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SOUNDTRACK: GroundUP FAMILY DINNER-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #103 (October 27, 2020).

This is a sort of family affair Tiny Desk (multiple Home) concert.  The family is the GroundUP label.

This three-act, 18-person Tiny Desk (home) concert was conceived by Michael League, Snarky Puppy’s composer and bandleader. He and his cadre of artists on the GroundUP record label believe in two important points: that music and politics are inextricably linked, and the best way to connect people is through song.

The first song, “Heather’s Letters To Her Mother.” is a beautiful folk song that’s mostly Becca Steven and her guitar.  But there’s some beautiful subtle  piano from Brad Mehldau and simple but very effective bass from Chris Tordini.  I really liked this song with its ever so true refrain “This is not the America I know” and I liked it even more when I heard what it was all about.

The concert features three distinct ensembles, beginning with Becca Stevens and her song “Heather’s Letters To Her Mother.” “I wrote this for Heather Heyer, who was killed on August 12, 2017, while peacefully protesting the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville,” she says. “In my heart this song has always been a rallying cry to come from a place of compassion in our actions and reactions. It’s a reminder to continue the fight for equality from a determined and compassionate stance regardless of what is happening around us. And it’s a reminder to stay grounded in love because without a foundation of love we are truly lost.”

I was surprised that the second song was in a language I didn’t know.

The second song features League’s world music group Bokanté performing the Creole song “Réparasyon,” meaning “reparations.” Bokanté vocalist Malika Tirolien wrote the song, which appears on the band’s Grammy-nominated album What Heat. “With the rise of black liberation movements around the world, this is a crucial time to remind everyone that people of African descent need the slave trade officially recognized as a crime against humanity and need reparations and restitutions of stolen goods,” Tirolien says. “Getting justice is the only way we can begin a process of forgiveness and healing.”

This song is amazing with some absolutely fantastic solos throughout. The song starts out with four, yes four, percussionists playing a pumping rhythm: Keita Ogawa, Jamey Haddad, André Ferrari, and Weedie Braimah.

Then bassist Michael League follows the same rhythm making it a melody.  Three guitars join in.  A lap steel from Roosevelt Collier and more guitars from Kurt Rosenwinkel, Bob Lanzetti and Chris McQueen one of whom plays a fantastic ethereal solo in the middle of the song.  It’s followed by a hand drum solo After a little bass solo one of the frummers (the one with the full kit) amusingly hits a tiny cymbal to get the song moving again.

Alina Engibaryan introduces the final song “We Are.”    She explains that the song

strives to bring people together, “I wanted to write a song that has a message about people, where regardless of our beliefs, our political views, our race, color, we are all human beings and made of the same thing,” Engibaryan says. “I hope people will understand that one day and will learn to love, respect and accept one another.”

It’s a time when hate has reached its limits.

It opens with gentle piano from Taylor Eigsti and some soft but complex drumming from Eric Harland. Chris Potter plays an introductory saxophone melody.  Alina Engibaryan playing Rhodes and Moog bass sings the first verse (and is backed up by Michael League).  Then in a surprise, Gregory Porter jumps in to sing the middle verse.

Whether or not this was meant as an introduction to the bands on the label, it is a terrific way to experience them in a short time with great songs.

[READ: December 5, 2020] “Fast Hands, Fast Feet”

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 5. Maurice Carlos Ruffin, author of We Cast a Shadow, refuses to part with his cassette collection.  [Click the link to the H&O extras for the story].

This is the kind of story that I knew I wouldn’t like because of the way it started.

Sentences like “Who still on cassettes, anyway? What year they think this is, 1980?” made me knew it wasn’t really meant for me.

But still, the story was engaging.

A young girl (woman?) has been breaking into cars, looking for something valuable.  A man spies her and tells her it’s cool, but she’s not about to wait and see what he’s all about.

She runs (“fast feet”) for the underpass where she and Queen Elizabeth Two call home.  But while she is settling in, a hand grabs her.  It’s the same man.  She panics but he calms her down. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LEO KOTTKE AND MIKE GORDON-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #100 (October 21, 2020).

I’ve enjoyed Mike Gordon’s playing with Phish and his solo records for years. But I’ve never really explored his recordings with Leo Kottke.

It’s been 15 years since the legendary guitarist Leo Kottke put out a new recording, and it’s no coincidence that his new music is with Phish bassist Mike Gordon. The two have a history of making albums together, but that hit a hiatus in 2005 with their Sixty Six Steps projectThey’re back with a 2020 album, Noon, and Phish drummer Jon Fishman joins the duo.

They open with “Flat Top,” a fantastic instrumental with lots of melodic runs.

They begin with what fans of Leo Kottke fell in love with 50 years ago, the sound of his acoustic guitar fingerpicking. Mike Gordon punctuates the opening song “Flat Top,” which at moments feels like a musical chase.

Mike plays his five string bass like a lead instrument, either playing a kind of counterpoint to Leo’s guitar melodies or even following them along beautifully.

Jon Fishman is a tasteful addition. Mike and Jon have played over 2,000 shows together, so there’s telepathy there. Still, he also finds ways into the music that isn’t merely rhythmic; he adds aural atmospherics with brushes in hand. There are some fun visual tricks but — musically speaking — not a moment of trickery. Just pure magic.

Before “The Only One” Leo’s phone rings and he talks about his friend Sam.  He met Sam when they played poker.  Sam told Leo his two pair beat Leo’s three of a kind.  “On such rip-offs life long friendships are made.”  Mike introduces Fish (“he’s my hero”) who is playing in the studio downstairs from Mike.

Introducing the song, Leo says, the name “The Only One” sounds better than “How to Be an Asshole,” I gotta admit.

There’s plenty of picking in this song as we’l, but its also got some gentle singing from Kottke, harmonies from MIke and gentle drumming from Fish.  The middle solo section is a wonderful moment where both Leo and Mike play complementary solos.

And while they’re miles apart for this Tiny Desk (home) concert, Leo at Creation Audio in Minneapolis and Mike and Jon at Tank Recording Studio in Burlington, Vt., there’s plenty of humor and spirit traversing the wires.

They do an amusing visual joke of them throwing a water bottle through the cameras frames–it’s lined up perfectly.

Mike tells a story that might have inspired “Sheets,” but Leo says,

I don’t know why I wrote this tune.  I don’t know why I write any of them.  I’ve always got my guitar–annoy the neighbors.  I have to hear the guitar.  And every now and them something will come up.   This song uses some of Mike lowest bass notes–they really resonate with Leo’s pretty guitar and gentle singing.

The final song is clearly written by Mike.  He introduces “I Am Random” by saying

This is a song that’s not about being a person standing in a room doing something … ever.

Then he says

it’s about people who came to our country from Kiev in 1885–they took a bell out of a church tower and rode it on out of town.

Who knows what the truth is. This song has a great funky bass line and Mike’s lead vocals.  There’s all kinds of weird (random?) things going on in the song.  Bass slides, time changes and a wonderfully chaotic denouement from all three.

This is a fantastic introduction to what this dup can do and a great introduction to Kottke’s music for me.

[READ: December 3, 2020] “A Famous Man”

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 3. Kathryn Scanlan, author of The Dominant Animal, doesn’t need to pay admission if she’s just visiting the gift shop.  [Click the link to the H&O extras for the story].

Yesterday’s story was told in first person plural. This one is told (in part) in second person singular.

“You” follow the life of a famous man. (more…)

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[POSTPONED: August 15 & 16, 2020] Phish [moved to Aug 13, 14, and 15, 2021]

indexI have seen Phish a bunch of times but I will always try to see them again.  And this summer tour promised to be interesting.

Phish will perform three shows on the Atlantic City beach Aug. 14 through 16, according to promoter Live Nation Entertainment. Atlantic City will be one of only two stops for Phish in the Northeast on their summer 2020 tour.

Atlantic City is a bit far for me (okay, it’s really quite far), but this seemed like a fun way to see them.  So I got tickets for two of the three nights (I decided driving to Atlantic City of a Friday night was a fool’s errand).

Then on May 1, quite early in the pandemic, Phish made this announcement”

Due to the ongoing pandemic, we sadly have made the difficult decision to reschedule Phish’s entire 2020 summer tour, now moving to the summer of 2021. We’ve been as excited as ever to play music for you all, and are so heartbroken to postpone these dates. The health and well-being of Phish fans, our touring crew, and the communities in which the band plays is our top concern.

I assume my tickets are going to be for the 14th & 15th 2021.  I wonder if they had printed any merch yet.  I hope not–although it could be a pseudo-collector’s item like the Curveball shirts.

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[CANCELLED: May 24, 2020] Trey Anastasio Band

indexI have seen Trey Anastasio once solo at Newport Folk Festival (amazing) and with  the Trey Anastasio Band (super fun).  I didn’t expect him to tour so soon because Phish is playing in Atlantic City this summer.  So it was great to see that he was going to do two shows this summer.

It’s a bummer that this show was cancelled, not to be rescheduled, but this show also wound up conflicting with my friend Armando’s wedding party so technically I wasn’t going to be able to go.  I was trying to trade for a ticket to the Saturday show, but that’s moot now.

TAB cancelled their show pretty early (Mar 24) for a show that was all the way at the end of May, but it was better not to have to wait.  So far, Phish hasn’t cancelled their shows on August 14-16, but we’ll see.

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[ATTENDED: December 31, 2019] Ryley Walker

I saw Ryley Walker open for Calexico in May of 2018.  He played with a trio–second guitar and bass.

Even though I was at the show, I clearly didn’t remember it very well, because I was puzzled why he was on this jam band bill.  The confusion is because I mostly remembered him singing the song “Telluride Speed,” a mellow folky song.

But re-watching some of the videos from that show I realize that much of the show was instrumental jams between he and his co-guitarist Bill McKay.  So I should have realized it made sense.

But I was so puzzled when he came out and started playing that I genuinely wasn’t sure if it was the same guy.

In part because the music he was playing was abstract and noisy and utterly experimental.  (It makes sense that his jamming for Calexico would be a bit more folky).  Plus, he looked completely different. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: December 30, 2019] Phish

After last night’s show, I really didn’t have high hopes for knocking out a bunch of songs.  I realize they don’t know what’s on my list, but it sometimes feels like they do and they keep spacing them out to make sure I come back.

For this show I had seats that I bought in the lottery.  I never get good seats in the Phish lottery, but the tickets themselves are very cool–colorful and quite lovely.  But I was up in the 200s for this show.  And once again my row-mates were lame.  Or maybe I’m the lame one.  Whatever the case, this was my first show where I could see the video screen.  The video screen is pretty terrible because the audio and video are out of synch.  However, it did allow me to take a few good pictures of the guys.

Tonight’s trip into the city was much better.  I’d picked a garage in the village, six blocks from Le Poisson Rouge, and this time I knew I’d be able to make the afterparty (Garcia Peoples, Chris Forsyth, Ryley Walker).  I also managed to go into MSG through a different entrance (I really wish I could keep track of which entrances are the best).  I managed to get the shirt that I liked (sold out last night) and get to my seat with ample time to spare.  Let it be known that there is FAR LESS ROOM in the 200s than in the 100s!

But the lights soon dimmed and Trey played the four opening notes that can only mean one thing–“Wilson!”  The very first time I saw Phish, they opened with “Wilson” and it was a wonderful moment.  And sure, I’ve seen it four times, but it is such a great, exciting song live–so much crowd interaction–that I knew it would be a fun night. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: December 29, 2019] Phish

I blew off two of the three Phish shows I had tickets to this summer.  (I really should have gone to that Sunday show).  Camden is such a hassle.

Somehow, I find getting to Madison Square Garden much less of a hassle–which makes literally no sense.  These were my fourth and fifth times seeing them at MSG (compared to two in Camden).  But this MSG trip involved driving into the city ($15 tunnel toll?) and then getting a garage.  And, because I planned to go to an after party at Le Poisson Rouge with Marco Benevento, I decided to park in the village and subway it up.  That’s actually a lot of hassle.

But it was worth it.

This was my eighth Phish show (I could be in double digits by now if I didn’t sell those Camden tickets).

The theory is that the Sunday night of the New Year’s Eve run is always great.  And boy howdy was it. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: December 12, 2019] Strand of Oaks

In 2016, Timothy Showalter played his second Strand of Oaks Winter Classic at Boot and Saddle.  I got a ticket for the third night, not really knowing what to expect.

It turned out to be a fantastic night of music and togetherness.

I missed the next year but went last year to Winter Classic IV.  Which was also great.

There was no way I was going miss Winter Classic V.  This year I went for the first night of the three.

The other two shows had opening acts announced, but there was none announced for my night.

I didn’t think we’d get an extra long show (Tim doesn’t do extra long shows).  Instead we got a cool improv by his partner for the night, Mike “Slo-Mo” Brenner. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DEODATO-Prelude (1973).

I know this artist because of Phish.  For years I thought that they “wrote” the discoey, funky. super cool version of “Also Sprach Zarathustra” which they play at a lot of shows.

I should have realized that the “Deodato” in the credits was the actual arranger of this cool piece, but I guess I never really thought about it.  I’ve no idea where the realization came to me, but once it did I decided  to check out the album from which it comes.

It turns out that Deodato is Eumir Deodato de Almeida (Brazilian Portuguese: [ẽʊ̃ˈmiχ djoˈdatu]; born June 22, 1942) is a Brazilian pianist, composer, arranger, and record producer, primarily in jazz but who has been known for his eclectic melding of genres, such as pop, rock, disco, rhythm and blues, classical, Latin and bossa nova.  Prelude was his first album released in the U.S. (released when he was 31) and eighth overall.  In addition to making over 30 albums, he has also been a producer and arranger on everything from Kool and the Gang’s “Celebration” to Bjork’s albums PostTelegram, and Homogenic

“Also Sprach Zarathustra” begins with twinkling and guitar noises for 30 seconds before the 5-note funky keyboard comes in.  And then about a minute in the horns join to create the familiar Richard Strauss “Also Sprach Zarathustra” crescendo.  Even though that melody is barely a minute long, this version is 9 minutes long with a lengthy funky keyboard solo occasionally punctuated by horns.  It then switches to a more rocking sound with a 70s sounding guitar solo.  It really never loses the funk for the entirety of the piece.

“Spirit Of Summer” is a slow moody song that sounds like it could be the soundtrack to a noir film with slinky horn lines and jazzy bass.  I love the opening and how it then switches to an almost easy listening string section before adding a mellow keyboard solo and a surprising very fast flamenco guitar solo as well.   The song is only four minutes and ends with a flute solo and then a return to the opening horns.

“Carly & Carole” is an easy, mildly funky jazzy number.  There’s lead flute combined with the keys that push the song along.

“Baubles, Bangles, & Beads” is a jaunty five-minute romp that sounds like it would have been very popular at swinging parties in the 1970s.  There’s more flute and keys and two lengthy wild Santana-like guitar solos that run through to the end of the song.

“Prelude To The Afternoon Of A Faun” opens with a mournful flute that sounds a lot like the weird Snoopy interludes when he is the World War I Flying Ace in the old Peanuts cartoons.  The melody is quite nice and is then repeated by several instruments throughout the piece.   After 2 minutes it tuns into a swinging jazzy number with a flute solo and wah wah guitars and a bright trumpet solo.  I see now that this piece was done by Debussy and this is another arrangement.  It is not used in Peanuts although Schulz does reference the song in a strip.

“September 13” ends the disc with an upbeat funky song with groovy bass and keys and wah wah guitars.  There’s a wild mildly distorted guitar solo with fun effects put on it.  It’s a fun way to end an album that is short but really captures a moment in time.

[READ: September 3, 2019] Herbert’s Wormhole Book 2

I accidentally read Book 3 before Book 2.  I am embarrassed that that happened because I am a librarian and I should know better, but I checked on Goodreads and must have read a paperback reprint pub date and though that book 3 was in fact book 2.

Having read book three I basically knew a lot of what happened in book 2.  But primarily this is because in book 3 they make offhanded comments to things they did in book 2.  Incidentally, while I was reading book 3 I thought it was a really fun, bold move on the author’s part to reference adventurers that we hadn’t read about.  That should have dawned on me but I just persisted in believing that the author was being really daring. Oh well.

Knowing what happened didn’t really spoil anything, because the book is silly and funny anyhow.

This book opens with a paneled cartoon recap of book 1.

It’s followed by a hilarious opening sequence in which Alex’s dad has become hooked on video games.  He was trying to bond with Alex over Alex’s love of video games.  But in book 1, Alex’s memory of video games is wiped out.  So now his father is playing them and Alex doesn’t really see the point.  But Alex’s father is now as addicted as Alex was. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: September 20, 2019] Vida Blue

I had seen two of the Phish guys’ side (or solo) projects, which meant I actually got to see them, and not just see them from a mile away.  Mike Gordon did a solo tour which I caught, and I’ve seen Trey Anastasio with his band and solo.  I assumed that would be it for small projects.  Fish has a band, Pork Tornado, but it’s been on hiatus since 2002 and Page McConnell has released a couple of solo albums, but his band Vida Blue stopped touring in 2004.

Until now.

Page announced that Vida Blue was going to reunite for THREE shows (although possibly more now).  And one of those three shows was in Philadelphia.  So of course I bought a ticket to see Page up close.

Driving into Philly has become something of a nightmare now that Girard Avenue is closed.  Especially if you want to get to the Fillmore.  Traffic and detours add at least ten minutes.  I had left early but still managed to get to the parking lot after 8 for an 8PM show with no opening band.  I was furious.  So I ran into the place and found out that they hadn’t started yet, phew.  Also, everyone seemed to be milling about, so I wended my way up near the front and got an amazing spot.  My only regret is that I didn’t keep going into that one last free spot in front of that one because it turned out the people around me were the worst people in Philadelphia. (more…)

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