Archive for the ‘Edward Gauvin’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: ORQUESTA AKOKÁN-“Mambo Rapidito” (2019).

Since this story is about something shameful in Cuba, I thought I’d tie it to something that is wonderful in Cuba: Orquesta Akokán

Orquesta Akokán is a band comprised of Cuban musicians and “Latin music freaks” from New York.   They play the kind of Cuban music that filled New York nightclubs in the 1940s and 1950s.  As their website explains:

Robust, time-tested musical architectures of son cubano and mambo are honored and modernized through a synthesis of the rich compositional styles of Havana, New York, and beyond.

This song begins with a descending piano riff that quickly gives way to horn hits and a cowbell that doesn’t stop for the whole three minutes.

The main melody comes in as a swinging, wholly danceable riff with shouted refrains of “baile!”

Then lead vocalist José “Pepito” Gómez shows where the rapidito comes in as he sings an insanely fast vocal part ( I wouldn’t even guess what he’s saying).

The song is fun and swinging and should make everyone want to baile!

Then comes an awesome flute solo.  There’s a cool swinging instrumental sections in the middle before the call and response of the backing vocalists and Pepito.

Then a wild and cacophonous piano solo sprinkles the end of the song.  It is a ton of fun.  The NPR blurb says that

when globalFEST decided to host this year’s edition at New York’s Copacabana nightclub — a venue with a history that stretches back nearly 80 years and boasts a long association with Latin music — the festival’s organizers decided that Akokán had to be the first group they invited this time around.


[READ: December 23, 2019] Guantánamo Kid

This is a story of injustice.

Injustice at the hands of Americans.

Americans should be humiliated and outraged by this injustice.

Injustice that is utterly horrific to behold–and I suspect that this graphic novel holds back a lot of the really unpleasant details to make it readable.

This is the story of Mohammed El-Gharani, an innocent kid who was sent to Guantánamo Bay for seven years.

At the age of 14, Mohammed El-Gharani made money in the streets of Medina, Saudi Arabia.  His family was from Chad and, as such, he was treated like an outsider in Saudi Arabia.  He wasn’t allowed to go to school and the locals treated him badly.  He and his friend knew this was no way to make a living.

One day his friend told him that if he went to Pakistan he could learn how to fix computers.  He even knew people there who would put him up while he studied. (more…)

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agathaSOUNDTRACK: VALERIE JUNE-Tiny Desk Concert #310 (October 12, 2013).

I enjoyed Valerie June’s —I found her voice to be unusual but enjoyable.   But I find her sound here to be kind of flat and disappointing.  Her guitar choice feels too quiet or something and her voice sounds too tinny—almost childlike.  I have a love hate relationship with singers with this kind of voice, and I’m afraid she comes down on the bad side.

But maybe it was something with the location, because the blurb says I’m wrong.

Valerie June is a singular performer with an array of singing styles. Sometimes she’s channeling an old male voice; at other times, she channels a younger woman or even a child. Her music is steeped in tradition. The striking Tennessee singer — on its own, her hair could pass for sculpture — can sing the blues or gospel or country or a blend that sounds like nothing else. She learned how to sing during 18 years of church, but the “old man’s voice” comes from deep inside in unexpected ways. Prepare to be surprised, and to become Valerie June’s newest fan.

During “Workin’ Woman Blues” I couldn’t get the melody of Steely Dan’s Do It Again out my head.  It’s something about her vocal delivery–although clearly the music is very different.  It’s unusual that the first line of “Rain Dance” is the same as Bad Company’s “Feel Like Making Love”—intentional I’m sure.  And the way she sings the lyrics very differently than the original also unexpected.  But the whole presentation of her voice and guitar sounds like an old timey black and white cartoon–Popeye or the like.

She’s very chatty before the final song.  She talks about love and then says there’s a lot of cute babies here today.  This is my cute baby: a tiny banjo made in Memphis.  It is a very tiny banjo.

Of the three, “Somebody To Love” is my favorite song, although she does get a little crazy on the chorus.  I’m most intrigued by the electric foot pedal that appears to simply be an electronic drum stomping thing.

[READ: August 15, 2016] Agatha

In high school I had to read And Then There Were None.  I really liked it, but I never read anything else by Agatha Christie.  I’m a snob who doesn’t read mysteries, true.

But I’ve always been intrigued by Christie.  So I was thrilled that I found this graphic novel biography at work.

As many of these graphic novels tend to be, this one was French and recently translated to English (by Edward Gauvin).  I was fairly certain that I had seen the work of the artist in a previous comic, but Alexandre Franc is new to me.  As are the writers Anne Martinetti and Guillaume Lebeau.

This is a great biography–it is told with flair and excitement and throws in a lot of details about the creation of her most famous novels (without spoiling any of them). And, in a very clever conceit she “talks” to Hercule Poirot throughout the book–allowing her to narrate things without it seeming strange or flat.  And, even better, Poirot is a jerk to her–perpetually jealous and unhappy with her.  It’s a great technique. (more…)

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kaput SOUNDTRACK: CHARLES LLOYD & JASON MORAN-Tiny Desk Concert #544 (June 28, 2016).

lloydCharles Lloyd is a saxophonist and Jason Moran is a pianist and that’s pretty much all I know about them.

Lloyd has been playing since the 1960s.  I have no idea what he used to play like, but in this Tiny Desk, he couldn’t possibly look more like an “old man.”  In what is one of the more disconcerting Tiny Desks I’ve watched, Lloyd sits in a chair and doesn’t take off his big puffy coat or his toque for the whole performance [I don’t know when this was filmed, so maybe it was cold that day, but come on].  Nor does he move, wave, acknowledge anyone or even smile (except once at the end).  Since he never takes his sunglasses off, he could be asleep (except that he really wails on the horn).

Moran is the youthful member of the duo and his piano playing is a lot of fun to watch.  In addition to playing some very lovely sections, he also plays some intensely dissonant parts as well.  This is free jazz in all its glory

“Hagar’s Lullaby” (by Charles Lloyd) has a pretty (but not lullabyish) melody on sax—a simple 8 note melody which is constantly in danger of being overtaken by some wild riffing.  About 4 minutes in Moran plays super fast and loud–almost a drone for a minute or so.

“Prayer” (by Charles Lloyd) opens as a more mellow piece with occasional moments of Moran’s louder piano. After about three minutes in, it turns into utter chaos as Moran is all over the piano with rumbles of dissonance–it’s really noisy (and cool) before returning to the main melody.  Since I don’t know anything about these songs, I don’t know how much is improvised.  I have to assume a lot, but I don’t really know.

Lloyd’s only reaction comes when Moran starts playing the loud, fast intro notes of the final song, “Sand Rhythm” (by Charles Lloyd & Jason Moran).  He smiles at Moran.  The song is pretty dark and intense with some wild riffing on the piano.  About 2 minutes from the end, Moran does something to the piano to really impact the overall sound—it sounds more than deadened, but it really give anew tone underneath Lloyd’s skronking.

While I’m sure that Lloyd is the main draw in this duo, I was far more interested in Moran’s playing.  There’s was nothing wrong with Lloyd’s work at all, but the presentation was so flat that I had to keep looking elsewhere.

[READ: February 15, 2016] Kaput & Zösky

Lewis Trondheim is a prolific cartoonist.  I had only seen his book A.L.I.E.E.E.N before so I didn’t know what to expect from a book with real words.  I certainly didn’t expect this collection to be filled with short “skits” and one page interstitial (translated by Edward Gauvin).  Eric Cartier is also credited in the book, although I don’t know what for.

Kaput and Zösky are alien creatures bent on destroying everything and ruling the world.   Pretty much each strip has them landing on a new planet with the intent of destroying it. Typically the short, rounder one, Kaput is ready simply to destroy everyone while the taller one with yellow ears, Zösky, seems to wan to take a more reasonable approach.

In the first one (only one page) they land on earth and are intimidated by a spider.  The second one involves a bureaucratic nightmare which is quite funny.  The third one is very funny as the creatures on the planet literally do everything K&Z say (that must have been hard to translate). (more…)

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maha SOUNDTRACK: MASHROU’ LEILA-Tiny Desk Concert #543 (June 24, 2016).

mashrouMashrou’ Leila is a band from Beirut.  And because I love this kind of thing, here is their name in Arabic script: مشروع ليلى

They are on their second ever tour in the U.S.  They sing in Arabic but their music is full of rock and indeed dance motifs.

There are five members of the band: singer and lyricist Hamed Sinno, violinist Haig Papazian, keyboardist and guitarist Firas Abou Fakher, Ibrahim Badr on bass and drummer Carl Gerges.  And the band make up is rather diverse:

Sinno is openly gay, and Mashrou’ Leila is well acquainted with the targeting of LGBT people. The band has faced condemnation, bans and threats in its home region, including some from both Christian and Muslim sources, for what it calls “our political and religious beliefs and endorsement of gender equality and sexual freedom.” And yet, when Mashrou’ Leila performs in the U.S., its members are often tasked with representing the Middle East as a whole, being still one of the few Arab rock bands to book a North American tour.

Their set took place on the morning after the dead club murders in Orlando (June 12), and since the band has had direct experience with this, they modified their intended set list.

I want their music to speak for itself, because it’s really good.  But since it’s sun in Arabic, some context helps

“Maghawir” (Commandos), is a song Sinno wrote in response to two nightclub shootings in Beirut. In the Beirut incidents, which took place within a week of each other, two of the young victims were out celebrating their respective birthdays. “Maghawir” is a checklist of sorts about how to spend a birthday clubbing in the band’s home city, but also a running commentary about machismo and the idea that big guns make big men.

It begins with a low menacing bass (keyboard) note and some occasional bass (guitar) notes until the echoed violin plays some singularly eerie notes.  Sinno’s voice is really interesting–operatic, intense and not really sounding like he’s singing in Arabic exactly.  He has rock vocal stylings down very well, and the guttural sound of Arabic aids the song really well.  I’m really magnetized by his singing.  And the lyrics:

“All the boys become men / Soldiers in the capital of the night,” Sinno sings. “Shoop, shoop, shot you down … We were just all together, painting the town / Where’d you disappear?” It was a terrible, and terribly fitting, response to the Florida shootings.

For the second song, “Kalaam” (S/He),Sinnos says it’s about the way “language and gender work in nationalism.  In Arabic, words are feminine or masculine and it’s about being in between while trying to pick someone up at a bar.”

Sinno dives deep into the relationships between language and gender, and how language shapes perception and identity: “They wrote the country’s borders upon my body, upon your body / In flesh-ligatured word / My word upon your word, as my body upon your body / Flesh-conjugated words.”

There’s interesting percussion in this song.  And more of that eerie echoed violin.  But it’s when the chorus kicks in and there’s a great bass line (which comes out of nowhere) that the song really comes to life.  There’s a cool middle section in which the keyboards play a sprinkling piano sound and there some plucked violins.  All along the song is catchy but a little sinister at the same time.

The final song, “Djin,” is based on Joseph Campbell’s archetypes.  Sinno describes the comparison between Christian and Dionysian mythologies but it’s also about just about “getting really messed up at a bar.”

“Djin,” is a perfect distillation of that linguistic playfulness. In pre-Islamic Arabia and later in Islamic theology and texts, a djin (or jinn) is a supernatural creature; but here, Sinno also means gin, as in the alcoholic drink. “Liver baptized in gin,” Sinno sings, “I dance to ward off the djin.”

It has a great funky beat and dance quality.  The way the chorus comes in with the simple backing vocals is great.

There’s some pretty heady stuff in their lyrics, and that works on the level of their band name as well:

The most common translation of “Mashrou’ Leila” is “The Night Project,” which tips to the group’s beginnings back in 2008 in sessions at the American University of Beirut. But Leila is also the name of the protagonist in one of Arabic literature’s most famous tales, the tragic love story of Leila and Majnun, a couple somewhat akin to Romeo and Juliet. Considering Mashrou’ Leila’s hyper-literary bent, it’s hard not to hear that evocation.

I hope they get some airplay in the States. Sadly their album is only available as an import, but it is downloadable at a reasonable price.

[READ: June 10, 2016] Omaha Beach on D-Day

Nobody picks up this book for fun.  I mean, look at that title. You know this isn’t going to be a laugh.  But it is an amazing book and I think  perhaps the title does it a bit of a disservice.

This book is not exactly about the massacre that was Omaha Beach on D-Day.  It is about that certainly, but the book is really about Robert Capa, the photographer who took the most iconic photos of Omaha Beach on D-Day.  This book is far more of a biography of him than an account of the war.  And in typical First Second fashion, they have made a gorgeous book full of photorealistic drawings that really exemplify the work that the book describes.

The book opens in Jan of 1944 with Capa carrying bottles of champagne amid the burned out wreckage of war.  He is bringing the celebratory drink to his fellow reporters who have been hiding out for a few days. Capa says he is leaving for London. (more…)

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3shadSOUNDTRACK: ANDREW BIRD-Tiny Desk Concert #536 (May 31, 2016).

andrewbirdI haven’t known too many of the recent Tiny Desk performers, but I do know Andrew Bird.  I heard him on NPR and was quite taken with his whistling (one of his trademarks).  I bought his album, but learned after listening to it that I prefer him more in small doses and single songs rather than a whole album.

And while I didn’t love the album (it’s good but didn’t blow me away), these three songs are pretty great.

That whistling is present a lot during this Tiny Desk Concert.  The first song “Are You Serious” has a lot of whistling and is an incredibly catchy song (possibly because it has a very similar melody to “Oops I Did It Again”?).  Regardless of the reason, this song is really fun.  One of the delightful things about Bird, in addition to his whistling is that he also plays violin in number of different ways.  He strums it like a guitar for the beginning of the song and even plays a plucked solo (while still holding it like a guitar).  There’s also some “proper playing” by the end of the song.

“Roma Fade” also opens with his whistling and violin plucking and then shifts to s much more uptempo violin bowing.  It’s got a very catchy melody and again I love how he switches from plucked violin notes to bowed melody.

“Capsized” is a song I have been hearing on WXPN quite a bit.  I had no idea it was him and I really liked it so it was a surprise treat to hear it here.  I don’t recall if the radio version opens this way but in the Tiny Desk, there’s a great fast violin intro and some bowed upright bass rumbling.  The verses are great but it’s the the catchy chorus “and when you wake up” that rules the song.  There’s a cool plucked violin solo and some more nice bowing.

The band he has (bass, guitar and drums) also sings great harmonies which really make these songs sound big.  It’s a great Tiny Desk and means I’m going have to dig out the album I have and give it another spin.  And actually it is good, just a bit more mellow than I like.

[READ: March 10, 2016] Three Shadows

I really liked just about everything in this graphic novel.  I was struck almost from the start by Pedrosa’s drawing style, which relished in loops.

The first page has a boy and his father walking in the garden.  The tree is comprised of circles, the man’s pipe is producing circle smoke rings, even the apples in the trees are swirling circles.  The whole pages looks to be in motion.  And it has a very interesting folk-art feel.  On the next page the trees are simply big swirling circles.  It’s really visually striking.

However, once a story begins “Back then life was simple and sweet,” you know that the story isn’t going to be a happy one.

But it does start off peaceful.  This small family–mom dad and little boy live in an idyllic little house far from the world.  But one day, their dad sees three shadows on the top of the hill.  He gets really freaked out about them even though they don’t come close.  His wife thinks that he is overreacting, but every time he sees them, he knows they are up to something.  And then one night they come in adn try to take the little boy. (more…)

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btsliveSoon after releasing “Carry the Zero,” Built to Spill released this, their first (and so far only) live disc.

This disc shows a jamming side of the band that their records up to now hadn’t really displayed (sure there was some evidence of the jam band within, but who would have guessed 2 songs on this disc would stretch to 20 minutes?).

The live set also shows a rather contrarian spirit in that there are only 9 songs in 70 some minutes and only 5 of the songs are actual Built to Spill songs.

The disc opens with “The Plan,” a great version of their most recent disc’s opener.  Then they jump right into Perfect from Now On’s  opening track “Randy Described Eternity.”  That song has a lot of parts and sections, and they do them perfectly.  They follow it with another song from Perfect, “Stop the Show” which also has multiple parts and again, they nail it.  These three songs were recorded in New York.  Brett Netson joined them for “Randy,” and “Stop” which really helps to flesh out those songs.

The next song is a cover of The Halo Benders’ “Virginia Reel Around the Fountain.”  And if it sounds very fitting for Doug, he was in The Halo Benders with Calvin Johnson before he started Built to Spill.  Then comes the centerpiece of the record–a 20 minute version of Neil Young’s “Cortez the Killer.”  And it is amazing.  He sounds enough like Neil to be totally respectful, without just being a rip off.  It’s probably the best version of this song I’ve heard (until I saw Neil do it this summer).

They switch gears to their first single, “Car,” a delightful 3 minute song.   And then, to fill out this almost all covers section, they play “Singing Sores Make Perfect Swords” a song originally done by Love as Laughter.  I don’t know the original, but it fits in with Doug’s style.  These four songs were record in Seattle.

There’s one song that was recorded in Denver, “I Would Hurt a Fly,” which is yet another song from Perfect, and is one of my favorite songs of theirs.  It does not disappoint.

The final song on the disc is a nineteen minute version of the song “Broken Chairs” (which is 8 minutes long on Secret).  They do the whistling section and a ton of solos.  Indeed, the way they stretch out the song out with guitar solos and noise (and the way the song ends with feedback) is really cool.  Netson joined them for “Fly” and “Broken Chairs” (which is why that ending solo is so intense.

It’ s a great live collection of songs and the sound is outstanding.  You’d never know it was recorded in different venues, either.

[READ: October 4, 2015] Pablo

Judging this book by its cover you would be correct in assuming that it is about Pablo Picasso.  But rather than being a simple history of the Art Master (the title of the series), this is a thorough recounting of Picasso’s life.  And what’s even more interesting is that the story is told from the point of view of Picasso’s lover and model Fernande Olivier.

And Fernande’s diary entries make up the bulk of the story and allow for a very personal look into the man and the stylistic choices that Picasso made over the years.  As the book says on the back, the authors show “how Picasso’s style developed in response to his friendships and rivalries.”  And of his rivals none was greater than Henri Matisse.  (The book also covers Picasso’s life before she met him too, of course).

The original work was published (in French) in four volumes.   This edition was translated by Edward Gauvin.

I especially like the way the book begins from the point of view of Fernande as an old woman, still alive and reminiscing about her life. (And yes, it’s amazing to realize that Picasso died in 1973…in my lifetime!).  (more…)

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aamaSOUNDTRACK: KRISTIN CHENOWETH-A Lovely Way to Spend Christmas (2008).

chenoLast year I thought about doing a Christmas CD every day in December as my soundtrack.  But I forgot until a week or so in.  But this year I remembered.  Yuletide joy!

Since Sarah and I have a lot of Christmas CDs from over the years, I decided to just pick some at random this year.  And we start with this one which I got for Sarah I thought last year, but if it’s from 2008, perhaps I got it earlier?

I knew Chenoweth from her great role on Pushing Daisies.   I didn’t know she was a singer then.  She has since done some amazing runs in various roles and her voice is great.  This disc features a mix of traditional songs, a few more religious songs and a number of unexpected “mashups.”  It works pretty well, although it tends to cross the line into cheese a bit too much for me.

“I’ll Be Home for Christmas” has her in great voice.  Although I hate the cheesey sax solo.
“Christmas Island” is a new favorite song for me.  Her version is fun (although the original Hawaiian version is much more fun).
“The Christmas Waltz” is a song I don’t know.  It is probably best song on the disc.
“Do You See What I See” also suits her voice very well.  It’s the first song to mash in another song (“Angels We Have Heard on High“) which is quite pretty
“Sleigh Ride/Marshmallow World” I like her part, I’m not sure about the blend.  I don’t know who John Pizzarelli is, but he sings it too clean.  The original of “Marshmallow World” is sung in an almost drunken fashion which makes the weird lyrics better.   Nevertheless, the two of them have a good vocal chemistry.  And there’s some goofy fun at the end.
“Sing” (you know, sing, sing a song).  It’s a really weird inclusion here.  But she sounds great.
“Silver Bells” also sounds great.
“Come On Ring Those Bells” is another song I don’t know.  This version is way too pop country for my liking.
“What Child is This” is also perfect for her voice.
“Home on Christmas Day” is another song I don’t know (who knew there were so many unfamiliar Christmas songs?), and it works well “Born on Christmas Day” is a rather dull more religious song, which seems somehow out of place.
“Sleep Well Little Children/What a Wonderful World” is another mash up. It works pretty well and I kind of get why she chose it to end the album, but it’s another weird non-Christmas related song.

So overall this is a decent Christmas album. There’s some lovely traditional songs, some odd choices, and a few clunkers.  But her voice is really fantastic throughout.

[READ: November 29, 2014] Aama

I’m surprised and delighted with how many unusual, translated graphic novels are being published in the States these days.  There’s always something about the art that screams “not American.”  So when I get books like this (especially if the author’s last name is Peeters), I immediately look for the translator to confirm my suspicions.  This book was translated by Edward Gauvin.

While translated childrens book often seem slightly weird to my family (fun, but always slightly askew), the graphic novels don’t usually seem as weird to me.  (Maybe the childrens authors just expect more existential thought from their kids).

Having said all of that, I found that I really couldn’t get into this story.  There were some great elements to it, in both storytelling and character creation, but, and maybe more will be explained in future books, but the main plot was a little too vague to me.

But I loved the way it was constructed.  We open on a man face down.  As he comes to, he realizes that he has no idea who he is.  While he tries to get himself together, a weird looking ape comes up and calls him Verloc.  The ape has no hair on his legs (so they look human).  The ape is named Churchill and he is a custom built robot.  As Verloc tries to come to grips with what’s happening, Churchill gives him his “memoirs” to read.  The book is “real paper” which Verloc appreciates.  And they started just a week ago.

Pretty cool opening. (more…)

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