Saturday, 31 July 2010

Mr. Muo’s Travelling Couch

by Dai Sijie
What is the Theatre of the Absurd to a Westerner, is Socialist Realism to us.
A maxim whose author I can’t remember right now.

This novel follows the (mis)adventures of Mr Muo, the first Chinese psychoanalyst, in his epic struggle with Chinese judicial system. In his quest, he narrowly avoids marrying Mrs Thatcher, survives the attack of murderous Lolo bandits, and meets the mysterious Old Observer of Panda Droppings (whom I mentally picture as Yoda). Hilarious stuff throughout.

The only regret is that I could not read this book in the language of Voltaire. (The French title, Le Complexe de Di, is a play on le complexe d’Oedipe and the name of Muo’s nemesis, the dreaded Judge Di. I suspect more puns are lost in translation.) Perplexingly, the English text of the Anchor edition is very different from that of the Vintage edition, even though both appear to be translated by Ina Rilke.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

To the One

by John McLaughlin and The 4th Dimension

John McLaughlin is one of the greatest jazz musicians of all time. Unfortunately, the jazz audience grew to expect every recording of his to be not just good but great. Which is unfair. If somebody else was lucky enough to record To the One, (s)he probably would be hailed as a genius. Let us forget for a moment who and why has recorded this album (please ignore the liner notes) and let the music talk.

To me, the two tracks stand out here: the gentle jazz-waltz Special Beings and The Fine Line, a heavy, bluesy number played in 7/4 (or is it 7/8?) I am not a big fan of guitar synth as featured on Lost and Found and To the One, but even so, McLaughlin makes a good use of it.

The 4th Dimension is the band most of mortals can only dream. Both Gary Husband and Mark Mondesir have a go on drums and percussion. In addition, Husband plays keyboards on all tracks. The bass player, Etienne M’Bappé, was a discovery for me.

To the One is hardly groundbreaking, but an impressive album all the same. I am looking forward for more music from this band.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Prom Night: Live at the Royal Albert Hall

by The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain

I ordered this DVD as a gift, to be sent to America. As a result of a mix-up, it was sent to me instead. It was Christmas time and a bit too late to go to the post office, so the disc stayed with me. Inexplicably, we watched its first half in the early hours of the New Year 2010 in Edinburgh leaving its second half until last week. The highlights include Psycho Killer, now-classic rendition of Life on Mars (aka My Way) and Melange, “which reveals how all the key rock songs are variants of one theme” (something of UOGB’s speciality). The winner, however, is the song which does not feature a single ukulele: Pinball Wizard.

The DVD is only available from UOGB’s website.

Saturday, 24 July 2010


a film by Makoto Shinkai

Ah, if only the authors of this beautiful anime constrained themselves with the “early days” of the English title. Two boys fascinated with building a plane, dreaming of flying “to the other side” to see the mysterious tower and falling in love with their schoolmate during Summer holidays. What could be better?

Instead, the story “develops” into complete nonsense. Or maybe I missed something. I guess it did not help that this DVD has English subtitles somewhat conflicting with English dub. (For instance, the voice says “Sayuri”, the subtitles go “Sawatari”. It took me a while to realise that this refers to the same person named “Sayuri Sawatari”.)

Friday, 23 July 2010

According to Arnold: A Novel of Love and Mushrooms

by Giles Milton

Till the very last pages, I was sure that I was reading a work of another master of far-fetched fiction. And then: a poignant, almost tragic finale. Back to reality? Maybe. In any case, I feel relieved that the fall of Berlin Wall was not a monarchist plot and hope that Flora ended up with a right man. But I am afraid I said too much already.

Unfortunately, the paperback edition I took from the library (of which I am the first reader, apparently) started to fall apart almost immediately, so it was a little miracle that I brought it back more or less complete from my holidays.

According to Arnold: A Novel of Love and Mushrooms
‘You don’t have to take more,’ explained Lola later that evening. ‘It’s not obligatory. And there are some women that count for two, the really big ones, like Gilbertine and Doris. If you are married both of them, you’d probably be considered as having five wives, if you included me.’
I blinked and laughed as I tried to take it all in.
‘But wouldn’t you mind?’ I asked.
Mind?’ She looked puzzled. ‘Why on earth should I mind? A man like you needs several wives. You’re a king, don’t forget. Didn’t your Henry the eighth have lots of wives?’
‘Six,’ I said. ‘And he killed two of them.’
‘Well you’re not allowed to do that on Tuva,’ she said. ‘You have to look after us. To have and to hold – remember? We take the wedding vows very seriously on Tuva.’

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Toy Story 3

a film by Lee Unkrich

“Sequels are always worse than originals”. Maybe not always but there are only a handful of exceptions to this rule. Toy Story 2 was one such exception. Granted, it missed a real villain — Al the Toy Collector was rather likeable — but it was a real development of the original Toy Story. Alas, Toy Story 3 quickly reminds us what is the rule and what is the exception.

That is not to say I did not enjoy the movie. I did. The opening sequence with Woody pursuing Potato-gang is simply brilliant. There were several rather funny jokes (e.g. involving hitherto unknown factory settings of Buzz Lightyear). And the singing dustman — wasn’t it Sid, the original Toy Story’s baddy? — was great. But the 3-D effects? Nothing to write home about. Score? Nothing new there either. And don’t even start me on the plot.

No matter, I will go on anyway. In TS2, the toys give up their (perceived) immortality in the Japanese (!) toy museum just to be played with again. (Or was it out of patriotism?) Ten years later, the very same toys discover that they don’t actually want any child to play with them. They want only a caring child. Perhaps the ideals of Sunnyside daycare — nobody owns the toys, the toys are their own masters — are too communist for Pixar to endorse. Sure enough, we see straight away that in fact the place is run by an evil dictator. Much better is to be loyal to Andy (why?) and hibernate in the attic. Why don’t they go back to Sunnyside when it is under new management of Barbie the doll? (I quite liked her, will you believe it. That means, she can’t be evil. Right?) The scene of passing the torch, sorry, the toy box to the cute and probably caring child is just too long. Leave the box, Andy, off you go to the college.

So far, I loved all Pixar short films. But in this case, the accompanying short, Day & Night, was a disappointment. Do we really need a moral of the story to be broadcast by a radio station?

Monday, 19 July 2010

Hiromi’s Sonicbloom Live in Concert

by Hiromi’s Sonicbloom

The influence of early seventies’ fusion bands — especially Return to Forever — is very much in evidence here. But if you like seventies as much as I do, that’s hardly a deficiency. Hiromi’s band has the mastery of RTF and Mahavishnu Orchestra without unnecessary spiritual references or taking themselves too seriously. And Hiromi is really fun to watch. Where does she get the energy?

On a totally different note, I was disappointed by absence of DVD liner notes. Is it too much to ask where and when this concert was recorded?

Hiromi's Sonicbloom Live In Concert

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Liverpool Brazilian Carnival 2010

This weekend, 17—18 July 2010, small (but beautifully formed) Arco Iris made it to the Liverpool Brazilian Carnival. This time, we had five caixas and four timbas but only one rep and one bell. Well we did rise to the challenge!

Saturday evening, AI (and quite a few of other samba schools) were parading through the city centre for about two hours, ending in China Town. (Good thing that before the parade we went for an early dinner in La Viña tapas restaurant. Mmmmm. Another good thing, it was not raining for a change.) Naturally, the night gig provided an opportunity to try out my new light-up drumsticks.

Today, we played two 20-minute sets (12:30 and 3:00) at St Luke’s “bombed out” church. I think by the last set we sounded the best. “Ladies and gentlemen, all way down from Cambridge — Arco Iris!”

Friday, 16 July 2010

Koby Israelite Band @ The Junction

Sometimes I wonder why they even bother with support bands. Take yesterday’s gig at Junction 2. With tickets priced at £10.00, you’d think even one band should be mad to play at a half-empty venue. But no. Enter Gipsydelica. Now I love rock and reggae and Gypsy and Balkan music. I like the idea of fusing it all together. Not like this though. I wouldn’t mind them playing for 20 minutes, but for one solid hour? They really should practice some more before being let loose on a live audience, however tiny. (Mind you, they even had a group of high-school-age girl fans, so I may be wrong here.)

And then, after a 30-minute break: Koby Israelite and the Band. In (much-quoted) words of Robert Pirsig,

even though Quality cannot be defined, you know what Quality is!
After first few notes, you know. No need to define. Is it klezmer, Balkan dance, art-rock or heavy metal? Who cares? All of the above and more: tango, Caravan, Khachaturian’s waltz, and so on and so forth. That’s The Quality with a big Q. Koby’s mastery of accordion is nothing short of stunning but I was no less impressed by the rest of the band, especially Yaron Stavi on bass and Oded Kafri on drums.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Crossed Wires

by Rosy Thornton

Mina is working in a call centre in Sheffield. Peter is a lecturer in Cambridge. They are both single parents, but that is where the common ground pretty much ends. For them to become (eventually) romantically involved after Peter files his claim with Autocare Direct Motor Insurance is a bit far-fetched. This is England, after all.

But Crossed Wires is a fairy tale, and there’s nothing wrong with fairy tales. And this is a good one. I only wish Mina did not sound at times as if she too is a Cambridge don.

‘I’ve come to see Dr Kendrick,’ she said.
Do you have an appointment? She was certain he would ask it, and if he did she’d decided to walk away and never come back. But instead his face divided into a wide grin.
‘Do I hear a sound of my home town, there? Sheffield, is it?’
She noded, grinning too. ‘Intake. You?’
‘Really? My friend Debbie lives there.’
‘All the best people do.’
Crossed Wires

Monday, 12 July 2010

Stagg SM5B Drumsticks

by Stagg Music

I bought this pair of drumsticks with a goal of customising them for our next gig: Liverpool Carnival parade! Here’s a result.

Stagg Maple Series 5B Drumsticks, acrylic paint. More photos of drumsticks @ Shutterstock.

Friday, 2 July 2010

Fauteuils d’orchestre

a film by Danièle Thompson

I did not know about Mozart connection of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star until I watched Orchestra Seats. Nor did its charming heroine, Jessica (Cécile De France) until Jean-Francois Lefort (Albert Dupontel) told her.

If it has to be called a “romantic comedy”, so be it. You won’t be exactly roaring with laughter but it’s guaranteed to make you smile and feel good in the end. There is no violence or anything sinister whatsoever (now how on earth did they manage to do that?) We are never to hear the story of Jessica’s life before she came to Paris, not in any details anyway. Jessica may be too sweet and optimistic for everyone’s taste, but she is never over the top. Even the love scene between Jessica and Frédéric (Christopher Thompson) is brief and understated. The actors are all great. My favourite character is Claudie (Dani), the retiring concierge lip-synching to her favourite chansonniers, some of whom she claims to know intimately. And — did I mention it before? — it’s Paris! How is that for a cliché?

The film is dedicated to Suzanne Flon, who played Jessica’s grandma, her last cinema role.