Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Music Notes – The Quiltmaster

 Imagine Pat Metheny, Robert Fripp, John Scofield, and Bill Frisell all had children and sent them to the University of North Texas to study. Then think about those kids meeting and deciding to form a band. Once they found a bassist and drummer and started to record, the L5 Electric Guitar Ensemble would be what it sounded like and The Quiltmaster would be the project they would create.image

Tunes here were composed by Fred Hamilton, instructor at UNT and others with Hamilton also directing the project. I haven’t the foggiest notion what the title track is about (or any of the others on the disc).

Possibly because this is a student project, The Quiltmaster does not seem to have gotten much attention. But it is a really fine recording that deserves greater notice.
By the way, the disc is not available on iTunes or Amazon which is a darn shame. You have to go to the UNT website to find it unless you happen to run across it in a used store somewhere. I can't even remember where I got my copy.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Music Notes – The Choir online concert

While the majority of my music time has been spent listening to jazz, I haven’t forgotten some of the rock bands that have shaped me in some way. So today, because on Facebook, I was able to find out about a special acoustic concert The Choir played online for their fans.
231_02_19_2009_6_39_42_thechoirThe group’s core is drummer and lyricist Steve Hindalong and Derri Daughtery on guitars and lead vocals. In this set, long time sax/lyricon player Dan Michaels did join them for a few of their classic tunes. The acoustic format really does suit The Choir, demonstrating in particular Hindalong’s percussion chops. Daughtery does not get to layer his guitar as he does on their studio releases, but his voice is a gorgeous as ever, providing the empathetic thrust that drives many Choir songs.
Of course the acoustic setting (Mr. Michaels’ living room) is also appropriate for other reasons. First, the group recently released de-plumed' target=_blank>de-plumed, a disc of re-recorded, stripped down versions of songs from each of the band’s twelve studio releases. Second, The Choir has always made music with a kind of intimate, emotional and spiritual intensity, and their God-given gifts cannot be hidden by studio trickery.
Of course I’m biased. But since rock music has not been part of my day to day listening the past few years, I have noticed that only really great groups have any staying power with me, still knock me off my feet. And The Choir is one of those bands. Listen, they didn’t even play two of my favorite tunes, “Restore My Soul' target=_blank>Restore My Soul” and “Chase The Kangaroo' target=_blank>Chase the Kangaroo,” but they still managed to fill the set with some mighty, mighty good music.

The show appears to have been archived at The Choir’s website and can be seen here.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Music Notes – Healing Waters

If you have heard of Dean Evenson, it is probably because you have spent time listening to one of the more atmospheric new age satellite broadcasts like Moodscapes. On the other hand, you likely did not catch the name because you were too busy doing yoga or meditating or sleeping to see it. Healing Waters is the first album I have listened to with a warning that said one should not listen to it while driving. And such a warning is probably a good idea.
Mr. Evenson plays some flutes and keyboards (the latter for background tone, not accompaniment). With the addition of acoustic guitar and ocean noises (waves, gulls, and whales I think), the disc is certainly relaxing. There are other instruments on the project, but the pieces with guitar are the ones that stand out for me. Healing Waters reminds me a lot of the music I hear in my favorite Chinese restaurant. It's not art, but does the job of setting a quiet mood.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Music Notes – Saturn Sings

Mary Halvorson’s Saturn Sings is a little on the avant garde side for my tastes, but not so much so that it would turn off everyone. Some of it actually grew on me. Halvorson is a good player, and the group behind her is intriguing to me, if not so for the casual jazz listener. I think I prefer the trio pieces a little more than those with the full quintet, but maybe because I'm not used to as many people going is so many directions.
The disc reminds me a bit of Bill Frisell without the Americana or well thought out effects. Some spots have me thinking of the late Derek Bailey, but just when I think a piece is too far in space to be retrieved, it seems to settle, hover around a snippet of melody, and then take off, not always beautifully, but most often strikingly. As Lars Gotrich writes, "each of these inspirations is an abstract cliff-dive, and...there's much to take in."

Monday, September 27, 2010

Commercial Complaint #3: Zoosk

Ads for online dating services tend to bug me anyway, but in my best moments, I’d like to think that the use of technology to find love isn’t always a bad thing. For the website Zoosk, however, dating is not at all about love. Clearly it is about sex, disguised a women’s fantasy/romance. Watch any of the ads closely and you’ll see that the women hovering around the laptop are not only dreaming of that perfect romantic sexual partner, but also expecting the guy to do all the work of making that romantic magic happen. As offensive as that should be to both men and women, I’ve tried to just turn off the cranky old man in my brain and say “to each his own.”
One of their ads caught my attention recently, however, and I just couldn’t let it go. In this ad, a woman has been set up on a blind date. The guy comes over and seems okay. She has him eat something while she appears to get something from another part of house or apartment. Her giant dog then crawls on top of him. Then a cat jumps on the couch and it is clear he is allergic. All this time, by the way, the guy is polite.
When the woman reenters, he asks, “Is this shellfish?” and she sees his bloated, red face. The man clearly is allergic, but her reaction is horror. In the next scene, she tells her friends, “I think I’ll stick to Zoosk for all my dating.” And the other women nod and murmur agreement.

So let me get this straight. The experience was bad for HER because the guy with allergies had the gall to come into her house and be allergic to animals that she doesn’t take any time to corral and the food she didn’t bother to ask about? It must be HIS fault that his face looked like Jimmy Glick on steroids. Maybe it is Mom’s fault for not vetting the guy before setting her up. (After all, no part of dating is about getting to know someone for yourself; it is about your good time.)
Hey! Bitches like this should not be allowed to date. Don’t even get me started on their unrealistic expectations of men or romance. Women with these values sometimes actually procreate and then make tiny little bitches or take the balls off their male offspring with years of emotional abuse powered by their inevitable bitterness. Hey lady, grow up.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Commerical Complaint #2: Volzwagon Routan

Am I the only person who finds this commercial disturbing. The Volzwagon people, I presume, are trying to tap into a game that a number of people play where the first person to see a Volzwagon punches someone next to them, and shouts out the color of the vehicle. People in America have done this for years though only with the beetles, not other models from the company. And I guess the advertisers are trying to show that this minivan is fun and not just some big box for carting one’s screaming kids. The ad states that this is the “only minivan with the soul of a Volzwagon.”
But I have to take issue with the idea that punching people is funny in the first place. I especially think it is offensive that the goal of the family to drive around the block and watch other people hurting each other. The kids clearly enjoy being the center of attention (what kid doesn’t?), but they are the cause of dozens of little acts of violence. This is funny?
What does this say about our culture when it is humorous to not only inflict pain on others, but to be its cheerful cause? What kind of people have so much time and are so sick as to think this is great family time?

I get upset all the time about the way men, particularly fathers, are portrayed in television shows and commercials. Usually that is because fathers are often portrayed as stupid, bumbling idiots whose lack of cool gets in the way of what is important to teenagers. But this “cool dad” should be ashamed of himself. Rather, those who created this character should be ashamed.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Music Notes – Black Elk Speaks

On one level, I think this is an interesting project to listen to. Medeski, Martin and Wood drummer Billy Martin (and sometimes a few others) uses percussion instruments that most listeners are not familiar with, and the result is often quite enjoyable. On the other hand, I  I would have liked this project more overall had I been able to see and hear it, say in a recital or as part of some gathering or some DVD release. I just seem to have lost the thread of what Martin, an intelligent and talented musician, was after here. I like the idea of honoring the words and ideas of someone as interesting and thought provoking as Black Elk. But even after several listens, many of the tunes (should we call the tracks this?) sound the same.
Perhaps, my ear is listening for melodies that aren’t supposed to be there. I suspect that Martin has a some sort of philosophical statement up his sleeve, but it is one I'm clearly not qualified to comprehend.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Bookmarks – Earlier Poems (Franz Wright)

The collection contains the first four books by a talented and insightful poet who has taken journeys of pain many cannot fathom, but many of us have trod before. Perhaps darker than the books Wright is best known for, we see struggles with alcoholism, intense loneliness, and sanity. Rorschach Test is probably the best of the four, but each book is thought provoking and painfully beautiful.
Was upset at how these verses were sometimes badly reproduced on my Nook, but that was pretty much the only distraction I had with this solid collection.

A number of Wright’s poems can be found here. The title poem in his latest volume, Wheeling Motel, and some links can be found here.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Music Notes – Air Space

Have really enjoyed this collection of funky jazz numbers by Dallas sax man Ron Jones. The last tune is an interesting cover of Paul Simon's "Still Crazy After All These Years," but the rest are originals. Some of the tunes may be a little too close smooth jazz for the tastes of a few, but that is may be the good production and accessibility of the material talking. Of course, this is also a project that is over ten years old, but I do not think it sounds dated.
Jones plays alto, soprano, and tenor on these songs and even a few keyboards. If you can find this, and love good saxophone, it is well worth a listen.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Music Notes – Another Shade of Blue

Have been enjoying this 1999 release of Lee Konitz with Brad Mehldau on piano and Charlie Haden on bass. It is the kind of album that easily brings to mind a smoky bar or looking out the window on a lonely night, and yet nothing here strikes me as depressing. The disc was recorded at the Jazz Bakery in Culver City to a quiet, but appreciative audience.
I only have one complaint about Another Shade of Blue. The album is so mellow and quiet in places that parts are often hard to hear. There are some wonderful solos from everyone, but I had difficulty picking up some of them (particularly Haden’s) unless I had the volume up.
If you like a mellow saxophone, this is one to buy. Konitz’s work here impeccable, proving one doesn’t have to play loud and fast to be impressive. I always like to hear Mehldau, and his playing as the side man is a treat. And Haden, as always, makes everyone around him sound better. But it is Konitz who really shines. He produces a sweet tone, warm and unmatched.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

A few short tips for school success

With school starting soon, I thought I’d pass along a handful of ideas about how to get more from your education. Perhaps I’ll expand on some of these later, but for now, I present for your edification:
1. Read (and know) the Syllabus and course outline.
2. Read the assigned material.
3. Do the homework, lab work, or exercises even if they are not graded.
4. Don’t just check your grades. Read the notes.
5. Worry less about the grades than about what you learn from each assignment.
6. Avoid excuses.
7. Turn off the television, video games, cell phones, and other distractions.
8. Take care of your body.
9. Become an active learner.
10. Follow directions.
Certainly there are other things to suggest, and a few of these points need explanation. However, I hope this list gets you started with a bang.

Music Notes – At the Edge

This 1990 project by Mickey Hart falls into the category of "World Music" for some reason. I suppose because it isn't jazz or new age and some songs have a tabla played on them. The pieces feature an interesting array of percussion instruments which blend so well with the electronic ones that I hardly notice the later except as adding to the texture. Thus the sound is not at all dated. I found the whole disc rather relaxing.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Music Notes – Dayful of Song

Any lover of George Gershwin should love this lively and beautiful album recorded by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra in 1997. In addition to favorites such as "Rhapsody in Blue and "An American in Paris," this disc features the rarely performed "Cuban Overture" and "Lullaby" (one of Gershwin's first classical compositions), and "Promenade," a piece of music first heard in the movie Shall We Dance. The title track, which opens the album, is a suite of unrecorded songs arranged by conductor, pianist, and Gershwin scholar Andrew Litton.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Bookmarks – Spoon River Anthology

I am very glad I had a chance to read this collection of poems by Edgar Lee Masters. Each person buried in the Spoon River cemetery has a monologue of sorts, so readers often get a chance to look at events from a number of different angles. One of the stories that holds this narrative together is that of crooked and selfish men not only causing the failure of the town bank, but also allowing an innocent man to go to prison for it. Readers see not only how those directly involved in this and other events are affected, but how the town itself suffers. And Spoon River is more than an interesting set of interweaving tales, but a metaphor on what is great and what is not so great about America.
Those notes may imply that Masters’ magnum opus is an attack on American values and ideals. It is not. In fact, if it attacks anything, it is the belief that humans are animals that cannot help but step on each other in the path to success. He puts to shame the hypocrites and foolish, but often does so with a sense of humor, and certainly allows some of the bad people to defend their actions. I found a number of the poems interesting and thoughtful. A number of them made me smile.
Masters’ verse is homey and comfortable most of the time, something that has caused some readers to criticize it. There are places where the book is a bit more prose like that poetic, but on the whole, I think it powerful in its accessibility. And its populist perspective is one that resonates with me, particularly as we become aware that those with power and fame only pretend to care what the everyday woman and man thinks and believes.

Movie Notes – Heartbreak Ridge

This is a fine piece of Clint Eastwood entertainment. It is not a great work of art. There are almost too many Eastwood one-liners and some of the situations are a bit over the top for my tastes. Further, there are a few too many stories in a movie that might be a little too long.
That said, I did find the movie enjoyable most of the time and even the over wild Mario Van Peebles made me laugh. Eastwood's Tom Highway is as tough as they come and there is something about this hard driving man that makes you want to watch, even if at times the character seems a bit of a caricature.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Music Notes -- Initiative

Initiative, by Dallas area sax and flutist Ron Jones is a funky, soulful project that is made with a number of the area’s finest jazz musicians. One might expect a lack of continuity, but I found the whole disc very enjoyable.
Initiative opens with “Crazy May,” a fun little number with nice solo work by Scott Bucklin on piano and one of my favorite drummers, Mike Drake. I do wish it didn’t fade out like a smooth jazz song, but until that moment, it has me dancing.
On “Bill’s Fluke,” Jones lets go with solo that seems to go all over without losing the sense of melody. Eric “Scorch” Scortia counters with a furious solo of his own on the Hammond B-3, and Alan Green sounds as if he has managed to use the whole drum kit when his turn comes around.
Jones plays the flute on the wonderful, breezy “Yiasou.” I was reminded of the great Herbie Mann’s forays into Latin jazz on this cut. I want to hear more flute work from Jones every time I hear this tune.
All but one of the songs on Initiative are originals. The one cover is of the Pink Floyd classic “Us and Them.” This pushes the project into the territory of fusion, but I think it would please even those who don’t lean that way musically. Jones and company do justice to a haunting song.
Hindsight” is a beautiful tune, featuring Dave Zoller on piano and Drew Phelps playing bass. The tone is sweet and the accompaniment delicious. This is followed by “Ornery,” a jumping and fun tune. I can easily imagine a crowded dance floor in a hot juke joint.
Next comes “Traffic Blues,” a smoldering piece that has Eric Scortia again tearing it up on the Hammond B3.  Then we have “Potluck.” Here we have another fine Bucklin solo while Gerald Stockton and Mike Drake provide a funky beat.
“Survival” is the album closer. It is one of the most fusion laden songs on Initiative. There is a sweet guitar solo by Micah Burgess, but the best stuff here is from Jones. I think his soloing here is about the best of the whole disc.
Initiative is a wholly satisfying album, not only for Jones’ fine playing, but also because it showcases some of the finest talents in the Dallas/Fort Worth jazz scene. Probably the main problem with the disc is that at 39 minutes, it is too darn short.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Music Notes -- Rosslyn

This 2003 release by The John Taylor Trio sounds to me like a cross between Brad Mehldau (with fewer dark keys) and Keith Jarrett (minus the moaning and stomping). There are seven beautiful tunes on this disc. A few come across a little slow and moody, but never maudlin. I particularly liked their rendition of the Irving Berlin classic “How Deep Is The Ocean” and Taylor’s own “Between Moons” and the title track. But all of these are gorgeous. And with heavyweights like Marc Johnson and Joey Baron making up the rhythm section, it is hard to go wrong. Rosslyn is one very right album.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Bookmarks – Playing for Pizza

This is one of John Grisham’s mainstream novels, a group of books I’ve been steadily reading and enjoying. Here, Rick Dockery, a washed up, perpetually third string quarterback finds himself playing professional football in Italy, hoping to salvage what is left of his career.
After getting through the unusual setup, this is pretty much the book you probably expect it to be. It is not as much a fish out of water story after the first few chapters where Rick gets used to Italian cuisine, the intricacies of parking, and the power of opera. At that point, the book is pretty much the same old football story you might have read before, just in a different locale.
However, I did enjoy the story. Grisham gives us more about food and architecture than Italian football, but maybe there isn't all that much to tell. While some plot has some flaws, the narrative is paced okay and entertaining. Playing for Pizza is a nice little diversion, particularly for those who like sports stories, and I’m a bit of a sucker for those.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Music Notes – Pianoscapes and Wind & Whispers

The past few days have been stressful and difficult. Some changes have come to the Morris household, and while most of these will be positive, they have not been without their growing pains. Such is life. Stagnant we suffer. Changing we stretch to what we think may well beyond our capacity. Either way, we hurt.
During this time, I have been listening to Michael Jones’ two disc Pianoscapes, as well as the album Wind and Whispers, particularly during my time working at the computer. Originally released as a single disc set, this deluxe version of Pianoscapes includes the full recorded output of the one-take project as well as unreleased versions of tunes from the pianist’s Sunscapes album.
These albums have been well received by my flitting and frantic mind. I suppose they fit in the archaic “New Age” category, but most music so labeled bores me, puts me to sleep. These improvised piano solos do neither. They do not engage me intellectually as my favorite pianists do, but that may be the point. They are stimulating and beautiful without being distracting. These pieces seem to be about being part of the environment where one lives rather than the focal point of that environment, perhaps helping to bring balance or harmony to those overwhelmed by the stress brought to and invading the room. Such seems to be intent of most so-called “new age” music, but these pieces actually achieve the goal.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Publication Notes – July 2010

Yesterday, the first edition of Rubber Lemon appeared online and it contains my story “Promise” (page 21). This is something I composed many years ago, and while time usually cools any positive thoughts I have about my work, this is one story I’ve always been a bit proud of. It seems to have found a proper and interesting home.
A couple of my haiku of found places in Ambrosia: Journal of Fine Haiku (Issue 5, page 49) and Trapeze Magazine.
The Insomnia War” has been published in Flutter (Volume 5, Issue 6).
That appears to be all for now, but I find I send out something or another every week or so, and though I’ve been very busy this summer, I have found time to actually write and not just write about writing.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Music Notes – Ambient Collection (The Art of Noise)

I've heard tunes by The Art of Noise off and on for years, but never listened to a whole album. I don't know how representative this little disc is, but I did find it pleasant and intriguing. The group is probably not for everybody, and as someone who does not listen to a lot of electronica, I don't have much to compare it to.
That said, I know what I enjoy, and I found this enjoyable, especially in the car. Probably my favorite cuts are "Crusoe," “Island,” "Eye of the Needle," and "Robinson Crusoe." "Ode to Don Jose" is quaint, but ultimately annoying. The disc closer "Art of Love" had my toes tapping and my head nodding.
This isn't what I usually listen to, but it is a welcome deviation.

Movie Notes – Crime and Punishment

I have start this little rant by mentioning that Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment is one of my favorite novels. If I had a top five, it would be there. But I also believe that a movie doesn’t have to be exactly like the book that serves as its source. I won’t go into that too much except that it is often not practical and to do so would deny the artistic vision of many people. Deviations don’t bother me all that much, unless of course they make for a bad movie and that is the case here.
Some of the story is intact. Raskolnikov kills an old pawnbroker and then her sister, is haunted by guilt he won’t acknowledge and hunted by the detective Porfiry Petrovich, opposes his sister’s engagement to the slimy Luzhin, is moved at the same time he argues with the religious prostitute Sonia, and eventually confesses his crime and is sent to Siberia for punishment.
But truly unnecessary plot changes merely make the story more confusing instead of help to make clear what is going on. For example, Luzhin pays for Sonia’s services and though he is supposed to marry Raskolnikov’s sister, has no problem with the future brother-in-law knowing. Razhumikin’s friendship, which is invaluable not only to Raskolnikov but to holding together important plot points, is barely acknowledged. The romantic relationship between Sonia and Raskolnikov appears out of the blue, though it really developed (and made more sense because of it) over a great deal of time. Perhaps most egregious of all is Porfiry’s voice over at the end of Raskolnikov’s trial and incarceration. Lines are added to show Raskolnikov was given a lighter sentence due to “temporary insanity.”
Religion should be considered a main character of the novel because it informs the actions of many of the other characters and of the world in which Raskolnikov wrestles with what he has done. He refuses to accept, for most of the novel, the humanity of the people he has killed. Sonia, though a prostitute, has a deep faith that not only sustains her, but affects those she comes in contact with. But religion is thrown into the movie like an afterthought and Dostoevsky's story of hard redemption is lost. In the novel, Raskolnikov takes Sonia’s cross and confesses in public before going to the police. In the movie, there is no such public confession.
All that might not be a big deal to some if Menahem Golan had make a good movie despite the significant differences. He did not.
The setting is just, well, stupid and confusing. The color and the autos make me think this is set in the 1970s Moscow instead of 19th century St. Petersburg. Yet in one scene, Raskolnikov finds Sophia in a club and a band is playing something between grunge and heavy metal. The film appears to have the coloring of a 70s print. There is a bright sun throughout the movie despite the dark themes and the dank atmosphere of the story. Rooms where people in abject poverty seem fairly well, if sometimes modestly furnished and very well lit.
The acting is quite terrible. Even the great John Hurt can’t save this, though he does a credible Porfiry. It is no small wonder he is listed in front of the other actors though he does not play the main character: he is the only actor is isn’t downright rotten. Vanessa Redgrave and Margot Kidder are two other knows actresses and they over act wildly. To their defense, their lines are often so bad, I’m not sure who could have made them work. Crispin Glover, as Raskolnikov, does about as poor a job as I’ve ever seen on film. When Raskolnikov has a monologue, Glover looks like an excited high school kid doing a play. Throughout the movie, and at some of the most inopportune moments (as when expressing rage) Glover has this creepy grin that never seems to go away, as if he’s stuck that way.
The music is insufferable. Strings seem to whine and wheeze and often the music is dramatic at the wrong time looping strains like a dentist’s drill. Sometimes the score seems to overpower the dialogue, as if trying to add importance to banal scenes. But it is mostly distracting throughout.
This is the kind of movie that lazy students find to watch instead of reading the classic book. If that becomes the case, they’ll fail not only because they have the wrong content, but because they may not be able sit through the whole thing.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Bookmarks – Tremendous Trifles

One of the first books I’ve read since getting a Nook has been this delightful collection of essays by G.K. Chesterton.
I am not sure these are the kind of essays I should have students read as examples of good writing because Chesterton often starts with one subject and associates it with another, and yet he is so masterful at this, that I sit reading in awe. He seems to be writing off the cuff, but the connections are often deep and profound. They clearly come from a deep well of reading and rumination.
Chesterton has a wonderfully warm sense of humor, but I fear that many readers won’t get all the jokes, particularly since some of them seem to require a knowledge of Art, Literature, and Philosophy, as well as what were current events in England during the author’s life. But readers shouldn’t be lost through most of the book, and Chesterton’s references rarely get in the way of the main ideas. His defense of Christianity is more subtle than his contemporaries, and that may be why it is appealing. He can be direct without banging one with a frying pan.
Chesterton is better known for his Father Brown stories, but as a journalist, he also excelled. These 39 witty gems serve as fine examples. “The world will never starve for want of wonders; but only for want of wonder,” he wrote. This little book brings back for me the sense of awe and wonder in creation at the same time it reasons with (and against) some of the best minds of Chesterton’s day. Don’t take that to mean he is dated. His thoughts stand up with anything the so-called modern world dishes out.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Music Notes – Fast Lane, The Grenadines, Blaze of Glory at The Harbor

Fast Lane (June 24) – I’ve thought of the Eagles as a rather laid back group, but this tribute band seemed at times to be laying down. I didn’t mind that they leaned mostly toward the country side of The Eagles’ repertoire, but that most every song was played and sung lethargically, as if the group was just going through the motions. And the fact that none of the singers sounded like any of the Eagles would not have bothered me if they had not drawn attention to “featured” players only when that person was going to sing lead. (Last I noticed, The Eagles has some good musicians.) The group mulled around so much between numbers, they could have easily fit two or three more songs into the set.
When Fast Lane played something more upbeat, the substituted volume for energy.  Really! They just played louder.
Otherwise, the group played credible versions of Eagles hits and songs from the solo efforts of Don Henley and Joe Walsh (sorry, no Glenn Frey). The crowd liked them a bit more than I did, and called them back for an encore.
A band that really earned their encore was The Grenadines who played the Harbor on July 1. As they say on their website: they play a mixture of “the best blues, classic & contemporary rock.” I was impressed by the sound. Almost all the songs went together as if written for this band and the energy stayed high through the set. They were professional, but never lost their rock and roll edge. I’d say that so far this summer, this is one of the best bands the City of Rockwall has brought out. I very much hope to see them again.
When one goes to see a Bon Jovi tribute band, one does run the risk of hearing a lot of Bon Jovi songs. I am not a fan, but I went to see Blaze of Glory with people who are, and I would have to say that most of the crowd at the Harbor on July 15 were also fans. I don’t think they were disappointed. The group played all the hits and fan favorites, doing the rock star poses and performing as if they were the actual group. The lead singer, in fact, called the guitar player Richie Sambora more often than he referred to the guy’s real name (Roy Lee Nelson).Photo0397
As I said, I’m not a fan, so some of this “experience,” was a bit painful for me. However, the crowd ate it up, and why not? These guys are pretty good. There may have been a thousand females, aged between 12 and 50, who were singing along and hoisting beers and dancing. I suspect a danger in working as a tribute band is that if you miss the mark, you might get booed off the  stage. There was no danger of that happening here. Solid energy and sound made it worthwhile, even for guys like me.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Bookmarks – The Practice of the Presence of God

There are many books on the subject of prayer. Outside the Bible itself, few are indispensable: This one is, by far, the best book on the subject I have ever come across. It is simple and insightful. Any spiritual person, no matter where she or he is in the walk of faith, can be edified by The Practice of the Presence of God, if by nothing other than Brother Lawrence's own devotion to God.
The slim book is divided into two main sections. The first is a series of items learned from the monk during several conversations. In the first of these we read of the Nicolas Hermann (Brother Lawrence’s given name) had when he was eighteen and which began his journey which “set him loose from the world, and kindled in him…a love for GOD.” We also read of his belief that all should be given over to love and service of God, and that prayer is not merely a matter of saying things at certain times of the day, but of establishing in oneself the fact that God is present everywhere at all times, and thus all acts should be as prayer and devotion to God.
The second section of the book contains letters that Brother Lawrence wrote on various spiritual matters. He informs a superior in one letter that he can be asked to participate in the various prayers or exercises set aside for monks, but that these, for him, are only extensions of what he does with the whole of his days. He writes to others on the subject of suffering that it is not only something to be embraced, but something that demonstrates the love of God. In one letter, he writes to someone who has been ill a long time and has not gotten better: “it is my opinion that you should leave off human remedies, and resign yourself entirely to the providence of GOD” and “He [God] sometimes permits bodily diseases to cure the distempers of the soul.” That part, admittedly, is tough to understand, and very hard to take in, but I also must admit to being a novice as far as the subject of suffering. I only know that when I read it, I believe it.
I try to re-read this book every couple of years. Each time it is new, challenging, and refreshing.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Music Notes – Liz Story

Now and then, little will do to calm me but good, emotive piano playing. Typically this means Mr. Jarrett, particularly the improvised concerts. Sometimes that means listening to George Winston (and some of the knock offs of his style). But a pianist I seem to return to over and over is Liz Story.
Story does not seem, to my admittedly untrained ear, to be as creative as Jarrett (but who is, really?), and I am pretty sure she is not as popular as Mr. Winston. But I think she is better than he is. One can hear the influence of the great Bill Evans here, especially in the subtle, but never sleepy touch that lets all empty space become part of the music, stroking the melodies with just enough color to make them stand out, but not so much as to scream for attention.
Ms. Story does play some beautiful original compositions. “Wedding Rain” and “Pacheco Pass” are favorites for many listeners (including myself). Her more introspective pieces remind me of another musician that doesn’t get enough attention: Richard Souther. But I am intrigued by her readings of such classic pieces as “How Insensitive,” “All the Things You Are,” and “My One and Only Love.” I consider anyone tries Evans’ “Peace Piece” to be quite bold, but I have to say I really like her rendition.
Liz Story’s playing is soft in a good sense. It is relaxing and beautiful, but don’t let that fool you. While her work doesn’t dive and dip like Keith Jarrett’s, and it might not be as poetically rounded as Bill Evans, it is very enjoyable. Often just what I need.

Bookmarks – The Cradle Place

Thomas Lux is not your roses is red poet of pretty little lines. He isn’t Shakespeare. There is a great deal that Lux isn’t. And even if his strange verses are a little hard for the overly expectant reader to take, they are darn good.
Lux has been described by many critics as “surrealistic.” Poems in  The Cradle Place employ some odd images which seem to come from dreams, and what you expect to be horrifying sometimes ends up beautiful, at least in my psyche. And perhaps that is Lux’s strength: not so much to get us to embrace the nightmares we imagine, but to be honest about the nightmares we live around unknowingly. Maybe we also learn to see, as only in dreams, the possible that we would deny if we looked at it face to face.
These poems contain a great deal of humor, though you might find it missing when you look for it. It is like riding in the car with the wise, but weird uncle: you know he’s going to say something funny and he’s going to make some sort acute observation, but if you try to force anything, he’ll sit mute. As soon as you turn on the radio to drown out his silence, something comes out touching wonder. It is best to read without presumption and let whatever happens happens.
While I did say that Lux is like no other poet, I do think he has his kindred spirits. A number of the poems in this collection owe their power to observations about the minute and discarded, a la A. R. Ammons. But where Ammons opens the world of science to metaphor that few have since Donne, Lux’s muse has bite (and sharp teeth!). Bits of information and daring questions lodge in the brain like a feather, sometimes tickling, sometimes scratching, always screaming for attention. What is done with that attention is left to the reader. But the reader is not going to be the same…unless she or he expects nothing else.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Music Notes: Voodoo Blue at the Harbor

Took in a wonderful set on Thursday night by the Stevie Ray Vaughan tribute band Voodoo Blue.
Even if you have never heard of Stevie Ray Vaughan (and if so, I feel very sorry for you), and have somehow missed his tunes on the radio, I dare anyone to sit and listen to this band play and not be impressed with how good they sound or how fun they are to watch. (I say that at the same time I was flabbergasted by all the people mulling around during the show like they were just cruising the mall.)
Those who did sit still (or dance) were treated to some mighty good renditions of Vaughan classics, like “Little Wing,” “Pride and Joy,” “Crossfire,” “The House is Rockin’,” and my personal favorite: “Cold Shot.”

Voodoo Blue also provided the crowd with a few of the lesser known tunes from the SRV canon (meaning the stuff you don’t get on the classic rock radio stations) like “Willie The Wimp.” At the end, they played the National Anthem a la Hendrix and “Voodoo Child (Slight Return).” At this point nearly everyone was on their feet. Local groups don’t generally generate this kind of excitement, especially cover bands. But Voodoo Blue deserve it.
If you are going to do the music of a guitar legend, you better have some one better than good on the six string. Voodoo Blue does in Casey James. This guy is an exciting performer, even looking like Stevie Ray. From the opening number, he had us all electrified. But the whole band was good here. I loved the keys when I could here them and the singer was a punch of good blues.
There is nothing like the original. But this is pretty darn good stuff. If you are in the DFW Metroplex and need good fix of SRV that radio or your old cassettes and give you, this is the band to see.

Dear Senator Barton:

Thank you for taking the time to apologize on my behalf to a very bad man working for a very bad company in an industry so evil that America is drowning under its influence. After all, as a grown man myself, I still have trouble appreciating a person who represents decades of abuse and oppression.
You have confirmed for me that you are a consummate politician,  a word that I understand comes from an ancient language meaning asshole, probably due to what comes out of it. And up until this time, I just figured you and your kind were only one notch above child molesters and divorce lawyers.
Once again, you did what politicians do: you seized the moment for yourself, drawing attention to YOURSELF, in one quick jibe dismissing the out right EVIL that BP and other oil companies have perpetrated on this country. You have left those who are hurting (REAL PAIN SENATOR, NOT A LITTLE OUWIE) behind so you can push an agenda that is nothing more than the same old “take the other side no matter how stupid it is and let us all spread the hate” position that goobers on both sides of the arena have been doing for a very very long time.
You have no real concern for the people whose livelihoods are gone forever. You do not care about the families who have lost loved ones. You have no love for those who serve to BETTER this country. YOU LOVE YOU. That’s all.
For me the BP thing is not about politics. In fact, it is politics that has helped to get us into and have exacerbated this mess. I have grown to distrust all politicians, left and right because of people like you Senator Barton. You had a chance to prove right and wrong are not about left and right and to get people on the side of DOING SOMETHING instead of saying nothing. But I guess it was more important to earn the praise of the Rush Limbaughs of this world. Silly me; I just don’t get it.
I read that you have apologized for your apology. But why? Because you were forced to by people in your own party. See, it is not about doing the right thing. It is about saving face. TAhat is the first side of every political coin: Save Face. The second half reads: Get Elected.
In the wake of the all the rhetoric, you have done  divided families and killed real freedom. Now politics is a religion, and all we hear is given litany from the priests at Fox and MSNBC. Some say, “you have to be involved in politics to change politics.” Horse shit. I might as well deal with child molesting priests by apologizing to the Pope for all the people who have asked him to be accountable for the church he leads. Then I suppose I should help him shuffle off more bad minister to work with kids and make sure all the good priests get held up for ridicule.
You see, this is what you and other politicians have done. You basically have told the abuser, the molester, the killer, “We are so sorry you are getting punished. We are so sorry there has been pressure on you to do the RIGHT THING since we know in a free world you should never have to do the right thing.”
Politicians on all sides talk and talk and talk about personal responsibility. And yet when someone is actually expected to TAKE RESPONSIBILITY, you ALL decry it. You don’t want people to take responsibility. You only want to take credit.
So here are two things you can take credit for: 1) further disillusioning me from the idea the politicians can do any good for this country and 2) giving the smug bastard his life back.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Music Notes – Tribute (Keith Jarrett Trio)

Keith Jarrett just has to do things differently. And so when he and his band mates (bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Jack DeJohnette) make a tribute album, it just can't be for one person or even a composer. Here they pay tribute to the great performances of several people doing other people's great tunes. Now I am not familiar enough with the original recordings, so I can only focus on the music itself, which, as usual, is fine.
I can say these standards sound much more like the kind of thing people go to when they want to hear fresh versions of the Great American Songbook, and there are not so many of the usual "extensions" Keith Jarrett Trio is known for. But if you love piano jazz, you won't get this recording confused with any other trio. You may have heard many renditions of "Lover Man," "Solar," "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes" and “All The Things You Are.” But a few notes into the melody, and you know you are listening to Jarrett, Peacock, and DeJohnette.
A couple original tunes can also be found on Tribute, each of which close the respective discs on the project: "Sun Prayer" on the first disc and "U Dance" and side two. I'm not sure why they are here, but I didn't find their inclusion jarring in the least. They are also two of the catchier and perhaps most accessible pieces in the project.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Music Notes -- The Mars Hill Band at the Harbor

When I see the words “Party Band” used to describe an act, I don’t have very high expectations that I am going to enjoy the music. Usually I end up listening to plodding and lethargic versions of songs I don’t really like, even by the original artists. Maybe I’m getting old, because that isn’t my idea of a party.
But the Mars Hill Band surprised me in their set at the Harbor in Rockwall on Thursday night. The group played a spirited set mixing tunes from a variety of decades and genres. Even some songs that don’t do much for me personally (like “She Country” and Michael Jackson's “Rock With You”) came off well and seemed to be pretty well received by the crowd gathered by Lake Ray Hubbard. Shoot, they even did a version of “Welcome to the Jungle” with some darn hot horns.
There were a few glitches here and there, like a guitar that didn’t always want to be heard on my side of the stage, but mostly this was a surprisingly fun show. The group handles, as noted before, several different songs and made them work together. The even got called for an encore, and did a raucous rendition of Living Colour's “Cult of Personality.” (By the way, I really did like this song, but I’d been so taken with the horns—a trombonist and a flugelhorn player – that I was a little disappointed I didn’t get to experience the tune with them.)
This was a party band, and though I didn’t dance, I’m glad I came.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

TV notes – The Nine Test High School Education

I get more and more soured on sports, especially the so-called “student athlete.” There are some really fine athletes who do take their education seriously. I know this because many have graced my classes, working very hard both on the field, and and treating every morsel of knowledge like gold, happy for the privilege to learn. But the truth is that most athletes in college are like a group I have run into in my own job: spoiled children who are genuinely surprised when a teacher has the audacity to fail them in courses they did no work in and rarely, if ever attended. (I once had a baseball player who came so infrequently to his class, I did not know what he looked like.  He only turned in one assignment, which he failed, and asked me how to get an A just before the final exam, which he actually took expecting to pass the course.)
There are some who would blame a culture of entitlement, an attitude seemingly ramped up with athletes (usually male, by the way – most female athletes I’ve encountered take a more realistic approach to college) as if on steroids. Others will blame bad parenting. Others blame the professionals for providing role models only in terms of selfishness and aggrandizement.
I’m sure each of these has some influence on the never was a scholar athlete. But I believe the real culprit is that sports has been made a god and its male participants have become little deities commanding worship. I used to see it in the pros. Then I became a college instructor and realized that it has always been there too. When I became a parent who took his kids to soccer and basketball practices, I saw that many of these little gods had been formed (and their educations dropped like a new convert runs from the devil) long before they hit high school.
Let us take the case of one Tony Mitchell and young man who missed over a hundred days of class and yet managed to rise from being a freshman to a senior in less than two days. Here is Brett Shipp’s first report on the case, reported on WFAA in Dallas on June 1.

Now take a look at Shipp's follow up report on the investigation:

Today I caught the following commentary from anchor John McCaa:

Where have we gotten to as a society when people attach a man for reporting the misdeeds? What are we to say of ourselves when the potential of a gifted athlete, not for what he can use his talents to provide for himself (remember the word “education”?), but what he can bring to a college program, namely fame and money, is all that people are concerned about? We haven’t gotten to any place. We are in the same place we always were: worshipping the sport and the athlete so much, that we become blind to the abuse done not only to education, but also to this young man and those like him and, dare I say, to real values of sports. A handful of us will applaud what Mr. Shipp has done in reporting this story and what Mr. McCaa has said in support of that story. But what does it say about the world we live in when this small minority of us are looked as if we  are the religious zealots, not those who see a misguided and poorly led 17 year old as a savior.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Music Notes – Thieves and Poets

Some have compared this project from guitar master John McLaughlin to Miles Davis’ Sketches Of Spain. It is not really as great as all that, but saying so isn’t really fair to McLaughlin. After all Sketches is one of the best albums by one of the greatest artists in music history. It has also has had longer to garner listeners and acclaim. But there are a number of similarities between the two projects that make the comparison worthy of attention.
Thieves and Poets can be divided into two sections. The first is the three part title suite composed by McLaughlin. The second consists of four jazz standards played with McLaughlin's usual adroitness: “My Foolish Heart,” “The Dolphin,” “Stella by Starlight,” and “My Romance.” Parts II and III of the suite and the standards feature The Aighetta Quartet.  The orchestra on this recording is I Pommeriggi Musicali di Milano. Both ensembles provide the lush and beautiful backdrop for McLaughlin's composition and the understated classics. So, like Sketches of Spain, this project straddles the worlds of jazz and classical music.  I think the result is something is likely to satisfy people in both camps. But only to a degree.
Where Sketches is a fully realized, coherent collaboration between Miles Davis and Gil Evans, Thieves and Poets is really a disc with two distinct, and not uniform, halves. The suite wants to be like the majestic “Concerto de Aranjuez,” and as a classical piece, it almost is. But Davis’ genius was that he could use the orchestra as he did his band, and so his version of the Rodrigo composition almost seems to be his own, yet without losing the essentials of the original. So what Davis did was both classical and jazz. But McLaughlin has a powerful work for the orchestra, and nothing more. Ironically, “Concerto De Aranjuez” is a work for guitar and orchestra.
That suite is very much worth listening to, but with the other four tunes, the record as a whole is jarring. The standards are rendered beautifully here, if not that special in terms of improvisation, and come off as little afterthoughts. Pretty, but afterthoughts nonetheless. One might get the impression after a few listens that McLaughlin didn’t have enough of either and so he just stuck them together.
I would rather have had either two separate projects or a double disc opus with the classical material on one and the jazz classics on the other. Far be it from me to say the two genres don’t belong together. But here it doesn’t work quite so well as music lovers know is possible.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Music Notes – Rock Instrumental Classics: The Seventies

Before I ever got into jazz (sort of), I was a rock and roller (sort of), a child of the 70s. And while some of the tunes on this disc I never actually heard during that decade, those that did come through my tiny radio speakers had me thinking there was more to music than folk tunes, disco, and the advent of heavy metal. So when I found this disc for cheap at a Half Price Bookstore, I had to have it.
A couple things do bother me about this little collection of 18 songs. Probably the most noticeable problem is the truncated version of Edgar Winter’s “Frankenstein.” Second, while I know that jazz and rock are not the same thing, if a compilation can include “Joy” by Apollo and “The Hustle,” of “rock” music, then surely they could have found room for tunes by Herb Alpert, Chuck Mangione, Spyro Gyra, or crossover sensation George Benson. The seventies were a time when a lot of jazz and rock crossed over, and these artist had some pretty good tunes. I guess, however, that might have taken two discs (so would that be Volume 3b?). To make room, on the other hand, I might suggest cutting “Apricot Brandy” by Rhinoceros, since it was actually released in 1968 and was not a big hit.
But that doesn’t diminish what one has here. The disc is rather uneven, with some real rock songs mixed with some disco and pop novelties, like the aforementioned songs, Walter Murphy’s “A Fifth of Beethoven,” and the quirky “Popcorn” (by, of course, Hot Butter). But we also have classics (dare I say standards?) like Average White Band’s “Pick Up The Pieces,” Deodato’s version of “Also Sprach Zarathustra (2001),” and mega groovy “Outa-Space”by the late Billy Preston (God rest his sweet jammin’ soul!).

There are also some nuggets (at least for me) in some songs, as noted before,  I never heard before putting this in my player. Notable are ELO’s “Daybreaker” and a hearty version of Led Zepplin’s “Whole Lotta Love” played by King Curtis & The Kingpins. The disc also contains some interesting liner notes (something that those who did not grow up in the seventies or before may not remember as part of the listening experience).
Okay, so my misgivings notwithstanding, this is a fun little record, one that should give a good picture of one significant part of one of the richest decades in music history.
[Note: I noticed that this series contains music from the 50s and 60s, but nothing past the seventies. I wonder what statement that makes for music past that time. Just saying…]