Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Sports Notes for the first half of the summer

Last night, a Texas Ranger was awarded the most valuable player award for the MLB All Star Game. So I wonder where Michael Young will play next year.

Jerry Jones, it isn't too late to get me back to watching football this season. All you have to do is come to your senses and lose that sorry sack of crap Owens. The release of his "book" is only the beginning. Watch it sell poorly and then watch him blame someone other than himself for his "misfortune." The controversies that follow this guy are not good for football or any other sport. I'm only one fan, and I know you don't care too much what fans think, Mr. Jones. But I see no reason to watch any football whatsoever until this person is removed from the game.

Zidane. Gee whiz. Did you just have to do that?

Some otherwise exciting matches were marred by the presence of poor, poor officials. Zidane's idiocy notwithstanding, people were carded and sent off for some of the dumbest fouls, and often flagrant fouls went unpunished. I can't say there was some sort of conspiracy to help any particular side, just inconsistency and a disregard for the purposes of rules. Usually, I'm the one screaming at the t.v. set that an offense should receive a card, but almost all of the matches I watched was marred by such actions. For more, read Barry Wilner's interesting column.

Yes. I am upset that my Mavericks lost the NBA Finals. My pain is made worse in seeing the grinning mug of one of the world's most overrated and classless players, Shaquille O'Neal, as he held that trophy. And Cuban, I love ya, man, but chill...just a little.

For a cartoon that expresses much of what I think about O'Neal, click here.

Don't even get me started on the Stars' early demise. Here's hoping for next year.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Music notes for July 2006

Okay, so a dearth of posting here about music does not mean that I haven't been listening to anything new. I did post recently about the "new" Charlie Peacock disc, but haven't mentioned the other stuff that I've been listening to lately.

Just downloaded an album from iTunes by Jason Vieaux called Images of Metheny. This disc is growing on me. At first it bugged me a little that most of the tunes seem to come from the ballad side of Metheny's catalog, but as I realized this effort is a classical rendering of the great guitarist's ouvre, I found myself really enjoying what I heard. I guess what really bothered me is that two of my favorite Metheny songs, "Question and Answer" and "James" (played as two of five sections in a baroque suite), are given rather short attention. Don't get me wrong. I love the mellower songs. But I was not expecting so many.

As I keep listening, however, I see that these compositions lend themselves to the format really well. Vieaux has chosen well and performed these songs really well. The opening, "Every Day (I Thank You)" is particularly masterful. It is one of the few songs that was originally recorded with a saxophone, and I really like what Vieaux does with it. The aforementioned favorites, though shorter than I wanted, work well in their places in this suite, and do demonstrate not only Metheny's powerful abilities as a composer, but Vieaux's technique on the instrument.

Anyone who reads this blog knows that Keith Jarrett is probably my favorite pianist. I am particularly fond of his records of improvised concerts for solo piano. Not long ago, I was able to acquire La Scala (1997) The liner notes tell a story of a man who had worked at La Scala as a assistant to conductors and who had all Jarrett's albums who claimed that the concert he had just been to (which is recorded here) "was the strongest, most moving...musical experience he ever had." I can't say that the disc worked on me that way, but it is terrific recording. There is a short section (maybe a minute or so) in the second of the two parts where Jarrett seems to get lost in his improvisation, but mostly this disc presents the kind of playing that does move people. If you are the kind of musician that likes to now and then take out an instrument and just play whatever comes to mind, this disc will thrill you. The last track is a beautiful rendering of "Over the Rainbow" that should tell you why this song has been recorded so many times by so many people. In the hands of Keith Jarrett, it is fresh with every listen.
Gary Burton brings back guitar sensation Julian Lage from his Generations recording and adds more young, talented musicians on Next Generation, an exciting and thoroughly enjoyable release. Every song is terrific, but standout cuts for me include the Metheny penned "B & G," "'Ques Sez" (written by bassist Luques Curtis) and my favorite, pianist Vadim Neselovski's "Get Up And Go." I think it ironic that there is a song entitled "Summer Band Camp" here because the cover photo might lead you to believe that this is an album of people Burton hand picked from some sort of Camp audition. But this is a band that sounds as polished and tight as if they had been playing together for years. All the above mentioned youngsters stand out in some way on this disc as well as drummer James Williams. Burton, of course, is in top form, knowing when the back off and let others take the stand and when to allow his virtuoso playing to shine. This disc is a joy to listen to.

Speaking of virtuosos (or virtuosi), I do want to recommend An Evening with John Petrucci and Jordan Rudress (2004). Certainly fans of Dream Theater will enjoy this album of guitar and keyboard duets recorded in 2000 at the Helen Hayes performing Arts Center in New York, but others should enjoy it as well, since it doesn't really sound like two guys mimicking their main band (or bands), perhaps with the exception of cut "State of Grace," originally featured on Rudress' second Liquid Tension Experiment project). The duo play well together, creating an environment for each to stand out without always taking over the music with self-indulgent solos, but letting the tunes speak for themselves. There is one studio track, but it doesn't seem out of place because the music is what we hear. Thankfully, we don't have to endure much in the way of audience histrionics. But this is a live album, you can believe it. The sound is crisp as if these guys are playing right inside your head. Much fun from two terrific players.

So what else have I listened to/acquired lately? A couple of things I haven't listened to enough to feel comfortable commenting on, but here goes:

Two "best of" discs by Medeski, Martin, and Wood -- "Last Chance to Dance Trance" (1999) and "Note Bleu" (2006). I already liked these guys, hence my willingness to pick up two collections.

Lee Ritenour's Alive in L.A (1997). Admittedly, I haven't listened much to this, but so far, I'm not thrilled. It has a couple Wes Montgomery tunes, and I do like Ritenour as a guitarist, but the first impression wasn't positive. A little too much on the light jazz (or safe jazz, as I call it) side for me.

Spotlight on Lucille by B.B. King (1991). I haven't listened to this yet, but B.B. is the man (or at least one of them), so I know I have to get around to it eventually. The album appears to be collection of instrumental pieces from a variety of concert appearances.

What else is in the bin to talk about? The Yellowjackets Politics (1988), a compilation of John Coltrane ballads called Ballads, something called New Age Bach: The Goldberg Variations by Joel Speigelman (1988) I found for a dollar, and The Dallas Jazz Orchestra Presents Victor Cager. With a little prodding and some more time, I'll write reviews of these or whatever else comes across my ears. Here's hoping someone sends me the new Ralph Towner cd.


Sorry, I couldn't invite you, but I was throwing myself a little pity party. See I was not sure how many people were actually reading this blog and I have been realizing just how ignorant I am about how to get interested people notification when Monk Notes had changed. But don't worry, you didn't miss much. The party was mostly me sitting in a corner feeling sorry for myself, drinking Pepsi One and watching reruns of Seinfeld.

Anywho, I think I've solved the problem. I have a Bloglines button now on the page and if you are so inclined, you can click it and sign up. I hope the process isn't too complicated. If it is, blame Splenda.

I have also been wondering just who might be reading this blog on a semi-regular basis. I'm sure I haven't posted enough to make it worth while, but I also haven't had much to say (or perhaps I haven't been motivated to write regularly -- I blame the coffee and Kramer). Anyway, if you are someone who drops by now and then, do take a few moments to subscribe and also to send me a note to let me know you are reading.

Until next time, peace.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

This is mostly a test

I am testing something and reminding people to visit my other website: Wrestling Light. Hopefully people will soon be able to subscribe to the blog. We shall see.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Review of Charlie Peacock's recent jazz disc

Wrote and posted the following review for iTunes today:

Those who have enjoyed Charlie Peacock's music over the years and have even seen his work on other projects have to stand up and cheer for this release. Few could make good art out of pop music, even fewer in CCM. Now we can see why Charlie Peacock has stood above the rest. Peacock has the playing and compositional chops to impress any discerning listener. And it certainly doesn't hurt to have some fine players like Kurt Rosenwinkel, Kirk Whalem, Victor Wooten, Ravi Coltrane, and Jerry McPherson helping him out.
The disc opens with the lively "When Diana Dances," a song I see has gotten some airplay on Sirius Satellite Radio. If your toes aren't tapping when you hear this song, then you aren't listening. Most of the album hit me this way. If you are looking for wallpaper music don't expect to get much done. "Frank the Marxist Memorial Gong Blues" is a nice slow number (despite its odd title) and leads nicely into "Bucketachicken." "London Twist n' Turn" and "Longing for Louis" should demonstrate why no genre of music is exclusive of others. My personal favorite tune is "Be Well Johnny Cash," a thought provoking number that sticks in one's head the way only a great composition can.
All of this release should have your toes tapping and make you smile with its unique melding of sounds and melodies that make some for fine contemporary jazz. (Even non-jazz fans should enjoy it.) I'm sure it will surprise a few CCM fans, but hopefully not in a bad way. Good music, like this disc, doesn't need a genre. It just is. Enjoy!
By the way, click the link above to go to the site and hear tunes from the album.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

More bookmarks for June 2006

Well, the end of the month comes and it appears that being home agrees with me because I have finished a few more books.

Whenever I read a poem by A.R. Ammons, I wonder to myself why I haven't read any books of his all the way through. Well, I just finished Ammons' The Selected Poems: Expanded Edition (1986), and I don't know if I have an answer to the question. As has been noted much better by a number of literary critics, Ammons was a nature poet; some have even gone so far as to see him as a transcendentalist. I can see that. Some have compared him to Frost, noting that he has a more positive vision of the natural world. I can see that too. Ammons sees into the minutest detail and finds that there is order and wonder amidst what the rest of us see as chaos. I admire that vision, even as I don't always understand the expression.

Many of these poems are quite powerful and engaging. I particularly like the tight, short poems. I also was taken by poems like the much anthologized "Corsons Inlet" and the new (to this book) "Easter Morning." However, there were a few poems that no amount of re-reading would enlighten for me. These were either syntactically difficult or had such attention to biology that I felt I needed to be an insider to "get it."

Overall, this is a fine collection, probably a good introduction to this major poet. I think I will try to read Garbage before the summer is out.

Over the past couple months, I have been making my way through The Best American Essays 2005, edited by Susan Orlean, and yesterday, I finally finished. As with all the book in the Best American series (and there a volumes covering many different kinds of writing -- click here to see a few), I found the collection daunting and interesting, and sometimes baffling. Certainly there is a representative variety of essays. As with any collection, one wonders why some pieces, even enjoyable or well written pieces, made the cut. But for the most part, this is a satisfying selection of writing.

Pieces that stood out for me are Jonathan Franzen's "The Comfort Zone, " "Dog Trouble" by Cathleen Schine, and David Sedaris' "Old Faithful." There were essays that surprised me because at first I didn't see why they were included, like "Skill Display in Birding Groups" by Bert O. States and Holly Welker's "Satin Worship." But these offered insights not only into the specific subjects they covered, but also into human psychology. I might not have seen these any other place but in a book like this.

Mary Oliver's A Poetry Handbook (1994) is an interesting and useful book for anyone who is genuinely devoted to being a good poet (and a good writer in general for that matter). There are too many who say they are poets or wish to write poetry,but who really just wish to place words on paper, depositing their emotions and really saying nothing. That person doesn't really want this book, but that person needs it.

There are a few chapters that could use some updating not because they are dated, but because the author needs specific examples. I suspect that Oliver does wish to get herself in trouble by by giving examples of poor diction. However, since I think the chapter on Revision is very important (since this is a step most beginning poets wish to skip), I think this section could be improved with attention to how a poem or two changed over time.

I say this not only because it is true, I think, but because one of the significant strengths of this book is how it uses examples of good poems, both classic and contemporary, to illustrate its points. I believe the beginning chapters "Getting Ready" and "Reading Poems" are particularly important. In the first, Oliver writes, "Writing a a kind of possible love affair between something like the heart (that courageous but also shy factory of emotion) and the learned skills of the conscious mind" (7). In the second chapter, she reminds us "Good poems are the best teachers. Perhaps they are the only teachers. I would go so far as to say that, if one must make a choice between reading or taking part in a workshop, one should read" (10). I am glad that she begins so well, and I don't think she contradicts herself when she speaks of workshops later in the book because she demonstrates when they can be valuable to a poet's development and also notes the importance of solitude.

Oliver's A Poetry Handbook is a book that could help writers of all kinds, but anyone who wants to write poetry (and even those who choose only to read it) should make this part of her/his collection.