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SOUNDTRACK: JONATHAN SCALES FOURCHESTRA-Tiny Desk Concert #943 (February 7, 2020).

I assumed that by this name, that this band would be contemporary classical.  I didn’t really consider that they would be jazzy (or that there would be three of them).  I certainly didn’t expect to hear steel drums!

Here’s a first: Steelpans at the Tiny Desk. It’s true. Nearly a thousand performances into the series and the instrument has never been featured, until now. While the two bowls look shiny and new in this Jonathan Scales Fourchestra set, they were once authentic oil barrels, pounded, finished and tuned for bandleader, Jonathan Scales. But instrumentation and singularity aside, Scales’ virtuosity, energy and connection to his bandmates wowed the NPR crowd, many of whom had never heard this music before.

The first song “Focus Poem” opens with spectacular bass from E’Lon JD and complicated drums from Maison Guidry.  Then the huge surprise comes when Scales plays the steel pan drums.

Scales’ musical hero, Béla Fleck, happened to be performing in the Washington, D.C. area on the same day as this performance, with just enough time to stop in for one song,”Focus Poem.” It’s a cut Fleck originally played banjo on for the band’s 2018 album Pillar. While the tune is a regular on the trio’s setlist, this performance marks the first time they’ve played it live with Fleck. Scales later revealed that it was a little risky to open with such a technically complicated piece, but the execution was still superb.

Fleck is, of course, fantastic too and he plays a fantastic solo at the end.

So it’s like jazz but with banjo and steel pans.

I assumed that the band was fairly new but

Jonathan Scales Fourchestra has been performing for 13 years, now, redefining the steelpans as a signature jazz instrument. The first iteration of the band was a trio-plus-guitar, hence the “four” in the name. But when drummer Maison Guidry and bassist E’Lon JD joined Scales later, it was clear the trio’s sound was complete. JD grounds the music with powerful bass lines, combined with guitar-like melodic and harmonic embellishments.

The other two songs in this set are also from Pillar. While it’s not his most recent album, Scales calls it his most potent work to date, a quintessential representation of his music.

Introducing “We Came Through The Storm,” he says he’s always wanted to compose for cinema, so for this song he pretended he was writing music for a movie.  There’s a repeating four-beat rhythm (with complex drumming on top, of course) and great lead steel pans and wild bass.

With its heavy arrangement, is one of their most popular tunes, partly because of the dazzling drum riffs Guidry nails with playful proficiency.

The final song they play is “Fake Buddha’s Inner Child” is a lullaby to your inner child.  We have an outer shell he calls the Fake Buddha which says “we can handle this, I’m cool.”  Meanwhile, the inner child is exposed, full of anxiety and depression.  He considers this song to be a “Lullaby to the inner spirit.”  It’s a quieter song with high notes on the bass and a lot of cymbals.

It’s a great quiet ending to a wild set.

[READ: February 10, 2020] 5 Worlds Book 3

The story is magical and fairly complicated with a lot of parts.  But the crux is the dire situation on the five worlds.  Moon Yatta is a desert; Salassandra’s animals are all dying; Grimbo(e) is covered in ocean moss and there are water riots on Toki, where the plant people are dying.  The Mon Domani Elder says that they need to light the beacons on the roof.  The other leaders are less convinced of the need for beacons and some are hostile to the idea.

Behind all of the trouble is a creature known as The Mimic–a super nasty fellow that is able to possess people.

At the end of book two our hero, Oona Lee and her friends An Tzu and Jax Amboy were unable to light the second beacon.  It turns out they have to be lit in a certain order and so they are off to Moon Yatta and the red beacon.

The opening of book 3 is a flashback to what happened to Jax when the escape pod crashed at the beginning of book two.  He was rescued by the Salassi Devoti and one of them put its spirit inside of Jax.  They never thought it would be possible to put a spirit in an android but Uncle Jep had left a space inside of Jax–a space that is perfect for this creature to infuse Jax with life.  Noe Jax is more than he was before.

An Tzu is very excited to go to Moon Yatta because it is the land of the free where they elect their leaders, where hopes and dreams come true.   The citizens hate to break it to him but things are not perfect there–the mimic is there, too.

When they arrive the beautiful lush moon (from An Tzu’s postcard) is now desert wasteland.  It turns out that Stan Moon bought all of the crops.  All water has been diverted to irrigate the Stan Moon fields. Stan Moon also bought the Mon Domani lands which is why Sao Sablo is a slum and why An Tzu’s life has been miserable.

The Red Beacon is in the center of Moon Yatta under a maze of tubes and tunnels.  The beacon is powering everything on the moon. How will they ever get to the beacon through the maze?  An Tzu says an old joke: “The best way to get there is to not start from here.”  Nobody gets it.

When they land on the moon, Oona is a celebrity–the beacon lighter–and they are preparing to introduce them to the Head Citizen.

Felizia is the Head Citizen and she is charming and delightful.  She has a feast for them which makes An Tzu pretty excited.  But she admits that the feast would be even more special if the shapeshifters were allowed to do their transforming dances.  The transforming dances are now illegal–they must wear collars that prevent them from changing shape.  Those who refuse are sent to the ruby desert.

When Oona says she wants to light the red beacon Felizia says, its an election season, they cant go changing things right now.

Felizia’s second in command Brightley whispers that Oona should talk to Eldridge and Derrick Stoak, heads of Nanotex Corporation–they have a bit more sway with the beacons.

The next morning the first order of businesses is getting An Tzu’s disappearing disease looked at.  They find the best doctor in the city and she insists on a large payment before even looking at him.  Moon Yatta is not the land of dreams that An Tzu imagined.

Oona has a similar problem with Derrick Stoak.  He wants to know what she will do for him if he lets her light the beacon–he is a businessman not an idealist.  What he wants most is for Jax A,boy to return to the Starball field–playing for Stoak’s Leaterheads team, of course.  Oon says she will ask Jax but she doesn’t think he’ll agree (and hopes he doesn’t).

An Tzu has started having vision. He comes out of one and believes that Stan Moon is the mimic.

Even Derrick Stoak is concerned is about Stan Moon, but his brother Eldridge thinks that Stan Moon is a great fit for Nanotex.

In order to assist Oona, Jax agrees to play one special Starball game.  But when Jax asks about the beacon, Derrick says too bad.  So Jax refuses to play but Derrick seems to know how to override and control Jax.  Dax still has that spirit in him but Derrick believes his doctors can reset Jax to his original Starball playing self.

Meanwhile, Oona, An Tzu an Ram Sam Sam are in the red maze looking for a way to the beacon and also looking for Etta Zelle, a Yattan Sand Master and shapeshifter.  While they are looking around they meet some street urchins. The urchins recognize Oona as the person who lit the beacons.  Thet tell her that they are rebels although they are all wearing the form-lock collars to prevent them from shapeshifting.

When they try to blast through the maze, they are arrested and sent out to the dessert.  Although it turns out Brightley had them sent to the desert rather than prison so that they could meet Zelle.  Oona confesses to a man there that she needs to find Zelle.  She also weeps a bit that she was in the red maze and couldn’t even summon the fire needed to light the beacon.  The stranger says “perhaps you were too busy–carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders.”  Then the man transforms into Etta Zelle.

Etta Zelle is great, comforting and instructive.  She also confirms that Stan Moon is the Mimic, but even if they kill Stan Moon, the mimic will live on.

Then Etta Zelle shows Oona how to make a portal (it’s pretty amazing).  Oona can’t actually control the portal yet–to rather amusing results.

Back at Nanotex headquarters, the board are talking about the situation on Moon Yatta and Eldridge reveals that they are basically going to be rigging the election in favor of Stan Moon.  The leaders are outraged and don’t want to undermine Yattan democracy.  Mr Tarney says he quits, but as he does so, Stan shapeshifts into a fearsome creature to frighten Mr Tarney into going along with them.   The only one having any misgivings now is Derrick, but he keeps his mouth shut.

Part of the propaganda for Stan Moon comes in the form of Peet Bowl a fat , sweating outraged TV person–this character is so clearly any one of a number of Fox news anchors–hysterical, unhinged and strangely persuasive.    He shouts things like

Our very way of life, our own Yattan way is under siege.

If only he said they would make Yatta great again.

Meanwhile the police track Oona and her crew to he desert  They storm in with the intent on grabbing them all but Etta Zelle and Oona make portals and everyone escapes except Zelle.

Although Derrick is upset about what happened, he still wants to ensure that Jax Amboy is back on board with him.  Soon we see Jax in a commercial urging criminals and rebels to quit and to turn in the beacon lighter.  But before Oona and An Tzu can get too upset, the person who actually reprogrammed Jax finds An Tzu and says that he an be deprogrammed if he says “Do it for Laaniel.”   And so, during the important Starball game, when Jax collapses, An Tzu is able to shout those magic words to him.

As the book comes to an end we see that Stan Moon and Eldridge have created an army of Jax Amboy look-alikes.

When Stan Moon walks away, Derrick asks Eldridge to try out the cryotech pod.  Which he closes up and sends off to the Y-26 System.

He then apologizes to Jax Amboy and sets a bomb amid all the fake Jaxes.

Oona, An Tzu, JAx and Ram Sam Sam are reunited, but before they celebration the election results are in and Stan Moon has won

And this surely has to do with the 2016 election

An Tzu looks at the screen on Stan Moon talking and shouts “Liar! It’s the Mimic!  They elected the Mimic!”  And Oona says “Most wont believe it. Some won’t even care.”

The security forces close in on Oona and her group but she uses some advice that An Tzu gave her earlier to get to the beacon.

The book end with An Tzu’s eyes glowing in a strange way and when they they ask him what he sees, he says Home!

Continued in the next book!

The illustration style continues to be excellent and very trippy–soft and delicate with fine lines and gentle coloring. It looks very anime and yet it’s not.  It’s hard to know which artist’s style dominates.  I feel like Boya Sun, but they all have a similar aesthetic.  I really like the character design as well.  I found it very refreshing that none of the characters look like superheroes (well except for Jax the athlete).  Oona is a short girl who has wide hips and thighs and An Tzu is a chubby boy.  Even the other creatures are all interesting and uniquely designed.

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SOUNDTRACK: OHMME-“Kicking Television” (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.

I will always associate OHMME with Wilco because they opened for Jeff Tweedy when I saw him.

This song sounds immediately like OHMME–their guitars and voices up front and very distinctive.  There’s some intense backing vocals (ahhhhs that sound like The B-52’s) over a spare bass and drum.  They add some of their now patented hocketing for the middle of the chorus (which sounds fantastic) and then come together to harmonize or the “television” part.

The song is manic and wild with some great weird guitar sounds (that are very apt for latter-day Wilco).  But it’s also really catchy.

I love the original of this song.  This version is so different and it’s also fantastic.

[READ: February 10, 2020] 5 Worlds Book 1

This is an ongoing series that is something of an indie supergroup of creators.  Mark and Alexis Siegel wrote the amazing Sailor Twain, Xanthe Bouma draws for The Amazing World of Gumball, Matt Rockefeller illustrated the children’s book Pop, and Boya Sun created the quirky Chasma Knights.  So this was very promising indeed.

The illustration style of this book is very trippy–soft and delicate with fine lines and gentle coloring. It looks very anime and yet it’s not.  It’s hard to know which artist’s style dominates.  I feel like Boya Sun, but they all have a similar aesthetic.  I really like the character design as well.  I found it very refreshing that none of the characters look like superheroes (well except for Jax the athlete).  Oona is a short girl who has wide hips and thighs and An Tzu is a chubby boy.  Even the other creatures are all interesting and uniquely designed.

The story is magical and fairly complicated with a lot of parts.

On the land of Mon Domani, we see a young girl, Oona, with a halo (which turns out to be sand, I think) sitting alone.  Elders pass and say she looks a lot like her sister, but they shall not speak of her.  Oona is in school learning how to do the summoning dance (which has to do with the sand), but she’s not very good at it because she can’t control the sand.  She and her friend practice but when it goes wrong the bratty boys in class call her Oona Oopsa.  When her sand dancer runs off she chases it and overhears something important. (more…)

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chocolateannaSOUNDTRACK: CHICK COREA & GARY BURTON-Tiny Desk Concert #540 (June 13, 2016).

chickI have known of Chick Corea for decades, although I never really knew anything about him.  I’m sure I’ve heard him play at some point (he’s been around since the 1960s), but never so specifically.  And Gary Burton is an unknown quantity to me (although apparently he has played with Corea for years–they recorded their first album together 44 years ago!).

Corea plays a beautiful, fluid jazz piano.  And while his work is really special, it’s actually Burton who I focused on more (at least at the beginning).  Burton plays the vibraphones–with four mallets!  I don’t think I’ve ever seen vibraphones so up close in action before  Apparently the bar can be lifted (which must account for the vibe).

They play two songs, “Love Castle” which is from 1976 and “Crystal Silence” which is from their debut album (1973).

“Love Castle” begins with some great piano and fun soloing on the vibes.  It’s mesmerizing watching Burton hit these bars.  After 5 minutes of intense vibe playing, Corea takes over for solo section for almost 2 minutes before Burton returns (this time providing more background where as the earlier section was more soloing from Burton).  The song is just the two of them for about ten minutes and it’s really something.

“Crystal Silence” is the first song they ever played together.  It opens with some great vibes and then soars and swirls for another t en minutes.  It’s a really cool piece and the crowd is appropriately jazzily appreciative.

[READ: March 1, 2016] Anna Banana and the Chocolate Explosion

This is another First Second picture book (as opposed to graphic novel).  It’s the second in the Anna Banana series.  Once again, I thought the cover illustration was a little sloppy compared to the inside of the book–for many graphic novels I like cover illustrations better than the interior. But this is a picture book so maybe the rules are different.  Nevertheless, both parts are drawn by Alexis Dormal.

Anna is a little girl with a lot of friends: Pingpong the penguin, Grizzler the bear, Zigzag the bunny, Foxface the fox, Whaley the whale and Fuzzball the, well, fuzzball.

Anna’s friends want her to make them a chocolate cake.  But she says she will teach them how to make their own instead. That sounds like a great idea. (more…)

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