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Archive for the ‘Translation’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: TOKYO JIHEN [東京事変]-“The Scarlet Alibi” (永遠の不在証明 Eien no Fuzai Shoumei) (2020).

220px-Tokyo-Jihen-News-EP-cover-artRingo Sheena formed Tokyo Jihen (which means Tokyo Incidents) in 2003.  They put out five albums and disbanded them in 2012.

Then she surprised everyone by reforming the band in 2020 (with the same people who played with her in 2012).  They have released a new EP, News.

永遠の不在証明 which translates more or less as “Eternal Alibi” is the final song on the EP and the only one that Ringo Sheena wrote the music for.

It starts like a kind of James Bond theme (and it is indeed a theme for Detective Conan: The Scarlet Bullet).  It’s got a noir piano, but the bass is really fat and fuzzy.

The chorus gets big while the piano stays prominent and the bass does some really fancy fretwork.  Then in th emiddle of the song there’s an instrumental break.

Seiji Kameda (亀田 誠治Kameda Seiji) gets a wicked bass solo followed by a ripping guitar solo from Ukigumo (浮雲The Drifting Cloud) and a soaring keyboard solo from Ichiyō Izawa (伊澤 一葉Izawa Ichiyō).  Everyone gets a moment to shine except drummer Toshiki Hata (刄田 綴色Hata Toshiki)–but his playing throughout is stellar.

The song halts at 3 and half minutes, but there’s a jazzy jamming coda (lots of piano and guitar solos) that runs for about a minute as the song concludes.

Although I just discovered the band this week, it’s nice to have them back.

[READ: July 1, 2020] Fuku Fuku 2

This is Konami Kanata’s second and final collection of FukuFuku stories.  After all of the Chi stories, it was probably for the best to limit FukuFuku to just two volumes.

It allows the story to go out on a high note.

The framing device of the series is an older woman looking at pictures of her cat FukuFuku when she was a kitten.   I was pleased that this book ends the framing device with FukuFuku as an older cat–the flashback is complete.

This volume is less about FukuFuku exploring new things and more about her owner’s expectations of her. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RINGO SHEENA [椎名 林檎]-Shōso Strip [勝訴ストリップ] (or Shouso Strip or Winning Strip) (2000) 

Yumiko Shiina (椎名 裕美子Shiina Yumiko, is known by her stage name Ringo Sheena (椎名 林檎Shiina Ringo). She later fronted the band Tokyo Jihan.

I’m not exactly sure how I discovered this album.  I think I had been reading about psychedelic Japanese bands and this album came up as a must-listen.

I found a copy on eBay (it’s also streaming) and, wow–it’s my favorite album in a long time.  Ringo Sheena flirts with just about every genre of music throughout her career.  Often times, including several genres in one song.  But throughout this album, it’s her singing and songwriting that really stand out.

Plus, I absolutely love the sound that she gets from her bassist.  I have included all of the credits from the album below because my copy of the album is entirely in Japanese. The “official” Wikipedia entry is first, but the Google Translated version is second.  I’m not sure what is going on with the Google Translated version, but for most of the songs the bass is described as “Bombshell base” which is totally accurate.  Interestingly, sometimes the guitar is described as “Oxygen deficient guitar” which I think just means electric, but I love that description.

So the overall feel of this album is grungy.  There’s a lot of distortion among the guitars and the drums.  None of the songs would be described as metal, but there are definitely some heavier rocking elements.  But there is an underpining of J-Pop throughout.  Both in her catchy choruses and the way her voice soars as she sings.

The disc opens with “I Am a Liar” (虚言症 Kyogen-shō) 5:26 [“False” from Google Translate].  A funky slap bass and some flutes introduce this song that has a great mix of alt rock and J-Pop.  Sheena Ringo has a great voice that can sing low but also soars nicely when needed. The chorus of this is instantly catchy with a great melody disco flourishes and her fantastic vocals.

“Bathroom” (浴室 Yokushitsu) 4:15 [bathroom] is a wild song (and one that she has apparently performed in very different styles over the years).  A ripping funky bass and synth lead to a great pulsing ear worm of a melody.  The chorus is warm and inviting and fantastic.  “Excuse Debussy” (弁解ドビュッシー Benkai Dobyusshii) 3:16 [Excuse Debussy] is another propulsive rocker with a great fat bass sound.

Things slow down for “Gips” (ギブス Gibusu)  (which apparently means “orthopedic cast”) 5:38 [Gibbs] but it has a huge soaring chorus that is partially in in English “don’t you think I wanna be with you….”  It’s about the catchiest peppiest thing and it is awesome.  The songs is quite long–over five minutes–and the last few minutes feature a great guitar line that repeats and repeats until it breaks apart with chaotic confusion.

Things slow down even further for the gorgeous strig opening of “A Driving Rain in Darkness” (闇に降る雨 Yami ni Furu Ame) 5:03 [Rain in the Darkness].  Interesting electronic sounds and some electronic percussion mask the beauty of the stirrings and then after 45 second the strings turn pizzicato and pop song structure stars with a loping bass that plays some funky high parts.  It’s a pretty song that segues nicely to the scorcher that is “Identity” (アイデンティティ Aidentiti) 3:05 [Identity].  It opens with a ripping guitar and Sheena screaming like the best of them.  This song hits pretty standard metal sounds and is a total rocking freak out with her singing syllables as the guitars and drums just go bananas.  Her band is really fantastic.

“Crime and Punishment” (罪と罰 Tsumi to Batsu) 5:32 [Crime and Punishment] plays like a torch song ballad, but it’s accompanied by a heavy guitar and a big fat bass that keeps it in the alt-rock arena.  The juxtaposition is great.  There’s a lengthy jamming coda as well.

“Stoicism” (ストイシズム Sutoishizumu) 1:46 [Stoicism] is a short interlude.  Her voice is manipulated while she’s singing a simple melody as bouncy synths underscore the whole thing.  It flows into “A Broken Man and Moonlight” (月に負け犬 Tsuki ni Makeinu[3]) 4:14 [Lose dog on the moon] which sounds like a grunge version of “Closing Time” until the loud distorted bass crashes in and upends everything. The end totally rocks out.

“Tidbits” (サカナ Sakana[4]) 3:43 [Fish] opens with a harpsichord and the makings of a bubblegum pop song.  But as the verses come in it feels kind of noirish with horns and a great catchy chorus.  The end of the song features that noir bass and a piano.

“Sickbed Public” (病床パブリック Byōshō Public) 3:16 [Patient Public] has super distorted drums and a heavy bass rumbling underneath her whispered vocals until it switches to a bright J-Pop chorus.  “Instinct” (本能 Honnō) 4:14 [Instinct] has a menacing opening of sound effects and turntables that meld into a super catchy poppy melody with wild bass.  The verses slow to a slinky sound, but that chorus is undeniable–especially when the whole song shifts up a note midway through.

The disc ends with fun watery sounds that bloop and blip for the opening of  “I Am an Addict” (依存症 Izon-shō) 6:23 [Dependence].   The song begins with a delicate synth but there’s a fun fun soaring chorus (of course) that you can’t stop humming.  The song and disc end with ends with three minutes of everyone jamming at the end of a show when the star has left the stage and the band is just going to keep playing until they can’t anymore.

I haven’t really looked into much more by her–although I did enjoy the one Tokyo Jihen song I heard.  This album is so good I’m afraid to explore anything else for the time being.  So I’ll just enjoy this one.

[READ: July 1, 2020] Fuku Fuku 1

Konami Kanata wrote the wonderful manga Chi’s Sweet Home about a family who adopts a cat.  It’s wonderful and is apparently one of many manga about cats.  Even though it’s sweet and adorable there are occasionally weird thing that make it seem more adult than it seems to be (the word pissing is in one of them, which seems a little odd for a cute book).

The framing device of the book is an older woman looking at pictures of her cat FukuFuku when she was a kitten.   FukuFuku wants to see them too, which means lying on them, of course.

And so there are 24 short pieces about kitten FukuFuku’s introduction to living with this woman.  I understand that the book is translated, so I don’t know if the cat sounds are translated as well, but I love that when she tries to pick up the kitten for the first time, it says “Mii?”  And when she grabs for it it says “Mya”

The translator also has a lot of fun with the kittens’ action words: Skoot, Bound, Dash, etc. (more…)

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25938055SOUNDTRACK: MALAWI MOUSE BOYS-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #42 (July 1, 2020).

mouseThis Tiny Desk (Home) Concert is from Malawi in Southeastern Africa.  The performer is Nelson Mulligo of the Malawi Mouse Boys.

He only plays one song, but it’s really cool.  Bob Boilen tells us some very important details about the song, the singer and the band.

We see his two-room home in the opening shot where he and his family live without plumbing or electricity. Then we see Nelson, standing below the power lines, holding his homemade guitar singing, “I’m So Tired of You.” It’s a song that sings out the evils of poverty, a life of hard physical work, of making money scavenging for mice amongst boars and snakes so they can sell them as roasted mice shish kabobs along the roadside. We only get one song, and even that cuts off abruptly, but I was deeply moved when producer Ian Brennan (Tinariwen, The Good Ones) sent it my way. He and his wife Marilena Umuhoza Delli met and recorded the Malawi Mouse Boys in 2011. You can hear Ian Brennan tell his story on NPR’s Weekend Edition. If you fall in love with what you hear, give a listen to the entire band harmonize. You can find their music on Bandcamp here. Even though the group played Peter Gabriel’s WOMAD festival in 2015, they still live in poverty. Support what you love.

The song is simple and very catchy with Mulligo’s voice sounding strong and really lovely and his homemade guitar sounding great.

[READ: July 2, 2020] Nichijou 1

This book was recommended to me based on some other manga that I had read.  I didn’t know Keiichi Arawi [あらゐけいいち] or anything about Nichijou, but the cover picture of a classroom full of kids with a deer on one of the desks looked promisingly funny.  As did the comments about the series being delightfully surreal.

It is very surreal.  So much so that I finished the book with a massive question mark hanging over my head.  I literally had no idea what was going on.

When I looked up some information about the series (there are dozens of books and a TV show), I learned some details about what I was reading.  When I re-read it, it made a lot more sense, but was still really bizarre and not easy to follow. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MADAME GANDHI-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #38 (June 24, 2020).

I have never heard of Madame Gandhi.  That’s a constant theme with these Home Tiny Desks–they seem even more geared toward introducing lesser known artists to the world.

Madame Gandhi’s is surrounded by her yellow bongos and congas, a yellow desk from her youth and a yellow nightstand, her Tiny Desk (home) concert lighting nods to the lavender-lemon artwork of her 2019 Visions EP.

Her music is mostly prerecorded.  The live elements are her vocals (soft and gentle with a lot of nonsense syllables amid the good vibe lyrics) and her wonderful hand drums.

Her music is inspired by her South Indian heritage and she lights a stick of palo santo.

For the first two songs she plays the damaru (I think).  “Waiting For Me” is about returning to the earth–returning to nature.  I enjoyed the way it began:

Wake up in the morning / hit space bar and start recording

She plays cool-sounding drums–she has wonderfully diverse sounds from that tiny hand drum.  And they seem to be modified in some way, too.

Before “Moon in the Sky,” she says “I don’t want our identities defined according to how oppressed we are.”

She’s intentional with everything she does, including activism that focuses primarily on gender liberation. She uses music to help elevate and celebrate female voices, from working with primarily queer women BIPOC on tour and video sets, to writing socially-conscious lyrics that challenge the white male-dominated music industry.

She continues, “if we are not brave enough to tell our stories end to end, somebody else will.  And they will get it wrong.

on tour and video sets, to writing socially-conscious lyrics that challenge the white male-dominated music industry.. Madame Gandhi’s clear, soft voice and swells of percussion give you the necessary space to meditate on her message of inclusion and equality.

She says her music is Indian trap.  The music has fun beats and a downplayed vocal delivery. I rather like it.

For the final song, “Bad Habits,” she stands up and plays the bongos: “put your phone down and stand with me.”  The catchy chorus of the song is “all my bad habits have got to got to go.”

Her parting words are that each person’s contribution is unique and valuable and can be of service to my community and my family.

This has been a great introduction to a new form of music for me.

[READ: June 28, 2020] “The Rescue Will Begin In Its Own Time”

I really don’t understand what was going on with these previously unpublished stories by Kafka (translated by Michael Hofmann). There are four flash fiction pieces and they seem much more like story ideas than stories.

In the first section he talks about the four ways the Prometheus legend can be viewed.  After the fourth, it ends, “The real riddle was the mountains.”

In the second part, there is a large load of bread which the Father of the family cannot cut.  The Father is not surprised, “Isn’t it more surprising if something succeeds than if it fails?”  When the children woke the next morning he had been up all night but had not managed to cut it. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JOHN PRINE TRIBUTE-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #8 (April 11, 2019).

I feel like I have been aware of John Prine forever.  Although I also feel like I only really became aware of who he was and what he had done in the last year or so.  Or at the very least since he had surgery and his voice changed dramatically.

I knew that he was a legend in folk circles, but I had no idea how many of his songs I knew–although likely from other artists.

I was not devastated when he died because I didn’t know him enough to be devastated.  But I did feel that it was unbelievably unjust of the world to have him survive cancer only to be beaten by this virus that could have been avoided.  While there are people out there actively doing harm to others, why would a person as thoughtful as him be the victim.

Every time I saw John Prine perform, he invited friends to join him. The outpouring of love and respect has always been so profound. And so when John Prine died on April 7 from complications related to COVID-19, I knew his friends and those he touched would want to pay tribute to him. Here are five artists performing their favorite John Prine tune in their home (or bathtub) in honor of one of the greatest songwriters of any generation.

Here are the five performances:

  • Margo Price and Jeremy Ivey, “That’s the Way That the World Goes Round”
    Recorded in their bathroom, with their baby entering the scene for the final verse.
  • Courtney Marie Andrews, “Speed of the Sound of Loneliness”
    She says that Prine was the best at putting humor and sadness in one song let alone one line.  Her version of this song (that I know very well) is too slow for my taste.
  • John Paul White, “Sam Stone”
    He says he is taking this harder than he thought. This song makes him cry every time.  I knew this song from someone else singing it, although I’m not sure who.
  • Nathaniel Rateliff, “All The Best”
    I didn’t know this one, but I do like it.
  • Brandy Clark, “Speed of the Sound of Loneliness”
    It’s a shame that two people did the same song since he has 19 albums out, but this song is quite lovely.  I like Clark’s version better than Andrews’ even if they aren’t that different.

[READ: April 1, 2020] The Spirit of Science Fiction

I have read pretty much everything that has Roberto Bolaño has written which has been translated into English (many, like this book, by Natasha Wimmer).  This is one of the first novels he ever wrote and it was finally published posthumously in 2016.

It’s a very strange book with a very strange construction (a precursor to the construction of his later, larger books, for sure).

The book is told in three parts and it concerns three major characters.  The narrator, Remo, his best friend Jan Schrella and a third poet, Jóse Arco.

The book opens with Remo being interviewed by a journalist.  He has just won a literary prize.  This interview is spread out over many chapters, but it is sort of summed up by his reply:

you actually predict a bright future for art? You don’t realize that this is a trap. Who the hell do you think I am, Sid Vicious?

Remo lives with Jan, another serious poet, but one who has more or less taken to his bed–barely ever leaving the house at all.

Jan is seventeen and spends nearly all of his time reading, especially science fiction books.  He seems to want to single handedly get recognition for his country men and women.

He spends most of his time writing letters to famous science fiction authors: Alice Sheldon, James Hauer, Forrest J. Ackerman, Robert Silverberg, Fritz Leiber, Ursula K. Le Guin, (twice, first one unsent), and Dr James Tiptree, Jr.

Some of the letters are stories about his dreams, some are general notes of good will, but the overall tones is one asking them to support science fiction written by authors in Latin America.

Remo does go out though,  He goes to writing workshops.  At one of them Jóse Arco enters late.  Remo’s is instantly taken with him. As the first scene with Arco ends, Arco lays back in his chair and recites his new poem Eros and Thantaos from memory.  Arco was a daring fellow riding his (often broken down) motorcycle at 3AM.  Arco is based on Mario Santiago Papasquiaro.

Although Jan is not active, his imagination certainly is. He feels compelled to tell Remo about “Silhouette,” a science fiction short story by Gene Wolfe. (Yes, part of the book is someone describing another book ).

Meanwhile, Remo and Arco decide to investigate a publication called My Enchanted Garden which comments on the torrent of poetry magazines in Latin America.  There were 32 then it jumped to 661 and by the end of the year it was predicted there would be one thousand.

Through Arco, Remo meets young poets Angélica and Lola Torrente and their friend Laura, as well as the queen of local poets, Estrellita. Remo invites them back to his apartment.  Although Lola is the more experienced of the two, it’s Angélica who falls for Jan.  The scene where they first meet is crazy.  Jan was in bed (of course) when they came in

Jan jumped up, his skinny ass exposed and his balls dangling golden, and in two or three swift movements his back to the group, he jammed his papers under the mattress and got back into bed.

What a lovely young man, said Estrellita And his darling balls are the color of gold.

Jan laughed

It’s true, I said

That means he’s destined for greatness.  Golden balls are the mark of a young man capable of … great deeds.

They’re not exactly golden, said Jan.

Shut up.  She thinks they look golden, and so do I. That’s all that matters

And I do too, said Angélica.

It was at this party that Remo fell for Laura.  She was with Cèsar at the time, but that didn;t stop them from kissing.  But when she says they could fuck right there, he says I don’t think I could.

What do you mean, you don’t think you could?  You mean you couldn’t fuck?
Yeah, I couldn’t get it up.  I couldn’t get an erection. It’s the way I am.
You don’t get erection?
No I mean, I do, but it wouldn’t work right how.  This is a special moment for me, if that makes sense, and its erotic too, bu there’s no erection.  Look, feel.  I took her hand and put it on my crotch.
You’re right. it’s not erect, said Laura with a barely audible laugh.

He falls for her immediately though and gives her a nickname–Aztec Princess.

Later in part 2 an actual Aztec Princess–a motorcycle with that phrase stenciled on it, comes into Remo’s life.   How can he refuse to get it?  Even if he has no money, cannot drive a motorcycle and has no licence?

This barely touches half of the ideas that float through this book.  There’s a lot of information about a potato farmer; a lieutenant (Boris Lejeune) watching a recruit shoot a colonel in the chest; Father Gutierrez visiting Pierre LeClerc; and a lengthy story about a village becoming obsessed with woodwork, to the detriment of everything else.  There’s also Jan’s dream of a Russian cosmonaut, and the final chapter called “Mexican Manifesto.”

This last section is all about Remo and Laura going to baths and the strange sexual things that happen in steam.  This section was excerpted in The New Yorker in 2013(!).  That version was translated by Laura Healy.

About it I wrote:

The narrator is the man and the woman, Laura, is the more adventurous of the two.  She is the one who encourages them to go to the baths in the first place and, while he also thinks it is wonderful, it is she who wants them to explore as many different baths in the city as possible.

The first bath that they go to is a nice one, an upscale bath where the man in charge (who is pointedly referred to as an orphan) is very nice and as a result people treat him with courtesy.  There’s never any trouble at this bath.  It’s very nice, but Laura wants to explore other houses.  So they ask him for a list.  And they set out on their voyage of discovery.

It is at these less reputable baths that most of the action takes place (both in the story and out of the story).  People mingle more freely (with sexual contact common), they also share drugs and other entertainments.  The story focuses on one instance in which the entertainment was two young boys and an older man.  The man instructs the boys to begin masturbating each other.  But the boys are tired (as is the old man).  They say they haven’t slept in days.  The old man falls asleep. And with the steam, the boys begin to fall asleep as well.  The steam gets thicker and thicker and soon Laura is squatting nearer to the boys.  The narrator can’t really see what’s happening but it all seems like such a dream that he’s not even sure what to think.

I’m not really sure what this section has to do with the rest.  I’m not really sure what happens in the book at all.  The revelation of Jan’s alias is pretty fascinating though.

This is strange book to be sure and I didn’t really enjoy it that much–I just couldn’t get into it.  But it seems to forecast the kind of (much better) writing that Bolaño would eventually become known for,

I wondered how different the 2013 Healy translation was from this one.  The content is of of course, the same, but they are notably different.

Here is the last sentence first from Healy

The color of the pool’s rocks, doubtless the saddest color I saw in the course of our expeditions, comparable only to the color of some faces, workers in the hallways, whom I no longer remember, but who were certainly there.

Now from Wimmer

The color of the stones around the pool, surely the saddest color I saw in the course of our expeditions, comparable only to the color of some gazes, workers in the hallways, whom I no longer remember, but who were surely there.

If Wikipedia is to be believed, here are the remaining untranslated works

  • 1976 [Reinventing Love] 20-page booklet in México (first publication)
  • 1983[Advice from a Morrison Disciple to a Joyce Fanatic] Novel written in 1983 in collaboration with A. G. Porta
  • 2011 [Bolaño By Himself] Collection of interviews with Bolaño (1998–2003)
  • ? [Diorama] not yet published

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SOUNDTRACK: KIRILL GERSTEIN-Tiny Desk Concert #958 (March 11, 2020).

I can’t really keep track of classical pianists. There are so many who are truly amazing.  But I love hearing them.  I also like it when they have a good sense of humor, which most of them seem to have.

The last time pianist Kirill Gerstein was at NPR we gave him a full-size, grand piano to play in a big recording studio. But for this Tiny Desk performance, we scaled him down to our trusty upright. “What will you ask me to play the next time,” he quipped, “a toy piano?”

Even if we had handed him a pint-sized instrument, I’m sure Gerstein could make it sing. Just listen to how Chopin’s lyrical melodies, built from rippling notes and flamboyant runs, flow like a song without words in Gerstein’s agile hands.

What sets Gerstein apart?  Perhaps its his connection to jazz.

The 40-year-old pianist, born in Voronezh, Russia, taught himself to play jazz by listening to his parents’ record collection. A chance meeting with vibraphonist Gary Burton landed him a scholarship to study jazz at Boston’s Berklee College of Music. At age 14, Gerstein was the youngest to enroll at the institution.

He opens the set with Chopin: “Waltz in A-flat, Op. 42.”  It is fast and amazing with some slow, jaunty parts.  Near the end, wow, doe he pound out those bass chords.

Before the second piece he says that it hasn’t been heard on a recording yet–it’s a newly written piece by Thomas Adès.  Two lovers want to hide in the closet and … sleep with each other.  They emerge dead in the morning, so its lascivious and morbid and a very beautiful piece.

The Berceuse for solo piano was written for Gerstein by Thomas Adès, adapted from his 2016 opera The Exterminating Angel. The work, both brooding and beautiful, receives its premiere recording at the Tiny Desk.

It is slow and beautiful, full of sadness and longing.  Until the end when the bass comes pounding and rumbling, full of ominous threat and dread.  And listen to how long he lets those last bass notes ring out!

Up next is a piece by Liszt who I am particularity fond of (even if I only know a few of his pieces).  Gerstein says that Liszt is perhaps the greatest composer that ever touched the instrument.  There are several hundred not famous pieces.  This is a late piece called “A quick Hungarian march.”  Technically it’s called “Ungarischer Geschwindsmarsch”

Gerstein follows by dusting off a truly neglected – and quirky – Hungarian March by Franz Liszt. To my knowledge it’s been recorded only once.

It is jaunty and spirited until the middle where it goes back and forth between fast runs and bouncy melodies.

Since I hadn’t read about his jazz background the first time I listened to this concert I was really surprised when he said he’d be playing the Gershwin-Earl Wild standard “Embraceable You” which he says is for dessert at this lunchtime concert.

Gerstein’s jazz background is still close to his heart. Which brings us to his lovely-rendered closer: Gershwin’s “Embraceable You,” arranged by the American pianist Earl Wild.

Like all master performers, Gerstein gives you the illusion that he’s making it all up as he goes along, even though the virtuosic transcription is intricately mapped out. And somehow, he makes that upright piano sound nine feet long.

It really does sound like he is working on the fly–playing beautiful runs. It’s hard to imagine transcribing and learning all of those notes instead of just improvising them, but that’s what make a great pianist, I guess.

[READ: November 2019] The Abyss

I saw this book at work and thought, a turn of the 20th century Russian author writing about the Abyss?  What’s not to like?

I had not heard of Leonid Andreyev, perhaps because much of his work has not been translated into English.  He died in 1919 and is considered “the leading exponent of the Silver Age of Russian literature.”

This book was translated by Hugh Aplin and it is remarkable how contemporary these stories sound (aside from obviously nineteenth and twentieth century details).

Bargamot and Garaska (1898)
Bargamot was a policeman–a big, thick-headed policeman.  His superiors called him numskull.  But the people on the streets he looked after were quite fond of him because he knew the area and what he knew he knew very well.  This story is set on Easter Saturday night.  People would soon be going to church.  But he was on duty until three o’ clock and he wouldn’t be able to eat until then. The day was going smoothly and he would soon be home until he saw Garaksa, clearly drunk, heading his way: “Where he had managed to get sozzled before daylight constituted his secret, but that he had got sozzled was beyond all doubt.”  Bargamot threatened to send Garaska to the station, but Garaska talked to him about the festivities of the day and was about to present to him an egg (a Russian custom).  But Bargamot’s rough handling smashed the egg.  This story turns surprisingly tender and sad, with a rather touching final line.

A Grand Slam (1899)
This has nothing to do with baseball.  It is about a card game called Vint, which is similar to bridge.  For six years these four people have been playing it: fat hot-tempered Maslennikov (whose name is Nikolai Dmitriyevich, we find out about five pages in) paired with old man Yakov Ivanovich and Yevpraksia Vasilyevna paired with her gloomy brother Prokopy Vailyevich.  Dmitriyevich desperately wanted a grand slam but he had been paired with Yakov Ivanovich who never took risks. Ivanovich was very conservative and never bet more than four–even when he ran an entire trick, he never bet more than four–you never know what might happen. They speak of news and local happenings (like the Dreyfus Affair), but Dmitriyevich stays focused on the game because his cards are lining up for a Grand Slam.  As he goes for that last card, he falls out of his chair, presumably dead.

Silence (1900)
This story is divided into sections.  Fr. Ignaty and his wife need to speak with their daughter Vera. They have a fight and Fr. Ignaty refuses to speak to her any more.  Soon enough she goes out and throws herself under a train [I would hate to be a train conductor in Russia].  In Part II silence has fallen over the house.  In Part III he tries to talk to his wife about his feelings and his sadness over their daughter, but she remains silent.  In the final part, Fr Ignaty finally breaks down.  But is it the silence that has gotten to him?

Once Upon a Time There Lived (1901)
Laventy Petrovich was a large man. He went to Moscow for someone in the city to look at his unusual illness.  He was a silent and morose man and he specifically asked for no visitors.  The hospital assigned Fr. Deacon to him.  Fr. Deacon was another patient, unfailingly positive.  He and Petrovich were at opposite sides of the spectrum.  But even as it became clear that Fr. Deacon was deathly ill, he remained positive.  Until Petrovich told him that the doctors said that Fr. Deacon has a week to live.  There was also a young student who was daily visited by the girl he loved.  They liked Fr deacon and did not like Petrovich. I’m not sure if the ending is a surprise, but it is certainly sudden with happiness doled out in very specific ways.

A Robbery in the Offing (1902)
That night there was to be a robbery and maybe a murder.  A man, alone with his thought is scared by nearly everything–he is very jumpy because he is the one about to do the robbery.  The man was frightened by a noise until he saw it was a little puppy.  The puppy was shivering and the man tried to frighten him to get him to go home. But the puppy seemed too ignore him.  So began the battle of wits between a big strong man and a tiny freezing puppy.  Imagine a man with a robbery in the offing worrying about a little puppy.

The Abyss (1902)
Two young lovers went for a walk.  Zinochka was 17 and very much in love.  Nemovetsky was 21 and similarly in love.  They wandered into an area they didn’t recognize and happened upon three men.  The men punched Nemovetsky and knocked him out then they chased Zinochka . When he came to, he found her body, naked but still alive.  This was a hard story to read.

Ben Tobit (1903)
This was one of the first stories in the book that I really really liked.  It is set on the day of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion.  On that day, Jerusalem merchant Ben Tobit had a terrible toothache.  Ben was a kind man and did not like injustice, but it was hard to be kind with this much pain.  His wife tried to help by giving him various medicines (like purified rat droppings). She then tried to distract him when the thieves came trudging past on their way to the crucifixion site.  It distracted him somewhat but mostly didn’t interest him.  She said, “They say he healed the blind.”  He replied, “If only he’d cure this toothache of mine!.”  The next day he felt better and they walked to the site to see what they missed.

Phantoms (1904)
Yegor Timofeyevich had gone mad so his relatives collected money to send him to a clinic.  He knew he was in a madhouse but also knew that he could make himself incorporeal and walk wherever he wanted.  He was exceedingly happy. There was a patient who would continually knock on any locked door.  He would walk through all the unlocked doors but when he got to a locked one he would knock and knock and knock.

There was a doctor’s assistant the hospital named Maria Astafeevna, whom Yegor was certain liked him.  He thought very highly of her.  But another man Petrov could say nothing nice about her.  He felt that she was like all women: debauched deceitful and mocking. This attitude upset Yegor tremendously.  Maria was actually in love with Dr Shevyrov. But she hated that he went to Babylon–where he drank three bottles of champagne each night until 5 AM.  She imagined that one day she would ask to be his wife bit only if he stopped going there.

The man Petrov was also terrified of his mother, believing that she had bribed officials to lock him up. He would become hysterical when she would visit.  It was only Yegor’s assurances to her that her son was a decent man that made her feel okay.

Most days things went on exactly the same, the same faces, the same conversation and the same knocking.

The Thief (1904)
Fyodor Yurasov was a thrice-convicted thief.  While on the train, even though he had plenty of money, he stole a gentleman;s purse.  As he tried to blend in, he imagined everyone thought he was an honest, young German (he came up with the name Heinrich Walter).  But when he tried to be civil, everyone ignored him.  Some were downright rude to him.  Later when he hears that the gendarme are looking for someone, he assumed it is he.

Lazarus (1906)
This story looks at what Lazarus’ life was like after he came back–appearing a few days dead and with a shorter temper.  People understood and forgave him, but still.  Soon, however, people began to avoid him and claimed that all of the madmen in the village were people whom Lazarus had looked upon.   It’s such an interesting (if exceeding dark) tale that no one bothered to investigate before.

A Son of Man (1909)
As Fr. Ivan Bogoyavlensky grew older he grew more disatisfied with his role in life.  He wanted to remove his surname and replace it with a five-digit number (The church elders assumed he’d gone mad).  He then bought a gramophone and listened only to stories of Jewish and Armenian life.  His wife hated it and it drove their puppy mad (?!).  Indeed he kept trying to get the puppies to listen to the gramophone and they consistently went crazy and eventually died.  The church sent a deacon to help Fr Ivan through this but he the deacon and Fr Ivan butted heads immediately.  Fr Ivan began mocked everything about their religion.

Incaution (1910)
A priest arrived at a railway station and saw a steam engine for the first time. There was no one around, so he climbed aboard.  It wouldn’t be dangerous to flick some switches and pull some levers.  Would it?

Peace (1911)
A dignitary was dying and an devil–an ordinary devil–came to his bedside offering him eternal life in hell.  The man didn’t want to suffer but the devil said that suffering was terrible until you got used to it and then it was nothing.  The devil makes a stronger and stronger case if only the man would take this pen and sign.

Ipatov (1911)
Nikolai Ipatov was a rich merchant who went bankrupt. Soon he became silent and despondent.  The local priest chastised him saying that the house of god was a house of joy.  He refused to let the merchant back in until he grew happy again.  Which he didn’t.  Eventually his children took over the situation and and put his house up for sale.  But when someone came to look at the house, they heard Ipatov’s moaning and grew existential realizing that a man without guilt could still be afflicted this way.

The Return (1913)
The narrator had been in a cell n St Peterburg for three years because of a political incident.  His wife, who was supposed to be waiting for him in a hotel room had stepped out with another man.  He hired a cab to follow them.  They kept driving around and around, some streets seeming to stretch on endlessly.  Then the cab driver told him that they had been at the same intersection many times.  He finally arrived at the gate and when he banged on it, who should open the gate but his prison guard.

The Flight (1914)
Yury Mikhailovich was an experienced pilot.  Twenty eight flights and no troubles.   He always felt, “If I crash, I crash, nothing to be done about it.”  Despite everything he had on earth, he longed to be up ion the sky…possibly forever.  It’s incredible that Andreyev wrote a story like this in 1914!

 

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SOUNDTRACK: BOB WEIR AND WOLF BROS.-Tiny Desk Concert #953 (March 2, 2020).

Bob Weir is, obviously, a founding member of Grateful Dead.

This set goes on much longer than a typical one (and they’re not rappers or R&B singers).  I got a kick out of this comment in the blurb:

When I produce a Tiny Desk Concert, one of my most important jobs is to make sure they run on time and that the performance sticks to our set time limit (roughly 15-minutes). So when Bob Weir and Wolf Bros achieved lift-off during a pre-show sound-check, it was my unthinkable responsibility to tell the guy who practically invented the jam band to… stop jamming.

It also fell to me to keep looking at my watch during the performance, even as I realized that my favorite “Dark Star” jams alone lasted well beyond our fifteen-minute performance window.

I’ve never been a big fan of the Dead (despite how much I enjoy jam bands).  Their music is a bit too slow for my tastes.  But in the right mood (like a rainy Sunday), they can be right on.

These songs are slow and expansive and allow for a lot of jamming.  There’s not a lot of opportunity for jamming here as this is just a trio, but Weir is very comfortable stretching things out.

The trio make an interesting look with drummer Jay Lane in a tie-dyed shirt and upright bassist Don Was in all black.  Weir stand between them in a gray T-shirt and his gray hair.

The first song

“Only a River,” from Weir’s 2016 solo album Blue Mountain, feels like a memorial to Jerry Garcia, with a reference to the Shenandoah River, a body of water Garcia famously made reference to on the song, “A Shenandoah Lullaby.” Weir turns the chorus into a mantra and seems to evoke the spirit of his fallen bandmate.

This song references the melody of “Shenandoah” pretty directly n the middle, but the “hey hey hey” let’s you know that this is a very different song.

Before the second song, he says they just got clearance to play it.  I didn’t realize that “When I Paint My Masterpiece” was a Bob Dylan song, but I guess maybe I should have.

And what would a Grateful Dead-related performance be without a Bob Dylan song? The intimacy of the Tiny Desk turns Weir into a sage Master Storyteller during a version of “When I Paint My Masterpiece” with its reference to Botticelli and a lonely Roman hotel room.

The set really comes to life when special guest, Mikaela Davis comes out to play harp.

The harp is always a magical-sounding instrument and amid the quietness of this trio, it really shines.  Davis basically takes the lead on “Bird Song” including bending strings (I’ve never seen a harpist do that before).

Midway through the song, Weir waves his hand and allows Davis to take a solo while Weir puts down his acoustic guitar.

When Weir switches to electric guitar midway during “Bird Song,” I looked at my watch because I knew we were in for some time travel. And the band didn’t disappoint as the rhythmic interplay between Weir and Davis showed off his singular rhythm guitar style, honed from more than thirty years of playing alongside one the most idiosyncratic lead guitarists in modern music.

Davis does some more note bending in her solo, which is so interesting.  When Weir joins in, their music melds really beautifully.

They jam the song out for 8 minutes and as the music fades Bob says, I’m pretty sure we’re over our time limit.

He says they were slated for 20 minutes and they’re at forty now (sadly we only get to see 26 minutes).  Someone shouts “keep going” and they do one more.

They play “Ripple” Grateful Dead’s fifty-year-old sing-along from their album American Beauty.  It demonstrates

the song’s celebration of hope and optimism, found in the spirit of all of the band’s music. Bob Weir continues to evoke that spirit every time he picks up a guitar; and as we all sang along at the end, we evoked that spirit too: “Let there be songs, to fill the air.”

I suppose it’s never too late to start enjoying a band, right?

[READ: March 25, 2020] “In the Cards”

This is exactly the kind of story I don’t like.  It seemed to go nowhere and in an oblique fashion. Plus the narrator was really hard to relate to.

The point of the story seems to be the last line: “You’re crazy when you’re a good writer.”

It starts with a discussion of playing cards and moves on to tarot cards.  Her friend Michel gave her a deck and she felt ill at ease just reading the directions.  But what most disturbed her was the image of The Fool.

The narrator says she is unfamiliar with playing cards and yet later she says when she was a child they played Mistigri which is a card game.  So go figure.  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RAPHAEL SAADIQ-Tiny Desk Concert #920/Tiny Desk Fest October 31, 2019 (December 5, 2019).

This Tiny Desk concert was part of Tiny Desk Fest, a four-night series of extended concerts performed in front of a live audience and streamed live on YouTube, Twitter and Facebook.

Back in October, NPR allowed fans to come watch some Tiny Desk Concerts live.  October 31st was R&B night featuring Raphael Saadiq.

Saadiq did a Tiny Desk Concert in 2009 and I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it.  It was a stripped down show–more acoustic than R&B and I was really impressed with his guitarist Rob Bacon.  I either forgot or didn’t know that he “lit the fuse for soul’s popular revival as the lead for Tony! Toni! Tone!”

Well, Bacon is still with him and he is the highlight of this set for me.

This was  the final Tiny Desk Fest show and it runs just over 30 minutes, with Saadiq playing seven songs.

“I’m Feeling Love” is slow and sexy with some quiet wah wah (from Bacon and Saadiq) guitar running through it.  I rather enjoyed this part

I live my life like Willy Wonka
It’s that TV Edith Bunker
Uncle Fred and Jimmy Walker
George Jefferson had that walk

After this first song Saadiq brings out a special person.  After a big introduction it turns out to be Lucky Daye (whom I’ve never heard of) although the blurb says he is a “rising soul singer and songwriter.”

They sing Saadiq’s song “Be Here.”  I liked Saadiq’s voice last time but I found Lucky Daye’s voice to be way too poppy for my taste.  But this song features some funky slap bass DaQuantae “Q” Johnson and cool synths from Daniel Crawford.  Without question, though, the highlight is Rob Bacon’s ripping guitar solo.

Up next is my favorite song of the set.  It’s called “This World Is Drunk” (and the people are mad).  It is slow and pretty, with thoughtful lyrics.  I like the story telling better than the macking.

Lucky Daye comes back out and they’re going to do two of his songs. He says he wants to sing “Call,” but Saadiq says No, let’s do “Love You Too Much” first.  Daye sings and I really don’t think much of this R&B ballad.

I like “Call” better because Bacon switches to acoustic guitar and there some nice percussion (rim shots) from Alvin Ford.  I feel like this song is a bit less poppy and more interesting.

Before the last song Saadiq jokes about when he played there ten years ago: “it was really a tiny desk.”

“And honestly we were kinda complaining about it,” Saadiq laughs, recalling that performance in 2009, back when hosting intimate little concerts behind Bob Boilen’s desk was still a fledgling idea at NPR Music. “Like, we kinda didn’t wanna do it,” he admits in hindsight. It wasn’t until the video-taped version of his set hit the Internet and began picking up views that the lightbulb went off for Saadiq, too. “It’s like probably the biggest streaming I ever had, so it’s kinda good to be back — not kinda good; it’s really good to be back.”

The final song, “Still Ray” was inspired by southern marching bands… black colleges.  I didn’t go to one of those and my school did not have a marching band.  But one day I was gonna put a tuba in my song and it was gonna be the main thing in the song.  They asked where the hook?  The hook is the tuba!

Brent Gossett comes out (technically with a sousaphone) and I really like this song a lot.  He’s right, the tuba is the hook.  Near the end of the song he cuts out the music:  Just me and the tuba.  I’ve been waiting for this my whole life!

I still prefer his 2009 set, but there’s no denying Saadiq’s charisma.

[READ: March 1, 2020] “Spellbound”

This is an excerpt from the novel Hurricane Season translated by Sophie Hughes.

This except opens with an estate, agent saying that the woman never really died, even though her body was found in the irrigation cancel. They say she changed shape as she was being stabbed.  Perhaps she was a bunny or a lizard or bird.

But once her body was found people were quick to break into her house to see if they could find treasure.

The say Rigorito and his men broke down walls and dug up the floors. They even broke down the door of the Old Witch in the back of the room–where the Old Witch’s mummy lay preserved.  The mummy crumbled in front of them and those men fled town never to return.

That’s what some people say. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: FREDDIE GIBBS AND MADLIB-Tiny Desk Concert #921 (December 6, 2019).

I was watching this video and I thought–that piano player looks like Marco Benevento.  And holy cow it is!

And he is amazing–playing his jazziest, prettiest melodies.  In fact, the whole band is fantastic.  They’re a band that I didn’t know Benevento was part of called El Michels Affair.  Okay, maybe he’s not.  It turns out that El Michels Affiar is a band founded by Leon Michels (who plays saxophone here).  And check this out

After performing with Raekwon at a concert, the group began working with other members of the Wu-Tang Clan and covered several of their songs … [which]…  yielded an album released in 2009 as Enter the 37th Chamber, a play on the album Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers).  El Michels Affair followed this with a second album of arrangements of songs by Wu-Tang Clan and from its members’ solo releases, titled Return to the 37th Chamber.

And evidently producer Madlib really wanted to work with El Michels Affair

This Freddie Gibbs and Madlib Tiny Desk performance was a year in the making, largely because Madlib insisted on playing with El Michels Affair, a vintage funk and soul band based out of New York. But it was worth the wait. When pianist Marco Benevento opened with a delicate, almost jazzy run, it created the perfect opening — and juxtaposition — for hard-hitting emcee, Gibbs to jump in and ride the hell out of that beat.

Gibbs brags about Madlib the legend while Marco plays and Madlib makes all ind of weird sounds with the thunder stick.  Marco opens with a pretty rill, the funky bass from Nick Movshon kicks in and the horns (Leon Michels and Dave Guy in trumpet) play a wonderful melody. Its jazzy and improvish.

From the moment they launched into “Education,” a cut off the latest MadGibbs project Bandana, it was obvious Gibbs has spent countless hours honing his style. Meanwhile, Madlib, an enigmatic and reclusive producer known for his analog head-nodders, brought along a small thunder tube and vintage electric bongos circa 1960. Just getting a chance to see him ignited excitement in the NPR crowd.

I love the way drummer Homer Steinweiss shifts gears in what seems like mid song to a faster beat for “Gat Damn.”  Marco is on a soft synth sound while Madlib plays electronic bongos.  Of course, there’s some funky bass too.  Gibbs does some impressive quick jazzy rapping through the middle part.

“Soul Right” sounds great with some soft keys and horns. It’s slow and smooth and has a really catchy chorus.

Throughout the set, Gibbs’ uses the N-word about a million times and this song has a fantastic refrain of

‘Cause I been struggling my whole life, yeah
So I broke it down and it was all white, yeah

I had to wonder if it was awkward that everyone in the band is white.  Although Freddie says that there’s a white nigga up there-Leon.  The band is all his fam.  Leon… My boy!

But the conclusive jam in this killer set was “Freestyle S***,” a track that drips with the smoothness of satin and swagger of the seventies. It and the rest of the set elevated the room for both longtime purists and new fans alike.

“Freestyle Shit” opens with a great horn riff and Gibbs does some great fast rapping in the middle.  It is a fantastic musical jam.

But the way Gibbs emphatically showed his love for Madlib was just as beautiful to witness. There’s little doubt about their deep admiration and appreciation for each other. It was hands down, for me, the best Tiny Desk of the year.

This has turned into one of my favorite Tiny Desks.  Let’s hope this gets Marco Benevento his own show!

[READ: March 1, 2020] “Koftaesque”

This is an excerpt from Szabłowski’s book How to Feed a Dictator: Saddam Hussein, Idi Amin, Enver Hokha, Fidel Castro and Pol Pot Through the Eyes of their Cooks.

This sounds absolutely fascinating and this excerpt was certainly enough tom make me want to read more.

I’m also fascinated that this book was written in Polish (translated into English by Antonia Lloyd-Jones) and was most likely translated to him from whatever the chef’s language was.

The example in the except is from Saddam Hussein’s chef Abu Ali.  He says that Hussein invited a bunch of friends on his boat and Ali, his personal chef, was to cook for them.  They were not at war with anyone and everyone was in a good mood. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SHARON VAN ETTEN-“Radio Cure” (from WILCOvered, UNCUT Magazine November 2019).

The November 2019 issue of UNCUT magazine had a cover story about Wilco.  It included a 17 track CD of bands covering Wilco (called WILcovered or WILCOvered).  I really enjoyed this collection and knew most of the artists on it already, so I’m going through the songs one at a time.

Sharon Van Etten continues down her more ambient and mellow style with this cover of “Radio Cure.”

She plays everything–keys and piano–hushed and echoed while her voice soars around the song.  About a third of the way in, the drums kick in, giving it a but of oomph.

I really like the original of this song and I don’t quite like the direction she went with this cover.

[READ: February 17, 2020] “With the Beatles”

I have realized that I really enjoy reading Murakami’s words.  I don’t always understand what’s happening.  I don’t often understand why one part of a story is put with another part. And often when I’m done I’m not entirely sure what happened.  But I really enjoy the journey.

This was one where some parts seemed mysteriously tucked into the story.  It kind of all works thematically, but it’s still a bit disjointed.  Nevertheless, I enjoyed reading the whole thing.

The narrator starts by saying that he doesn’t mind getting older, it’s seeing other people who have gotten older that is so weird.  Really it forces him to admit that his youthful dreams are gone.

He will never forget a girl (a woman who used to be a girl) whom he didn’t actually know.  It was 1964 and this girl was hurrying down the hallway of their school, skirt aflutter, clutching the LP of With the Beatles–the original British version.  Their black and white faces were facing out as she ran.  He has turned this memory into a beautiful moment–he thinks he remembers the way she smelled even (if that is possible).  The moment was thrilling.

But he never saw her again in two more years at school.

He has met many women over the yeas and always tried to recreate that moment to no avail. (more…)

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