Thursday, April 19, 2018

Tunes 51 Through 56 (The Hits Keep Coming)

I was recently listening to Terry Gross' interview with John Oliver on Fresh Air.  During the conversation, John Oliver mentioned that he played viola as a teen.  He said, "The better I got at it, the more frustrating I found playing it because I realized that I could not make the music sound the way I wanted to make it sound. And it was so infuriating because you just feel so impotent.  There were girls that I played with - when they played the violin could make it sound just spectacular. And I knew if I practiced for the rest of my life I would never be able to make it sound like that. So it was that weird situation of as I got kind of good at it the more and more I wanted to smash it into a wall.  When you start being able to technically play the notes of like an incredible piece like the Bach Double Concerto - just one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever written - and playing it at my absolute best I was always butchering it. So it was really, really disappointing to kind of feel that the better I got, it felt like the worse I actually was".

I've experienced this frustration myself.  To overcome that hurdle, I set about writing my own personal repertoire of music to play that is mine and mine alone - little melodies I can play for enjoyment that are free from any genre, style, quality, precedent, example, tradition, expectation or sound other than my own devising.  OK cool.  That's now done.  I have 50+ tunes.  Enough to last a lifetime.

Last month I saw Bill Frisell play in New York City.  With him were Thomas Morgan, Rudy Royston and Eyvind Kang.  The improvised musical repartee that this quartet was able to achieve was both transcendent and discouraging.  The ease at which these guys made music together was an ever present reminder that what I'm doing is something completely different.  To overcome that valley I had to hit the reset button and realize that what I'm doing is something completely different.  So there.

When I reached 50 tunes in February - three months earlier than goal - I gave my mind a break.  However, I'm always going to have a creative drive that can't be turned off.  Fortunately I have an open tap and whether it's a blank page or a musical instrument, shit is going to come out.  It might be shit, but shit is going to keep coming.  That can't be stopped.

Tune number 51 is called Flea Circus.  I had the title before I had the melody, so it was going to be the title of whatever I wrote next.  This is what I wrote and it came to me almost immediately after hearing the Arthur Russell album Love Is Overtaking Me for the first time.

Number 52 is Doro Wat.  In this case I had the melody first.  I stole it almost entirely from the music of Mulatu Astatke who is basically the inventor of Ethiopian Jazz.  Soon after "writing" this music I needed a title and found the words Doro Wat which I learned was an Ethiopian chicken stew.  At my first opportunity I went to an Ethiopian restaurant to sample Doro Wat, and yes it is tasty!

Tune number 53 is called A Weird Drame.  It's a direct result from seeing Bill Frisell in New York.  During his first set that night he played his tune Baba Drame.  That sound stuck with me and the first time I picked up my banjo after returning home a melody very similar to that was the first thing I played.  The same exact notes you hear here.  Before leaving for New York, I had already been working on a little melody that I had hummed while listening to melodica player Augustus Pablo.  In the interest of convenience and synchronicity I forced that Augustus Pablo type melody upon the Bill Frisell/Baba Drame inspired melody.  A Weird Drame indeed.

Number 54 is called Kestrel.  I guess there are four mini parts to it.  It's a combination of things but I can't remember what the genesis was.  Some of it might be from steel drum music.  But steel drums have 55 notes not 54.  I know that one section of this was in my head as I woke up one morning and I played what I had heard in my head on the banjo as soon as I had gotten up and walked downstairs.  The rest of it - or all of it - might be an exercise in trying to make distinctive melodies out of a small amount of notes.

Tune 55 is Now Defunct.  I pride myself on not being able to transcribe by ear very well.  This is how I convince myself that I've written an original melody instead of a direct note for note copy of something someone else came up with.  So hopefully that happened here, although a trained ear might hear a similarity to an obscure composition called Funky Resurgence by Ulysses Crockett.  I noticed that because Funky Resurgance's head melody was my source for Now Defunct, but upon transcribing/writing it I noticed an unexpected similarity to the Phish song Meat.  Cool.  I love stuff like that.  The B-part was just slapped on spur of the moment.  This may be a continuation of the trend to write really simple, sparse melodies with just a few notes.

Finally, tune 56 is called Wanderley.  Six tunes in less than two months might be a fairly fast pace, but it's not as fast as the 50 tunes I wrote over nine months from June 2017 to February 2018.  I don't feel as much pressure to create right now, being content with the 50+ tunes I've got.  I can't even get to all of them in a week now unless I play an average of 8 per day.  Anyway, I had a little melody going based on what sounded to me like the vocal line of the Bad Religion song Operation Rescue.  It was too insignificant to stand on its own so I shelved it temporarily.  Meanwhile I was listening to the Brazilian organist Walter Wanderley and as a result came up with a tropical sounding melody.  I played with some more experimental sounding B and C parts for it, but then I realized that the teeny tiny little Bad Religion based melody could be tacked right on and a simple, fun tune was now in existence.  I would like to welcome Wanderley to the world.

That's all I got for now. 

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Five of the Best Mary Halvorson Albums

Mary Halvorson's Code Girl album came out yesterday and had some coverage on Bandcamp, Spotify and Pitchfork.  Not counting her early duo with Jessica Pavone, this is the first time that Mary has worked with a singer and incorporated vocals directly into her music, so it might also be the first time some folks are becoming aware of this influential guitarist, composer and improviser.  For anyone interested, there's a huge backlog of recordings out there worth checking out.  Dozens, really.  To narrow it down, here are five favorites.


Meltframe (solo)
Mary's long awaited debut solo guitar album does not disappoint.  Make sure you have the volume already turned up to feel the full impact of those opening notes of track 1 - Oliver Nelson's "Cascades" - and then sit back and enjoy the roller coaster ride.

Meltframe is an album of covers. Instead of writing music for solo guitar, Mary decided to interpret other people's songs. The selections span from the well known masters (Ornette Coleman, Duke Ellington, McCoy Tyner), to more obscure figures (Roscoe Mitchell, Annette Peacock) and contemporaries (Chris Lightcap, Tomas Fujiwara).  Meltframe might be may all-time favorite Mary Halvorson LP, however, by the time any of us had heard this, Mary had already moved on.

Secret Keeper - Emerge (duo)
Secret Keeper is Mary's duo project with bassist Stephan Crump.  It's primarily a vehicle for their highly improvised compositions.  The way that you are able to fluidly chat with a really good friend...that's the music that Secret Keeper makes: an in-the-moment bass and guitar conversation that could probably never come out the same way twice. 

If your speakers don't rattle while you're listening to this you need cheaper speakers or more volume.  I like to listen to Emerge in environments where other sounds that aren't on the recording bleed in - birds, sirens, dog barking, wind, clutter on the table getting out of hand.  What type of music is Secret Keeper?  Not a concern.  (Jazz post-rock chamber music...)

Thumscrew (trio)
Thumbscrew is an experimental trio on the fringes of jazz, consisting of Mary Halvorson (guitar), Michael Formanek (double bass) and Tomas Fujiwara (drums).  Their 2014 debut of heavy hitting jazz rocks with a heavy metal attitude.  It's too cohesive to be fully improvised, yet too feral to be entirely composed. 

In Thumbscrew, Mary is matched up with the equally skillful Formanek and Fujiwara, and this work is product of three great listeners working in tandem. If you find it hard to jive with Thumbscrew's inverted groove just give it time. Soon you'll be inverted.

Tomeka Reid Quartet (quartet)
The Tomeka Reid Quartet is led by cellist Tomeka Reid and on this this CD almost all of the compositions were written by Tomeka.  Mary plays more of an accompanist role in this quartet.  Tomeka's tunes are melodic, in the traditional sense, and this ironically provides a unique setting for Mary's signature guitar sound to find its place.  Tomeka and Mary almost have a vague Grappelli / Reinhardt thing going here.

This CD is fairly easily categorized as jazz, and as such it is easily one of the best jazz recordings I've heard in recent years.  You don't have to qualify it by putting into some free or experimental category.  It sits well within the jazz fold.  No worries there.

Mary Halvorson Octet - Away With You (octet)
There have been several recordings in Mary Halvorson's name with her as the band leader: Dragon's Head, Saturn Sings, Bending Bridges, Illusionary Sea.  Each one of those grew in size, depth and impact.  They are all worth hearing, but for now I'm jumping all the way ahead to the Octet.

On Away With You, Mary's up to 8 in the ensemble thanks to the addition of steel guitarist Susan Alcorn.  Away With You might bear an unintentional resemblance to Frank Zappa's large band jazz masterpieces Grand Wazoo and Waka Jawaka.  These compositions are strong.  The arrangements are classic.  Code Girl is where she goes from here.

***

New York City Redo: Just Give Me Something I'm Used To

Caffe Reggio 2017
The getting there might have been different (a 7-hour overnight bus ride last year, a 51 minute flight this year) but the arrival was the same: Greenwich Village, 10:00 on a Saturday morning.  First stop - Caffe Reggio.  Same table as last year.  Same waitress as last year.  She's probably there every day.  Same Classical music playing over speakers.  Exact same furniture, decor, artwork, table setup. Same amount of people in cafe. Same type of people.  I'm probably sitting in the exact same chair.
Caffe Reggio 2018
Noontime.  Entering White Horse Tavern, just like last year.  Is that the same two old-timers sitting at the right of the bar?  They have the same two bottled beers as before, and that one guy is looking at a newspaper again.  Today's newspaper.
That's definitely the exact same bartender.  And yep I'm sitting the same stool at the bar.  Hey there's Dylan Thomas!  Was that cane there last year?  Yep.  It's been there so long no one can remember why.  Guinness still on draft, thank goodness.  "It's getting more popular" says Bob.  More popular than last year(?), I wonder.  Why do large groups of talky goofballs walk in this place, stay for a few minutes and then leave?  So Groundhog Day.
What's the occasion?  Bill Frisell at the Village Vanguard.  Same reason as last time.  Now it's 8pm.  Well at least the Vanguard hasn't changed that much.  There might have been a new poster on the wall.
Set Break
New York City is an organic, constantly shifting organism.  You can't make it bend to your will or even expect it meet expectations.  But somehow for a little while there March 2017 could have doubled for March 2018.


Friday, March 30, 2018

Things are different after you've heard Liquid Liquid


Even though their entire recorded output is covered in less than 25 tracks on the Slip In and Out of Phenomenon retrospective, the early 1980's New York band Liquid Liquid is proving to be quite the important discovery.  Hearing them for the first time this month instantly got my mind working.  I was ready for it.

Here are some early takeaways:

Liquid Liquid's music is rhythm-based and percussion driven.  There is no guitar.  No horns.  Yet somehow still melodic despite having no main melody instrument.

It sounds alien, like a transmission from another world they have not told us of.  Is this the music the Jivaroan tribe would play before shrinking heads?

This is primal, primitive, outsider art.  Urban field recordings.  The musicians aren't even musicians.  They are experimental, minimalist sound artists - throwing beats and yelps at a canvas to see what sticks.

Only amateurs could make music this devoid of intent.

The vocals aren't even vocals.  They are chants, shrieks and undecipherable words.  What the hell is a marimba doing in there and why does it sound so good?

It's way, way OUT.  And grooving and danceable.  Sun Ra meets Talking Heads makes Liquid Liquid.


***

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

A Peak Musical Experience in New York City

I had my sights set on attending the Big Ears Festival in Knoxville, TN this past weekend. But, when it became apparent that my wife and I would only be able to attend for two of the four days and therefore miss certain performers and ensembles I started looking for alternatives to the 7 hour drive to Knoxville.

I then saw that Bill Frisell was going to be at the Village Vanguard in New York City that same weekend. More research revealed flights to New York were cheap for that day, tickets for both of his sets were still available, and what looked like a great little hotel in the West Village had vacancies for that night.  And so it happened.  But as great as Bill's two sets at the Vanguard were, that wasn't the peak musical experience in New York City.

The details aren't important, but after a series of rejected alternatives - as if an unseen hand were guiding me - I ended up in The 55 Bar on Christopher Street at about 5:15pm after having arrived in NYC that morning.  What attracted me to the place was its reputation as a dive bar that dated back to the prohibition era.  It can be difficult to find a cool place after say 4:00 in the afternoon in the Village:  previously empty old man's bars can suddenly become filled with NYU students and loud tourists.

The 55 Bar wasn't like that.  A little after 5pm on a Saturday there were just a few people at the bar, Tom Petty and David Bowie music was playing on the jukebox, and Guinness was on draft.  It was going to be a nice, chill place to hang for a little while before we figured out what to eat before queuing up for Bill Frisell's set at the Vanguard.  Little did I know that less than an hour later I would be seeing and hearing some of the best live music I have ever experienced.

The atmosphere was so nice there at 55 Bar that we didn't want to leave.  The kick-ass lady bartender said there was going to be good music starting soon and that we should stay.  If we needed to eat there was a taco place around the corner where you could get food to go and bring it back in.  So that's exactly what I did.  In the time it takes to pour a Guinness I had gone to pick up four tacos and come back.  A few more people had entered the bar.  And by a few I mean a lot.  The place was suddenly pretty packed.  And before I even noticed a band had started.

I feel dumb saying this but at that time I was only familiar with the band Snarky Puppy by name, so I didn't realize that this "random jazz band" I was checking out featured Michael League (the founder of Snarky Puppy) on bass, Chris Bullock (of Snarky Puppy) on sax, and Ross Pederson on drums (isn't he in that band too?).  I could just tell that these guys were good and that the singer they were backing up was phenomenal.

Her name is Alina Engibaryan.  She's a fantastic songwriter, one of the best jazz singers you've ever heard, and her keyboard makes the most amazing, crunchy vintage sound.  Her music was like a more complex Norah Jones "Come Away With Me".  Here's a snippet I recorded on my phone.  I wish I had recorded the whole set. If you know of a recording of this set please let me know.


Her music is a little more poppy than I'm used to, but having seen the organic live at 55 Bar version I know it's the real deal.  And with that backing band (Michael League, bass; Chris Bullock, saxophone; Ross Pederson, drums), her jazz-informed songs were elevated to a level that was complete ear candy.  The sound in 55 Bar - the acoustics in what is essentially a no-nonsense, no-attitude, cash-only bar - was probably the best I've ever heard in a venue like that.

I guess everybody else must have known just who it was they were watching play, but to me in that moment I was just watching complete unknown musicians make jaw dropingly cool art.  Even though the room was at capacity, with people lined up outside to get in, the vibe in there was respectful, conscientious, and ultra attentive.  We stayed for Alina's entire first set, which caused us to line up later than I would have liked for Frisell.

The line outside the Village Vanguard for Bill Frisell's early set on 3/24/18
It would be hard to say that anywhere in the Vanguard is bad, but where we were seated was not ideal.  None of that mattered when Frisell began.  With him he had Rudy Royston on drums (the secret weapon), Thomas Morgan on bass and Eyvind Kang on viola.  Bill's opening number stretched for well over 20 minutes and that's no exaggeration.  The second tune was really two tunes and the waiter was already bringing by the check for your "one drink" before it ended.

When the set was done the room cleared but we were allowed to stay since I had tickets to both of Bill's sets. We got to sit wherever we wanted this time and chose a little raised up two-top on the right with a fantastic view of the stage.  For the 2nd set I ordered a Long Island Iced Tea and it almost did me in, but I squinted and made it through.  I almost liked Bill's first set better - it had more improv - but in the 2nd set he played this little miniature electric 12-string guitar which was really cool.  And once again, Rudy Royston kicked ass.

Not being super late night people, we headed straight to the room after Bill's 2nd set, which ended after midnight anyway.  It wasn't until I woke up not hungover thank goodness the next morning (who doesn't love New York on a beautiful Sunday morning?) that I started to realize that even though the whole point of the New York trip was to see Bill Frisell, the real musical highlight happened two hours before he played.  I started Googling and only then started to realize who it was that I had seen the night before.  Alina Engibaryan and her band was one of those peak musical experiences - the kind that you always remember.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

The Five Albums That Are Currently Driving My Musical Taste

Lately I've been hearing a sound in my head. That may sound a little crazy, and it is. Instead of ignoring this sound I've gone looking for it.

With Spotify and other digital resources, a person like myself can binge on music the way others can binge a TV show. (I can do that too).  One pratfall of this wormhole is overcoming the ephemeral anxiety that it might be a bottomless well.  You can take the view that there is no edge or limit to our musical world, or you can come to the conclusion that this world is a round one, not flat. It all comes back around.

On the flipside of digital, the return to good old analog vinyl as a music resource can serve as a reminder to slow things down and try and make connections in a more organic way. Vinyl can get costly so you have to be a little selective. I might do loads of crate digging research online, but if I'm going to pull the plug on a $20 or $30 record from a merchant I ought to have a pretty good hunch that it's worth it.

Out of that vinyl foundation, these five records are helping to feed that endless search for the sound.


Sun Ra - Exotica
Exotica is a word that gets used to describe a certain kind of music. You know it when you hear it. Other terms that mean similar things include Lounge, Space Age Pop, Bachelor Pad Music, Tiki Music or Cocktail Music. Exotica was popular in the 1950's and 1960's among a certain demographic that was probably opened up to a post WWII sense of wordly culture and prosperity -- a rapidly expanding awareness of other countries, flavors, rhythms and spices which overlapped with the expanding hi-fi stereo technology that was also tied into the larger world of booming, rapid technology - like the idea of going to the moon in a rocket.  Keep in mind this was all still filtered through a white, middle-class, Disney-like, pre-LSD perspective.

If you start to research Exotica you come across names like Les Baxter, Arthur Lyman and Martin Denny. I've dabbled into these guys' recordings and it might not be what I'm looking. The only reason I'm familiar with those names at this moment is because they are mentioned in the liner notes to the new Sun Ra Exotica compilation.  Honestly, I'd rather just continue listening to Sun Ra's take, which is really just a fantasy-island in the sun among the larger Sun Ra oeuvre.  However, the more I listen to this I think that the folks at Modern Harmonic who put this collection together really hit the nail on the head by calling out Sun Ra's connection to Exotica.  He's not usually recognized as a member of or contributor to this style of music, but you can certainly hear an exotic thread there.

An association with Sun Ra can only help to elevate the neo-coolness of Exotica.  I probably wouldn't be writing about it right now had it not been for this collection.  Thankfully, Modern Harmonic has now released this collection as a 3-LP set on regular old black vinyl for folks who want the luxury of listening to this excellently remastered music on a turntable, but don't want to pay the Black Friday hyped extra cost that colored vinyl brings.

So where does this album lead?  Like anything else once you get to where you want to be you find suitable offerings that open entirely new doors.  Through this Sun Ra compilation I've happened upon the Brazilian organist Walter Wanderly (Rain Forest) who could actually lead around and into the Bossa Nova records of Zoot Sims and Gene Ammons.  There's also a guy named Robert Drasnin who did some delightfully straight-up Exotica (Voodoo I, II, III), as well as more contemporary artists who work out of an Exotica-like base, including Les Hommes, Monster Rally and Creepxotica.  I'm basically a sucker for anything tropical with a vibraphone in it.  I can kind of see how vintage Exotica could morph nowadays into a trippy form of instrumental hip-hop, but that's another story.  Come to think of it, Nels Cline's Lovers double LP (a favorite from 2016) could be seen as a loungey form of Exotica.


Mulatu Astatke - Mulatu of Ethiopia
I found this album by sampling through the many great offerings of Strut Records.  This is African music, but not the African music of King Sunny Ade, Fela Kuti or Manu Dibango. Technically this is Ethiopian-Jazz, which you just know is going to be cool even before you hear it!  "Yeah man, I've been listening to a lot of Ethiopian Jazz lately".  Back in the 1960's this guy Mulatu basically invented a distinct style that came to be known as Ethio-Jazz -- similar to how you can attribute Bluegrass to Bill Monroe or Reggae to Bob Marley.

Mulatu's music could also be pigeonholed into that "world" music category, but ironically it's much more universal than that.  Ethiopian Jazz (AKA Mulatu's music) certainly has its roots in Addis Ababa, but it also has tentacles stretched out to London, New York, the Middle East, and South America.  There's definitely a sophisticated awareness of Modal and Latin Jazz that gets paired with a deep understanding of traditional Ethiopian modes and melodies. At the same time it is the product of a singular vision that was not overly concerned with what was going on with other trends of the time.  It sounds the way Ethiopian food tastes.

Mulatu had few contemporaries. That almost generic Afrobeat/Highlife/Juju type sound that people associate with African music does not sound like Mulatu.  Hailu Mergia's name comes up as a fellow Ethiopian instrumental musician but what I've heard of Hailu is good but not quite the same. Abdou El Amari of Morocco is also awesome but not really related to Mulatu.

It's taken decades but now there are a bunch of bands making music influenced by Mulatu. As a listener, the hard part is distinguishing between what is simply derivative and what is actually unique and inspired interpretations.  So far I like these artists: Atlantis Jazz Ensemble (Canada), Akale Wube (France), Black Flower (Belgium), Pyramid Blue (Spain), Yazz Ahmed (England), and Invisible Astro Healing Rhythm Quartet (California).  Richmond, VA's own Afro-Zen All Stars are a great band that is also directly influenced by Mulatu.  Some more yet to be name-checked Ethio-Jazz inspired bands are on my list to suss out.


Arthur's Landing - Arthur's Landing
Even nerdy music geeks might be asking who/what is this?  Arthur's Landing is actually another product of scrolling through Strut Records' releases.  Arthur's Landing is a loose ensemble of musicians all associated - in one way or another - with a musical pioneer named Arthur Russell.  Who is Arthur Russell you might say?  A year ago I would have been asking the same thing.  The music on this album captivated me so much that I recently took it upon myself to find out.

Basically, Arthur Russell was a guy from Iowa. Ha! Born in 1951, Arthur learned to play the cello as a teenager and yearned for more culture and enlightenment than prairies and grains could offer. He was an Allen Ginsberg or a John Cage trapped in a farmboy's body and existence.  So he ran away from home; first to San Francisco and then to New York where he arrived smack dab in the middle of that early 1970's muck and nirvana that HBO's The Deuce is trying to capture on TV.  Living in New York gave Arthur a concrete backdrop and access to an artistic community that allowed his musical potential to really develop.

From what I've been able to tell, Arthur did his composing and production in the form of written notebooks and lo-fi demo recordings.  His work is strewn across various different short-lived projects, unfulfilled collaborations and pseudonyms.  My guess is that during his creative life Arthur would rather write a new piece of music today than polish up and put out a song written yesterday.  Add to that the fact that Arthur Russell died in 1992 at the very young age of 40 and you have all the makings of a musical guru.

What Arthur Russell did really, really well is he took the common, amped-up bubblegum nature of danceclub Disco and fused it with the high-brow abrasion of New York's experimental music scene.  He did this much to the chagrin of his NYC peers.  A lot of the music Arthur made himself has been coming out posthumously, but where the band Arthur's Landing comes into the picture is they assembled in 2008 for the purposes of presenting Arthur Russell's music in a new light.

On this 2011 recording they really capture the essence of that dance music meets heady music partnership.  The first time I heard it - which was last fall - I was hooked.  It was my official introduction to Arthur Russell by way of musicians who knew him, understood him, respected him, and could do his music justice.

For some reason I thought I might be let down by the real thing so it took me a few months to even check out any actual recordings by Arthur Russell.  I finally listened to Love Is Overtaking Me and it was also a pretty life changing instant.  It didn't sound anything like Arthur's Landing!

Love Is Overtaking Me seems to be the music of a very elite brand of singer-songwriter.  It can be appreciated in the same way that John Prine, Lucinda Williams and Gillian Welch can be appreciated.  There is no real connection to the disco or "new" music that Arthur is known for.  You have to dig farther into Arthur Russell's catalog to find that.  That search is now starting to turn up some bands like Liquid Liquid, ESG, Konk, and Bush Tetras - and I am having fun listening to these groups!  Kind of like a less commercial Talking Heads, I guess.

I'm really quite happily baffled by Arthur Russell!

Those three albums - Sun Ra "Exotica", Mulatu Astatke "Mulatu of Ethiopia" and "Arthur's Landing" - cover the majority of the sound I've been drawn to lately.  Some additional frenetic energy can be bottled up in the following two selections.


Kenny Graham and His Satellites - Moondog and Suncat Suites
This is another case of a band interpreting and arranging a composer's music.  The band in question is Kenny Graham and His Satellites - a group put together by British jazz saxophonist, arranger and composer Kenny Graham for the purpose of playing the music of Moondog, who at the time (1956) was an eccentric, obscure street musician who in-the-know jazz tape traders were just becoming fascinated with.  Prestige records put out official recordings of Moondog in 1956 but those came out after this recording was made.  Interesting.

In the 60+ years since those days, Moondog has gained cult-hero status.  His music can come across as weird at first - and it is perplexing - but it's actually built around pretty simple harmony lines.  Moondog's compositions primarily treat each instrument as independent voices with no traditional chords.

What I like about this Moondog and Suncat Suites LP is it takes Moondog's music and places it in a pretty easily digestible format.  The instruments used include vibraphone, bass clarinet, cello, and tympani drums.  You wouldn't really call this jazz ala 1956 because swing and improvisation are mostly absent.  The time signatures, rhythms, contrapuntal melodies and a general sense of kitsch are at the forefront here.  The 2nd half of the album is Kenny Graham's original music written in the style of Moondog. It holds up quite well, actually.

I definitely hear the influence of Moondog in the band Tortoise, especially their TNT album.

Moondog and Suncat Suites is almost tied back to Exotica.  Moondog and Sun Ra are related in a way - atmospherically if not cosmically.  Another band that has interpreted Moondog's music is Hobocombo.  This Italian trio is worth checking out.  They add a modern twist to Moondog's timeless music.


Augustus Pablo - East of the River Nile
This is not a new one to me.  I had it on CD many years ago and it was one of the first vinyls I got when starting an LP record collection.  I just listened again yesterday and boy the Side A of this record is strong!!!  Augustus Pablo certainly knew what sound he was going for - the heartbeat of the earth apparently.  It's not the most complex music, but it is very enjoyable.  His chosen instrument is the melodica, which you could put into a novelty category like the steel pan, kalimba or K-Board.  I can relate to that.

I haven't found much instrumental Jamaican/reggae music made before or since East of the River Nile that can match the essence distilled here.  I need to check out more Augustus Pablo.  Maybe also some Mad Professor, Dub Colossus, and Soul Sugar. There's a German(?) band called Bacao Rhythm and Steel Band whose album 55 is a bit of a jump but there is a connection to what Augustus Pablo was doing.

Those are the five albums.  This covers a lot but not everything, obviously.  There's a bunch of funk and groove type music in my ears recently that may or may not fit into anywhere mentioned above.  Bands like Bixiga 70, Soul Jazz Orchestra, Orchestra Baobab, Magic In Threes, Sure Fire Soul Ensemble, Ikebe Shakedown, Polyrhythmics.   Oh jeez, I've also been enjoying the old school Soul, Gospel, Rhythm and Blues of Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone and The Impressions.  Plus the music of Guadeloupe and Martinique.  That is most definitely not covered in the above.  Make it stop!!!!


Friday, March 2, 2018

Could Sun Ra Be Your Next Music Obsession?

Sun Ra's music has what it takes to be a lifelong obsession.  Music for the long haul.
His Catalog is Deep
Over 125 albums.  Over 40 years of output.  Over 500 compositions.  However, with new compilations and vinyl re-issues being put out, along with digital streaming options by the dozens, Sun Ra's music has never been more readily available.  The future is catching up to him.

His Personal Brand and Philosophy is Fascinating
Sun was from outer space - Saturn to be exact.  As an alien of the angel race, Sun Ra was dedicated to spreading peace on planet earth.  His interplanetary consciousness included elements of Egyptology, cosmology, numerology, the occult, the bible, black civil rights, gematria, ancient cultures, the space age, word play, and more.

His Music is Weird, But Not As Weird As You Think
There's a misconception that Sun Ra is freeform, freakout music.  Despite its cosmic outward presentation, much of Sun Ra's music is rooted in jazz - big band, hard bop and trad.  It doesn't stop there though.  If you were to put all of his recorded music on shuffle play you'd hear a range of exotica, doo-wop, deep groove, ambient, trance-like drones, ritual drumming, Moog synthesizer ditties, chants, straight-ahead sophistication and yes, plenty of out there sounds as well.  It can be very challenging to consume in the beginning.  Eventually it all just becomes part of the Sun Ra Omniverse.

He's the Original DIY Artist - Punk Before Punk
Lo-fi.  Indie.  Primitive.  Self-made.  Home made.  Found sounds.  Non-conformist.  Experimental.  Playing instruments you don't know how to play.  Pressing and releasing your own records.  Waking up.  Staying awake.  Prolific recording at all hours of the day and night.  Playing anywhere and everywhere.  Military/monkish levels of discipline, devotion and rehearsal.  Not the mainstream.  Why did he record and put out that?

Sun Ra took his spirit music to great lengths.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Why Money Jungle Might Be My Favorite Jazz Album


Money Jungle might be my favorite jazz album.  Here's why:

Time Period
It seems like a favorite jazz album should be from a certain time period where jazz was at its height developmentally and creatively.  That period is probably between the mid-50's and the mid to late 1960's.  Any earlier than that and it's either naive or chaotic.  Any time after 1967 or 1968 it just feels late to the party.  Money Jungle is from 1962.

Recorded In One Day
Like a lot of great jazz sessions, Money Jungle was recorded in one day.  Three individual jazz giants - Duke Ellington, piano, Charles Mingus, bass, and Max Roach drums - got together on September 17, 1962 in New York's Sound Makers Studio to make music.  It captures the music made in that moment.  Warts and all.  There's nothing polished about it other than the skill and life experiences each participant brought with them that day.

Tension and Aggression
Money Jungle is synonymous with tense, aggressive playing.  This notoriety work's in the album's favor.  It's not often you hear musicians playing this way.  These guys are definitely not always agreeing but somehow making discord sound very appealing. Sometimes it's a mess.  Sometimes it doesn't click.  Those become attributes.  There's a good amount of space between this tension though.

The Participants
Duke Ellington would have been 63 years old when this recording was made.  Charles Mingus was 40 and Max Roach was 38 - not exactly newbies but definitely of a different mindset than their elder Mr. Ellington.  In Ellington's outspoken playing on Money Jungle you can hear the whole history of jazz.  Meanwhile, Max Roach's drumming is always right on allowing for Mingus to dance freely.

The Improvisational Style
Often in jazz what passes for group interaction is just a dude waiting for his turn to solo.  However, on Money Jungle the piano, bass and drums improvise collectively.  Collective improvisation is an aspect of early jazz and somewhere along the way it lost out to extended soloing.  Not here.  This is equal parts collective and improvised.  The structure of the song but a sketch, how you get there unknown.  Music for music's sake.

The Instrumentation
A trio format seems like the right number of instruments for a jazz ensemble.  With three instruments you can cover the rhythm, the harmony and the lead melody.  Here we have piano, bass, drums.  Two of those three instruments are percussion instruments - drums and piano.  Two of those three instruments can handle the low end - bass and piano.  And three of those three instruments can switch roles on the fly.  The way these sounds interact is worth paying attention to.
Right Time Right Place
Money Jungle hit me at the right time and right place.  I was ready to claim it as my favorite.  It's an unusual but not unlikely choice.  I'm definitely not an educated jazz listener, or a savvy listener, or even an experienced listener.  It sounds right until proven wrong.  Hey wait a second, what album is this?  Oh right the Duke Ellington and John Coltrane album recorded 9 days after Money Jungle.  My bad.  It's so silky, smoothie smooth.




Thursday, February 15, 2018

Formative Years for Music

People tend to look back fondly on the music they discovered during formative years - teens and early twenties.  Lately I've been wondering if the same is true for me and I suppose it is.

The music I was interested in uncovering during my teens was the music of a generation earlier: Janis Joplin, The Byrds, James Taylor, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, The Eagles, Eric Clapton, and Hank Williams Jr.  I had cassettes by each of these.  That soon led to The Grateful Dead, John Prine, Norman Blake, The Allman Brothers and Little Feat.

It wasn't until the jambands came along that I started taking an interest in current music.  Phish, moe. and Leftover Salmon were the first ones to grab me.  By age 24 - when the acquisition of musical tastes peaks - my favorite bands would have likely been The Grateful Dead, Phish, moe., Leftover Salmon, and Medeski Martin and Wood.

I still have a great appreciation for that music today.  However, not represented in the groups listed above is the music I took great lengths to learn about from the categories of folk, blues, bluegrass, Americana and world music.  I owned an early printed copy of the All Music Guide and would pore through it to discover CDs to get - everything from The Red Clay Ramblers, to Cephas and Wiggins, and Fairport Convention.  A pursuit of this type of music has stuck with me.

The main difference between now and then is jazz.  Once upon a time, I didn't give myself the opportunity to appreciate jazz.  However, over the last 15 years, by fits and starts, I've let that become a primary interest.  In today's world, for the cost of a monthly subscription fee, a motivated listener could spend several weeks going through every important jazz album from 1954 to 1967, and in the process develop an individual take on what's really important.

It's funny that 25 years ago it was the rock music of the late 1960's and 1970's and now in the future it's gone even farther back.  Why just this morning I was listening to Washington Phillips.


This article was written while listening to Nefertiti by Miles Davis.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

50 Tunes in Less Than Nine Months!

I had a goal to write 50 tunes in one year.  The first tune of the 50, Toca Paseo, was completed on June 14, 2017.  The 48th tune, Frosted Cherry, was written on January 31, 2018.  In a little over 230 days I had come up with 48 new tunes to play.  Just two more to go.

I spent the first few days of February in a state of malaise, with subtle waves of illness making their presence known.  Although I never fully succumbed to whatever malady was horning in, it did stifle my interest in playing music and being creative for a few nights.  Instead of holding a banjo, I just wanted to hold a book and then go to sleep.  Some part of me may have been wanting to delay this process to hold on to the chastity of a project nearing consummation.

More and more, I've been applying words to a melody - a syllable for each musical note to use as a reminder.  I hadn't tried it the other way around - adding a melody to words - but I knew that for one of my last two tunes I wanted to try doing that for a Marosa di Giorgio poem.

The Curtis Mayfield/Impressions song People Get Ready had been stuck in my head recently.  With that in mind, early in the morning on February 8th I opened the Marosa di Giorgio book of poems I Remember Nightfall to page 197 and all of a sudden the words on that page began to sing.  It begins:  All of a sudden, gladioli were born. In a high place, in the North. I know that there are red gladioli, and blue, and black gladioli. Around my house there are only white ones.  I begin to walk toward them.  

Just like that I had found the poem I needed for inspiration.  I extracted a few other lines from the poem and in a manner of minutes had arranged these words on a scratch pad and appointed musical notes for each syllable, without concern for scale or theory or form.  I left for work thinking that I would edit later, but by evening the notes I had selected that morning seemed to solidify.  All of a sudden, there were gladioli.

Gladioli

Getting over the complex hump of tune number 49 made me want to make tune number 50 as effortless and lighthearted as possible.  Upon re-listen to Steve Earle's The Mountain, I took notice of the little instrumental track Connemara Breakdown with new ears.  It's sort of a bluegrass/Celtic mandolin tune, with possible similarities to Red Haired Boy.  

Yesterday morning I played around with the same general theme and came up with something similar, but different.  To add a little meat to it I referred to some scribbling from the night before based on a melody from Jean Ritchie's Folk Songs of the Southern Appalachians.  It all fit and as simple as that, without overthinking it, I had tune number fifty.  

To give this tune a name, I thought back fondly on the tiny Irish village of Roundstone in the Connemara region that I had visited twice over a decade ago.  On one night there in Roundstone I might have set a personal record for most Guinness consumed in one "sitting", but that's another story that I'll have to hash out later.

This Irishy sounding tune provoked Laura to get out her bodhran for the first time in over a year and play along.  A mini Cardinal Puffin reunion of sorts.  I hit record to capture the moment.

Roundstone

What happens now?  I suppose I continue to enjoy the 50 tunes I've written, but also consider it done and start a whole new batch of tunes.  No need to rush though. 


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Saturday, February 10, 2018

Steve Earle's Song By Song Description of The Mountain

After spending a few years removed from it, I had the urge to listen to Bluegrass music this week.  The first album I turned to was The Mountain, Steve Earle's 1999 masterpiece that featured the Del McCoury Band as his backing band.  As I listened to it I realized that for me, this is my all-time favorite bluegrass CD.

Other top contenders for favorite bluegrass album include Manzanita by Tony Rice, Hot Rize's self-titled first album, Old and In The Way's self-titled first album, and Aero-Plain by John Hartford.  I could go on, but you can tell I'm not exactly a purist.  The Mountain has a slight edge up on all of these for me.


Here are some liner notes and a track by track description of The Mountain written by Steve Earle.

Steve —
I wish I were as sure about anything as Bill Monroe was about everything.

Of course, Mr. Bill came by his self-assurance honestly.  He alone, as far as I know, could claim to have single-handedly invented an American art form.  We are a "democratic" society, don't you know, where musical idioms are normally arrived at by committee.  The great Bob Wills merelydefined western swing at the helm of the Texas Playboys, after serving apprenticeships with Milton Brown's Brownies and the Lightcrust Doughboys.  The race to invent rock and roll ended in a dead heat between two outfits, one working in Memphis (Elvis Presley, Scotty Moore and Bill Black) the other in Chicago (Chuck Berry, Willie Dixon, Johnny Johnson, Jasper Thomas and Jerome Green).  Not that "the Father of the Bluegrass Music" didn't have influences.  There was of course his uncle, Penn Vandiver, and the other local musicians he grew up listening to in Kentucky as well as people he heard on records.  I find it hard to believe that Mr. Bill never heard the late, great blues mandolin player from Mississippi, Yank Rachele.  In any case, when Bill Monroe switched from guitar to mandolin he decided that he was going to play his newlyadopted instrument like no one else had ever played it before — and he did.

This is my interpretation, to the best of my ability and with all of my heart (as well as the assistance of the best bluegrass band working today) of the music that Bill Monroe invented.  Some of it I think he would have approved of ("why that's a fine number").  Some of it probablyhas him turning over in his grave ("That there ain't no part of nothin' ").  Of course that's all speculation.  I do know this — Mr. Bill was very kind to me whenever we met during what turned out to be the last few years of his life.  In December of 1995 he honored me by walking out, uninvited, on to the stage of the Tennessee Performing Arts Center twenty minutes into my show and remaining to sing five or six songs with Peter Rowan, Roy Huskey, Jr., Norman Blake and myself.  It was the biggest thrill of my life.  When I look back now, I believe this record was reallyborn that night.

My primary motive in writing these songs was both selfish and ambitious — immortality.  I wanted to write just one song that would be performed by at least one band at every bluegrass festival in the world long after I have followed Mr. Bill out of this world.  Well, we'll see.

The Mountain:  track by track
I've been asked to sort of breakdown where the bodies are buried on these songs, basically because I made the mistake of doing it before and everyone thought it was cute...

Texas Eagle:  Every single word of this song is true.

Yours Forever Blue:  Every other word in this song is not.  My Jimmy Martin impression.

Carrie Brown:  This song went through several rewrites and three different melodies.  It was important to me to include at least one real-live-bad-tooth-hillbillymurder ballad on this record.

I'm Still In Love With You:  Merle Haggard says Iris DeMent is one of the "best damn singers" he's ever heard. I agree.  She's also one of the best songwriters I know.  I was standing in the audience at a festival in Australia last year listening to Iris sing and I decided right then and there I was going to write something for us to sing together.  My obsessions are becoming more practical in my old age.

The Graveyard Shift:  We had to have a blues.  That's what the "blue" in bluegrass is all about.

Harlan Man / The Mountain:  These two songs were conceived as a kind of suite - one set in the past and one in the present.  Harlan Man (past) itself is a rock song on bluegrass instruments.  The Mountain is one of the best songs I've ever written.

Outlaw's Honeymoon:  I wrote this tune a couple of years ago for a great film called Niagara, Niagara.  Then the producers said they would have to have the publishing on the song and I told them to kiss my Texas ass.  I recorded a solo version of it for El Coraz√≥n which sucked.  It's finallyfound a home here, I think.

Connemara Breakdown:  A little mandolin tune I made up.  Basically, bluegrass fantasy camp.

Leroy's Dustbowl Blues:  Your basic pinko folk song at bluegrass velocity.  Gene Wooten digs into that dobro and Del peels the paint off the walls — god, I love my job.

Dixieland:  I stole this character from the late Michael Shaara's The Killer Angels, the best civil war novel I've ever read.
Paddy on the Beat:  Do you detect an Irish theme developing?  Oh well, maybe the next acoustic record….

Long, Lonesome Highway Blues:  Wherever you go - there you are.

Pilgrim:  I wrote this the morning of Roy Huskey's funeral because I couldn't think of anything else to sing.  When we got everybody together to sing it and listened to the playback - all the girls cried.  Us men-folk all made mental notes to cry later.

One more thing.  This is not my last bluegrass record.  I make a lot of different kinds of records because I write a lot of different kinds of songs and I'm a writer, first and foremost.  As I get older and more set in my ways however, this format becomes more comfortable all the time.  More everyday, this is my favorite kind of music.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

January's Tunes: Numbers 40 Through 48

I'm getting close to reaching my goal of writing 50 tunes in a year. Very close. There's 48 now in a span of 8 months.  In January I added 9 new pieces of music.

Goodbye Carnival
If I achieve this goal of writing and playing my own tunes, then a possible negative is giving up the Caribbean melodies I had been playing for enjoyment.  So Goodbye Carnival (and Domovoi from the month prior) is an attempt to carry over elements of those Caribbean tunes into this new format while also leaving them behind.

Tropical Tango
You can see this Caribbean trend continuing in the naming of this tune at least: Tropical Tango.  When I was writing it I wasn't concerned with what key or what scale/mode I was using.  I intentionally didn't analyze it and just let the notes fall and resolve where they wanted to.  I naturally ended up with a very common scale (the Major scale) in an unusual key (F#).  The B-part might have an unintentional Beatles similarity.

Latin Lover
Domovoi (12/29/17), Goodbye Carnival (1/1/18), Tropical Tango (1/4/18), and Latin Lover (1/6/18) were all written within a span of 10 days so they feed into each other.  Latin Lover might be more in a Slavic/Balkan territory than the Caribbean, but the first time I played it the name Latin Lover was assigned.

Goner
On 12/29/17 Phish played an exceptional version of their song Chalkdust Torture. At about the 16-minute mark Trey goes into a really fetching melody that is reminiscent of Homeward Bound by Simon and Garfunkel.  Those few measures stuck in my head and I found myself playing similar notes on the banjo - the beginnings of a new tune. I kept hearing the words "Gone, just like a train" in the melody. That is of course the title of a Bill Frisell album which I then listened to.  The 2nd track on Gone Just Like A Train is called Verona, and I took part of the Verona melody and did my normal mixture of getting it wrong and further tweaking.  Now I had a B-part and an A-part...another tune!  Meanwhile, during all this process I was also hearing and playing a melody that is similar to a section of The Grateful Dead's Scarlet Begonias. I slapped that on as the 3rd part and voila - a three part tune!

The Fox That Was Too Foolish
My whole point with writing my own repertoire is to have tunes that are uniquely my own, but it's also fun to carry over aspects of my favorite music into this format.  That's what I've done here with The Fox - perhaps too obviously.  This is definitely veering into Scents and Subtle Sounds territory, but it toys with that spirit just enough to veer in and out of it.  As an aside, I've been loving my K-Board recently.  It's such a fun instrument to play!

Brown Eyed Rig
When I first started playing a musical instrument - tenor banjo - back in 2006 one of the first things I instinctively did was try to write an "original" tune called Brown Eyed Jig, based on the melody to Beautiful Brown Eyes.  Eleven years would go by before I tried writing anything else.  A couple weeks back I found that year 2006 tab for Brown Eyed Jig and realized that by combining some portions, changing the key, and changing the rhythm from a jig to more of a rag, then I could have something of interest.  That became the B-part to this new tune called Brown Eyed Rig.  The A-part I added on 1/18/18 was fairly effortless, and a surprisingly good fit if you overlay them.

Montegno Cedeno
My tunes are instrumentals, but I've found that by adding phonetic, top-of-mind lyrics to them I can better remember how they sound.  Basically, each note in the melody equates to a syllable in the words I insert as reminders.  Sometimes now the rhythm of the words comes first.  That happened here with "Montegno Cedeno, the merchanteer", or "Montegno Cedeno, a merchant she".  It doesn't have to mean anything other than the sound it makes.  More syllables/notes followed "Danced for the guard-yun of the Redwood tree" / "Trained with the master of the Wu tai chi".  The B-part - where I heard the words "the soul of the sphere, the soul of the sphere, pumpkin of the patchwork, the giant hunts the deer" - matched up to portions of King Pharoah's Tomb by STS9.

Coffee and Tea
This whole time now I've been wanting to write something in 6/8 time that could be thought of as being jig-like.  That might have happened with Coffee and Tea.  Better yet, I was able to incorporate a minor-key vibe I had been wanting to laud.  I can tell where I got the second half of the tune from, but the first half is cloaked in a mystery that even I can't unpack.

Frosted Cherry
That was going to be it for January, but then Frosted Cherry turned up.  I already had the name Frosted Cherry and was fairly certain that my next tune - to be written in February 2018 - was going to be called that.  However, it got written and completed by January 31st.  It's so diluted that even Trey Anastasio may not be able to find it, but some of the notes in the first part of this tune are lifted directly from the Phish song Horn.  The B-part is lifted from what I believe to be a super obscure track called Margarita by Honore Bienvenu Et Son Orchestre from a record called Zouk Vol. 1. Together they are Frosted Cherry.  To record this example of it, I downloaded an app called SampleTank, randomly found the sound Synth Flute and recorded the first (and second) takes.

I'm at 48 tunes now.  I expect to write the last two this month, and already have ideas for those.  Then I'll have 50 and be done, right? 









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Thursday, January 25, 2018

Lucky Streak When It Comes To Books

I would read at least a book a week as a teenager.  I'm not a very fast reader so that was a pretty good pace for me.  It was mostly authors like Dean Koontz, Stephen King and Clive Cussler.  Nothing all that special about that.

Then in my 20's this pace slowed, but when I did read a book it was by writers like Paul Auster, Haruki Murakami, Raymond Carver and Kurt Vonnegut.  The type of stuff a guy born in in the 1970's might read during his twenties.

During my 30's it was more likely to be some type of non-fiction work or short story collection than a 300 or 400 page novel.  These were perused but maybe not always read cover to cover.  This intimidation or aversion toward reading fiction/novels was continuing into my forties, but I may have started to turn it around.

Over the last two months I've read over six books.

Spy Novels: Red Sparrow and Palace of Treason by Jason Matthews
It had been a long time since I had read books like this but the timely plot of this contemporary series, involving Russian and American spies, broke the ice.  It took a little effort on my part to get into this type of writing style, but once I did I very much enjoyed these books.  I read these back to back, which was about a 900 page commitment, so completing that task in a couple of weeks around Thanksgiving opened the door to a new routine of carving out time for book reading each day, and looking forward to that time.  The third book in this trilogy, called The Kremlin's Candidate, comes out soon!

Failed Novel Turned Memoir: Bleaker House by Nell Stevens
I saw this book on NPR's list of the best books of 2017 and decided to check it out.  Twenty-seven year old Nell Stevens placed herself in the not-so-idyllic setting of the Falkand Islands with the hope that this desolate place of no distractions would provide the perfect environment for writing her debut novel. What came out is a book about not being able to write that book.

Fantasy: The Bear and The Nightingale by Katherine Arden and The Language of Thorns by Leigh Bardugo
Traditional Fantasy series have never been a primary genre of interest for me but I’m beginning to think it should be. I have a soft spot for folk tales, and original re-tellings of folk tales, and that’s kind of what The Bear and the Nightingale is. It’s a fairy-tale like story set in 14th century Russia. The domovoi – a house spirit from Slavic folklore – even makes an appearance in this book! The next book in this series is The Girl in the Tower, and I plan on reading it soon.

The Language of Thorns: Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic is a stand-alone book of six stories set in the same universe as some of the other fantasy books Leigh Bardugo writes, but are styled to be more like the fairy tales or campfire stories that the persons in that universe might tell.  You don't need to have read her Six of Crows duology or Shadow And Bone trilogy to enjoy these creative tales that feel as if they really could be folk tales from her Grishaverse.

Old Myths and Modern Day Fables: Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman and Stories For Nighttime And Some for The Day by Ben Loory
Surprisingly, Norse Mythology is the first Neil Gaiman book I have read, but I absolutely loved it. I’ll be reading more books by Gaiman for sure. These stories were fantastic so it made me curious about how much of that is Neil Gaiman and how much of that is the source material itself?  The answer is a lot of both.  I have since picked up a copy of the excellent Norse Myths: Tales of Odin, Thor and Loki by Kevin Crossley-Holland and can tell that Gaiman's versions are very faithful to the original tales (which are always open to interpretation), but he adds just enough flavor and personal style to make it an all-time favorite.

I'm also thinking that Ben Loory's Stories For Nighttime And Some for The Day will be an all-time favorite.  These stories kind of remind me of Russell Edson poems with more narrative arc. They are just as visual as a Jack Handey Deep Thoughts.  Some have described these short stories - approximately a thousand words each - as fables for the modern world.  Loory does have a very soothing, almost childlike writing style that can sometimes mask the darkness and anxiety lying beneath the surface of these dreamlike delicacies.  I just started his new book of stories called Tales of Falling and Flying and it's equally as good.

I had forgotten how much fun it is to turn the TV off, avoid the internet, put down the mobile device, and simply spend an hour or two reading a book.  I hope this trend continues.