Archive | April, 2010

Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head

29 Apr

Light posting these last few weeks – there’s been plenty to write about, but I’ve been rocking a curious combination of deadlines and vacation, so I’ve been otherwise occupied.

In the meantime, I’ll direct you to a site that a cool teacher at Urban just showed me,  Lullatone’s amazing Raindrop Melody Maker. Did you ever want to experiment with live musical looping in a mistake-free environment?  Thanks to Lullatone, now you can!

Because I’m Such An Expert

22 Apr

After my two posts detailing my hot-and-cold romance with San Francisco’s NextBus system got featured on Muni Diaries, Wall Street Journal reporter Geoff Fowler tracked me down and interviewed me for a WSJ piece he was writing. So now I’m in the Journal, opining about how Nextbus works and stuff.  Because I’m such an expert.

Seriously, though, it’s a good article, and I do think that NextBus is doing a good job helping mitigate our unreliable, nonscheduled Muni system. The article is here.

Next up: getting an interview in The National Review!

Wide Angles

20 Apr

From last week’s Urban School Spring Concert:

(Click to enlarge)

Treme – “Do You Know What It Means?”

13 Apr

It was hard not to go into Treme with crazy-high expectations. It’s David Simon, it’s jazz musicians in New Orleans, it’s David Simon making a show about jazz musicians in New Orleans… man. So I went in really, really hoping that I’d like it, but still tried to check my expectations at the door and watch the show on its own terms.

It’s far too early to share any thoughts on the show as a whole, but I really liked the first episode. And damned if they didn’t get just about every little musical detail right. The only two works I’ve seen that match it in terms of musical authenticity are Spike Lee’s Mo’ Better Blues and Clint Eastwood’s often-overlooked Lush Life.

If track record is anything to go by, getting jazz “right” onscreen is a really tricky proposition. But the minute Antoine (played by Wendell “The Bunk” Pierce) put his trombone to his face and started to blow, I felt relieved. It looked right, it sounded right, and it felt right.

Props to Pierce for working that sequence out – the first fifteen minutes of the show relied heavily on him nailing those parts in order to seem believable as a trombonist, and he pulled it off. Almost as though they were testing me, Antoine ripped into it as the parade wound up, and in the process hit some weird notes. I thought “…ooookay, that was a strange note…” And sure enough, right afterward,  the band bellies up at the bar and everyone starts giving him shit about the note he just biffed. He’s trying to play it off, and his ex at the bar calls it the clam it was. Nice.

I wouldn’t have expected anything less from David Simon, but all the same, it was cool that in the first fifteen minutes of the show, Simon stepped right up and said, “Screw talking about it, I’m just going to show you this music.” And for the rest of the episode he did just that. Musical instruments weren’t held up as shining, tailsmanic objects, they were just everyday things, tools of the trade. Horns and strings dotted the fringes of every scene, and it felt good to see the well-worn bells of the marching sousaphones, the guitars that lay around Davis McAlary’s apartment, strewn amongst boxes of cassette tapes and drums covered in Mardi Gras beads. Antoine carries his trombone without a case, ready to play at the drop of a hat, cabbing and bumming about the city looking for gigs.

Despite taking a diegetic approach similar to that of The Wire, Treme had much more music than The Wire ever did. Which makes sense, when you consider that New Orleans itself has more music going on than Baltimore. It’s also helpful that McAlary spins vinyl at a local radio station, which will certainly allow for more “montage cheating” a la Prez’s Johnny Cash-inspired montage in The Wire’s second season. I thought that Treme’s first montage, in which Davis defied the station heads and blasted Louie Prima’s “Buona Sera”, was absolutely brilliant.

And there were so many more cool little musical touches – the head of an upright bass poking out of a car window, a trombonist goofing around with his young son by buzzing through his mouthpiece… they even managed to illustrate the stylistic divide between New York jazz and New Orleans jazz. The clear, twisting lines played by Delmond’s quintet at The Blue Note stood in stark contrast to the second-line horn music on the streets of The Big Easy – even to an an untrained ear, it would’ve been clear that we were hearing two different dialects of a musical language. I’m expecting to see more of that contrast as Delmond gets back into the New Orleans scene.

And, of course, I loved any scene involving Kermit Ruffins.

McAlary: “Can you just stand there telling me that all you want to do is get high, play some trumpet, and barbecue in New Orleans your whole damn life?”

Ruffins: *exhales* “Yeah, that’ll work.”

Sure, jokes like that are broader than most jokes on The Wire, and yeah, maybe a little bit more contrived. There were a couple of other little things that I thought the show didn’t quiiite pull off, as well. The jerk-off British interviewer seemed like a straw man, haughtily proclaiming jazz to have “had its day,” and dismissively stating that New Orleans wasn’t a city worth saving. I liked Melissa Leo’s feisty attorney, but thought that the scene in which she finally lost her temper felt a little forced. And as great as it was to see Kermit, his scenes were written and framed a bit too much through the worshipful eyes of an outsider. But it’s gotta be hard not to look at him that way – I mean, it’s Kermit Ruffins! The world must know!

But yeah, I’m really looking forward to the next nine episodes. It would appear that Treme is going to rely less on plot and more on character than The Wire did, and the characters felt much easier to get to know as a result. It’ll be a nice change, I think – not that it would’ve been bad to have another incredibly dense, difficult-to-unpack show, but I’m interested to see what Simon & co. do when working with a broader palate.

And more than anything, I’m relieved that Treme is getting the music right, and I can’t wait to see how Simon and Eric Overmeyer start to tell the story of New Orleans. If “Do You Know What It Means” is any indication, it’ll be a story told through music, and I can’t wait to hear more.

Hey, Last Night’s American Idol Didn’t Suck!

7 Apr

Your mileage may vary, but I have been bored to sobs by this season of American Idol. And it’s not the judges, either, it’s the contestants. Yeah, Randy is still generally useless, but has had the odd moment when he’s stepped up and offered constructive musical criticism. And maybe it’s the imminent departure of Simon, but Kara has done the same – to be honest, if you can ignore her somewhat off-putting demeanor and weird proximity issues with Simon, she gives the most consistent musical criticism of anyone on the panel.

I also like Ellen, mainly because she makes jokes that are actually funny. Though allow me to throw out there that I detect some hate-vibes directed her way from Ms. DioGuardi. Interesting. Simon seems to be speaking the objective truth far more consistently this year, without any of those “For Some Reason I’m Going To Trip Balls About This” moments that he has had in seasons past. Maybe it’s because he’s already moved on?

But anyway, all things considered, the judges have kinda stepped it up this year. So I can only conclude that my gripe is with this season’s contestants, who up until last night hadn’t shown me one thing. Not a single thing. Okay, Siobahn’s “House of the Rising Sun” was pretty great, and BowerSox is one of those people who has proficiency and stage presence and a great voice. I believe we in the industry refer to them as “talented musicians.” I really like her, her whole vibe and her awesome baby and her super fun name. But even so, she towers above the rest of those amateurs like a killer whale in the world’s smallest, boring-ist pond.

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I’m A Man Of Refined Tastes

6 Apr

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