Codona was the trio of sitar/tabla/dulcimer player Colin Walcott, legendary free jazz trumpeter Don Cherry and Brazilian multi-instrumentalist Nana Vasconcelos. In July 2013, The Wire music magazine went so far as to ask "Could this be the most influential group of the last 30 years?" Certainly not by sales, but they certainly anticipated the coming wave of interest in world music in the three very special albums they created between 1978 and 1982. However, their vision of world music was a unique hybrid that spanned continents, with any given song featuring a mix of instruments from India, West Africa or Brazil, along with jazz trumpet and singing/chanting. This is music simultaneously from nowhere/everywhere. It runs from experimental ("Trayra Boia") to playful ("Colemanwonder," which includes a snippet of Stevie Wonder's "Sir Duke") to ritual ("Mumakata"). It might be a bit much to sit through all three albums in one package, but there's a lot of beauty in this set, and it's well worth a listen. Find it via the hoopla music/video/audiobook service.
So, the World Cup is over and many of us are going through a bit of withdrawal. Maybe it's a good time for a quick read about some previous tournaments! George Vecsey of the New York Times is considered one of the first US journalists to start covering soccer seriously, and he's logged a lot of miles covering the eight tournaments (both men's and women's) of the title. The book is part travelogue, part memoir and fully enjoyable. There's enough soccer name-dropping (Maradonna, Zidane, Donovan!) to engage the enthusiast, but it's not overly technical, so it's fun for those who only pay attention when the World Cup rolls around. He also covers the various intrigues and controversies surrounding FIFA and the World Cup, such as a New Zealand delegate's sudden disappearance on the eve of the election that allowed Germany's bid for the 2006 tournament to win by a single vote over South Africa (which did go on to host 2010). Still, it's really the joy of the sport that comes shining through and Vecsey shows how he became more fond and knowledgeable of it as he trotted the globe to follow "the beautiful game."
Would a great work of art be any less great if there was a little technical assistance involved? Computer graphics pioneer Tim Jenison had a fascination with the theory championed by David Hockney and Philip Steadman that the Dutch master Johannes Vermeer may have painted with the aid of a camera obscura, a special projection device that could have helped him reproduce sight lines and shadings with superhuman accuracy. In 2008, he set out to try and deduce just how that might have been done, with his friends Penn & Teller on hand to document the process (Teller directs, Penn narrates). For the next five years, Jenison worked out a process and spent countless hours devising mechanisms that he thought would allow him to make an almost exact replica of Vermeer's The Music Lesson, despite having no previous experience with painting. The film is a nerd's paradise, full of tinkering and speculation. It gets bogged down in minutae at times, but ultimately, it makes a great case that art and technology go hand in hand.
This 1984 cult comedy/adventure flick is one glorious mess of a movie. Buckaroo Banzai (Peter Weller) is a brilliantly implausible hero: neurosurgeon, particle physicist, engineering whiz, rock star and all-around-great-and-sensitive-guy. He's just broken the inter-dimensional barrier by driving his jet car right through a mountain and into the eighth dimension, but in doing so, he's opened a rift that might allow a long-banished alien villain, John Whorfin, to return to his home, Planet Ten. To keep that from happening, the denizens of Planet Ten are set to destroy the earth if Banzai can't stop Whorfin, who, since a 1938 mishap, has occupied the body and mind of the now-demented Dr. Emilio Lizardo (John Lithgow). Banzai, along with his collaborators/sidekicks/backing band, the Hong Kong Cavaliers, set out to save the day, with a little help from a young kid and his dad from Grovers Mill, NJ (there's a "War of the Worlds" connection). Weller's the star, but Lithgow steals the show as Lizardo/Whorfin, playing it way past "over the top." There are dozens of quotable moments ("No matter where you go, there you are.") and lots of odd little asides that never get explained (look for the watermelon!). The movie was always intended to be a comic book, and it's best enjoyed as if it is one.
All is Lost (also available in Blu-Ray) could also be subtitled "just when you think it can't get worse." Robert Redford's unnamed solo sailor is in full crisis-management mode after his sailboat is severely damaged by a collision with a drifting cargo container. He's a resourceful guy, and he systematically (and nearly wordlessly) goes through the process of doing what's necessary to manage the crisis. However, some crises just can't be managed. Pretty soon, it's just an all-out struggle to survive in the face of dwindling supplies, bad weather and even a few sharks. Despite having only one character and almost no speaking (apart from a few well-placed expletives and pleas), All is Lost holds your attention through its harrowing and (presumably) realistic depiction of being held hostage to the sea's whim. Frankly, I wasn't expecting to like it as much as I did, but I was glad I watched.