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Archive for the ‘Universities’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: SNARKY PUPPY-Tiny Desk Concert #912 (November 20, 2019).

I feel like I’ve been hearing a lot about Snarky Puppy lately.  So much so that I assumed they were a new band.  Wrong:

Snarky Puppy has been a force for a while now, earning the ears of millions for more than a decade.  The band started as college friends in the jazz program at the University of North Texas back in 2003. But the formative era came a few years later, after Michael League [bassist and bandleader] became a part of the gospel scene in Dallas and eventually brought the jazz students to church, where music plays a different role than it does in the classroom. In the pulpit, it’s a channel for spiritual healing, a communal experience between players and congregation. As an experiment, League pulled his jazz friends and his gospel bandmates into one ensemble, where the two groups bonded together and established ground-zero for building the sonic identity of Snarky Puppy

I also had an idea that (because the name sounds similar to Skinny Puppy) that they might be a, what, young bratty dark punk band?  Wrong again.

Their secret sauce? A long-simmered recipe of jazz, funk and gospel.  Thirteen albums later, you can still hear these gospel and jazz orbits crashing into each other.

Oh, and one more thing.  They only play instrumentals.

They’re a band whose lyric-less melodies are still yelled (sung back) to them at their concerts around the world, as a shared catharsis for everyone in the room.

I really couldn’t have gotten that more wrong.

The band plays two songs in this lengthy set.

The first is called “Tarova.”  It opens with a wonderful sequence of keyboards.  Shaun Martin plays the keyboards with that talk box thing (made famous by Peter Frampton).  He seems to be having a kind of call and response solo with Bobby Sparks.  Sparks has the most fascinating thing on his keyboard.  A very large whammy bar/lever that he is able to push really far down to bend notes far more than any keyboard I’ve ever heard.  It was so much fun watching him do this, I was very glad he was up front.

During all of this, “JT” Thomas is keeping time on drums.  The song proper jumps in with a fun funky riff with lots of trumpets.  Everybody gets to do something impressive in this song and there’s a bunch of solos as well.

I really like the middle funky section that’s mostly bass and keys.

The song builds to a moment when everyone stops–after a two second pause which makes everyone clap, they resume with a great percussion solo from Nate Werth.

When the song ends, League introduces everyone and says who soloed.  He jokes, “That’s what you;re supposed to do in jazz, right, say who soloed n case anyone was confused that there were solos going on.”

Then he addresses the crowd.  He says that most people there are employees and family and an abundance of interns.  He wants to turn the cameras around for a minute (only one or two turn around) and force you into a musical rhythmic experiment.  Turns out that

Seconds before we hit record, Snarky Puppy’s bandleader, Michael League leaned in to ask if he could “do a little crowd work.” I suspect he waited until the last second on purpose, but it’s been easy to trust this band when they have an idea, judging by the three Grammy Awards they get to dust off at home after every tour run.

What resulted was a Tiny Desk first: League divided the audience into two sections, one side clapping out a 3/4 beat and the other half a 4/4 beat, creating a polyrhythm that I’m sure a handful of coworkers didn’t feel so confident trying to pull off. But this band pulls you in with simple instruction and a little faith.

League says, “we’re going to a polyrhythm because things have to get nerdy and unenjoyable.”  The crowd does admirably well with the two rhythms going on.  They are aided by Nate Werth on percussion who is really amazing (not necessarily here, but in the two songs).  I believe that they are creating 7/4.

The audience is warned that this polyrhythm will be used in the second song “Xavi,” dedicated to their friends in Morocco.

The song opens a funky bass and a lovely flute melody from Chris Bullock.  Then after a short guitar lick by Chris McQueen the whole band jumps in with a really funky melody.  The riff is taken over by two trumpets Justin Stanton (whose trumpet has a mute) and Jay Jennings (no mute) and Chris Bullock who is now on sax.

I was going to say you really don’t hear much of the violin in this set as it gets kind of melded with everything else.  Then mid way through the song, Zach Brock takes a wild and, often, effects-riddled solo in the middle of the song.  It might be my favorite part of a set that has many highlights.

The clapping part is used twice.  In the first one, the band is kind of quiet and the clapping is aided with great percussion from Werth and another lovely flute.

The guitar and bass in this song are fantastic even if they are never entirely prominent.  There’s also a very cool keyboard solo from trumpeter Justin Stanton.

Then the clapping comes around a second time.  During this one, there’s a guitar and keyboard making all kinds of sounds while the drums keep hitting everything, there;s more percussion and a little more flute.

The whole set is tremendous fun.  Totally not what I was expecting and so much better.

[READ: August 15, 2019] The Idiot

I grabbed this book because I had written down the author’s name as someone I wanted to read.  I also got a kick out of the title (and the obvious allusion to Dostoevsky).

I started the book and enjoyed it and then realized that I had read an excerpt from this story already.  And that is why I had written the author’s name down.

This book was written as a kind of response to her first book.  In an essay in The Guardian, she explained that:

In her first book, The Possessed, New Yorker journalist Elif Batuman complained that as an incipient novelist she was always being told to eschew books and focus on life. Literature since Don Quixote had been seen as false and sterile; disconnected from lived experience. After years as a graduate student of Russian literature, she decided to challenge this by writing an account of her own haphazard attempt to live with and through books.

Of the excerpt I wrote quite a lot (and quite a lot that almost gets left behind after the excerpt): (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ROBERT SCHNEIDER-“Reverie in Prime Time Signatures” (2009).

Robert Schneider is the lead singer, songwriter, guitarist and producer of The Apples in Stereo.  He also received a PhD in mathematics from Emory University in 2018.

So he seems like the perfect person to write this complex score (even if he wrote it before he got his PhD).

In the back of the book, Schneider explains in pretty great detail how he chose to write what he did.

He also says that the music was written and and first performed at an experiemntal reading of the original script at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton on Dec 12 2009. Schneider played synth along with cellist Heather McIntosh and clarinet Alex Kontorovich.  The musical score is included in the book and you can hear it here

The piece is two minutes with harpsichord and a lead cello and flute with a synthesizer underneath.

It is mournful and quite pretty.

For a song that is all about odd time signatures, it somehow doesn’t feel awkward or choppy.  I don’t know enough about time signatures to even tell where the different parts are–I can’t hear it at all.  But I find the piece to be quite nice.  And it is reasonable to think that the victims could have the melody stuck in their heads.

 

[READ: June 19, 2019] Prime Suspects

Raise your hand if you want a graphic novel (illustrated by Robert J. Lewis) that is a CSI-styled investigation but is actually a pretty thorough look into higher mathematics.

I have a hard time summing up what this book is all about because I didn’t get all the math that’s going on here.  But the story itself is pretty fun and easy to follow.

The book opens with two cops finding a dead body in a tunnel  There’s also a documentary crew filming everything for the show MSI: Mathematical Science investigation.

A man in a hat and trench coat welcomes us to his world–a world where you don’t have to understand everything to know something.  Where a legendary mathematics professor became the subject of a documentary.

That professor is Professor Gauss. His assistant Mr Langer is in the precinct with Gauss to talk about what hey have found.

Langer is a formally educated student.  A bit uptight and stuffy.  One day in Professor Gauss’ class a young woman with a ring in her nose and unique fashion sense came in.   Her name is Emmy Germain and she proves to be incredibly smart.  But she is self-educated–an abomination to Langer.  But she turns out to be a delightful surprise to the documentary crew that is inexplicably filming Guass’ class. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKRHEOSTATICS-Copps Coliseum, Hamilton, ON (December 11, 1996).

This is the 22nd night of the 24 date Canadian Tour opening for The Tragically Hip on their Trouble At The Henhouse Tour.  This is the last date of the tour (so far) for which there are recordings.

The show opens with a great “Midwinter Night’s Dream” followed by a rocking “Fat.”  As the song ends with the “bye byes” Dave save “see you in the next song, Martin.”

“All the Same Eyes” is a rocking good time.  And then, after a little riff, Martin starts “Motorino” which sounds great.

Dave says, “Hi we’re the Rheostatics, not to be confused with The Howl Brothers–they couldn’t make it.  But we’ve got their jackets.”  He mentions that they have a new album out, “get it before its reduced to clear.”

During “Bad Time to Be Poor” after “feeling winter through a crack in the door,” Tim goes brrrrrr.  More Tim on “Claire” with some great soaring harmony vocals before Martin’s rather grunting solo.  Although at the end, instead of spelling C-L-A-I-R-E, Tim seems to be singing Steve L.A. yea yea yea confides in me”

The set ends with two scorching tracks.  A terrific “California Dreamline” and a roaring “Feed Yourself” (with a really intense ending).

As the feedback fades, Dave says, “Thanks to the Tragically Hip.  God bless.”

It’s a nice way to end the tour–but maybe someday we’ll hear those last two shows.

[READ: April 9, 2019] “The Unexpected”

This was a darkly amusing story (yes, it is Joyce Carol Oates) that I had to wonder if it was in any way autobiographical or just horrifyingly possible.

The story is about a writer receiving an honorary doctorate of humane letters from the community college near her home town in update New York.  She left and never came back, but has been writing about her home town for much of her career.

She is awkward from the start, “Thank you for the honor.  I am very–honored.”

She receives applause–not thunderous, but polite, even warm .  But her speech seems to fall flat (if it can even be heard over the fighter jets).  But when she is finished, she pauses and the response is enthusiastic and she wonders “Is there where I belong now?” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-Northlands Coliseum Edmonton AB (November 13, 1996).

Rheostatics opened for The Tragically Hip in Fall 1996.  Some of the shows were online already, but in 2018, Rheostatics Live added about ten more shows.  This is the 5th night of the 24 date Canadian Tour opening for The Tragically Hip on their Trouble At The Henhouse Tour. Only recordings of Shaved Head and Earth from this tour.

This is their second night in Edmonton and they play some of what I consider their more risky opening-set songs.  The show begins with Martin playing “Digital Beach.”  It’s a quiet song but the crowd seems really respectful.  And Martin sounds in great voice with his falsetto hitting all the right notes.

The end segues perfectly into “Earth.”  I feel like it takes a little while to get Earth going (again, thinking as an opening act and it’s such a slow song)–I find a very risky.  But the loud part of “Monstrous Hummingbirds” roars out and Martin’s guitar sounds great and they have surely won people over by now.

Up next is “Claire.”  Tim sounds in good voice and Martin has some cool phasing for his guitar solo.

Dave doesn’t sing a ton, but he thanks Edmonton.  “Thank you, Edmonton the whole city’s here tonight.  I see the mayor.  I see the coach.  I see the wizard.”

They rip into a great “Dope Fiends and Boozehounds” (some of you are here tonight).  Everyone is right on and the vocals are terrific.  There’s even a bit of a drum solo.

Dave mentions the cross country tour, the big crowds, the hockey rinks–shrines to the game of professional hockey.  They’re happy to be there “despite the fact that they still let Peter Pocklington in here [Pocklington owned the Oilers and is quite a divisive figure–he sold Wayne Gretzsky to Los Angeles, among many other things.  He will appear again in this show, shortly.]

Dave also says that they just released a record The Blue Hysteria, and if you get a chance to buy it we’d like that very much.

Up next is an amazing “Sweet Rich Beautiful Mine.”  The vocals are wonderful–Martin is in top form tonight.  I believe Tim is singing the really high backing vocals too.  The song feels like a show stopper the way Martin’s voice soars majestically at the end–higher and higher.

Despite how amazing that is, they start right up with “Horses.”  For years I have wondered what events this song commemorated.  I wasn’t really sure how to find out. And then, here Dave introduces the song and tells all: “This is a song about the strike at the Gainers meat-packing plant in the mid-1980s.  It is a privilege to sing this song here tonight.

This is where Pocklington returns.  Dave doesn’t mention this, but I looked it up and found out [from Wikipedia]

Perhaps Pocklington’s most notorious setback was the result of a six-month strike with the United Food and Commercial Workers union that crippled Gainers, which at the time was Canada’s second-largest meat packer. Pocklington used strikebreakers, primarily from Quebec, to keep the plant operating despite the picket lines, a decision that earned him the enmity of Canada’s labour movement. Eventually, he agreed to settle the strike and rehire the striking workers at the request of the Alberta government.

So not only did Pocklington trade Gretzky, he was the inspiration for “Horses.”  No wonder Dave hates him so much.

“Horses” is energized and spectacular and Martin plays a noisy, wild electrified solo with some great horse sounds at the end.

Normally this might end a show but they segue right into “Shaved Head” (someone in the audience screams twice–loudly like an actual shriek–I wonder if that was good or bad).  Martin continues to sounds great–he’s hitting those high notes like nothing.  A beautiful, powerful ending leads into the jolly intro of “Fan Letter to Michael Jackson.”  Once again, everyone sounds great with this song.

They end the show with everyone repeating the refrain of “It feels good to be alive.”  The voices all stop except Martin who sends everyone off with his gorgeous falsetto singing “it feels good to be alive.”

What a great opening act to see.

[READ: February 5, 2019] “All Will Be Well”

This story opens with a comic line, but the story is hardly a comedy.

“Once upon a time, I was addicted to a salon.”

I have really enjoyed the way Yiyun Li develops character and setting.  In this story the salon is run by Lily.  The magazines are in Chinese and Vietnamese and the TV is tuned to a Mandarin channel.  It is in a neighborhood where armed robberies were common.  Lily unlocks the door when she sees customers coming and immediately locks it again.

The narrator teaches at a local college, but she pretends that she is going to school for fiction-writing.  The best part of her character is that she lied and told Lily that she “had been adopted by a couple from Holland when [she] was a year old and moved to America when she was in Middle School.”   Because of this she was forgiven for not speaking one of the preferred languages.

She went to the salon more often than was necessary.  She says if she had been superstitious, she would swear Lily put a spell on her.  The narrator seemed mostly entranced by Lily’s stories–Lily loves to talk, and it gave the narrator a way out of her own life.  “I listened, smiled, and asked questions–these were my most tiresome traits, and I used them tirelessly.”  Normally she had to give her opinions all day (she was a teacher after all) but here she could forget about herself. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BUDDY-Tiny Desk Concert #815 (January 9, 2019).

Buddy is a pretty upbeat rapper from Compton.  He’s dressed in yellow, he laughs a lot.  he plays a groovy kind of gentle raping.

The same soulful hybrid of rapping and singing that compelled Pharrell to sign him as a teenager found Buddy stretching L.A. hip-hop beyond its typical gangsta narrative, while dancing with his dreams and shaking off his demons.

So it’s funny that the blurb is all about the drama of his Tiny Desk.

When Buddy, a preacher’s son from Compton, turns to me with eyebrows raised on the elevator ride inside NPR’s corporate headquarters, it’s hard to tell if the question that comes next is in preparation for his performance or pure provocation.

“Can we smoke in here?!” he asks with a grin that elicits stifled laughter from his bandmates and a few newsroom journalists along for the ride. It’s a blunt request, even from a self-professed “weed connoisseur,” and it kicks off one of the most dramatic Tiny Desks in recent memory.

That drama doesn’t happen until midway through the 11 minute set, and we don’t actually see it.

He starts “Legend,” which is really only an introduction.  He asks everyone to sing “Legend.”  You all got to say this, Legend.  You there in the glasses, you gotta say that shit Legend.

Everyone wants to be a legend, as far as I’m concerned, it’s my turn.

“Trouble On Central” is a song about aspirations and dreams, but being stuck.

Buddy is clearly a natural at this.  He’s also an alumni of actress Wendy Raquel Robinson’s Amazing Grace Conservatory, an L.A. program known for steeping inner-city kids in the performing arts. Between the two, he earned his dramatic chops early.”I’m so used to being in front of an audience of people,” he tells me, “just doing my thing and not really caring about it.” He’s definitely not afraid of the camera. In fact, he’s one of the rare Tiny Desk guests who stares directly into it throughout much of his set, performing for the camera in the most literal sense.

I did think it was odd how often he looked at the camera, and I see that most people don’t

“Hey Up There” is where the controversy arises.

So when Buddy proceeded to fire up a blunt midway through his set, we had to stop the show and ask him to put it out before re-recording his song, “Hey Up There.” (Smoking is not allowed on NPR property.) The performance was still lit,

“Real Life S**t”  has a sweetly sung “la da da da da” backing vocal which he joins in on from time to time.  He raps mostly and throws in some fast rapping at the end of a verse, but mostly this is a groovy song.

While onstage drama kept Buddy a safe distance from the streets, he still experienced the kind of coming-of-age struggles that shaped his personal and political outlook. On “Real Life S**t,” the opening song on his album and the last song in his Tiny Desk set, he conveys that reality with raw sentiment for the sitting President in lyrics straight from the record: “Fuck Donald Trump and that Nigger’s son.”

At first I didn’t think too much of Buddy’s set but after another listen, I enjoyed his whole attitude.  It would have been fun to see him light up and what reaction it caused.

[READ: November 1, 2018] Check Please Book 1

This was a fun, fully enjoyable graphic novel about hockey–with the typical First Second quality, of course.

Like many books lately, this one started as a webcomic and you can read all of this book and more online. (but print is better).

The story follow Eric “Bitty” Bittle as he goes off to college at Samwell University.  Ukazu went to Yale and Samwell is meant to be in the ECAC league just like Yale and Princeton.  Bitty came to hockey through figure skating.  He is quite tiny, especially compared to the other players.  He also bakes a lot of pies.  And, we learn soon enough, Bitty is gay.  Fortunately for our hero, he went to a school that is very tolerant (his coming out story is very funny).

His hockey team also has a star player Jack Zimmerman.  Who?  Jack Zimmerman is the son of the legendary Bob Zimmerman who has won more awards and trophies than you can count.  But Jack was anxious trying to live up to his legendary father and he took anxiety medication for it which ended up with him in rehab and presumably no career.  But he found a home at Samwell. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BLUE OYSTER CULT-“Joan Crawford” (1983).

Most people include “Don’t Fear the Reaper” on their Halloween playlist, but for me, “Joan Crawfford” is far creepier.

The song opens with Allan Lanier’s classical piano motif.  Nothing scary about that until it is continues through the song during the heavy guitar crunches.

The chords are simple but loud and quickly bring us to the short but effective lyrics:

the song burst with some heavy chords and then the creepy lyrics.

Junkies down in Brooklyn are going crazy
They’re laughing just like hungry dogs in the street
Policemen are hiding behind the skirts of little girls
Their eyes have turned the color of frozen meat

No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no-no, no, no, no  [done with strings and harmony vocals]
Joan Crawford has risen from the grave [with creepy violin slides]

Catholic school girls have thrown away their mascara
They chain themselves to the axles of Big Mack trucks
The sky is filled with herds of shivering angels
The fat lady laughs: “Gentlemen, start your trucks”

Aside from the poor rhyme of trucks and trucks, these are nice, scene-setting lyrics.

But the real creep factor comes in the middle when a series of sound effects set up…what?  things about Crawford’s life?  Her movies?  I have no idea.

Car crash phone, baby crying, rooster crowing, car starting, horse race opening horn, ship whistle, opera singer, school bell ringing

As the bell fades, a quiet part begins with a distorted other worldy voice whispering “Cristina…. mother’s home.”  It gives me chills just thinking about it.  Combine with Eric Bloom quietly whimpering No no no no.  It’s a nightmare song.

Pretty great.

I had no idea there was a video made (it was banned by MTV) and, pretty rightly so, even if it is tame today.

[READ: October 25, 2018] “The Quest for Blank Claveringi”

Just in time for Halloween, from the people who brought me The Short Story Advent Calendar and The Ghost Box. comes Ghost Box II.

This is once again a nifty little box (with a magnetic opening and a ribbon) which contains 11 stories for Halloween.  It is lovingly described thusly:

The Ghost Box returns, like a mummy or a batman, to once again make your pupils dilate and the hair on your arms stand straight up—it’s another collection of individually bound scary stories, edited and introduced by comedian and spooky specialist Patton Oswalt.

There is no explicit “order” to these books; however, Patton Oswalt will be reviewing a book a day on his Facebook page.

Much respect to Oswalt, but I will not be following his order.  So there. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JENNIFER CASTLE-Live at Massey Hall (November 23, 2017).

I didn’t think I knew Jennifer Castle, but I see that she has appeared as a guest singer on a whole bunch of records by artists that I know: Eric Chenaux, Bry Webb, Constantines and Fucked Up.

She has an unusual voice–soaring, delicate and whispery with a slight warble and yet you know she could belt out if she wanted to.

She starts the show saying Toronto has incredible beautiful old buildings and its rare these days to go inside one.  Inside Massey Hall it’s lit up to be another member of the band and to be part of the show.

I found the music to be incredibly spare–too spare in fact.  It is primarily piano and her vocals (with backing singers), but the piano (Jonathan Adjemian) is not a primary instrument, it is simply playing chords for her to sing over.  The sparseness was a little disconcerting.  But the backing vocalists (Victoria Cheeong and Isla Craig) are stellar–they really add a lot to the music and their voices soar in their own right.

But I think that sparseness allows her lyrics to really come through.  “Like a Gun” has the lyric “he was lik e gun [hah, from lovely backing vocalists] he was always going off.”

“Nature” has even better lyrics

Despite all my feelings of life parallel
Nature is happening without my goodwill
I called my friend up and she said it still
Happens to you even when you are ill

and ends with this interesting conceit

I lift my skirt for the economy

“Texas” is played on guitar with a very catchy “hoo hoo hoo hoo” clap-along.

I go down to Texas
To kiss my grandmother goodbye
She forgets things
But when I look her in the eye
I see my father
And he’s been gone so very long
In the name of time travel
Help him to hear to my little song

Jennifer plays electric guitar on “Truth is the Freshest Fruit” which changes the whole dynamic of her songs.  She plays guitar with piano accompaniment on “Sailing Away.”

She is the first person to mention the renovations Massey Hall is currently undergoing:

I know that Massey is going to go through a great big change but it feels good to play while the history is still on the paint.

The final song is absolutely wonderful.  She says she wrote “Please Take Me (I’m Broken)” because she knew they were coming to Massey and it celebrates the school of Greek mythology

The backing vocalists sing a verse by themselves and they sound great.  I love the chorus

Please take me cause something don’t seem right; something don’t compute.  I don’t belong here.
Please take me I’m broken;  I’ve woken up and I should be dreaming.
Please take me back to those other realms they seem much kinder on a dreamer like me.
I’ve always looked up to those ancient Greek stories.
I love the thrill of the scale; I like the the roll of the chorus.

A thoughtful and unique performer.

[READ: July 17, 2018] “Now More Than Ever”

I  feel like Zadie Smith’s recent stories have been exploring a new style for her, a more “in the present” kind of vibe.  This story has meta-elements and is very much an of the moment piece.  It seems to address current hot button issues and her own inability to fully wrap her head around them.

It begins: “There is an urge to be good. To be seen to be good. To be seen.  Also to be.”

This is what she told Mary.  She also told Mary that no one is called Marty these days.  “Could you get the hell out of here?”  So Mary left.  Then Scout came by–a great improvement.

Scout is active and alert on all platforms. She;s usually no later than the 300th person to see something.  The narrator was “the ten million two hundred and sixth person to see that thing.” (more…)

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