Blog Posts by bpardue
Ralph Towner of the world-jazz group Oregon is perhaps the best known of these three guitarists (Towner, Wolfgang Muthspiel and Slava Grigoryan), but this ensemble is a true collaboration. While the more famous guitar trio of Mclaughlin/Di Meola/De Lucia displayed overwhelming speed and virtuosity, Towner/Muthspiel/Grigoryan keep things, for the most part, quietly lyrical, with plenty of space for things to breathe. Towner and Muthspiel split the compositional duties down the middle, and all three contribute equally to the sound. Despite being a guitar trio, there's plenty of sonic variation, with Towner's distinctive 12-string and classical stylings, Muthspiel's gentle electric guitar and Grigoryan's classical and baritone guitars. Standout tracks include "Duende" by Towner and "Die Blaue Stunde" (The Blue Hours) and "Nico and Mithra" by Muthspiel. This is a beautiful album that bears repeated listening.
In addition to being available on CD, this album is always available for borrowing from the hoopla digital library.
If it's December, it's list-making time! Here are some of the cool things I found through the library in 2013. Some are from this year, some I was a little slower in getting to, but they were all 2013 experiences for me. Although they're 5 through 1, I honestly feel I could have put them in almost any order. Enjoy!
A bi-monthly overview of popular culture, trends and just plain odd stuff. It's the kind of magazine where you spend a couple of hours just hopping around, absorbing tidbits here and there.
4) Orr: My Story by Bobby Orr
Orr was my childhood sports hero, a blend of seemingly superhuman talent and genuine humility. At long last he's written an autobiography. It's respectful (no tell-all scandals here!), straightforward and a pretty darn good read--just what you'd expect, I guess.
3) Just to Feel Anything by Emeralds
Blissfully spaced-out music. Lots of pulsing synthesizers, fuzzed guitars and a general sense of floating through the universe. The kind of album Tangerine Dream has refused to make since 1977.
2) You Were Never in Chicago by Neil Steinberg
Not quite a history nor a memoir, this is Sun-Times columnist Steinberg's exploration of what it means to be "a Chicagoan" and what it means to have the job of covering the city for a living. Along the way, Steinberg gives lots of interesting glimpses into otherwise unnoticed people and places and demonstrates a true love for his adopted home.
The late Conny Plank was a critical figure in the 70s "krautrock" scene, having worked as a producer/collaborator with bands like Kraftwerk, Neu! and Cluster. He later went on to work with new wave bands like Ultravox, Devo and Eurythmics. This 4-CD set gives a broad sampling of his studio work (with some unfortunate omissions), some great live recordings and handful of moderately successful recent remixes.
Has anyone changed a sport the way Bobby Orr changed hockey?
With his end-to-end skating and puck handling, he redefined what a defenseman could be. I first learned of Orr when he was featured in a 1970 Boy's Life magazine cover story. I was immediately a fan, despite living at the Jersey shore (on the border between Rangers/Flyers territory) and not even being much of a hockey follower. I'd patiently wait for the Bruins to be shown on TV and listen at night on my transistor radio to WBZ to hear their games. I was ecstatic when they won the '72 Stanley Cup and crestfallen when they were beaten by the upstart Flyers in '74. Sure, I liked the team, but it was really all about Orr for me. He was the complete athletic package--skill and integrity rolled into one, just the kind of guy who should be on the cover of Boy's Life.
43 years later, Orr has finally (and after some reluctance) put out his autobiography, and it's just what an Orr fan wants--an overview of his life in Parry Sound, ON, some stories about his time in junior hockey and signing into the Bruins' minor league organization (he got $1,000 and his parents got their house stuccoed), all leading up to his stunning--but all-too-short--career with the Bruins and (in case you forgot), the Blackhawks. Orr mostly keeps things positive--he cites his role models and influences, and has high praise for his teammates. This isn't a tell-all book, although he does have a chapter set aside to cover his thoughts about his ill-fated relationship with his now-disgraced former agent, Alan Eagleson. Even there, he shoulders the blame, saying he didn't take enough responsibility for his own finances. Orr also has sage words for aspiring young hockey players and reflections on the current state of the game, including some suggested rule tweaks.
Orr's writing is solid, and straightforward--his favorite phrase seems to be "and let me tell you..."--so the book is a quick read. If you're an Orr fan or a hockey fan in general, this is time well-spent. If you don't know about Orr, then maybe this will help you appreciate him a bit:
Plank is one of those people you've never heard of, but whose influence is everywhere. He's best known as the producer/engineer for many classic "krautrock" bands in '70s Germany (Kraftwerk, Neu!, Cluster, etc.), but also worked on albums by Eurythmics, Devo and Ultravox. Brian Eno approached Plank to produce U2, but Plank decided he couldn't work with Bono and turned the project down. CDs 1-2 are a nice sampler of his production/engineering work (although it's a shame that Kraftwerk and a few other bands aren't included). CD 3 has some poorly-recorded but ultimately compelling live material with collaborators Dieter Moebius (of Cluster) and Arno Steffan. CD 4 is remixes/reworks, a few of which work well (especially "Broken Head"), the rest of which are pretty forgettable. There's also a booklet with plenty of details about Plank's life and reminiscences from musicians he worked with. Interested in more background on "krautrock?" Check out the book Krautrock: Cosmic Rock and Its Legacy, or view this brief documentary about an event in appreciation of Plank at the Goethe Institut in London, in October 2013:
Christopher Buckley's universe seems to be populated pretty much by conniving insiders with not much of a moral compass--which makes them very entertaining. In 2012's "They Eat Puppies, Don't They?," we meet Walter "Bird" McIntyre, a lobbyist (with a secret yearning to be a Tom Clancy-like novelist) who's been tasked by his defense contractor employers to create a U.S.-China conflict in order to justify the mind-boggling cost of a super-secret weapons project. He works with ultra-neocon Angel Templeton (of the Institute for Continuing Conflict) to start a rumor that Chinese agents are trying to assassinate the Dalai Lama. Pretty soon, US and Chinese officials are scrambling to get ahead of the story, and things start to spiral out of control. McIntyre's personal situation is complicated by the fact that his wife, Myndi, has just been made a member of the US Equestrian team--after great financial investment on Bird's part--and is looking forward to a major competition in China, the kind of thing that gets canceled when two nations ramp up the military rhetoric. The characters are colorful, the dialog snappy. It's a quick, entertaining read, and reminds me a bit of the work of Carl Hiaasen.
Waiting for the latest from Bryson, I opted for this 2010 delight. Having moved into an old English parsonage, Bryson goes through the house room by room and begins to wonder about just how domestic lives evolved into what they have become. In typical Bryson fashion, there's a lot of dry humor, saucy details and fascinating diversions. For example, a discussion about the dangers of the stairwell shifts into thoughts about many of the other things around the house that can kill us (and how dangerous paint and wallpaper once were). Thinking about the lawn leads to a brief history of gardens and public parks. If you're the kind of reader, like me, who often goes through a book in bits and pieces, rather than in a single multi-hour session, then At Home works well--its structure and parade of facts almost welcome occasional breaks. Available in book, CD audiobook, downloadable eBook, and downloadable audiobook formats.
Patricia Barber, a local jazz fixture, has released an album that sounds like a low-key affair, but there's an intensity and darkness to many of her lyrics, often dealing with the pain of loss and failed relationships. Musically, things are generally spare and spacious, but that just builds the drama and sets up powerful moments like John Kregor's intense guitar solo on the title song (which seemingly comes out of the blue) or the slow buildup of "Scream." This is a powerful album that rewards close listening.
I'd like to see these guys live. In a planetarium. With lasers. Simply put, the trio Emeralds' 2012 album, Just to Feel Anything, hearkens back to the days when synthesizer music was spacey and expansive. It's kind of like the album Tangerine Dream has refused to make since the early 80s. The seven instrumental pieces have ghostly soundscapes, pulsing sequencers and drum machines, fuzzed-out guitar solos, the whole package. To me, "Everything Is Inverted" is the standout cut. To be fair, "Through & Through" and "Search for Me in the Wasteland" are more guitar-centric and almost hummable, but mostly, this is a put-on-the-headphones-and-turn-on-the-Lava-Lamp kind of collection that just carries you away into the Milky Way...
It's always wonderful to run across a long-forgotten treasure. This live recording of Garbarek (saxophone), Gismonti (guitars & piano) and Haden (bass) was made in 1981, after two studio recordings by the trio, but not released until late 2012. The group manages a precarious balancing act, skillfully navigating folk, jazz and avant-garde stylings. This isn't in-your-face "blowing." There's lots of space, often only two instruments being played together at a time, but it's always engaging. Gismonti's guitar work is haunting and ethereal, his piano soulful. Garbarek plays with his trademark icy tone that just grabs you right away, while Haden's bass rewards deeper listening. For me, the high point is Haden's composition "All That is Beautiful." It's intensely lyrical at the start (it reminds me of some Keith Jarrett songs), and then the ensemble starts exploring, until it sounds like contemporary classical music...only to bring it all back together at the end. Since this is an ECM release, you get the clarity that is a hallmark of Manfred Eicher's productions. A great listen.
Bryan Ferry's music has always been tinged with a retro feel. Even the jarringly eclectic first album by Roxy Music featured his Cole Porter-styled crooning. Now he's gone even further back in the musical time machine, adapting some of his best-known songs into early jazz-age arrangements (think Louis Armstrong and Bix Beiderbecke). He even used special recording techniques to give the sessions a true 1920s feel. The songs have also been turned into instrumentals and Ferry doesn't actually play anything--he's more of a conceptualist/arranger. So, how do things fare? Once you get past the "how can he possibly make 'The Bogus Man' work that way?" stage, surprisingly well. Significant stylistic liberties are taken--"Avalon" loses its silky groove and gets a bit more of a stomp--but it all turns into a very delightful listen. In the long run, it may be better in doses, though.