Monday, 30 November 2009


by Jane Birkin

A live record by Jane Birkin, backed by amazing band featuring Algerian violinist Djamel Benyelles. My favourite tracks here are Élisa, Et Quand Bien Même and Fuir Le Bonheur (all by Serge Gainsbourg) and an instrumental She Left Home by Benyelles. Warning: this chanson with North African flavour can be addictive. Possible side effects: after Arabesque, the “original” versions of the Gainsbourg songs may not work for you.
Élisa, Élisa, Élisa saute-moi au cou
Élisa, Élisa, Élisa cherche-moi des poux
Enfonce bien tes ongles et tes doigts délicats
Dans la jungle de mes cheveux, Lisa

Élisa, Élisa, Élisa saute-moi au cou
Élisa, Élisa, Élisa cherche-moi des poux
Fais-moi quelques anglaises et la raie au milieu
On a treize, quatorze ans à nous deux

Élisa, Élisa, Élisa les autr’s on s’en fout
Élisa, Élisa, Élisa rien que toi, moi, nous
Tes vingt ans, mes quarante, si tu crois que cela
Me tourmente, ah non vraiment, Lisa

A Shot in the Dark

a film by Blake Edwards

Yesterday, Yuri and I went to see this movie in Saffron Screen. Starring Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau and Elke Sommer as sexy Maria Gambrelli, and with a score by Henry Mancini — yes, another classic that I’ve never seen before. Clouseau, naturally, speak English with ridiculous French accent, as French are supposed to do in France.
“I believe everything and I believe nothing. I suspect everyone and I suspect no one.”

Sunday, 29 November 2009


a film by Michael Haneke

Here’s one expertly crafted psychological thriller. The acting is phenomenal. The impossibly long shots where apparently nothing happens keep you glued to the seat. By the end of the movie, I didn’t expect all the ends to be tied. I didn’t expect them to be left that loose either. I would stay short of calling Caché a masterpiece, but it is a film not to be missed. A word of advice, if I may: “Stay seated while the credits roll”.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Abracadabra Brass

by Dot and Noel Fraser

For a few weeks now, I had this book (bass clef edition) for my trombone practice. It also can be used for baritone and euphonium. Every new note introduced is accompanied by a handy diagram of slide position for trombone (or valve positions for euphonium). Best of all, it has a great selection of simple (mostly traditional) tunes to annoy thy family or neighbour.

Now that I’ve mastered the low A, I can play God Save the Queen. According to Wikipedia, the first national anthems of Russia (Молитва русских), Germany (Heil dir im Siegerkranz) and Switzerland (Rufst du, mein Vaterland), as well as Norway’s Royal anthem (Kongesangen), were all set to this tune. So was American My Country, ’Tis of Thee. Well done, anonymous composer.

Friday, 27 November 2009

The Suicide Shop

by Jean Teulé

I like the concept of this book, but... Maybe it was intended to be a screenplay rather than a novel (it is all written in present tense), or maybe something was lost in translation, but it did not quite work for me. I think it would make a great creepy stop-motion film though.

Trombone harmonics

Before starting on trombone, I did not realise that on brass instruments one can play the whole series of harmonics in the same position, much like one can play a series of harmonics on a guitar string. That means I can play the first three notes of Also Sprach Zarathustra without moving a slide, just by changing the embouchure.

According to Wikipedia,

In the first or closed position on a B♭ trombone, the notes in the harmonic series begin with B♭2 (one octave higher than the pedal B♭1), F3 (a perfect fifth higher than the previous partial), B♭3 (a perfect fourth higher), D4 (a major third higher), F4 (a minor third higher), A♭4 (a minor third higher than the previous partial; this tone <...> is always 31 cents, about one sixth of a tone, flat of the twelve-tone equal temperament minor seventh <...> it may be avoided and played in an alternate position, though it has been the practice in Germany and Austria to play the note in position <...>), B♭4 (a major second higher), C5 (a major second higher), D5 (a major second higher), E♭ (a minor second higher, but almost exactly a quarter tone higher than it would be in twelve-tone equal temperament), F5 (a major second higher).
OK maybe in Germany and Austria they like their A♭ flat, but why it is flat? This page from the HyperPhysics explains that “the 7th harmonic shows the most severe departure from any equal tempered interval”. A♭4 is the seventh harmonic from the fundamental note (B♭1).

See photos of trombone @ Shutterstock.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Arco Iris on Ice

I thought, since I am not employed any longer, I won’t attend any more meetings. But no. Arco Iris had an AGM yesterday, instead of the second half of the practice. With chairperson, minutes, reports etc. Luckily, this only happens once a year, and in fact it was rather interesting, though it did not finish in time. I had to rush to train and did not exercise my right to vote (elections of the next committee).

Among other stuff, I learned that Arco Iris played impressive 36 (!) gigs this year. I am glad that I have contributed to some of these events.

Today was my tenth gig with the band. Also it was the longest set so far (one-hour set by the ice rink on Parker’s Piece, as a part of the Cambridge Music Festival). And the coldest. Maybe we did not sound our best tonight, but the ice skaters looked as if they were enjoying the music.

I need tea.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Dr. Strangelove

a film by Stanley Kubrick

45 years after its première, I finally got to watch Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. My, now I start to understand all these cultural references! Peter Sellers stars in triple role of Group Captain Lionel Mandrake, President of the United States, and Dr. Strangelove (who occasionally addresses the President as Mein Führer.)

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Coffee concert

Today the DSWS Jazz Band gave a performance during the coffee break (11:00 to 11:30; actually 11:10 to 11:40). This was my first (and maybe last) gig with this band. When I started, back in September, I thought I will play bass. It turned out they already have electric bass and double bass, so I switched to guitar. Today’s program was:
    Beefeaters (Johnny Dankworth)
    Yesterday’s Blues Today (Alan Hare)
    Moanin’ (Bobby Timmons)
    Doghouse (Brian Harrison)
    Walkin’ with the Blues (Jim Bethea)
    African Waltz (Galt MacDermot)
Before I joined the band, I never heard any of these tunes except Moanin’. I hope nobody noticed that I played the second part of one song instead of second part of another one (the sheet music swap, easy as that). Four of these six are in F minor, so there is a good chance of playing in key. Keeping the volume down also helps.

Friday, 20 November 2009

The Quick & Dirty Guide to Salsa, Part 1

In the first DVD of the series, Gigi and Pedro lead us through some basic Cuban salsa steps such as Exhibela, Dile Que No, Guapeando, Enchufla, El Uno and El Dos. Every move is repeated three or four times within each “lesson” none of which is longer than two minutes. Don’t worry about this DVD being a US import because it is all-region. A nice feature is that you can choose from three different angles (front, back or high). Gigi speaks with cute accent and has a fondness for words like “automatically”, “basically” and “walk, walk, walk”. She does not always count correctly though (e.g. she could say “5, 6, 7” instead of “1, 2, 3”), but if you can live with that, you’ll be fine.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009


by Deep Purple

You would think that Deep Purple could have done better than naming their 1969 album Deep Purple, but there you go. I always knew this album as April. Tonight I was listening to it again on my way to the samba practice. In the opening track, Chasing Shadows, Ian Paice manages to sound like a full band of African drummers. And then, bluesy Why Didn’t Rosemary? and The Painter, psychedelic The Bird Has Flown, orchestral April. A quintessential prog-rock record which never gets boring.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Smilla’s Sense of Snow

by Peter Høeg

A fascinating reading even though I can’t say I loved this book. It took me more than a month to conquer The City part — some days I cold not manage more than couple of pages. However, I think The City is the best part of the story. It has promise that is never delivered. Nevertheless, I was intrigued. I went through The Sea in three days and finished the last part, The Ice, last night (or rather this morning). There is more and more action towards the end, but it becomes less and less believable. The end is rather silly and lots of loose ends are left untied. Frankly, I expected the brave frøken Smilla taking on secret service and/or military looking for something not less than that American nuclear bomb lost in Greenland. Instead, her adversaries are a mad (and rather creepy) scientist and his (also creepy) accomplices interested in some lousy meteorite and mutant worms.

But forget the plot. Smilla Qaaviqaaq Jaspersen is great. She is a scientist, an anarchist, a detective. She has no supernatural powers and does not trust modern technology but my she kicks ass (and not just figuratively speaking). She swims in icy water and travels in a dumbwaiter. She even can make friends. I would trust her. Smilla rocks.

Monday, 16 November 2009

July Morning

by Uriah Heep

The very same day, 16 November 2008, after the Christmas Lights Switch-On (see the previous post), I was heading towards The Junction. I was torn between two choices: Uriah Heep or Mor Karbasi? It could be so much easier if they had these two concerts on different dates! In the end, I decided that Mor Karbasi is young and will be around for a while, while Uriah Heep are old and this is my only chance to see them live and alive. (I am glad that I was wrong: Heep played in Cambridge again this year.) Also, I wanted to see Uriah Heep for at least 30 years, that should count too.

No regrets then. Supporting act, the heavy rockers Maccara, were brilliant, especially the singer Hollie Evans. What a voice! But the main course was simply mindblowing. I never saw a ’70s band in such a good shape. (Also, it looked like I was younger than everybody else, except for Maccara guys.) The Heep were promoting their Wake the Sleeper album and played every single song. Plus some great oldies: Look At Yourself, Easy Livin’, Gypsy (starting with an astounding keyboard solo), Lady In Black and, of course, July Morning. That was a solid two-hour set which left me speechless (and half-deaf). Was it worth waiting for all these years? Absolutely.

There I was on a July morning
Looking for love
With the strength of a new day dawning
And the beautiful sun

At the sound of the first bird singing
I was leaving for home
With the storm and the night behind me
And a road of my own

With the day came the resolution
I’ll be looking for you

I was looking for love
In the strangest places
Wasn’t a stone
That I left unturned
Must have tried more than a thousand faces
But not one was aware
Of the fire that burned

In my heart, in my mind, in my soul
Uriah Heep live in Cambridge

Sunday, 15 November 2009

The Big Switch-On 2009

On Sunday, 16 November 2008, I went to the centre of Cambridge to see the Christmas Lights Switch-On. I joined the parade inconspicuously somewhere around Christ’s Pieces, behind a samba band. It was cold and miserable but I really enjoyed the experience.

One year later: The Big Switch-On again but now I am in the samba band and guess what, it was even better. At 4 pm, we started from Grafton Centre and paraded for about 45 minutes towards the Market Square, looking all festive and sparkly and making most glorious noise. Luckily, the weather was nothing like yesterday. And it is always nice to have people dancing and cheering and taking photos and asking: “What’s the name of the band?” or “Are these <hair> real?”.

What I use (as if anyone cares): Vic Firth® Alex Acuña “El Palo” sticks, Town & Country light duty gardening gloves (so my hands are warm and the sticks don’t slip) and Cool Glow™ accessories (six hours later they still glow).

Friday, 13 November 2009


by Sara Tavares

Hooray, the long-awaited follow-up to Balancê arrived this morning and that’s what I am listening to now. In Cape Verdean Creole, Xinti means “Feel it”. Que música maravilhosa! My favourite songs so far (if I had to chose, but luckily I don’t) are Di Alma, Só d’Imagina, Exala and Mana Fé — the latter is a hidden track after Manso Manso, so be patient!

I don’t know why at the Amazon UK they marked this album as containing “explicit lyrics”. The only song having any sort of English lyrics in it is Bué. Here it is in its entirety:
Cause I feel good
Very nice
Cause we’ve got
Good, good vibes.
I think the kids are safe.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Addenbrooke’s fireworks

Yes, it’s this time of year again. Tonight, Arco Iris played before and after the (very impressive!) fireworks display at Addenbrooke’s Hospital. This is my second gig when I was playing caixa. Compared with surdo, you have to work much harder, which is a good news now the summer’s over: it was rather chilly tonight.

Photos of fireworks @ Shutterstock.

Friday, 6 November 2009


by Annie Whitehead

Annie Whitehead is one of the greatest jazz trombonists alive, who jammed with likes of Bill Wyman, Elvis Costello, Murray Head, Robert Wyatt and Deep Purple, but how many people even heard of her? My first encounter with her music happened some 13 years ago, thanks to the Leeds City Library. I used to go there every Saturday and browse through the jazz section. Now, there are not many jazz albums with cover photos like this: I simply had to borrow it. And what a great record it turned out to be!

The opener, To Dudu (dedicated to Dudu Pukwana), is a tasty Afro-reggae number that one cannot help but hum along. Don’t expect more of the same though: each following track is something very different — except the closing theme, See You Dudu, which brings us back to the beginning. All together, the funkiest jazz-rock record of the 1990s.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

The Book of Sand

by Jorge Luis Borges

It was more than 20 years ago that I first read (in Russian) this short story by Jorge Luis Borges. Now, I took the book (Хорхе Луис Борхес) where I thought I first saw the story. I couldn’t find it in the table of contents though.

But why should I bother with that if I always can look it up on the web? In a couple of minutes, I found the original Spanish El libro de arena, Russian Книга песка, French Le livre de sable and Italian Il libro di sabbia. One also can read it in more Borgesian style: the English version (translation by Norman Thomas di Giovanni) appears as a hypertext puzzle by Maximus Clarke and Java application by Ariel Malka.

It was at this point that the stranger said, “Look at the illustration closely. You’ll never see it again.”
Venice is exactly like the Book of Sand. Once you see something that you really really like, you better buy it straight away. Otherwise you may never see it again. This is a proven fact.
In the upper corners of the pages were Arabic numbers. I noticed that one left-hand page bore the number (let us say) 40,514 and the facing right-hand page 999. I turned the leaf; it was numbered with eight digits.
That is also very similar to house numbering in Venice.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

How to make a glass horse

I filmed this demonstration of glass-making at a Murano furnace on 25 October 2009. It looks (or, rather, the glass master made it look) very easy.