Thursday, December 31, 2009

A Bowie and Bing Christmas

From September 1977, this is bizarre and yet quite endearing.

(HT: Shira Burton.)

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The New York Times Gets Snaptastic

In a recent Allan Kozinn piece, he really served up a couple of snap-burgers.

From the start of the story:
Lincoln Center is undertaking a grand renovation, with Alice Tully Hall as the first building to be refurbished. When the revamped hall opened in February, the priorities became clear: Now it has a beautiful public space (mostly a restaurant) and a rich new veneer. But what had been Lincoln Center’s most comfortable hall, and the least problematic acoustically (it had been a little dry), was transformed into a space that feels cramped and industrial, and has virtually no acoustical resonance.
And OK, maybe that's just factual. But dig what comes later:
Just before Lorin Maazel conducted Mahler’s Eighth Symphony to close his chapter of the New York Philharmonic’s history in June, he spoke briefly about his tenure in New York, saying that “seven years ago, seven years seemed like an eternity.” He could not have put it better: his seven years on the Philharmonic podium seemed like an eternity from this end too.
Boo-yah, Lorin Maazel! Watch out!

The actual article, by the way, describes a lot of cool collaborations going on in the contemporary classical world by folks like the awesome Alarm Will Sound.

The New York Phil Goes Miller Theatre

To delve into contemporary classical music for a moment here, I was intrigued by Anthony Tommasini's review of the New York Philharmonic's first Contact! concert at Symphony Space. In many ways, the set-up of the concert reminded me of Miller Theatre, since the venue is of about the same size and interviews with the composers were emphasized.

All-in-all, Tommasini indicates that it was a well-received concert:
Listeners of all ages, including lots of eager-looking young people, filled the hall. Audience members chatted animatedly during intermission, swapping reactions to the first two pieces.
After Tommasini knocks composer and conductor Magnus Lindberg for his interviewing skills when it came to his talk with composer Marc-Andre Dalbavie -- go ahead, Tony, say it, "He's no George Steel, but..." -- he praised Dalbavie's piece in no uncertain terms:
Still, the music was mesmerizing. Mr. Dalbavie has an acute ear for lush colorings and pungent, post-tonal harmonies. This pensive work evolves in fragments and gestures, with strands of chantlike melody interspersed with sustained sonorities and tremulous colorings. In one unexpected, exhilarating outburst, the instruments break into a kind of free-for-all toccata.
And then he concludes the review with a great description of Arthur Kampela and his music.

I've known Arthur Kampela mostly as a Miller Theatre patron (where he often would be dragging his young son to hear contemporary classical concerts). I always found him an engaged listener and a pleasant patron of the theatre. I knew he was a composer (and had heard rumors of his rocking out on guitar), but I think I've only ever heard one of his pieces of music and a brief one at that.

For this concert, Tommasini recounts,
Arthur Kampela, a Brazilian-born New Yorker and a gregarious talker, was a hit with the audience as he explained that his piece, “Macunaíma,” was inspired by a 1928 novel that follows the exploits of a fantastic young man, loosely based on Amazonian folklore. The character, born black with the capacity to turn white, winds up a mystical entity, a “constellation of pleasure,” as Mr. Kampela put it.

The piece came across as a restless, wildly colorful but rather messy romp. Imagine a makeshift work by a Brazilian Ives. At the start, half a dozen players with colorful hand drums walked slowly up the aisles in the hall and joined the ensemble onstage. Soon everyone broke into a rowdy din of frenetic rhythms and every-which-way riffs. At one point some players went behind a curtain, where you heard them playing bits of marching-band music and laughing.

There may be a real piece in “Macunaíma” somewhere. I would like to hear it again. It was certainly fun for the players, who were good sports, and for the audience, which whooped during the ovation.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Winkle Gathering

I was reading the New York Times obituary for John Storm Roberts, a noted world music scholar.

The last paragraph in the obit is a quotation from Roberts about the type of music that he was willing to put out on his Original Music label:
“I don’t care how esoteric it is, but it’s got to be terrific,” he said. “Not this ‘you-can’t-hear-it-and-it’s-terribly-performed-but-it’s-really-very-interesting-because-it’s-the-only-winkle-gathering-song-to-come-out-of-southeastern-Sussex’ attitude.”
When my cursor lingered over the underlined "winkle-gathering," the floating text that popped up said, "Yes, there really is such a thing. Here is a picture of it."

Pretty cheeky for the Old Grey Lady, no?

The link goes here.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

WKCR's Annual Bach Fest Approaching

WKCR has a new (and possibly improved) website! Look at that.

The big news, of course, is that the annual Bach Festival starts on Monday -- J.S. Bach around-the-clock for 10 straight days!

This year, the focus is on Bach Around the World, and I think that they'll sneak in a little Bach on the banjo at some point, so keep your ears open for some Collegium Bela Fleck in between the Bach Collegium Japan and Collegium Vocale Gent.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Appropriating Magnetic Fields' Songs for Political Commentary

Sarah reminded me today of the "Hey, Paul Krugman (A Song, A Plea)" that we covered back in March here on Sound of Blackbirds. When I watched it again, I was pointed to this commentary on Krugman and Obama's sometimes difficult relationship.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Lucy Wainwright Roche in Chicago

I'm live-blogging from Lucy's CD line. Really.

She just put on a great opening set here at the Old Town School of Folk Music - lots of laughter and a sing-a-long.

She opened with a quick ditty but then really opened up the show with Richard Shindell's 'Next Best Western.'

We sang along on Bruce Springsteen's 'Hungry Heart' - although Lucy had to tell us that we were not living up to the level of the early show to get us going. Lucy had a great story about being back stage at a festival watching Neko Case, having some guy bump into her accidentally, doing the double-take when she realized it was Bruce Springsteen and then being too shy to pass along the CD with 'Hungry Heart' on it.

'A&E' about a date that ends up in the emergency room and a really strong song about Chicago rounded out the set.

Over the Rhine is up next.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Off-Duty Santas

This website has photos of "off-duty Santas." Number three is folk festival favorite ASL interpreter Dave McCloskey!

(HT: Blythe Sheldon.)

New Two Man Gentlemen Band CD

I just love the cover on the new Two Man Gentlemen Band disc -- it looks like a classic jazz recording (which it very well might be actually).

Of the CD, the Gents say:
Serious Business Records announces the release of "LIVE in NEW YORK!", the fifth full-length recording from The Two Man Gentlemen Band! Recorded in the Summer of '09 in a packed, steamy SoHo loft, the record captures all the fiery, sweaty, non-stop action that is a Two Man Gentlemen Band concert.

For the month of December, the CD is available exclusively through the Serious Business Records website.


The album will be available digitally (iTunes, Amazon, etc.) on Jan 12th and at all Two Man Gentlemen Band recitals in 2010.

Gentlemen in your stocking? That does sound nice, doesn't it?
Sounds naughty to me, actually, Gentlemen...

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Back to School with Robin & Linda Williams

Today Robin & Linda Williams brought Their Fine Group (featuring Jim Watson on bass and Tony Williamson on mandolin) to Armatage School in South Minneapolis for a great afternoon concert, starting off high energy as ever...

- Old Plank Road (kick-ass version with some sweet mando solos)
- I'll Be Coming Home for Christmas
- Old Toy Trains (before this, Robin declared it was Miller time--Roger Miller time. He also told a story of doing a duet of "Chug a Lug" with soprano Maria Jette. "I don't think she knew it was about moonshine.")
- The First Christmas Gift
- Rise Up Shepherd and Follow (with 2 mandolins, banjo and harmonica--very nice!)
- Feed My Sheep (dedicated to Mike Seeger--one of the highlights)
- Invisible Man (nice singing by Linda)
- A Virgin Most Pure (a capella)
- Brightest and Best
- Shotgun Shells on a Christmas Tree (following Jim Watson's ever hilarious pitch for the Robin & Linda Williams and Their Fine Group Boutique)

After a nice break where folks perused CDs, air fresheners and jar openers, the band returned for another fine set...

- Nothing But a Child (the Steve Earle song)
- On a Quiet Christmas Morn
- Together All Alone (with real nice bluesy mando solo)
- Breaking Up Christmas
- Last Train to Poor Valley (Norman Blake song inspired by June Carter Cash's stories of the Carter family Christmases in Poor Vslley)
- Maybelle's Guitar and Monroe's Mandolin
- Saving My Place (after some funny stories about Linda's aunts and uncles)
- Silent Night All Day Long
- Mary Had a Baby

Following a very enthusiastic encore: Just As Long As You Love Me (with special lines about spending Christmas in Minneapolis)

After catching up with Robin, Linda and the boys, I stopped by the Fine Group Boutique on the way out and picked up a jar lid opener. Jim Watson was very happy.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

RIP Jack Cooke (1936 - 2009)

I was sad to see the news that longtime Clinch Mountain Boy Jack Cooke passed away on Tuesday.

Jack played with the Stanley Brothers briefly in 1955 and then -- as is perhaps often forgotten -- spent four-and-a-half years as one of Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys. In 1970, he rejoined the Clinch Mountain Boys and has been a regular and much-loved feature of Ralph Stanley's shows ever since then. (As Ralph almost always would note, Jack was also the mayor of his hometown of Norton, Virginia, in 1963.)

I rather liked Jack's 2006 solo release Sittin' on Top of the World. He did a really nice job with "Gotta Travel On" and "My Little Georgia Rose," and the disc captured the two songs that he most frequently sang during Clinch Mountain Boys shows -- the title track and "Long Black Veil."

A big hats off to the man on the bass fiddle. Thanks for all the great music, Jack!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Amazing Origami

Eric Joisel does some pretty ridiculous origami -- for paper sculpture, it's really quite out of control.

Of interest to readers here might be his exquisite series of musicians.

(HT: Jayne Chu.)