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SOUNDTRACK2 CHAINZ-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #170 (February 17, 2021).

I’ve never heard of 2 Chainz, but I love that his Tiny Desk comes from Pamper Atlanta–his nail salon!

He’s a pretty fascinating dude

Colored in royalty, neon hues of lavender, fuchsia and violet, in his high-end nail studio Pamper (yes, he owns it, and he’s not shy about letting you know), 2 Chainz is feeling himself throughout his five-song set. Getting a champagne-soaked pedicure, rolling one and periodically shouting out his sixth and latest studio album, So Help Me God!, the rapper exudes Black excellence in the way of luxurious comfortability.

“Southside HOV” is a fascinating brag track with lines like

I’m from the gutter, diamonds studded, I am too for real
Name another rapper that got a Versace shoe deal

His unbridled braggadocio so clearly comes from the freedom of security after being denied opportunities, not just individually but generationally.

He ends the song with a statement to the little ones:  “Listen carefully, this is a grown man speaking to you … pedicure in this bitch. too.”

“Vampire” is another new song that he casually raps while getting his legs massaged.

Then the set jumps to another room with 2 Chainz sitting in the spotlight as his partially obscured band plays.

He rewinds the clock and samples [his] stacked discography (“Good Drank,” “I’m Different”)

“Good Drank” has a grooving bass line from Tyler Sherard with some cool soloing from Josh Sneed.  “I’m Different” opens with a quiet piano melody from Mark Polynice–it’s almost like a horror movie.  Most of the songs have a chill rap style, but in the middle of this one he really lets it fly for a verse–rather impressive.  There’s some great drumming from Alex Turner on this track too.

The set ends with “Grey Area” and good grief with these lyrics, so much for inspirational).

All this sh- that I have done, I can not believe in karma (yeah)
Old enough to be your Daddy
Young enough to f- your Mama (boom, boom, boom!)
Young enough to f- your sister, young enough to f- your auntie
I ain’t messing with your Grannie, I just juuged her out them Xannies (true!)

It’s surprising then, that he gets all thoughtful at the end of the set.  As Polynice plays some backing chords, 2 Chainz says “Let me inspire.”

“There are a lot of people who have been moving the needle forward for Black people. And they have been for some time,” says an earnest, almost plaintive 2 Chainz. In a heart-filled sermon, he cites Martin Luther King Jr., Tyler Perry and Puffy as trailblazers, practicing gratitude for Black leaders who inspire him and the world at large. It’s a sober moment of euphoria — and a drastic shift from the first 17 minutes of the Grammy winner’s flashy Tiny Desk.

When thinking of inspirations he thinks of Martin Luther King, Jr. “I played from M.L.K.” he says (this must be metaphorical since King died almost ten years before Chainz was born).  Then when asked to name names of black people “who are currently like breathing and accessible in entertainment and tech” he says there’s so many who have inspired him he really can’t think of any names, even though there are so many black billionaires … “their names logged in my phone.”

The jump from M.L.K. to Tyler Perry may be the only time that connection was ever made.  But at the end he admits

I wasn’t specific when answering the question.  I just said what my heart told me to say.

But damn, if Pamper Atlanta doesn’t look really nice.

[READ: March 31, 2021] Klawde: Evil Alien Cat 3

While I enjoyed Book 2, I thought that Book 3 was a bit more fun.

Because it has dogs!

Raj’s parents are heading to Hawaii for a dental conference (Raj’s dad is a dentist, which you know because he is wearing a “plaque is wack” shirt.  Dad said it was work, but Raj was pretty jealous.  He wasn’t allowed to go because he was in school.  And that could mean only one thing: his ajji (grandma) was going to come stay with him.  Ajji was old-school Indian and brought three suitcases worth of cooking supplies.  And a dog.

Ajji doesn’t have a dog, but she was foster sitting this fluffy creature named Wuffles and brought it with her.  Since Wuffles needed a seat, Raj’s appi (grandfather) had to stay home!

Obviously Klawde is not happy to see that the “mortal enemy of all felines” was going to stay with them (the drawing of Wuffles on the “mortal enemies” page is hilariously adorable.  As Klawde sneaked up to get a better look, Wuffles exploded, snarling and barking right in Klawde’s face.

Klawde surveys the creature from atop the fridge:  It has the good sense to walk on four legs and has proper anatomical parts: fur, tail, whiskers and claws. But the whiskers were short (and couldn’t possibly be intergalactic sensors) and the ears were flopped over–clearly broken. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ÓLAFUR ARNALDS-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #177 (March 4, 2021).

Ólafur Arnalds is an Icelandic composer who creates (mostly) beautiful soothing songs.

I really enjoyed his previous Tiny Desk Concert where he displayed his high tech player piano gadget (used in one of these songs although it’s hard to tell).

He and his accompanying quartet (Geirþrúður Ása Guðjónsdóttir, Sigrún Harðardóttir and Karl James Pestka on violins; Unnur Jónsdóttir on cello) play four tracks.

The pensive set opens with an older tune, “Happiness Does Not Wait,” with Ólafur Arnalds seated at a short upright piano known as a Danish ‘pianette.’

“Happiness Does Not Wait” opens the set with a beautiful looping melody on the piano and gentle strings added on top.  Then the strings take over playing the piano melody and the backing melodies as Arnalds preps his next song.

The remaining three songs are form 2020’s, some kind of peace. 

For “Woven Song” he winds up an Edison “Fireside” cylinder phonograph which plays a haunting melody–a traditional Amazonian healing song sung by the late shaman Herlinda Agustin Fernandez.  He plays a complex piano melody on top of the song.  Then strings layer on top and then once again take over the melody as he stops playing and heads to his other piano.

He explains that in the tribe where Fernandez sings, they weave their melodies into cloth to write them down.

Then moving from the wax cylinder to his high tech Stratus music software.

Look closely at the piano toward the back of the studio during the tune “Spiral,” and you’ll see a piano playing seemingly without a performer. That piano is reacting to Ólafur Arnald’s real-time performance using algorithms he and his coder friend, Halldór Eldjárn, developed.

The song opens with the violin and then the rest of the strings flesh the song out while he begins the piano.  Then the instruments fall back leaving just one violin along with the piano for the end.

For the final song, he moves back to the first pianette to play “We Contain Multitudes” which has an otherworldly echoing quality to it.

It’s a lovely calming session.

[READ: March 21, 2021] Klawde: Evil Alien Cat 2

Book 2 picks up soon after the events of Book 1.  In other words, summer is over and it’s time for Raj to go to his new school.  The good news is that the friends he made at camp–Cedar and Steve–will be there.  The bad news is so will his enemies Scorpion and Newt.

In the introduction, Klawde explains that his name is not Klawde, it is Lord High Emperor Wyss-Kuzz, the Magnificent.  He says he hated the planet Earth when he was exiled here and he hates it even more now.

Raj is freaking out about school, but Klawde is not interested in his pathetic classes. Where is Battle Tactics?  The Art of Slash-and-Claw? The Art of Ambush?  And that made Klawde think–he will start his own school–a school for warriors.

Marciano wrote this book in 2019 but how crazily prescient was this.  Raj goes into his classroom but there is no teacher.  Instead a voice came from speakers

Now, y’all may think it’s weird to have a teacher on a screen, but it’s part of a new wave in education… remote instruction! [And] no you cannot do whatever you want… I may be sitting down here in Alabama, but … I have a split screen monitor right here with every student’s face on it.

Spooky! (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: GIVĒON–Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #166 (January 28, 2021).

GIVĒON is a pretty classic R&B crooner.  He seems pretty grateful to have gotten where he is.

“Just bear with me while I just enjoy this and soak in it,” GIVĒON admits with a laugh.

He plays three songs.

“The Beach” opens with gentle guitar chords from James Murray and a slow bass line from Ivan Chatman.  Then GIVĒON and RaVaughn Brown sing together.

After the song, he says he’s pretty excited to play in February.

“Any moment to do this would be special,” he says between songs, “but I think Black History Month … just celebrating Black culture for this month, I’m really excited to get to do this on this platform.”

He also notes that he is a Pisces.  “Pisces are emotional, maybe that’s why I make songs like this.”  “Like I Want You” opens with a simple drum intro from Andre Montgomery and a slow bass line.  Deondre Ellis plays a keyboard melody that matches the vocal melody at the beginning each line–it’s a nice touch.  Murray plays a pretty ripping guitar solo, too.

Before the final song, “Stuck on You,” he says, “I can’t wait to watch this with my mom and see what she thinks because she likes to nitpick sometimes.”  It’s a bit of a faster song and when there’s about a minute left, GIVĒON walks off to let the band jam out the set.  The mark of an old school singer already.

[READ: February 20, 2021] Goliath

The final book of this trilogy was as exciting as the rest of the series.

Everyone is back aboard the Leviathan and they are heading toward the Arctic.  They have an exciting and dangerous mission up ahead–they are going to lower Leviathan as low as she can go so that they can retrieve some cargo from the back of a polar bear beastie.

Deryn and Newkirk are on a small platform swinging madly through the air as they try to secure this very large parcel from the back of a moving bear.  It’s something that’s been done before, but never with something this large (usually just mail bags).  This is a massive time saver, but if they miss, it means a several hours before they can turn around an try again.

The package is a huge amount of supplies both for the Leviathan and for the special guest who they are going to meet in the Wilderness. Things don’t go as smoothly as promised because the package weighs more than was promised–the danger is pretty great and the scene is very exciting.

When they open up the packages in the ships hold, they discover that in addition to the various supplies there is a massive Clanker gadget that needs assembling.  It is good that Alek and his men are on board to help assemble the Clanker contraption.  He’s also happy to have gainful employ for a time–it’s the happiest he’s been in a while.

The device proves to be a portable metal detector–a powerful one designed to be used almost like a giant magnet. But there’s no explanation for why it’s here.

The ship continues on its mission further up towards Greenland.  Then the watchman sends a message: Trees All Down Ahead.  It doesn’t make sense until they see a clearing up ahead and indeed all of the trees are destroyed–knocked over as of by the world’s largest hurricane. Worse yet, there are gigantic bones littering the place–as if a whale beastie was eaten. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PICTUREHOUSE-“Sunburst” (1998).

Picturehouse drummer Johnny Boyle was in the Irish Drummers book.  I was unfamiliar with them, but apparently they were pretty huge back in the late 1990s (at least in Ireland).  Boyle played on this album (Karmarama) and the follow up.

“Sunburst” was apparently all over Irish radio when it came out.  After a fun opening drumfill, this song falls into a gentle indie rock vein.  There’s some lovely harmonies, some nice gravelly vocals from singer Dave Brown and a big soaring “what a day” chorus.

The end of the song bops along on series of bah bah bahs and and a tasty fuzzy guitar solo.

It’s a delightful jangly pop song and was understandably a big hit

[READ: March 15, 2021] “Girl with Lizard”

I was sure that I had read this story, or something like it, before.  But this is the first story by this author that I have read.  This story and the resulting short story collection Flights of Love were translated by John E. Woods.

The story concerns a boy and a painting.  It was a painting of a girl looking at a lizard on the beach.  His mother and father called it “The Girl with the Lizard” and his mother referred to the girl in the painting as “The Jewish Girl.”  The painting played a large role in the boy’s childhood.  He napped under the painting every day during nap time.  He became very familiar with the details of the painting, which had a pride of place in his father’s office.

He became so familiar with it that when asked to describe a painting in detail for school, he was excited to write about this one.  He stared at the painting and took in all the details. He marveled that when he was little he had to look up at the girl and now that he was older the two were at eye level with each other.

His father admired the essay but told him that the painting was very important and it would be much better if people didn’t know they had it.  He said it was valuable and din;t want anyone to steal it.  He refused to say anything more about it and over the boy’s life, he never learned the provenance of the painting,  But his father certainly believed it was valuable. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BILLIE HOLIDAY-“Strange Fruit” (1939/ (live1959)).

This haunting song is sung with minimal piano accompaniment.  In between verses, the original version has some stark trumpet solos, although they are not present in this live version.

Southern trees bear a strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swingin’ in the Southern breeze
Strange fruit hangin’ from the poplar trees
Pastoral scene of the gallant South
The bulgin’ eyes and the twisted mouth
Scent of magnolias sweet and fresh
Then the sudden smell of burnin’ flesh
Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck
For the rain to gather
For the wind to suck
For the sun to rot
For the tree to drop
Here is a strange and bitter crop

She sings the words slowly (the song is 3 minutes long despite the relatively few words), letting the image linger in your mind as she stretched out “burning flesh”  and “for the crows to pluck.”  The way she agonizingly sings “drop” and “crop” really emphasizes the last lines.

The studio version has a haunting guitar line–the only guitar in the song–as a little coda.  It’s a remarkable addition and really affecting.

I can’t imagine the courage it took to sing these words in 1959 let alone 1939.

This song has a fascinating origin.

Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith were two Black men who were hanged in a spectacle lynching in 1930.  A photograph was taken by studio photographer Lawrence Beitler.  He sold thousands of copies of the print [which is amazingly disturbing and I can’t imagine who would have bought them].  In 1937 Abel Meeropol, a Jewish school teacher from New York City saw a copy of Beitler’s 1930 photograph which “haunted [him] for days” and inspired his poem “Bitter Fruit” which was published in The New York Teacher in 1937 (under the pseudonym Lewis Allan). Meeropol then set his poem to music, renaming it “Strange Fruit” which Billie Holiday recorded in 1939.

[READ: March 8, 2021] Kindred [the fight]

This week took us to the end of the book.

Dana arrived home with Kevin this time.  He’s initially happy to be home, but is soon very restless. He was in the past for five years.  They have only been in their new house together a few days–noting is familiar here.  He is agitated and irritable.  He tells her about some of the horrible things he’s seen like a woman dying in childbirth.  It’s interesting that this horror comes from Kevin telling Dana about a woman’s whose master beat her until the baby fell out of her.

I feel like Kevin is overreacting to his return–his agitation seems way too great.  I realize that things are new in this house, but you’d think that even after five years, being home wouldn’t be such a bad thing.  And then he tells a story like the above and while I still don’t understand why it’s not just a relief to be out of there, i can see that he’s got PTSD.

But he was jumpy–the sound of jet overhead freaked him out.  Again, would five years without a jet overhead make you forget that they existed before hand?

Earlier Dana had been concerned that Kevin could be “won over” to the bad side. But he tells her that he had been helping slaves to escape.  he even imagined that they might both want to go back to help more slaves escape–to do good historically speaking. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKFUTURE ISLANDS-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #158 (January 25, 2021).

I’m not a huge fan of Future Islands.  I like some of their songs, and I think singer Sam Herring’s voice is really interesting.  The biggest thing I remember about them is NPR’s fascination with singer Sam herring’s dancing.  Herring does some dancing here, but saves most of it until the final song.

Future Islands’ four members are gathered not too far from their Baltimore base in Carroll Baldwin Memorial Hall, sans desk. “We lost the desk,” singer Sam Herring tells us with a smile. With drummer Michael Lowry on the tiny stage, the rest of the band — including bassist William Cashion and Gerrit Welmers on electronics — took to the floor, allowing Sam Herring to make his moves and sing his heart out. This music is clearly for the head and the feet.

The first three songs are from

their sixth and very recent album, As Long As You Are. 

“Hit the Coast” is an upbeat song musically.  The notable thing about Future Islands is that their music is primarily keyboard based, but there’s something about having a bassist that brings an organic element to the music.

Along with themes of loneliness and love, we also hear songs about race, which is most evident in “The Painter,” a song about how we can all look at the same thing and see it so differently.

He continues, “Art is subjective but they way we think about people and the way we treat human lives shouldn’t be.”

My favorite part of this very precise song comes mid-song when Cashion scratches up the strings a bit to add some chaotic distortion.

“Thrill” is set in Greenville NC on the banks of the great greasy Tar River.  It’s about feeling isolated in your society, about self-isolating through substance abuse and about continuing to push forward as all the seething bubbles up inside of you like the great river.  It is a slow and moody song and yo can tell that its very personal to Herring.

We end with a song that came out shortly after visiting NPR in 2011 [Oh man, I miss my hair] called “Balance.” It’s one of those tunes that feels repurposed for the 2020s: “This is a song for anybody who’s struggling through their lives,” Sam Herring says, “and I know there are a lot of you all out there, just trying to get by, but it’s going to take a little bit more time.”

This is a fun dance song–the kind of earlier, faster song that I like from them.  Herring lets his dance shoes lose, with some impressive and wild moves.

[READ: March 1, 2021] Behemoth

Book two of this series was longer and more dangerous–as a sequel should be.

As this book opens, everyone is on board the Leviathan having just sailed to safety.   Alek is showing Deryn how to fence.  She is impatient and has no technical skill.  But it’s nice for her to be with Alek (who Deryn has admitted to herself that she fancies) and it’s nicer that he is saying things like “we” when he talks about the Leviathan.

But soon they see some enemy ships.  The ships look in bad shape and the Leviathan looks poised to destroy them.  Until one of them fires up what they learn is a Tesla tower–a generator that can shoot lightning across great distances.  No one has ever seen one before.  But Alek’s men piece together what it is.  Since they are the only ones who know how to fly Clanker engines, they are in charge of propulsion.  And they disobey orders by bringing the ship to a halt.  The Leviathan, being sentient, also senses what’s going on and starts to concur with the decision.

But disobeying orders is mutiny (except that Alek’s men aren’t technically part of the crew so they can’t be punished).

The Tesla cannon fires and grazes the Leviathan.  It doesn’t puncture the ship (it could literally blow it up if it got to any of the hydrogen), but it does mess with everything electrical.  It also leaves one of the men stranded on a Huxley–essentially electrocuted.

Deryn takes it into her hands to save her mate in an exciting an daring rescue. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKNORA BROWN-GlobalFEST Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #136/148 (January 14, 2021).

Nora BrownGlobalFEST is an annual event, held in New York City, in which bands from all over the world have an opportunity to showcase their music to an American audience.  I’ve never been, and it sounds a little exhausting, but it also sounds really fun.

The Tiny Desk is teaming up with globalFEST this year for a thrilling virtual music festival: Tiny Desk Meets globalFEST. The online fest includes four nights of concerts featuring 16 bands from all over the world. 

Given the pandemic’s challenges and the hardening of international borders, NPR Music and globalFEST is moving from the nightclub to your screen of choice and sharing this festival with the world. Each night, we’ll present four artists in intimate settings (often behind desks donning globes), and it’s all hosted by African superstar Angélique Kidjo, who performed at the inaugural edition of globalFEST in 2004.

The third artist of the fourth and final night is fifteen year old banjo player Nora Brown.  Nora was born and bred in Brooklyn, but she has a huge affinity for Appalachian banjo music.

30 feet below the surface in Brooklyn, 10th grader Nora Brown brings incredible, surprising depth to the Appalachian music she plays. Over the course of her Tiny Desk Meets globalFEST concert, surrounded by innumerable globes and instruments, she infuses new life and energy into the traditional songs of Addie Graham, Virgil Anderson and Fred Cockerham. Nora weaves together songs and storytelling, speaking of the great history of the music that came before her and at which she excels.

Nor plays three songs. “The Very Day I’m Gone” is an Addie Graham song.  Graham was a singer from eastern Kentucky.  It is a slow piece that is primarily a bass riff with some high notes and very soft singing.

Her dad made the banjo she is playing.  As the song ends you can hear the shuttle train that runs back and forth about every seven minutes.

Nora has her school stuff on her tiny desk, since she’s been doing remote school learning.  And she’s a high school student which means she ends her sentences with, “So yeah”

“Miner’s Dream” is a Virgil Anderson tune.  He is from the Kentucky/Tennessee border and brought a bluesy touch to his banjo playing.  This one is a faster instrumental played on a snake head Gibson banjo, the bowl of which is over 100 years old.

“Little Satchel” is by Fred Cockerham.  The banjo she is playing is from John Cohen’s of the New Lost City Ramblers.   Roscoe Halcomb would use it when touring with John.  John recently passed away and the banjo is on its way to the Library of Congress.   The song has fast playing with a cool lyrical melody.  It’s my favorite of the three.

[READ: February 10, 2021] 5 Worlds Book 4

I had actually forgotten about this series, and was quite happy to see this book at the library.  This is book 4 of 5 (5 due out in May).

The book does a nice job of bringing us back up to speed in the first few pages–reintroducing everyone and reminding us what is going on.

Of all the books, this one was the most straightforward.  There’s not a lot of travels and we understand most of what’s going on by now.

Oona, Jax, An Tzu and Ram Sam Sam land on planet Ambrine in the town of Salassanra (where Ram Sam Sam is from).  They receive a mixed welcome.  Since they have lit 3 beacons things have not been great on all the worlds.  (The task is not completed, and the process is a little rocky).  Oona is met with some hostility although the planet people love her (she brought water to them after all).

But this task (to light the fourth (amber) beacon) seems pretty easy. The beacon is in a pyramid.  It’s right in front of them and they meet little resistance.  As Oona begins to dance she realizes this beacon is encrusted in indestructible amber.  She can’t break it, but old runes pop up and most likely lead to a clue. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKMAX RICHTER-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #150 (January 22, 2021).

I really enjoyed Max Richter’s Tiny Desk Concert back in January of last year.  The pieces were pretty and sad and had a modern classical feel.

For his Home Concert, he seems to be one of the few people who actually plays in his home.

Shot in artful black and white, their simplicity and beauty invite us into a world as we once knew it, where fresh air wafts through open doors and dogs peacefully snooze (canine cameos by Evie and Haku) in the late summer sunshine in southern England.

These half-dozen short pieces can offer two very different modes of experience.  There’s a mysterious potency in instrumental music, where the mind is open to wander and free-associate. Max Richter taps into that power with singular grace and humanity.

His entire set is 16 minutes, so indeed all of these pieces are quite short.

He played “Vladimir’s Blues” when he was at the Tiny Desk.  There’s no blurb about it here, but the first time, the blurb told us

Its delicately toggling chords are an homage to novelist Vladimir Nabokov who, in his spare time, was a respected lepidopterist, obsessed with a subfamily of gossamer-winged butterflies called the blues. Richter plays the piano with the practice pedal engaged for a warm, muted sound.

It’s a 2004 piece that’s only a minute and a half and it is quite lovely.

Up next are the

gently swaying chords of “Origins,” where the music lumbers in the lower half of the keyboard.

It reminds me a lot of a famous piano piece which I can’t quite remember the name of.  After about three minutes of the piece, one of the dogs who had been lying outside gets up and walks almost up to the camera.

Infra is a ballet he made with Wayne MacGregor for the Royal ballet in London in 2008.

He plays the “soothing, oscillating figures” of “Infra 3” and follows it with the mellow but more upbeat “Horizon Variations.”  This piece also lasts less than two minutes as well.  It’s lovely.

“Prelude 6” from Voices which has a much faster melody than the other pieces.  About half way through, the other dog (who looks like a puppy) comes in all tail-wagging and heads over to dog number 1 (both off camera now).

“Fragment” is a pretty, sad piece to end the set (also about a minute in a half).  As he signs off he says

“Looking forward to the time when gigs can come back and we can do this for real,”

As the video ends, both dogs get up and walk into the lovely sunshine.

[READ: March 1, 2021] Klawde: Evil Alien Cat

I saw this book at the library (actually I saw book 5, I think) and thought it sounded funny. They had book one so I decided to start from the beginning.

The title says it (almost) all.  Klawde is an evil alien warlord cat.  The book opens on the planet Lyttyrboks where Klawde (whose Lyttyrboks name is Wyss-Kuzz) is on trial.  He is found guilty of clawing his way to power and committing crimes against felinity.

The elder says that thousands of years ago the punishment’s on Lyttyrboks was banishment to a vast wasteland of a planet inhabited by a race of carnivorous ogres.  For generations they sent their convicts there, but eventually that punishment was deemed to cruel.  However, given the severity of Wyss-Kuzz’s crimes, they have resurrected this punishment.  He is transported across the galaxy to the horrible planet known as Earth.

Alternating chapters are written from the point of view of Klawde’s and an earth boy named Raj.  Raj’s family recently moved from Brooklyn to Elba, Oregon and he is bored and alone.  So when a spaceship lands in front of his house and the doorbell rings… well how exciting to find a cat without a tag.  Even if this cat meows like nothing he’s ever heard before and seems kind of mean.

The book is full of illustrations by Chenoweth.  I love the wickedness of Klawde and Raj’s parents are a hoot as well.

Klawde sees the humans as furless ogres and fears what they will do to him.  They put him in a cage (kitty carrier) and force him to eat horrible food–what is this torture?  Raj’s dad names him: “like clawed, but spelled in a more exciting way.  Why use a C when you could use a K?  K is the alphabet’s party letter.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CECIL TAYLOR-Jazz Advance (1956).

As the biography below states, Cecil Taylor was ahead of his time and harshly criticized for being so.  This was his first album and it made waves–as did his subsequent performance at Newport Jazz Festival (it’s like when Dylan went electric, but for jazz).

Since I’m not a big jazz follower, I’ll start with those who are.  Here’s some notes on the album from The Guardian.

A Taylor group comprised of Buell Neidlinger on bass and Dennis Charles on drums is augmented here and there by soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy; the repertoire mixes tunes by Ellington, Monk and Cole Porter with the leader’s fearlessly personal reinventions of the blues. Thelonious Monk’s “Bemsha Swing” is played even more cryptically and succinctly, the lines breaking up into jagged fragments and jutting chords. Taylor’s “Charge Em Blues” is a 4/4 walk with a surprisingly straight Lacy sax solo, and “Azure”‘s lazily struck chords and delicate treble sounds might even remind you of Abdullah Ibrahim, until the cross-rhythmic improvised piano patterns clattering chords typical of later Taylor emerge. …  It’s a historic document that still sounds more contemporary than most jazz piano music being made today.

As I listened I first thought it didn’t sound all that shocking and I wondered if that was because I was listening in 2021 and not 1956, but around two minutes into “Bemsha Swing” he starts throwing in some atonal and dissonant notes.  You can tell that he knows how to play, but that he’s deliberately hitting either “wrong” notes or just letting his fingers fly where they will.   And it still sounds surprising today.

“Charge ‘Em Blues” sounds far more “normal” at least in the beginning.  Lacy’s sax solo is fun and bouncy.  Then around 5 minutes a back and forth starts with Taylor’s wild free-jazz atonal improv and a drum solo.

“Azure” is a more chill track although about halfway through the improv starts going off the rails.

About half way through “Song” the solo is all over the place–sprinkling around the piano and pounding out a few chords here and there.  It’s dissonant and off-putting, but seem more like it’s trying to wake up the listener. When Lacy’s pretty sax comes in and plays a delightful improv and Taylor is bopping around behind him, the contrast is stark.

“You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To” is the only song on the record that I knew before and I never would have recognized it here.  As AllMusic puts it

At his most astonishing, Taylor slightly teases, barely referring to the melody of “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To,” wrapping his playful, wild fingers and chordal head around a completely reworked, fractured, and indistinguishable yet introspective version of this well-worn song form.

This is a solo piece and he is all over the place.  At no point did I recognize the original melody.

“Rick Kick Shaw” features some lively drums and walking bass while Taylor goes to town.  He plays some really fast runs which slowly turn experimental. I’m very curious if future renditions of this song were in any way the same or if all of this soloing was improvised each time.

“Sweet and Lovely” is very slow and more traditional sounding.  Without the speed of his solos, this song comes across as almost like a standard jazz song.  Although at the very end he throws in a few sprinkles of chaos just because he can.

[READ: February 2, 2021] The Musical Brain

I’d only read a couple of short stories from César Aira (all included here).  His novels are so short it almost seems weird that he’d write short stories, but some of these stories are very short indeed.  They do also tend to meander in the way his novels do which makes it seem like some of them don’t end so much as stop.

“The Musical Brain” was the first story I’d read by Aira, and what I wrote about the story has held true for pretty much everything I’ve read by him:

There are so many wonderful and unexpected aspects to this story that I was constantly kept on my toes.  This also made it somewhat challenging to write about.

“A Brick Wall”
I thought I had read this story before but I guess I hadn’t.  It begins with the narrator saying that he went to the movies a lot as a kid–four or six films a week (double features). He says he has an impressive memory for details.  He remembers seeing Village of the Damned decades ago.  A small village’s children are all born as zombies. The zombies can read everyone’s minds so the hero thinks–erect a brick wall.  He also remembers North By Northwest which was titled in Argentina: International Intrigue.  He and his friend Miguel loved the elegance of the movie. And they decided to become spies.  So they created a game in which they would “forget” that they were spies. They would leave notes for each other and then “discover” them so that when they came upon them they were new and exciting.  It was surprisingly easy to forget the game, apparently. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ROKIA TRAORÉ-GlobalFEST Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #136 (January 14, 2021).

Rokia Traore.GlobalFEST is an annual event, held in New York City, in which bands from all over the world have an opportunity to showcase their music to an American audience.  I’ve never been, and it sounds a little exhausting, but it also sounds really fun.

The Tiny Desk is teaming up with globalFEST this year for a thrilling virtual music festival: Tiny Desk Meets globalFEST. The online fest includes four nights of concerts featuring 16 bands from all over the world. 

Given the pandemic’s challenges and the hardening of international borders, NPR Music and globalFEST is moving from the nightclub to your screen of choice and sharing this festival with the world. Each night, we’ll present four artists in intimate settings (often behind desks donning globes), and it’s all hosted by African superstar Angélique Kidjo, who performed at the inaugural edition of globalFEST in 2004.

The final artist of the fourth and final night is Malian singer Rokia Traoré.

Rokia Traoré performed at globalFEST in 2005, the music festival’s second year, and it’s a thrill to present her meditative performance as part of Tiny Desk meets globalFEST. Her work is rooted in the Malian musical tradition, but defies the confines of a single culture. Born in Mali to a diplomat father, Traoré had a nomadic upbringing that exposed her to a wide variety of international musical influences. She joins us from Blues Faso, a theater inside her Foundation Passerelle in Mali, which she created to support emerging, interdisciplinary artists, from music and the performing arts to visual arts and photography.

She plays three songs that more or less segue into each other.  I don’t know a lot about music from Mali, but the little I know I can recognize from the Ngoni played by Mamah Diabaté and the guitar played by Samba Diabaté, with lots of speedy runs.   In “Souba Lé” melody is played on the balafon by Massa Joël Diarra (although I wish they’d have shown us it up close).  Both this song and “Tiramakan” feature subtle bass from Aristide Nebout.  The final song “Fakoly” is a little louder and drummer Roméo Djibré is a bit more prominent.

But all of these songs are all about Rokia Traoré’s vocals which soar and ring out.

[READ: February 25, 2021] March Book 3

Each book has gotten longer.  Book one was 121 pages, Book 2 was 187 and Book 3 is 246.

This book begins right after the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist church in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963.   You meet the victims before they were killed.  It continues through until the passing of the Voting Rights Act in 1965.  Holy cow was there a lot of violence in these two years and the amazing art by Nate Powell never shies away from showing it.

Eagle Scouts at Klan rallies who then go on to kill Black teenager’s, hicks in pickups celebrating the deaths of the girls in the church with anti-integration chants and, as we see more and more in this book, police killing innocent people and not getting in any trouble because of it.

This book has opened my eyes to what Black people have known all along about police forces.  That they are completely corrupt and need to be restructured from the ground up.  When you see that it was their job to be racist in 1963, is it any surprise that they are still racist in 2021?

Reading a book like this I can’t help but think that the best thing we could have done for our country would have been to let the south secede.  Bring all people of color north and let the racists fester in their own lack of diversity.  Because their racism poisons the whole country.  And yet that is exactly the opposite belief that this book is based upon.

I’m embarrassed at how naïve I am. (more…)

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