Friday, October 27, 2006

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Bookmarks for September 2006

Not much for personal reading these days. Bogged down with the paying job. But a few things have come my direction....

Poetry Magazine. The double July/August "Humor Issue" is better than last year's. There were some fine parodies, a few attacks on Bush (who frequently provides paint to the palette of every humorist), and some interesting cartoons.

The September issue had a few fine pieces, but what struck a chord with me was Dan Chiasson's review of Mary Karr's Sinner's Welcome. There are two serious problems with this review. First, Chaisson uses his forum to attack religion in general. He writes, "Sinners are going to like it: in a culture where conversion-narratives, particularly if they involve a certain crucified someone, sell books, and elect presidents, Karr seem to have found another very marketable story to tell" (450). So Karr's faith is not genuine because the idiot president used religion to get elected? So Karr's poetry isn't good because she happens to profess to believe in God and actually allow her poetry to be colored by her beliefs and her spiritual struggles? In discussing Karr's afterward, Chiasson belittles religious people of every faith by misreading her intent and writing that Karr "presents her HBO-ready conversion in commodity terms" (451).

Chiasson further misses the mark when he writes of Karr's poems, "There has never been a style more gilded with workshop aptness" (451). Okay, maybe some of the poems read like they have been through the workshop wringer. But isn't it ironic that Poetry often features pieces decrying such work, yet the majority of what they publish (particularly from new poets) comes from just the same place.

Click here should you wish to read my review of the same book.

Finished reading The Best American Spiritual Writing. This seems to be an eclectic mix of genres that in some general way are about spirituality. Actually, most of the pieces seem to be personal essays and poetry, so I was mostly right at home. After wading through the forward and introduction, I found myself reading through "The Gift of the Call," an essay that might have had more resonance with me had I expected a personal testimony. Not a great start, but then I read "The Acusmata of Pythagoras" by Brian Blanchfield. Here, if nothing else, was something new. When I got to "Best of Intentions" by Harvey Cox (after some thoughtful poems), I was a little more into the book. I may have been biased at his focus on teaching and tolerance, but I think this piece is worth reading. "Sighs Too Deep for Words" is an honest account of Helen Gardner's spiritual journey summed up well by the subtitle: "On Being Bad at Reading the Bible."After a few more okay, but not terribly memorable essays, I found myself reading two moving pieces, Todd Gitlin's "A Skull in Varanasi, a Head in Baghdad" and "When the Candle Is Blown Out," by Natalie Goldberg. I liked reading, after these, the meditation on suicide bombers by Mary Gordon called "Appetite for the Absolute." I don't think I understood what I believe is the only short story in the collection, "Dr. King's Refrigerator" by Charles Johnson. I did like the essay "High Fidelity" by Bill McKibben about people who stay through many changes in their church over the course of their long lives. "Kierkegaard for Grownups," by Richard John Neuhaus, is particularly interesting and informative. I am still at a loss to understand the inclusion of Oliver Sacks' essay "Speed." I had read it before in the Best American Essays volume, and reading it again helped me appreciate it more, but I didn't see it as a spiritual piece of writing, even in the broadest sense. On the other hand, I found Huston Smith's "The Master-Disciple Relationship" and Kenneth L. Woodward's "The Passion's Passionate Despisers" to be thought provoking.

Probably the best thing about this book is that it contains some pretty good poems sprinkled throughout. Almost every one is a gem, most by notable poets like Scott Cairns, Philip Levine, and Charles Wright. On the whole I recommend the book, though I supposed some will pick and choose pieces more to their liking.

Next month, I hope to write about a book in Lawrence Block's "Keller" series and perhaps one of Robert Parker's more recent Spenser books. But who knows....

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Music notes for September 2006

I have waited a long time to get hold of Bob Curnow's L.A. Big Band playing The Music of Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays (1995). Now and then, KNTU will play a cut from this, but a single song only gets me thirsty for more. Finally it has become available on iTunes.
Just as with the Jason Vieux disc I reviewed recently, this project demonstrates what strong composers Metheny and Mays are. Standout songs from the Metheny Group repetoire, like "The First Circle," "Minuano," and "-It's Just-Talk" avoid what could be stale arrangements in the big band setting. The tunes sound fresh, as if they had been originally composed for this format. I also enjoyed the new setting for songs that originally appeared on Metheny's solo project Second Story: "See the World" and "Always and Forever." Here one can nearly hear that even when Metheny works around a simple melody, there is always an orchestra in this mind ready to sweep the listener into a joy that can only be expressed with the rhythmic nodding of the head. And "In Her Family" loses none of the grace that the original ballad retained, but hits with a powerful calm.

If you are a fan of big band music or a fan of Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays (the musicians or composers), this is a project that you will probably want in your collection.
Those who love Jack DeJohnette the drummer should enjoy this little disc called Pictures (1977). It is a bit different from his work with Keith Jarrett's trio, and perhaps some of the seemingly free jazz or ambient type sections might be offputting, but I think this project is worth a listen. It is also nice to see DeJohnette the keyboardist, one who may not knock your socks off with amazing playing, but his sense of melody will show the discerning listener why he is such a great drummer.
Only two muscians: Dejohnette on drums, piano, and organ; John Abercrombie on electric and acoustic guitars. A fine mix.

The highlight of my musical month has to be the first release of a collaboration between Pat Metheny and Brad Mehldau (Metheny mentioned in his podcast that another disc would come out early next year). I am not surprised by how much I like this disc. What is nice is that there seems to be a real collaboration of performance. Most of the tunes were composed by Metheny, but Mehldau doesn't sound like a substitute for Lyle Mays. Both players' individual voices are clear here without drowning out the other. Most of the tunes are performed by only Metheny and Mehldau; however two songs come with Mehldau's bassist and drummer. (Metheny says the next disc will be more quartet oriented.)Two of the songs were previously recorded: Mehldau's "Unrequited" and Metheny's " Say The Brother's Name." The new versions are fine, neither improving or diminishing the earlier performances. Standout cuts are, "Ring of Life" and "Make Peace." But everything on this disc is good.

Miscellaneous: I've come across a few old discs that have peaked my interest and been added to various playlists for my working and reading times. I revisited Metheny's Question and Answer, something that should be in every guitar lover's collection....And speaking guitars, check out the project A Guitar Supreme: Giant Steps in Fusino Guitar. This is a terrific compliation of performances, produced by Jeff Richman, of great players handing tunes either composed by John Coltrane (like "Naima" and the title track) or made famous by Coltrane's performance (such as "Afro Blue" and My Favorite Things"). Great stuff...Just added tracks from Thrush Hour: Music to Make It Through Your Day by Jeff Thrush (former sax ace for Steve Taylor's band) to my quiet time playlist (called "relax" for reference)... Maybe next month I can write more, like about an old Michel Petrucciani cd called Date With Time that I scandalously found for 99 cents, or Larry Carlton's latest, Fire Wire, or maybe a cool project from an interesting group: California Guitar Trio's Rocks The West.

But we shall see...or rather, hear.