10/23/10

Future Notes - Full Speed Ahead

     Tomorrow, aside from maybe pecking out some thoughts about how all my MLB postseason predictions went awry, I'm taking a little break from the Notes.  Down here in South Florida, we reader-types are gearing up for the Miami Book Fair, which means the good folks at MBFI have been keeping me busy.  I have a great lineup of audio features for the coming month, a little less music reviewing than usual, and a shot of momentum from the street fair on November 19 to 21 that should carry through to the end of the year.

    Many thanks to the dynamic Lisa Palley of the Book Fair staff and the legendary Frank Consola at WDNA for all their help and suggestions for the Notes.

    If you want to stay on top of all the cool PN developments in the months to come, take a glance at the schedule below, then subscribe to PN in some way, shape or form -- through Twitter, Facebook, iTunes, Feedburner, an RSS reader, or just plain old e-mail.  Look around and you'll find all kinds of options for keeping up to date -- and I usually post new content every day.

   Thanks for reading and listening!


Schedule of podcasts for Passing Notes Unscripted
 Saturday, 10/23 - Tim Dorsey, Gator A Go Go
 Saturday, 10/30 - Jaime Hernandez, Love and Rockets: New Stories, Vol. 3
 Tuesday, 11/2 - Joe Sacco, Footnotes in Gaza
 Saturday, 11/6 - Cassandra Wilson, Silver Pony
 Saturday, 11/13 - James Ellroy, The Hilliker Curse
 Sunday, 11/14 – Paquito D’Rivera, My Sax Life
 Tuesday, 11/16 - Alex Ross, The Rest Is Noise
 Thursday, 11/18 - Greil Marcus, Bob Dylan: Writings 1968-2010




CDs to be reviewed in the coming month
 Negroni's Trio, Just Three
 Luis Bonilla, Just Twilight
 Russell Malone, Triple Play
 Cassandra Wilson, Silver Pony
 Dinah Washington, Fabulous Miss D: The Keynote, Decca, & Mercury Singles







Books to be reviewed (or their authors interviewed)
in November and December
 Frank Deford, Bliss, Remembered
 Salman Rushdie, Luka and the Fire of Life
 Jonathan EigGet Capone
 R.A. Lawson, Jim Crow's Counterculture
 Ferdie PachecoTales from the 5th Street Gym
 Gish Jen, World and Town
 Scott Spenser, Man in the Woods
 Craig Pittman, Manatee Insanity
 Howard Norman, What is Left the Daughter







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PN Unscripted - A talk with novelist Tim Dorsey

In this unscripted, lightly-edited conversation with Florida comic crime novelist Tim Dorsey (too many modifiers there?), we discuss spring break, off-the-beaten-path Florida, cartoon violence, and the writing process.  We also learn that Tim would be more than happy to come and talk to the students at your local high school.  Dorsey's latest novel is Gator A Go Go. For more information about all of his work, visit timdorsey.com. Dorsey will be appearing in November at the Miami Book Fair.

Listen through iTunes or Feedburner.

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10/22/10

Classroom Notes - 'Teach: Tony Danza' - Season 1: Episode 4, "Homesick"

"Stop me if you've heard this one. . ."
     What does Tony need?  Four episodes in, and I'm starting to get bored.  I'm not sure if the producers of the show get where the drama of the classroom really lives, although they've had a number of characters say it to Tony Danza many times: Put the focus on the students.
     Act One: Bobby G, Tony Danza's best friend and a longtime teacher comes to visit. "Teaching has always been a sacrifice," says Bobby G. "You're working with a lot of people and it's very complicated."  Origami-folding Eric is bored in class, tired of Hollywood Tony's digressions and gee-whiz exhortations. "I do it only in his class," Eric says about his paper-folding. "You're not supposed to have time to do it in class.  We're supposed to be learning. . . I get kind of bored when Mr. Danza gets off topic. Topics, so many topics."   David Cohen, Danza's patient mentor, makes it very plain.  "Change from thinking, What am I going to do? to What are the kids going to do?"
     Acts Two and Three: Danza has some success with helping the marching band, but fails in teaching a lesson on myths, as the class gets unfocused and out of control.  Teachers are supposed to control the students, Eric points out.  Yawn. Danza has a bit more of a positive experience again with the marching band -- his theatre training helps with the choreography.  And a light starts to dawn for Danza during their early morning rehearsals, "The man's commitment is unbelievable," he says, "It makes you think about your own comittment."  Danza goes bowling with a bunch of teachers, and his buddy Joe says over beers, "When I'm working, everything else goes away but family," his young friend Joe says.  Danza misses his family.  Maybe he will fly out and visit them.  The next day, after doing poorly on a test, Eric  breaks down, and Danza keeps saying, "Focus! Try harder!"
     Acts Four and Five: In a meeting with Eric's parents, Danza keeps saying, "Focus! Try harder!"  Finally (Finally!), young Joe of the Beers gives Hollywood Tony a lightbulb moment: "If I can design something for the students to do, I'm the man if I can just walk around."  The next day, Mr. Danza admits to his students, ""If I'm talking, we're not doing it right." Rather than visit his family, Mr. Danza goes to the band competition. His daughter comes to visit instead, and she arrives on the day when Mr. Danza's students get to "take the stage" in his classroom for once.
     The flatness of this episode results from the shift that needs to happen for viewers to learn about how schools really work: when the educators are really doing their jobs, the focus is usually not on them, it's on the students.  If the purpose of the first four episodes of 'Teach' is to introduce the half dozen students who are assume greater importance in narrative, then I'll keep watching.  But if the show is going to focus so much on Hollywood Tony's learning to teach, then the drama is going to fall flat.  What does Tony need? is not a dramatic question that will carry the series/  The really interesting stuff that happens in classroom goes on with the students -- you've got a score of life stories to unpack at least a little bit, and then you've got to get the kids to work as hard for you as will work for them.  And that means working in a smart and, most importantly, selfless way.
     As I've said before, Danza's got a great heart, but he's been wrapped up so long in the narcissistic world of Hollywood that he can't set aside his ego enough to shift the attention away from himself.  He's going to have to -- or the producers are going to have to -- very soon, because I'm starting to feel that I'm watching the same episode over and over again.  Let's get into the stories of Monte, Paige, Eric C, Katerina, Algernon, Stephanie, Howard, Tammy, and Daniel. What do they need?  As a teacher, I've been thinking about those kids from Friday to Friday -- just like most of us do in our real teaching jobs.




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PN 134 - Tim Dorsey - 'Gator A Go Go'

Tim Dorsey, on assignment.
Comic crime novelist Tim Dorsey talks about his latest Florida-themed book, Gator A Go Go.  A former Tampa Tribune reporter with almost a dozen novels to his name, Dorsey will be appearing at the Miami Book Fair  on Saturday, November 20, at 12:30 pm, as part of a panel with James O. Born (The Double Humanand James Grippando (Money To Burn). Dorsey's website is timdorsey.com.  For more information about the Miami Book Fair, please visit the MBFI website.


A longer conversation with Dorsey will be posted as Passing Notes Unscripted, and you can download the audio by noon on Saturday via Feedburner or iTunes.


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10/21/10

Review of Junko Onishi - 'Baroque'

     After a notable decade of work in the 90s after graduating from Berklee, Japanese pianist Junko Onishi took almost a decade off from recording and performing in public.  She makes a high-profile and ambitious return to recording and the stage with her new release on Verve, Baroque (Verve 2010)..
     Although Onishi has been performing in solo or piano-trio formats, she is given the opportunity to flesh out her arrangements and press the playing of a fuller band – Herlin Riley on drums, Nicholas Payton on trumpet, James Carter on woodwinds, Wycliffe Gordon on trombone, and Reginald Veal and Rodney Whitaker on bass – that’s right, two basses.  Baroque features a number of impressive Onishi composition, eclectic takes on Mingus and Monk, and a pair of surprisingly earnest chestnuts.
     Onishi’s “Tutti” opens the album, with Riley joined by Roland Guerro on conga, and the percussion drives the tune forward into a turbulent, percussive top that gives way to a warped solo from Carter, who wields the tenor with belligerence, leaving Payton and Gordon to clean up behind him.  Onishi’s own solo is almost in the spirit of a chordless ensemble, as her own statement is a vigorous hammering assault on the keyboard in which matches her percussionists’ pounding with her own. All together, they smash the hell out of the song – quite wonderfully.   Shifting moods, “The Mother’s (Where Johnny Is),” begins in a minor mode, almost as a dirge, and then shifts to a swinging number that offers Jordan a chance to display some real gutbucket chops.  And for all the smash-and-dash dissonance of the previous song, Onishi lays down a thoughtful, spare solo with space to breathe.
     Easily the most audacious composition on the album is “The Threepenny Opera,” which starts off with Veal and Whitaker going back and forth on bass for a couple of minutes until they reconcile their differences and settle into the bottom end of things.  Making the most of a full 17 minutes, this Onishi composition moves from section to section, some amusingly dissonant and disjointed, others a bit too slick, and all in keeping with the twisted humor of the Brecht/Weil musical.  In its loose playing and movement from theme to theme, it resembles nothing less than one of Charles Mingus’ extended works, but the solo piano section is like nothing Mingus ever did.  Onishi’s hands are fast, but her musical imagination is faster, and, in the liner notes, she is quick to credit Jaki Byard for some of the ideas in that passage.
The Mingus influence is articulated clearly on the ensemble’s take “Meditations for a Pair of Wire Cutters” by the Angry Man of Jazz, which doesn’t take too many chances and is all the more refreshing to hear.  Onishi’s solo is full of the uncompromising humor Mingus might have appreciated.  The Anderson-Grouya ballad “Flamingo” offers everyone a chance to be lovely and lyrical together, and each solo is full and dreamy.  No complaints here.   “The Street Beat/52nd Street Theme” is another tune that satisfies a certain playing-test that some tunes seem to offer here, as it’s Onishi’s take on the familiar chord progressions from “I Got Rhythm,” which underlie so many other standards.  Check another one off the list. Test passed.
     Onishi’s rendition of “Stardust” – featuring the pianist alone with a familiar standard – is baroque indeed, as it seems she has chosen a well-worn tune to show what might be considered her approach to playing: not trying out musical ideas from bar to bar, but trying on whole musical styles.  Just when you think she’s thinking about Art Tatum, she’ on to Thelonious Monk, and from there to Cecil Taylor.  On “Stardust,” the chameleon act is more obvious, but on “Memories of You,” the solo number which closes the album, Onishi seems to have a more integrated approach, and hence her personality comes through in the end.  In many ways, these two songs are my favorites on the release.
    The title of Onishi’s “return” album is likely slanted toward the ironic, as the pianist’s talent as a player and composer is so evident, and Verve’s presentation of her so luxuriant (Two bassists? You got it! Three horns? Say no more!), Baroque doesn’t miss any opportunity impress, and one can’t really help but be impressed.  Hopefully, the public won’t have to wait almost another decade for Onishi’s next album.  Something a bit more reserved  -- are you taking notes, Verve? – would be just fine.  I suggest  a piano trio format, without all the baroque commotion, just to give everyone a little more time to list to Onishi’s undeniable musical gifts.

Personnel
Junko Onishi, piano
Nicholas Payton, trumpet
James Carter, woodwinds
Wycliffe Gordon, trombone
Reginald Veal, bass
Rodney Whitaker, bass
Herlin Riley, drums
Roland Guerro, conga



10/19/10

10/18/10

Review of Patrick Cornelius - 'Fierce'

     Fierce, the second release on Whirlwind Records from Patrick Cornelius, is a confident, interesting, and entertaining mix of compositions and playing from the New York based alto player. The most distinctive feature of Cornelius' music on this release is its chordless approach (no piano, organ, or guitars), which is not to be confused necessarily with a free jazz or "outside" approach.  Cornelius offers some of the most melodic and thoughtful playing heard on a new release all year.
    It certainly helps that Cornelius is backed by a first-rate rhythm section of Michael Janisch on bass and Jonathan Blake on drums, both of whom provide a solid sense of structure in what could be rather sparse musical space.  At no time do Janisch or Blake lose their collaborative framework in creating a rich, creative context both for songs and solos.  Janisch, in particular, has an assertive approach and often establishes the feel of the song, with Blake hanging back, a role reversal between bass and drums that works well.
     Trained at Berklee College of Music and the Manhattan School of Music, Cornelius is as strong a writer as he is a player.  All the compositions on Fierce are his, starting with the title track and album opener.  Reminiscent from the top of Ornette Coleman's earliest tunes, "Fierce" quickly mixes tempos and phrasing, full of energy and never losing its sense of swing.  If anything, this performance is about the chemistry between the alto-bass-drums trio that will carry the load for the whole album, and it's a performance that serves notice: We have fierce chops.
     "Hopscotch," which follows, is a pleasant shuffle that features some excellent stop-and-start work from Janisch and Blake, whose snare pops with an authoritative funk in just the right spots to bring a smile to your face. The sweet and gentle "Maybe Steps" shows off Cornelius giving himself and his playing a bit more space to breathe, all the while staying firmly connected to a melodic line. It's the kind of tune a new father writes for his baby girl.  Cornelius may be fierce at times, but here, he's very sweet.  Tongue in cheek?
     Lest we get too mellow, "Two Seventy Eight" begins with Janisch digging into a tough groove -- you can hear his strings rattling on the fretboard -- and Blake working his toms under a dizzy melody from Cornelius and valve trombonist Nick Vayenas, who, after the head, turns in a brisk solo that winds down into some excellent unaccompanied drum work.  Tenor Mark Small joins Cornelius on the next track, "First Dance," a midtempo composition that has both horns moving through a slightly mismatched but nevertheless appealing duet at the top of the song, giving way to clear, well thought out solos from both reeds.
     'The Incident," which also features Vayenas, is a restrained tune with a Latin feel that rises and falls, a remarkable exercise in intensity that one keeps waiting to cut loose, but never does -- not to the detriment of the song, fortunately. The slowest moving song, and perhaps the least successful tune, is "Home With You," which never seems to pick up much direction or offer chemistry -- although it may be that, in contrast to the rest of the album, its distinct lack of melody is disheartening.  All this domestic digression is forgotten with the next track, the simple-but-charming "One Thing."
     Cornelius closes the album with "New Blues," an extremely strong tune that boasts an outstanding opening duet passage between Janisch and Blake that fools your ears outright at times, then drops into a joyous series of falling and rising lines from Cornelius and Vayenas, whose solos are pushed to take chances and move fast by the energy of the rhythm section.  It doesn't sound much like blues, if only in the sense that it lifts you up from feeling bad on the sheer personalities of the players. Janisch, who has been in the background or hunkered down in a groove for much of the album, gets the final solo of Fierce,  and he makes the most of it.  If anyone missed Janisch's 2009 Purpose Built, here's reason alone to go check it out.
     In the excellence of his compositions, and in the skill of his playing and the playing of those around him, Patrick Cornelius has made a truly notable album.  In the fact that he does this without the usual complement of a keyboard or guitar is all the more remarkable.  With the just the right tunes and an uncanny sense of harmonic space, Cornelius has returned to a musical sound that one doesn't hear very often. It's all the more rare to hear it played so well.



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10/17/10

Eater's Notes - Garibaldi, Wedge, Bomber, and Spuckie -- A Sandwich by Any Other Name

Beer Battered Catfish, Salsa, Purple Onions, Lettuce,
Tomato, Spicy Mayonnaise on a hero
I like sandwiches. I have a lecture on Saussure and structuralism that I give every year, and my primary example of the arbitrary nature of the relationship between signifier and signified is the wide variety of names for the type of sandwich served on a long roll found throughout the United States.  Call it a sub, hoagie, grinder, hero, or any one of a dozen other names, I'll call it delicious. Dave Wilton has an excellent article in Verbatim that discusses the variety of names for the "long sandwich."  I also include for the sandwich-lovers out there, a resource that might only be able to exist on the web, a collection of scanned sandwiches, deftly titled Scanwiches.  A sample image from Scanwiches is at left.  In my experience, as much as people enjoy food, they also enjoy looking at pictures of food.

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