow, this story is about Amalfitano, but it opens with Padilla who decided to become an artist at the age of 13.  After dabbling in theater and film, he settled on poetry.  By 17, he was a sarcastic angry kid who could be easily provoked to violence (he claims that when fighting Nazis, anything is permitted).

At 18, he published his first book of poetry and when he was 21 he showed the poems to Amalfitano.  Amalfitano was a teacher of Latin America writers at the University.  He liked Padilla’s poetry, although he didn’t much like Padilla who didn’t come to class very much.  But once Amalfitano gave him praise for the poems, Padilla never missed another class. He even invited Amalfitanoto his house for parties.  After many such parties, the two became lovers.

Once the University learned of this, Amalfitano was fired.  (more…)

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I bought this disc for Sarah after it came out.  I didn’t think that I would enjoy it that much because while I loved the movie Once, I wasn’t sure if I needed more from Glen and Marketa.  But then I found a whole slew of free concerts from NPR and I became hooked on the band.

The disc opens with “Low Rising” (what I think of as the “Van Morrison” song).  It gets better with each listen.  It’s a slow ballad which is followed by “Feeling the Pull,” a more up-tempo song that really highlights Marketa’s beautiful harmonies.  “In These Arms” is a gorgeous song.  The verses are downbeat and somber “if you stay…with that asshole…it will only lead to harm” but again the harmonies are gorgeous.  “The Rain” is a more rocking tune (within reason, of course).  It has an interesting middle section that quiets down, but it’s a solid folk rocking song.

“Fantasy Man” is Marketa’s first lead vocal song on the disc.  I like her voice but sometimes I find her lead songs to be a bit too wispy, too quiet.  I like this song, but it feels long (and at 5 minutes, it is).  “Paper Cup” is one of Glen’s quiet ballads.  It’s a pretty song.  “High Horses” is one that I didn’t know from the live sets, I guess it’s not too popular with the band, but I think it’s strong.  It runs a little long but that’s because it has a cool middle section that keeps building and building with more instruments and voices.  “The Verb” is another song that I didn’t know.  It has a cool intensity to it and while it doesn’t stand out as a hit, it’s certainly an enjoyable song.

“I Have Loved You Wrong” is another pretty Marketa song, but again it’s very slow and very long.  I don’t think I could buy her solo album because although her voice is lovely and her melodies are nice, they’re just so ephemeral I can’t really get into them.  “Love That Conquers” is an interesting song.  It sounds nothing like The Swell Season (must be the banjo).  It’s a nice addition to the album and should maybe have been placed a little earlier to break up the sound style a bit more.  “Back Broke” ends the disc very strongly.  Although I think the song works better live (with audience participation), the melody and tone of the song are somberly beautiful.

There are moments of this disc when it turns out to be what I feared the whole disc would be–bland folkiness. But overall this is an enjoyable album for a rainy day.  And Hansard really has an amazing voice.  However, I really like them better live.

[READ: December 26, 2011] Third Reich

I was pretty excited when I heard about this book, although I must admit I was a little concerned by the title.  Bolaño has a kind of weird Nazi fascination.  There is Nazi Literature in America and then a whole section of 2666 is given over to Nazi Germany.  He doesn’t like Nazis or anything but he writes about them a lot and it can be a little exhausting.  So it was with some relief that I learned that Third Reich is the name of a game that the main character plays.  It is a kind of historical reimagining kind of game (I guess like Risk but more specific and with more at stake).  It is set during the time of the Third Reich and the players represent various countries (or perhaps even powers).

I am giving up on explaining the game from here on because a) there’s a lot about the game in the book and b) I’m not sure if it wasn’t explained very thoroughly or if I just missed out on exactly what was happening.  During the book he talks about Hexes 65 through 68 and so on.  So I assume the map of the world is a hex grid.  But he never gives any context (or even a picture!–and this makes sense as it’s written as the diary of a well-regarded player who is not trying to teach us the game).  So while I understand the general tenets and play of the game (there’s a die (or dice) and tokens that reside on the board), the specifics are completely nebulous.  But that’s okay.  Because the game specifics don’t impact the book, but the game overall is at the heart of the book.  I think it’s neat that Bolaño invented a game (and several others games are named, but no details are given).  He is clearly very gifted at inventing people, games, things.

But as I said, the game is only a part of the book and in fact, the game details don’t enter into the book until about half way through. (more…)

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