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Archive for the ‘Vacation’ Category

[ATTENDED: July 27 & 28, 2019] Newport Folk Festival

Back in 1998, I won a radio contest (not through luck, I knew the name of a song and couldn’t believe no one else did!) and scored a ticket to the Newport Folk Festival.  It was in a lull back then and also, I believe there was only one stage (it’s hard to remember).  Now it is at full power, selling out before artists are even announced.

S. and I have talked about going and finally this year I saw when tickets were announced and I bought 4 tickets for us.  I knew that our son wouldn’t want to go, but I decided to make a long vacation out of it–a couple days in Rhode Island and then about a week in Maine.  He couldn’t say no to going to that.

I didn’t get Friday tickets because three days seemed excessive.  Plus, you never know who is going to appear until long after you buy the tickets. and that actually worked out pretty well.   Turned out, there wasn’t anyone I really wanted to see.

So we rolled in for Saturday.  I was told that if you wanted to get the poster you had to get their very early.  We arrived at 12:30 and they were long sold out.  Oh well. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BETTER OBLIVION COMMUNITY CENTER-Tiny Desk Concert #844 (April 24, 2019).

This Tiny Desk Concert marks another one of those rare occasions where I’ve seen a band live BEFORE their Tiny Desk.

I saw BOCC on April 2.   I assume that this Tiny Desk was recorded around that time (bands usually play DC right before or after Philly), but it takes a week or so to get online.

I really enjoyed the BOCC concert, which rocked more than I thought it would.

But I enjoyed this Tiny Desk even more than that because Conor Oberst and Phoebe Bridgers are having so much fun with this show.  Truth be told they had a lot of fun at our show too, but they experiment more here.  They also have lots of experience at the Tiny Desk.

When this fabulous new duo arrived for their Tiny Desk, it felt like old friends coming home. Both Conor Oberst and Phoebe Bridgers are Tiny Desk alum. Conor’s first Tiny Desk Concert came in 2014. Phoebe has come by twice in the past few years, first as a solo artist in 2017 and then as part of another creative and collaborative endeavor with Lucy Dacus and Julien Baker as boygenius in 2018. So, unlike the bundle of nerves that often come with an appearance at the NPR offices, this one was fun and, at times, silly, like when Conor Oberst sang into a fake rubber microphone on the other end of a chopstick that was sitting on my desk. But there was nothing trivial about the songs or the collaboration.

The first song starts off fairly seriously.  They play their (only?) hit, “Dylan Thomas” with Conor on electric guitar and Phoebe and backing guitarist Christian Lee Hutson on acoustic.  It sounds great–possibly even better than the record.

when their voices intertwine, there’s a radiance that often feels joyful even while singing words like the ones on their opening number, “Dylan Thomas.”

“I’m getting used to these dizzy spells
I’m taking a shower at the Bates Motel
I’m getting greedy with this private hell
I’ll go it alone, but that’s just as well”

For the second song, “Exception to the Rule,” Conor and Phoebe put down their guitars and simply sing (Conor into that fake microphone).  Christian plays guitar and Emily Retsas plays an omnichord.  As Emily sets up the “toy” Phoebe says, we’re going to set it to avoid choreography.”  Their voices really do sound great together, even with this ultra-minimal backing music.  The chorus is catchy, too!

For the final song, “My City” Bob Boilen himself comes out swinging a plastic whistling tube.

So I was whipping a corrugated, ribbed plastic hose over my head, creating a high pitched siren sound, trying to blend in with Christian’s electronics on “My City.” It was my Tiny Desk performance debut, and I was thrilled to be part of this magical act.

Conor and Phoebe pick up acoustic guitars and Christian plays a pocket piano (I gather).  This song feels the most like a folk song and again, they mostly sing together.  But Phoebe gets a solo verse near the end and that little change make a big difference in the overall flow of the song.

For the most part this is a quiet song, but the buildup for the end is pretty great.

[READ: April 20, 2019] “Brothers and Sisters Around the World”

This story is set in Madagascar.  Michel is a French-Italian white man who is married to the narrator–an African American woman.  They live in Cannes where it is always sunny.  But on vacation they travel the world to get hotter and wilder.  Islands are what Michel prefers.  “Any place where the people are the color of different grades of coffee.”

She says he loves her for all the wrong reasons.  He thinks she has some of that island wildness inside of her, but she grew up in Massachusetts and has a “steely Protestant core.”  Her parents never thought it would last.  But they have been together for eight years and they have a child.

As the story opens, he is telling her about how he drove “those two little whores” on the Zodiac.  “You should have seen their titties bounce!”

She admits:

It’s no surprise to me when Michel tries to share the ribald thoughts that run though the labyrinth of his Roman Catholic mind.  He doubtless thought that I would get a kick out of hearing about his boat ride with a pair of African sluts.

(more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KASVOT VÄXT-“Stray Dog” (1981/2018).

Back in 1994, Phish started covering a classic album for its Halloween costume. In 2015 they covered the Disney album: Chilling, Thrilling Sounds Of The Haunted House, which pretty much meant all bets were off.  So in 2018, they decided to cover an obscure Scandinavian prog rock band called Kasvot Växt and their sole album, í rokk.  This proved to be a big joke–they were a nonexistent band.  They had so much fun creating this band, that they even enlisted others to expand the joke.  This included impressively thorough reviews from WFMU and from AllMusic.

The joke is even in the name: when translated together Kasvot Växt and í rokk means “Faceplant into rock.”.

Here’s some more details they came up with:

The Scandinavian prog rock band purportedly consists of Jules Haugen of Norway, Cleif Jårvinen of Finland, and Horst and Georg Guomundurson of Iceland.  The album’s label, Elektrisk Tung, supposedly went out of business shortly after the LP’s release and little information about the record appears on the internet. Bassist Mike Gordon made a tape copy of í rokk in the mid-’80s and Phish would play it “over and over in the tour van in the early ’90s.” In the Playbill, guitarist Trey Anastasio insisted, “Every time the Halloween discussion comes up, we talk about Kasvot Växt. We honestly were worried we wouldn’t have the chops to pull it off or do justice to the sound, but when it came down to it, we just couldn’t resist any longer.”

The decision to go with an obscure album few have heard or even heard of appealed to the members of Phish. “We’ve paid tribute to so many legendary bands over the years, it felt right this time to do something that’s iconic to us but that most people won’t have heard of,” Gordon said as per the Phishbill. “And with these translations we’re really performing songs that have never been sung in English before.” Keyboardist Page McConnell added, “I love the mystery surrounding this whole thing. If those guys ever hear we did this I hope they’re excited because we absolutely intend it as a loving tribute.” As for what Phish fans can expect? “A weird, funky Norweigan dance album! Get out there and put your down on it!” exclaimed drummer Jon Fishman.

While the listings for the 10 tracks on the original í rokk were in a Scandinavian language, the titles appear in English in the Playbill. Phish called upon a Nordic linguist to translate the lyrics to English for tonight’s performance.

These songs do not really sound like a Norwegian prog rock band.  They do sound an awful lot like Phish (although with a more synthy vibe overall. The band has this part of their live show streaming on Spotify under the Kasvot Växt name.  And I’m ending the year by talking about each song.

This song seems to eschew the whole Scandinavian prog-rock joke entirely.  It’s a pretty conventional bluesy song and it’s the shortest one.  There’s really nothing un-Phishy about this song excpet for possibly some of the synth sounds.

This might be the least interesting song of the set, but it sets up for some good upbeat jamming.

[READ: December 2, 2018] “Literary Customs”

I enjoy Zambra’s works, both fiction and non-fiction.  This, like many of his pieces, was translated by Megan McDowell and it is a treat to read.

Zambra talks about how he always takes books with him when he travels. He takes two or three books that he feels safer having around: “I can forget my medicine or the cloth for cleaning my glasses, but i never forget these novels.”  He also brings a book he hasn’t read–a large tome that he thinks will captivate him, but which usually never does.

We shouldn’t travel with books because they take up some much space–better to bring a second pair of shoes–you’re more likely to need a second pair of shoes.  Plus, since books are more expensive in Chile, every trip Chileans take is an opportunity for shopping–an anxious tour of bookstores.  And yet oftentimes no purchases are made, because there is so much to buy it feels not like you are getting something but that you are now more aware of what you don’t have.

And then there is the guilt that you won’t even read them.  But that doesn’t stop him.

On this trip to Mexico he started off well, reading what he bought, but he soon began “collecting” again.

Then there’s always the trip home–the suitcase is a mini library and the only way to make room is to leave pounds worth of clothes at the airport–sometimes you must walk around terribly dressed but draped in the very best literature.

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SOUNDTRACK: JOEY ALEXANDER-Tiny Desk Concert #808 (November 30, 2018).

I‘d never heard of Joey Alexander before this show.  As is customary, I listened to this show for a while before I looked at it so I had no preconceived notions about Alexander.  He was just an amazing jazz pianist.

But I was also really impressed by the drums.   Kendrick Scott does some amazing things on the drums–the rhythms and sounds he gets from just a snare, bass, hi-hat and cymbal are wonderful.  And Reuben Rogers on bass keeps everything in line while the other two are just jamming everywhere.

But back to Alexander.  He has an amazing touch on the piano–the notes and frills are super fast and intense, and the chords he throws around are just great.  When you tune into the video, you can see that his fingers are miles long–he makes everything look effortless.

It doesn’t even matter that he’s 15, because honestly, the internet is full of teenagers who are amazing musicians. Although perhaps it is odd that a 15-year-old from Indonesia is playing jazz piano like nobody’s business.

When a baby grand piano rolls into the office for a Tiny Desk concert, you expect something special. But none of us could have imagined what it’s like to see 15-year old Joey Alexander play that piano with such mastery. The thing is, when you see him play live, you quickly forget his age and get lost in the intense focus of his performance. Alexander and his stellar supporting cast — Reuben Rogers on bass and Kendrick Scott on drums — form a tight trio, locking eyes as Alexander’s compositions unfold. The relaxed, seasoned veterans looked thrilled to be playing with Alexander at the Tiny Desk, and he was clearly inspired playing with them. The crowd was both mesmerized and humbled by the memories of what they were doing at 15.

Born in Indonesia, Alexander learned to play by listening to his father’s jazz albums. When he was just 10-years old, Wynton Marsalis invited him to play at a Jazz at Lincoln Center gala, and the young Alexander set the jazz world buzzing. He made his mark covering classics by Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane, but he’s now recording and performing more of his own compositions. He showcased that original work during his Tiny Desk performance. Alexander’s vigorously rhythmic playing was playful in the opening “Eclipse” (from his latest album of the same name), which he described as “spontaneous playing.”

It is fast and impressive the way he plays just about every note on the piano during the piece.

“Bali,” also from Eclipse, followed,

It is a much gentler piece, with Scott playing brushes.  The chord progressions are nice and there’s an occasional melodic riff that pops through.  There’s even an opportunity for Rogers to showcase his bass ability with a little “Solo” display.

“City Lights” (from his 2016 album Countdown) closed a set that ranks among the year’s finest jazz performances at the Tiny Desk.

This song is rambunctious and bouncy.  How much fun is it to watch both  Kendrick and Ruben (who are I assume both much older than 15) cheering on Alexander with jazz grunts and yeas of approval.  Scott gets a nifty little drum solo too.

All in all, it’s a great show.

[READ: January 14, 2018] “Lazy River”

This story is written as a metaphor and a reality.  It is set at a vacation resort in Almeria, “Somewhere in Southern Spain”.

Sadly, yesterday the river was green which made everything seem quite unnatural.

The narrator speaks of floating in the resort’s Lazy River and how, much like life, you can just float around in the Lazy River over and over, an ouroborous.  Some people like to assist the ease of things with flotation devices.  Others, less tattooed, often university educated, like to try to swim against the current–they are usually defeated by it fairly quirky.

The narrator and her compatriots (the “we” of the story) are British.  They hope to beat the resort by drinking the cost of their trip in alcohol–don’t tell anyone.  There is nobody French or German there so they can skip the paella and swordfish and eat all of the sausages and chips they like.

They have not been to the Moorish ruins or the mountains.  They are on vacation and will float on the river and not be judged.

The only people not lazing around are two bosomy girls–they lie out and sun themselves all day–constantly checking on their tans.  They put a lot of effort into the photos of themselves–setting the scene, clearing the garbage, working hard to make everything appear perfect,

Maybe a lazy river is the perfect metaphor for life.  Maybe the a trampoline is even better:

Life’s certainly an up-and-down, up-and-down sort of affair, although for children the downs seem to come as a surprise—almost as a delight, being so outrageous, so difficult to believe

There’s also a blood-red moon “don’t look at me, Southern Spain has the highest ratio of metaphor to realty of any place I’ve ever known.”

But clearly the resort workers are the actual workers the ones who had traveled long and hard to work here–the African hair braiders or the man who has to clean up the lazy River after all the vacationers soak in it.

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SOUNDTRACK: BRIAN BLADE AND THE FELLOWSHIP BAND-“Landmarks” (Field Recordings, August 14, 2014).

Here’s yet another Field Recording at the Newport Jazz Festival [Chorale For Horns And iPad App, In The Pouring Rain].

The 2014 Festival must have been a rainy one, because some of the other Recordings seem wet as well.  The blurb explains

We had hoped to get the great drummer Brian Blade to give us a little private exhibition after his set at the Newport Jazz Festival this year. The weather, however, was proving much less generous than he and his band were. Early that morning, a steady all-day rain settled in over coastal Rhode Island, making it difficult to transport dry instruments anywhere. On top of that, a last-minute change to travel plans meant that Blade needed to get out of town quickly — to an airport over four hours away.

But he and the Fellowship Band — the group of guys Blade has been making music with for the better part of two decades or more — were game to figure out something for us. So we herded them into the shelter of a quiet tunnel in Fort Adams State Park.

Despite Blade being a drummer, they are unable to use drums or even bass.  So they decide to play a composition of the keyboardist.  Chris Thomas, the bassist, suggests that he could do an interpretive dance (but he does not).

As they get set up, Jon Cowherd starts tinkering on his iPad.  He gets a synth up and starts playing the opening to Van Halen;s “Jump” which gets everyone excited.  Then he starts playing a cool keyboard sound on the app and the two horns join in on the serene melody.

First Myron Walden starts playing the bass clarinet.  Then he is joined beautifully by Melvin Butler on soprano sax.  The song unfolds simply.  I love the way it just seems to grow and grow–slowly revealing more and more of itself.  But it’s over pretty quickly, with the notes fading in the tunnel.

So even though the featured performer, Brian Blades is not playing–and I still have never heard his drums, this was a nifty little piece.

[READ: April 17, 2016] “Land of the Living”

I had it in my head that Sam Shepard was a noir writer from the 1950s.

Well this story (and the surprising fact that the New Yorker published a second of his stories just a few weeks later) led to something entirely different.  This story is about a man who is going on vacation with his family.

It begins with a very funny exchange between the man and his wife,  She tells him, “It’s just amazing how friendly you become when you’re on Xanax”  And he agrees, “I feel this friendly person coming out in me and I wonder if maybe that’s my real nature.”

The family is currently waiting on a customs line in Cancun.  The heat is unbearable, especially since they have just come from Minnesota.

Their conversation is full of things that he says which she is surprised by: (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JAZMINE SULLIVAN-“Stupid Girls” (Field Recordings, August 12, 2014).

NPR and Jazmine Sullivan were in New Orleans’for the Essence Music Festival.

I’m intrigued that this Field Recording [Jazmine Sullivan Fades A New Orleans Barber Shop] is the second one set in a barbershop (technically, this is the first one as I have been watching them in backwards order).

This barbershop, Claer-Vue, is just a few blocks from the Superdome, just off Canal Street. It has been in business since 1948.  It is a men’s barbership and I know that a barbershop is part of the culture but nearly every man waiting to get their hair cut has really short hair already–like closely buzzed.  Are they hanging out or do they get it cut daily?

I had never heard of Jazmine, but she was apparently known to at least some of the patrons

When she walked in, patrons and barbers alike were wary. But they knew who she was, from hit songs like “Bust Your Windows” and “Holding You Down (Goin’ in Circles).” And when she began to sing, wearing her powerhouse instrument lightly, everyone ceded her a floor that had been previously occupied by a heated debate about college football.

With just an acoustic guitar accompanying her, she sings her beautiful song.  Her voice is clear and pretty and devoid of all the trills and filigree of pop singers.

To a roomful of captivated men, she sang a brand new song, “Stupid Girls,” that warns women to be careful with their hearts.

You can see most of the men nodding along. Most are deferential, with side-eyed glances.   There’s polite applause ta the end, but Jazmine is pretty pleased with herself–as she should be.

[READ: September 14, 2018] “Cecilia Awakened”

Tessa Hadley continues to make wonderful stories where nothing seems to happen, but there is a lot going on internally.

Like the way this one starts:

Cecilia awakened from her childhood while she was on holiday in Italy, the summer she turned fifteen.  It was not a sexual awakening, or not exactly–rather, an intellectual or imaginative one.

Cecilia is described as an odd child, but one who fit in perfectly with the oddity of her parents.  Her father worked at a university library and her mother, Angela, wrote historical novels.  Most of all they both loved the past.  When they had Cecilia–late in their lives–they did not feel any need to conform to society any more than they already did.  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LAWRENCE BROWNLEE AND JASON MORAN-“There’s A Man Going ‘Round Taking Names” (Field Recordings, February 17, 2016). 

I know of Brownlee from a Tiny Desk Concert.  But this is a whole other order of magnitude.  He and pianist Jason Moran are playing a spiritual about death in an active crypt.

Brownlee’s voice is powerful and soaring, but full of anguish.  And Moran’s piano is so intense, especially at the end.  He plays the melody but he allows for a lot of overtones and echo to nearly overpower the music.

At the very end, he plays some high notes by literally chopping at the keys like a karate chop–powerful, sharp and dissonant.

Here’s the blurb for more context:

Opera singer Lawrence Brownlee is known for portraying kings and princes. But lately he’s been thinking about real people: Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Freddie Gray, to name a few.

He’s been thinking about the Black Lives Matter movement and an old spiritual called “There’s a Man Going ‘Round Taking Names.” Decades ago, singers like Paul Robeson and Lead Belly recorded it. Brownlee, with jazz pianist Jason Moran, revives the old song to tell a new story for the 21st century.

“Jason and I chose this song because we felt it accurately captures a growing sentiment that’s in society today,” Brownlee says. “So many senseless deaths of young African-American men.”

A crypt, they thought, would be an appropriate setting to perform their version of the song. So we took our cameras and microphones — and a lovely piano — deep into the active crypt below the historic Church of the Intercession in Harlem. The 1915 structure at 155th Street and Broadway is a New York City landmark and a dramatic setting for occasional concerts, including a December 2015 recital by Brownlee.

“I know that the ashes of the parishioners of this church are here in this crypt,” Brownlee explains. “You can feel the weight of death, you can feel the sting. It adequately captures the atmosphere, the somber mood that we are trying to capture with this song.”

In this arrangement, an already solemn song becomes even more dark and agitated.

“What [Jason] has done with the piano part has made it build, and you feel the unrest, the turmoil, the tension that is underneath,” Brownlee says. “This is something that is painful and difficult to deal with.”

Woah.

[READ: January 31, 2018] “Self-Portrait with Beach”

This is the story of an older couple who have been together for a while.

They go to the beach, she removes her top and asks “Is the body the house for the soul or are body and soul and one and inseparable.?”  He looks at her and says, “Your body is my soul.”

She laughs that his soul is bound for decay but he continues, ‘Nothing of you will decay as long as I am alive.”

Out of nowhere a man in white comes and offers his homemade beverages.  He says they have unique powers. (more…)

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