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.