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Archive for the ‘China’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: BLACK MOTION-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #233 (July 8, 2021).

 Black Motion specializes in Afro-House and this set is infectious.

Afro-House has spread joy and healing across the country of South Africa, transcending local boundaries to become a thriving global dance phenomenon. In my experience, Its indigenous sounds and percussive rhythms drench the soul and heart with healing powers and cultivate communion with the infinite.

This Afro-House set is brought to life thanks to several featured vocalists and guest musicians.  Black Motion’s Tiny Desk (home) concert, recorded at the former residence of Nelson Mandela, feels like a spiritual sound bath. The South African production duo turntablist Bongani Mohosana of the Zulu tribe and percussionist Thabo Mabogwane of Sotho tribe — open their set with “Mayibuye iAfrica,” a cry for Africa to return to its culture and history.

“Mayibuye iAfrica” opens with a fun introduction.  There’s whooping, growling, cawing, (from DJ and producer Bongani Mohosana and keyboardist Almotie “Alie-keyz” Mtomben).  There’s some great percussion (producer and drummer Thabo Roy Mabogwane’s set has over ten different drums and a few cymbals).  Then, after a minute or so Siyabonga Hosana Magagula’s grooving bass and Lifa “Sir_Lifa” Mavuso’s slow but perfect-sounding guitar enter the picture.

Then the singers come in singing a beautiful chorus.  The three of them are: Lusindiso “Jojo” Zondani (tenor), Gugu Shezi (soprano) and Noxolo Radebe (alto), and there voices gel wonderfully.

Up next is “Rainbow” which shuffles along with the DJs sampling and a simple keyboard melody (that sounds a bit like The Way It Is).

South African singer Msaki makes her third appearance in our (home) concert series, after earlier credits with Black Coffee and our Coming 2 America special. She lends her vocals to “Marry Me,” a soulful jam from Black Motion’s 2020 album, The Healers: The Last Chapter.

Next up is “Marry Me.” Msaki sings lead vocals on this song which has a grooving echoing lead guitar. “Alie-keyz” plays a cool retro organ solo before “Sir_Lifa” jams out a guitar solo.

Interestingly, Msaki’s voice was relatively deep, but on the next song, “Joy Joy,” Brenden Praise’s voice is pretty high (in the choruses).  For the verses, he sings a bit deeper.  I like the way the backing vocalists sound like gospel singers here.

“Imali,” featuring Nokwazi, soothes the lingering remnants of pandemic fears,

The snare drum introduces the colorfully dress Nokwazi who sings “Imali.”  Her call and response singing is really great, as is her intense, growling style.

Tabia closes with the lilting “Prayer for Rain.”

Tabia comes out for “Prayer For Rain” and says “let’s pray” as she sings some wordless notes to warm up the song.  When she starts singing, I don’t know what language she’s singing, but the passion is palpable.  And the thunderclap that DJ Bongani Mohosana adds at the end is a welcome touch.

This is a powerful and moving (emotionally and physically) set of songs.

[READ: May 10, 2021]  “Easy, Tiger”

After reading David’s story about shopping in Tokyo, it was funny to go backwards and read about one of his first few trips abroad and how he started learning the local language(s).

He says that he had been using Pimsleur Japanese and felt fairly comfortable when in Japan.  But on this trip he was also going to Beijing and he had forgotten to study.

But this is not so much about China as it is about learning languages in general.

Since he doesn’t drive, phrases like “as for gas, is it expensive” don’t really help him out.  But he uses “fill her up please” when asking for a tea refill.  He also gets to say that he is a man with children since they do not have a phrase for “I am am middle aged homosexual…  with a niece I never see and a small godson.”

He recommends Pimsleur for pronunciations and memorization.  But he also likes Lonely Planet. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KURSTIN x GROHL-“Fuck the Pain Away” (The Hanukkah Sessions: Night Four” December 13, 2020).

   Producer Greg Kurstin (who I have not heard of) and Dave Grohl (who I have) decided that, rather than releasing a Christmas song this year, they would record eight covers of songs by Jewish artists and release them one each night for Hanukkah.

“With all the mishegas of 2020, @GregKurstin and I were kibbitzing about how we could make Hannukah extra-special this year. Festival of Lights?! How about a festival of tasty LICKS! So hold on to your tuchuses… We’ve got something special coming for your shayna punims. L’chaim!!”

The fourth night is very family un-friendly, because it’s a song by Peaches.

Drake’s not the only musical Jew from Canada…tonight we feature a Canadian rock G-Dess…who coincidentally grew up around the corner from a Canadian Jewish rock G-D (G-ddy Lee). Straight out the mikvah, here’s Peaches!

I don’t know Peaches all that well, but I do know this song.

Kurstin plays the minimalist synth line, including the hand claps.

Grohl plays drums and sings.  There’s not much in the way of drums in this song (nor much in the way of lyrics either, actually).  There’s an inherent smile as Grohl sings “sucking on my titties.”

For such a hedonistic song, the pro-school verse is pretty surprising: IUD SIS, stay in school cause it’s the best.

The surprise in this one comes half way through the song when Peaches herself makes a remote appearance.  She sings the chorus with Dave (although they don’t acknowledge each other).

[READ: December 14, 2020] “The Professor”

This year, S. ordered me The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my fifth time reading the Calendar.  I didn’t know about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh), but each year since has been very enjoyable.  Here’s what they say this year

You know the drill by now. The 2020 Short Story Advent Calendar is a deluxe box set of individually bound short stories from some of the best writers in North America.

This year’s slipcase is a thing of beauty, too, with electric-yellow lining and spot-glossed lettering. It also comes wrapped in two rubber bands to keep those booklets snug in their beds.

As always, each story is a surprise, so you won’t know what you’re getting until you crack the seal every morning starting December 1. Once you’ve read that day’s story, check back here to read an exclusive interview with the author.

It’s December 14. Sabrina Orah Mark, author of Wild Milk, regrets that she will be unable to attend office hours this week. [Click the link to the H&O extras for the story].

This is the second story in a row that I found very confusing and not very enjoyable.  I really used to enjoy weird stories like this, but my tolerance for this style has thinned as I get older I guess.

It starts plainly enough.  A student, Penny, is waiting for her professor.  Although when the professor calls, “we step over five students I’ve never seen before.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KURSTIN x GROHL-“Mississippi Queen” (The Hanukkah Sessions: Night Three” December 12, 2020).

   Producer Greg Kurstin (who I have not heard of) and Dave Grohl (who I have) decided that, rather than releasing a Christmas song this year, they would record eight covers of songs by Jewish artists and release them one each night for Hanukkah.

“With all the mishegas of 2020, @GregKurstin and I were kibbitzing about how we could make Hannukah extra-special this year. Festival of Lights?! How about a festival of tasty LICKS! So hold on to your tuchuses… We’ve got something special coming for your shayna punims. L’chaim!!”

The third night is a rocking version of a Mountain song.

Talk about making a mountain out of a mohel … named Leslie Weinstein at his bris, the singer of our next band built a wailing wall of guitar as Leslie West. Check out our take on a track from Leslie’s monolithic band, MOUNTAIN.

Unlike yesterday’s song, I know “Mississippi Queen” very well. I’ve been a fan of Mountain and even saw them live thirty or so years ago.

Kurstin plays synth and the opening guitar line sounds perfect–he gets a really good guitar sound in this session.

Grohl plays drums and sings.  He’s singing in more of his screaming style for this song which works pretty well.

The joke in this one is that he is using a cup as a cowbell.  The cup is duct taped all over the place and as the song opens, Grohl says “I’m fucking this cup up real bad.”  Kurstin says it’s worth it.  And I agree.  This song rocks.

They play with split screen on this one–during the solo, there’s four shots of Kurstin’s hands.

The only bad thing about this song is that it’s so short!

[READ: December 13, 2020] “Our Humans”

This year, S. ordered me The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my fifth time reading the Calendar.  I didn’t know about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh), but each year since has been very enjoyable.  Here’s what they say this year

You know the drill by now. The 2020 Short Story Advent Calendar is a deluxe box set of individually bound short stories from some of the best writers in North America.

This year’s slipcase is a thing of beauty, too, with electric-yellow lining and spot-glossed lettering. It also comes wrapped in two rubber bands to keep those booklets snug in their beds.

As always, each story is a surprise, so you won’t know what you’re getting until you crack the seal every morning starting December 1. Once you’ve read that day’s story, check back here to read an exclusive interview with the author.

It’s December 13. Meng Jin, author of Little Gods, always keeps carbon copies in triplicate. [Click the link to the H&O extras for the story].

I found this story very confusing and not very enjoyable.

It is set in some kind of futuristic society, but hat doesn’t seem to matter all that much.  The narrator works at a job “in those day we still employed a number of humans.”

She was an unusual sight there–being (somewhat) young and (clearly) female.  Most people assumed she was a consultant.

Once she leaves work, the story changes entirely.

On the train she sees a little girl–unsupervised: “young people are rarely seen in the city these days.”

The train breaks down in the middle of nowhere.  The girl encourages the narrator to go with her.

Everyone in the story calls her jiejie (which means older sister).  She seems disconcerted by this.

As they walk through the dark, the little girl tells her that they have become their shadows.  They can’t walk through any unlit spaces, obviously.

She gets back to her apartment. It is pitch dark.  She feels she has lost herself but then she bumps into Duowen, a man from work.  Their mouths meet.

This story really lost me.  I was really interested in the futuristic society and the bots (and their gradual falling apart), but the whole thing with the shadows just didn’t seem very compelling.

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SOUNDTRACK: LIDO PIMIENTA-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #94 (October 13, 2020).

This set is utterly fascinating.

I’d never heard of Colombian vocalist Lido Pimienta, although apparently she

had one of the musical highlights of a year marked by tragedy and uncertainty. The healing magic of her album Miss Colombia transfers beautifully to this visually stunning Tiny Desk (home) concert.

Pimienta is dressed nicely with ribbons in her hair. Her hair is fascinating and, in braids, reaches the floor!

The set design is set up to recall a quinceañera.

I actually thought that Pimienta was a teenager (she is in her thirties), because after the first song she says:

Welcome the show that celebrates … me.  I am fifteen years old and I am a musical prodigy.

She even acts fifteen when she says, “you can hire us for the very cheap price of one million dollars USD” and “Wikipedia, get my birth date correct, I am fifteen and just starting out.”

The quinceañera design is

a coming of age tradition that Pimienta could not share with her mother who had to flee Colombia. With her mom, Rosario Paz, present at the video shoot, Pimienta uses her energetic performances to close a dramatic circle with her mom as we celebrate with her.

The first song “Eso Que Tu Haces” is mostly voice and percussion.  There is just so much percussion here, it’s hard to believe only two guys play it all: Brandon Valdivia and Reimundo Sosa.

The vocalists are varied and add such a wall of beautiful voices to the song.

Backed up by a bevy of international musicians based in her new home of Toronto (I see you, members of the Cuban group Okan).

Magdelys Savigne and Elizabeth Rodriguez of Okan sing along as do The Road to Avonlea choir: Felicity Williams, Robin Dann, Isla Craig, and Ivy Farquhar-McDonnell.

The song gets bigger and more musical as it moves along with a tenor saxophone solo from Karen Ng that combines with the trumpet from Tara Kannangara.

“Nada” starts as Ng plays flute (Pimienta comments that this is her show not Ng’s so she should stop being so multitalented).  It’s a catchy dancey song and the end is a beautiful mix of the backing vocals and Pimineta’s solo soaring voice.

When her mom comes out on stage she jokes, are you glad that I’m finally a woman?

Introducing “Coming Thru” she says she always likes to work with women and feminine energy.  The world needs feminine energy so we can heal.

As the song starts, Elizabeth Rodriguez plays violin while Lido sings.  They are joined by the horns which flesh out the sound nicely.  Lido really does have a wonderful voice.

And as the variety of sounds indicates,

you can hear… how Pimienta’s quartet of songs challenge the concept of just what qualifies as “Latin music” in a way that both honors and expands tradition.

They are also joined by Prince Nifty, who plays keys and fleshes out the songs.  Although the start of the final song, “Resisto Y Ya” begins with just voice and percussion.

Lida explains that the song means, “I just resist.”  She says it is about Colombia and all of its drama and beauty.  The country is full of anger and also breathtaking landscapes.  The full band joins in by the end and the song just grows and grows as the set ends.

This is a terrific introduction to Pimienta’s music, whatever her age is.

[READ: November 20, 2020] “The Ability to Cry” 

This essay came out over a month after yesterday’s essay.  But they seemed so thematically similar that they work well together.

I’ve really enjoyed Yiyun Li’s stories over the years.  This piece of nonfiction was remarkably sad.

It begins with the death of a valued friend.  Or maybe not a friend so much as a caretaker.  The woman Julia, was supposed to dog and baby sit for Yiyun while she was out of town before her husband got home.  But she never answered the phone calls.  Julia had dogsat for thame on many occasions in the past and she always took pictures of the dog to show how well the dog (and garden) were doing.

Yiyun Li says that death has been prominent in her life in the last year and a half.  Her eldest son, her mother-in-law and her father have all died.

She did not cry when any of then died.  But when she saw Julia’s obituary, she broke down.   She felt like she was part of the delayed crying club. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JACOB COLLIER-Tiny Desk Concert #48 (July 9, 2020).

collierI had never heard of Jacob Collier until his recent Tiny Desk Concert.  He was an impressive fellow to be sure.  He has an amazing vocal range and he can play just about any instrument you can think of.

So it should come as no surprise that Collier’s Tiny Desk (Home) Concert is over the top as well.

But even knowing all of that, it is a still mind-blowing.  Because he has seamlessly spliced four videos of himself together.  So you have four Jacobs in four outfits playing everything in a room that is full of instruments.

The set starts with “All I Need.”  Lead singer Jacob is sitting on the floor in front of a steel drum.  This Jacob also plays the melodica solo.  On the left is keyboardist Jacob who plays the organ and, of course, mid song switches to piano and back again.  On the right is bassist Jacob who plays some excellent bass–including a nice solo at the end.  Way in back is Jacob on drums.  You can’t see him all that well, but you can hear his contribution perfectly.

Polymath musician Jacob Collier has been championing this style of one-man-band music videos since 2012, singing every note and playing every instrument. His cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing”earned him a devout YouTube following at the age of 19, and he hasn’t slowed down since. The London wunderkind owns four Grammy Awards already, including two at the age of 22 in 2017…. Now 25, and with nearly a decade of experience producing every aspect of his own music from his home, Collier is uniquely positioned to crank out his best work from quarantine. In this video, each of the four parts was recorded in a single take. Pay close attention ; it’s easy to get tripped up inside Jacob’s head as he arranges this Rubik’s Cube of a video production, which feels both like a magic trick and a no-strings-attached bedroom session.

Introducing the next song, one of the Jacobs (they fight over who is the actual Jacob), says that “Time Alone With You” is a little funky–hope you don’t mind.  It’s groovy bass line and smart snapping drums.   The end of this song is a wonderful musical freakout with a vocal section that leads to a series of four fast drum hits (including Jacob banging on the piano and some bass rumblings as well).  There’s even a jazzy breakdown (real jazzy bass lines) which allows one of them to whisper “jazz.”  Because even though he is super talented and a very serious musician, he’s also goofy (look at his clothes).

He’s in the middle of releasing his ambitious four-volume record, Djesse. The last song in this video is the premiere of his new single “He Won’t Hold You,” which will appear on Vol. 3, due out later this year.

When piano Jacob changes the mutes in the piano bassist Jacob talks about the record.  “He Won’t Hold You” song starts a cappella in four part harmony (with himself). He can ht some really deep notes and the harmonies are super.

The only problem for me is I don’t really like his style of music.  Which is a shame because he’s so talented, I want to watch him all day.  It’s just not my musical scene.

[READ: July 10, 2020] “Immortal Heart”

This is a lengthy, somewhat complicated and ultimately devastating story.

The story is quite long and it revolves around a woman and her Precious Auntie living in the Western Hills south of Peking.  Their village is called Immortal Heart and The Liu clan (her family) has lived there for six centuries.  They were ink stick makers. They had expanded to a shop in Peking–a sign of great success.

Precious Auntie was born across the ravine in a town called Mouth of the Mountains.  The village was known for dragon bones, which poor men collected from the Monkey’s Jaw cave.  Precious Auntie’s father was a renowned bonesetter and he used these dragon bones as part of his work.

Precious Auntie could not speak.  She communicated with the narrator. Lu Ling, through sign language which only the two of them knew.  Precious Auntie was rather naughty and their silent language allowed her to speak her mind freely (she disapproved of bound feet for instance). (more…)

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alcaterlSOUNDTRACK: SA-ROC-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #30 (June 4, 2020).

sarocI have never heard of Sa-Roc, but I was blown away by her lyrics and delivery.  I really enjoyed that her delivery was intense and serious, even angry, but her delivery was so thoughtful.

If you want protest music for the uprising of the American consciousness, then look no further. Sa-Roc (born Assata Perkins) is an emcee from southeast Washington, D.C.

Sa-Roc bears her heart and soul here, weaving together influential threads from her upbringing; Pan-Africanism, the hardship of her father’s experience as a sharecropper in Virginia and her own childhood in Congress Heights, D.C., an area ravaged by violence and the crack epidemic in the 1980s.

In this Tiny Desk (home) concert, she debuted two exclusives, “Deliverance” is about reassessing where you are in making a commitment to change things. I love the beats and the lyrics.  She references Posdnous and De la Soul and then has this moment where she says this is the world’s tiniest violin and a violin sample plays.

After the song, she lights some sage to clear the energy.  She wants her space to experience joy and to be a stress-free peaceful environments.

“Hand of God” is her latest single about staying true to yourself.  It has a sung chorus and Sa-Roc has a pretty singing voice along with her flow.  In the second verse she raps with a sped up version of herself which is pretty neat.

“r(E)volution,” is from her upcoming album, The Sharecropper’s Daughter, which is produced by her partner in life and DJ, Sol Messiah.  It starts with a pretty guitar and a great bass line

On “r(E)volution” she spits bars: “Embedded in the home of the brave, the darkest of interiors. / Saw street scholars and soldiers defect cuz they post-traumatic stressed from the American experience.”

“Forever” is for little girls who ever felt like they were held to impossible societal standards; and if the world told them they weren’t good enough, weren’t valuable enough, weren’t worthy enough, weren’t dope enough to take up space or use their voice; they didn’t come from the right area or the right class or education; didn’t have the right skin tone or complexion; anything that made them feel less than.  This is about how dope you really are with all of your perfect imperfections.

I love that after a quiet clapping moment the song soars with guitars and bass.

[READ: May 8, 2020] Kitten Clone

In the Douglas Coupland collection Shopping in Jail, there was an essay called “All Governments Seem to Be Winging it Except for China.”  The essay said that it came from this book: Kitten Clone.

I wasn’t sure how interested I really was in reading about the history of Alcatel-Lucent, but I should have known that Coupland would do his thing and find an interesting and unique way to write about something that should be dull.

The only weird thing is that Coupland implies that he is alone on this excursion, but the photographs are not his (which is surprising since he loves art) the pictures are by Olivia Arthur.

This book is part of a series called Writers in Residence created by Alain de Botton, with the slogan: “There are many places in the modern world that we do not understand because we cannot get inside them.”  Coupland’s book is the third in the series.  The other two are Geoff Dyer: Another Great Day at Sea: Life Aboard the USS George H.W. Bush and Liaquat Ahamed: Money and Tough Love: On Tour with the IMF.

This book looks into the past, present and future of Alcatel-Lucent and the cover of the book sets the stage: (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: TERRI LYNE CARRINGTON + SOCIAL SCIENCE-Tiny Desk Concert #955 (March 4, 2020).

There is something that sets this apart from many other rap-centric performances.

Perhaps it’s because the music is complicated and fascinating–elements of jazz and prog and not just a 4/4 beat.

Perhaps it’s because on the first song “Trapped In The American Dream,” Kassa Overall on vocals doesn’t dominate the music, he is part of it.

Maybe it’s because singer Debo Ray has an utterly amazing voice, whether she is singing lead on “Waiting Game” (which sounds like it could be from a musical) or the amazing operatic backing vocals she contributes to the opening song “Trapped In The American Dream.”

It’s definitely because bandleader and drummer Terri Lyne Carrington is phenomenal:

In the jazz world, Carrington is a celebrity — a 40-year professional musician who’s won Grammy awards and performed with a seemingly infinite list of jazz dignitaries such as Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock and Geri Allen. An outspoken activist, teacher and mentor, she is also the founder and artistic director of the Berklee Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice, a multidisciplinary program whose motto is “Jazz Without Patriarchy.”

Her skills are really impressive and it’s fun to watch her really get into it.  There’s a moment where she is going super fast on the hi-hat and snare and it’s super cool.

“Trapped” has some interesting guitar melodies that run through the song.  When Ray sings along with them it’s quite magical.  The bass from Morgan Guerin sounds great and it’s quite a surprise when he busts out a saxophone solo.

“A Waiting Game” starts with just a piano and Ray’s voice.  There’s washes of guitar and Carrington hits her drums with her hands–flat open sounds.

The song is very pretty and ends with someone (I can’t tell who) playing bells.  As the bells ring out there’s rather a surprise as Malcolm Jamal Warner (yes) comes out to recite poetry “Bells (Ring Loudly),” in between verses from Ray.

The third tune, “Bells (Ring Loudly),” written by Parks and Carrington, features actor Malcolm Jamal Warner who also wrote the spoken word. Carrington had just seen the Philando Castile shooting and her powerful lyrics imagined what she would say to the offending police officer.

Throughout the set, pianist Aaron Parks plays some fantastic melodies and solos and guitarist Matthew Stevens seems to be perpetually filling the soundscape with little solos and accents.

Social Science [is] a collaboration with pianist Aaron Parks and guitarist Matthew Stevens (both performing here). In the works for some time, their project culminated in 2016 when the cultural divisiveness brought on by the presidential election inspired the trio to take action. “I think there’s an awakening happening in society in general,” Carrington writes on her website, “I feel a calling in my life to merge my artistry with any form of activism that I’m able to engage in.”

This performance features music from the band’s new album, Waiting Game. It’s story-filled, groove-music performed by a group of accomplished musicians who improvise, rap and sing over complex but highly crafted and accessible instrumental motifs. A perfect synthesis of jazz, indie rock and hip-hop influences, the four songs they played address important, culturally relevant protest narratives: mass incarceration, collective liberation, police brutality and Native American genocide.

The final song “Purple Mountains” features Kokayi rapping as Debo Ray sings beautifully with him.  The music in this song is outstanding–complicated and interesting (reminds me a bit of Frank Zappa, which I did not expect).

It opens with some really heavy chords from guitar and bass together while guitar play a cool atonal melody and Aaron Parks played an electric keyboard instead of piano.

The end of the song when Kokayi is rapping faster with yea yea yeas in the middle is really intense and cool.

“I hope that you can enjoy this music because it can be heavy,” drummer and bandleader Terri Lyne Carrington told the NPR crowd gathered for this Tiny Desk. “We’ve tried to figure out a way to make it feel good and still give these messages.”

“There is so much we can be angry about but you can’t really stay there,” Carrington told NPR. “Instead, you can reach somebody on a human level.”

I was totally won over by Social Science.

[READ: March 30, 2020] “Carlitos in Charge”

This story was really great and also an interesting (presumably true) look into what (might) happen at the United Nations.

This story was written in a fluid and ease to read style.  I especially enjoyed the lengthy passages of lists that he threw into the story.

Carlitos was nicknamed “Charles in Charge.”  Why? because he didn’t like standing out in an American middle school with such an ethnic name.  So he asked to be called Alex P. Keaton. But his father pronounced it like Alice, which didn’t help.  So he settled on “Charles in Charge.”

Carlitos has worked in the United Nations building for a little over a year assembling data for the Health Department.  And in that short time he has had sex with

the South Korean ambassador, the spokesman for the Swedish Mission, and Irish delegate, a Russian interpreter, an Iraqi translator, the assistant to the deputy ambassador from El Salvador, an American envoy, the chief of staff for the Ukrainian prime minister, the vice presidents of Suriname and the Gambia, a cultural attache from Poland, the special assistant to the Saudi ambassador, the nephew of the ruling party’s general secretary of Laso, a distant cousin of Castro, a film director from Mauritania, countless low-level staffers, a few guides, a half-dozen tourists and Brad.

He says that they had to leave their phones in a lock box on the second floor so cruising happened the old fashioned way.

He got the job through a college friend William Mycroft Quimby–Quim–an authentically Irish fellow living in Brooklyn. He says it was weird working for the world and not his country.  But really his jobs was “Convincing the U.S. to do no harm.”

The United States was immune to easily interpretable, commonsense data on everything–pollution, tuberculosis, birth control, breastfeeding, war, rape, white phosphorous, blue phosphorous, red phosphorous, lithium, P.T.S.D., G.M.O.s, slavery, winged migration, lions, tigers, polar bears, grizzly bears, panda bears, capital punishment, corporal punishment, spanking, poverty, drug decriminalization, incarceration, labor unions, cooperative business structures, racist mascots, climate change, Puerto Rico, Yemen, Syria, Flint, Michigan, women, children, wheelchairs, factory farms, bees, whales, sharks, daylight savings time, roman numerals, centimeters, condoms, coal, cockfighting, horse betting, dog racing, doping, wealth redistribution, mass transit, the I.M.F, CIA, I.D.F., MI5, MI6, TNT, snap bracelets, Pez dispensers, Banksy.  It didn’t matter what its was if the Human Rights Council (or Cuba) advocated one way, the U,S, Went the other.

He soon learned that people used their liaisons to influence decisions.

Do you mean blackmail?
Not blackmail, but, yes, blackmail.

Many of those dalliances resulted in changed results on important bills.

As for Brad, he met Brad at a bar.  Brad also worked at the U.N. but in a different department.  They started dating and got pretty serious. Their one rule was no talking about business.  That worked very well until something was bringing Brad down.  They tried not to talk about it but it soon became too much.

It turned out that Brad was working on a bill calling for a truth and reconciliation commission to investigate war crimes in El Salvador.  (Charles in Charge’s family is from El Salvador).

The problem was that China signaled support for it and the U.S. can’t go on record agreeing with China about a human-rights issue.  That would be a bad precedent.  Carlitos said he had been working at the U.N. long enough that this made sense.

China was supporting the resolution because El Salvador cut diplomatic ties with Taiwan. If El Salvador and Taiwan agreed with each other, that might change China’s decision.

Brad wonders of Charles in Charge cam have an impact on this momentous vote.

The way the story and the vote play out are both pretty surprising.

I enjoyed this a lot.

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SOUNDTRACK: JOVINO SANTOS NETO-Tiny Desk Concert #904 (October 21, 2019).

Jovino Santos Neto plays piano–and then surprises by playing a lot more.

I have a come and go relationship with jazz.  I like some of it.  I like it sometimes.

But the blurb might explain why I liked this music right away:

Something happens for me when I hear jazz mixing it up with Brazilian rhythms. In the right hands it falls into the realm of magic.  Pianist, multi-instrumentalist and composer Jovino Santos Neto certainly cast a spell over those who gathered for this joyful turn behind the Tiny Desk.

I loved everything about this performance.

The trio rushed right out of the gate with the samba-influenced “Pantopé” that introduces the concept of the trio: seamless interaction between the musicians that make the band sound like one big, melodic rhythm machine.

“Pontapé” opens with slow piano and woodblocks from drummer Jeff Busch.  Then after about thirty seconds, the song takes off with some amazing piano playing and some great five-string bass from Tim Carey.

There’s a really impressive bass solo–Carey has got some really fast fingers.  Then, midway through the song–and a huge surprise if you’re not watching–Santos Neto pulls out a very solid-looking melodica and plays a really impressively fast solo on it.

It’s a solo that’s interspersed with some fun drum fills–cowbell, snare, wooblocks and a little whistle at the end.  It’s a wild and fun track for sure.

He explains that the name”Pontapé” means kick.  People who can play soccer can do amazing things with their feet.  But we do it with the notes instead.

Up next is “Sempre Sim.”  The song

starts with percussionist Jeff Busch riffing on the traditional percussion instrument called berimbau. 

It looks like a giant fishing rod.  Santos Neto says, “don’t be afraid it isn’t a weapon… I mean in the right hands.”  One plays the berimbau by hitting the instrument with a tiny drum stick (and also hits the cymbals with tiny stick).

its ethereal sound creating the perfect intro to the dreamy melody and solo from Santos Neto on piano, while bassist Tim Carey echoes the double beat on the bass drum that drives Brazilian music.

There’s some great piano and amazing bass.  The middle solo is an astonishing amelodic feast.  By then Busch has switched back to sticks and is playing drums.

They finish and Santos Neto seems to think they are done.  There’s a long pause with everyone looking off at someone.  Then he says Okay!  We’re going to play one more to much chuckling.

The final song is “Festa de Erê.”  He says that

Erê represents the spirits of children in the Brazilian Umbanda tradition, which makes “festa de Erê” an appropriate title for the intensely whimsical tune that weaves in and out of the different traditional rhythms performed by all three musicians.

The song starts bouncy and lively.  But they settle down so Santos Neto can play the main piano melodies.

Then midway through the song he surprises once again by playing a lengthy, pretty flute solo–the end of which consists of him playing the flute one-handed while he plays the piano with his right hand.

All the while Carey is tapping out the notes with both hands, but that impressive feat is overshadowed by the incredible stuff going on behind the piano.

Like the sometimes frenetic energy of the music they play, Jovino Santos Neto and his trio are perfect examples of musicians who have so much music coming from within, sometimes one instrument is just not enough.

Perhaps I like jazz best when it’s mixed with Brazilian rhythms too.

[READ: November 16, 2018] “The Trip”

I’ve only read one other story by Weike–a story of a difficult romance.

This story is also of a difficult romance, but in a very different way.

The story begins

In Beijing, he boiled the water.  It was August, so the hottest month of the year.  He put the water into a thermos and carried the thermos on a sling.  He called himself a cowboy because he thought he looked dumb. Other people in the group carried a thermos too, though he wife did not.

The opening is certainly confusing.  It continues to be so.  He and his wife go to the Great Wall.  She sprints along it to show him a particular spot hat her cousin showed her as a teenager.  Her cousin taught her the Chinese word for cool–imagine not knowing that word– shuang–until you were 13.  Can you imagine how that felt?  He says that she knew the word in English, though right?  She made a face and then sprinted on.

The trip had been a gift from her parents who wanted “her first husband to see China and have good memories from there and sample its regional foods and see the warmth of its people and not hate us civilians should our two great nations ever partake in nuclear war.”  At least that’s how she translated it. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE NEW PORNOGRAPHERS-Live at Massey Hall (October 1, 2017).

I’ve been a fan of the The New Pornographers for years.  Their first single, “Letter from an Occupant” was one of my favorite songs of 2000.  For nearly twenty years, they’ve been releasing super catchy fun poppy alt rock.

I was really excited to see them last week.  And then almost equally excited to see that they had a show on Live at Massey Hall.

This show did not have Neko Case singing and while she is not the crux of the band, I’m glad she was at my show, because her voice is great and having three women singing was more fun than having just two.

Before the set, singer and songwriter AC Newman says, “I’m nervous because I realize this is what I do … people paid to come see you.”  His niece, keyboardist Kathryn Calder is with him.  She says she loves having the momentum of 7 people on stage.  It’s a very in the moment feeling shared by all of them.

The show starts with an older song “The Jenny Numbers.”  There’s a wild ripping guitar solo from Todd Fancey in the middle of this otherwise poppy song.  Calder and violinist Simi Stone sound great with their backing vocals–so full and complete.  And excellent compliment to the songs.

Up next is “Whiteout Conditions” which starts with a ripping violin melody from Stone.  I happen to know their newer songs a lot better than their middle period songs and I really like this song a lot.

The full setlist for this show is available online.  They played 22 songs at he show, so it’s a shame to truncate it to 35 minutes.  How did they decide what to cut?  They cut “Dancehall Domine.”

Up next is one of the great songs from the Together album, “Moves.”  The opening riff and persistent use of violin is perfect.

Between songs, Newman says to the audience, “you’ve got to promise not to sit down because it’ll be like a dagger in my heart.”

In the interview clip he says he always love the compartmentalized songs of Pixies.  They influenced the way he wrote music.  So did The Beach Boys for harmonies.  He says it’s hard to know what seeps through, but there’s a ton of it.  Sometimes I’ll hear an old song I used to love and realize I totally stole a part from that song and I didn’t know it.

The show skips “Colosseums” and moves on to “The Laws Have Changed.”  I loved seeing this live because of the amazing high notes that AC Newman hits in the end of the song.  This is also a chance for Kathryn to shine a bit.  “High Ticket Attractions” comes next in the show and here.  It’s such an insanely catchy song.  From the call and response vocals to the overall melody.  It’s one of my favorites of theirs.

The show skips three songs, “Champions of Red Wine,” “Adventures in Solitude,” and “All the Old Showstoppers.”  So up next is “This is the World of the Theater.”  I’m glad they chose this because Kathryn Calder sings lead vocals and she sounds fantastic.  The middle section of the song also includes some hocketing where Newman, Calder, Stone and maybe some others sing individual notes alternately to create a lovely melody.

I noticed that drummer Joe Seiders sings quite a bit as well.  And a shout out to bassist John Collins because he gets some great sounds out of that instrument.

Newman tells the audience that Massey Hall is an intimidating venue, but one you get here it feel welcoming and warm.  The crowd applauds and he says, “soooo, I’m not sweating it.”

Up next comes the poppy and wonderful “Sing Me Spanish Techno.”  It has a constant simple harmonica part played by Blaine Thurier who also plays keyboards.   It’s such a wonderfully fun song.

They skip pretty much the rest of the show to play the big encore song, “Brill Bruisers.”  [Skipped: “Backstairs,” “Play Money,” “Testament to Youth in Verse,” “Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk,” “Avalanche Alley,” “Use It,” “Mass Romantic” )that’s a surprise!) and “The Slow Descent Into Alcoholism”].

“Brill Bruisers” is from the then-new album.  The first time I heard it I was blown away.  Those “boh bah boh bah bah bohs” in the beginning are so arresting.  The harmonies that run through the song are sensational and the “ooh” part in the verses just knocks me out.  Its a great great song.

“The Bleeding Heart Show” closed the show and it is played over the closing credits.

This is a terrific example of how good this band is live, but nothing compares to actually seeing them.

[READ: August 1, 2019] Bit Rot

A few years ago I had caught up with Douglas Coupland’s publications.  I guess it’s no surprise to see that he has published more since then.  But I am always surprised when I don’t hear about a book at all.  I just happened to stumble upon this collection of essays.

Coupland’s general outlook hasn’t changed much over the years.  He is still fascinated by “the future,” but he looks at technology and future ideas in a somewhat different way.  He tends to mourn the loss of some things while often embracing what has replaced it.

As my son is now a teenager, I wondered what his take on some of these essays would be–if he would think that Coupland is an old fuddy duddy, or if he was right on.  Or, more likely, that he had never looked at some of these ideas that way at all.  Coupland is quite cognizant that young people are growing up in a very different world than ours.  And that they don’t have any problem with that.  They don’t “miss cursive” because it never meant anything to them in the first place.  They can’t imagine not having Google and hence all of the world’s information at their fingertips.  Of course they assume that technology will continue to get smaller and faster. We older folks may not be prepared for that (or maybe we are), but that’s what younger people expect and can’t wait for

This was a very long, rather thick book that was just full of interesting, funny, thoughtful essays and short stories. I really enjoyed it from start to finish, even if I’d read some of the pieces before. (more…)

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shoppingSOUNDTRACK: MATT MAYS-Live at Massey Hall (May 4, 2018).

I had never heard of Matt Mays.  He was once a part of the Canadian country band The Guthries (who I also don’t know).  Perhaps the most surprising (and disappointing) thing to me about this show is when I saw an ad for this concert and saw that Kathleen Edwards was opening for him (!).  And that so far they haven’t released the Kathleen Edwards show.

Before the show he says he wants all feelings present–happy, sad–he praises the expression “all the feels” because that’s what he wants to happen tonight.  He wants the night to be “like a Nova Scotia kitchen party.”  You laugh you cry you dance and you fight all in one kitchen.

He starts with “Indio.”  Like most of these songs, it is a rocking guitar song with a definite country-rock feel.  It’s also interesting that a Nova Scotia guy is singing about “old fashioned California sin.”  There’s a ton of lead guitar work from Adam Baldwin.  Mays also plays guitar and there’s an acoustic guitar as well from Aaron Goldstein  The song breaks midway through to a piano melody from Leith Fleming-Smith.  Mays asks “You feel like singing Toronto? It’s real easy.”  And it is: “Run run run you are free now.  run run run you are free.”

For “Station Out of Range,” he invites his dear friend Kate Dyke from St Johns, Newfoundland.  She sings backing vocals.  It opens with some big crushing drums from Loel Campbell.  It has a slower tempo, but it grows really big with some really massive drum fills.

“Building a Boat” opens with a repeating keyboard pattern before a real rocking riff kicks in.  Ryan Stanley also plays guitars.  The song rocks on with a lot of little guitar solos.  Mays takes one and then Baldwin follows.  They jam this pretty long.

“Take It on Faith” starts with a simple piano before the guitars come roaring in with two searing solos.  The melody is really catchy, too.

“Terminal Romance” is a slower number.  Mays puts his guitar down and its mostly piano and bass
(Serge Samson).  Eventually a guitar with a slide is added.  It builds as more guitars come in.  They jam this song for about 8 minutes.

He ends the show with “Cocaine Cowgirl,” an oldie that still means a lot to him.   He says he’s been playing Toronto since he was 19 years-old in font of tow people.  He’s thrilled to be at Massey Hall.  His band is his best buds from Nova Scotia.   It’s an absolutely wailing set ender with Mays throwing in some wicked solos.  The song seems like its over but Mays plays some really fast guitar chords and aftee a few bars everyone joins in and rips the place part with intensity.  It runs to nearly ten minutes and it’s a  really satisfying ending.

[READ: August 3, 2019] “Shopping in Jail”

When an author releases a lot of books and essays in various formats, it’s pretty inevitable that you’ll wind up re-reading one or two.  Especially if some of those essays are reprinted in other books.

So it turns out that I read this small book five years ago (it’s understandable that I didn’t remember that after five years).  Here’s what I said about it five years ago:

Just when I thought I had caught up with everything that Douglas Coupland had published, I came across this book, a collection of his recent essays.  I enjoy the very unartistic cover that Sternberg Press has put on this.  It looks extremely slapdash–look at the size of the print and that the contents are on the inside front cover.  But the essays contained within are pure Coupland and are really enjoyable.

I have read a number of his older essays in recent years.  And here’s the thing: reading old Coupland essays just makes you think, ho hum, he knew some things.  But you don’t really think that he was on the forefront of whatever he was thinking.  So to read these essays almost concurrently is really fascinating.

His thoughts are science fiction, but just on the cusp of being very possible, even probable.  He also looks at things in ways that the average person does not–he notices that on 9/11 people didn’t have picture phones–imagine how more highly documented it would have been.  These essays are largely about technology, but they’re also about the maturation and development of people and how they relate to things.  Coupland can often seem very ponderous, and yet with these essays he seems prescient without actually trying to predict anything.  I enjoyed this collection very much.

I’m going to include what I said last time (in italics), but I felt the need to add some five-years later thoughts on each essay. (more…)

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