Wednesday, 29 February 2012

East, West

by Salman Rushdie

From the Grand Master of pretentious prose comes this collection of unexpectedly charming short stories. I think Sir Salman wasted his time and talent writing novels.

Mind you, not all stories are equally good. Take Yorick: easily the worst of the nine, both story- and style-wise, demonstrating — to quote the author himself — “a most lamentable lack of brevity”. And At the Auction of the Ruby Slippers — not much of a story, innit? My favourites are Good Advice Is Rarer Than Rubies, The Prophet’s Hair and The Courter.

‘You’re a Grand Master,’ I repeated, still in a daze. Then in a moment of horror I remembered that I had seen the name Mecir in books of classic games. ‘Nimzo-Indian,’ I said aloud. He beamed and nodded furiously.
‘That Mecir?’ I asked wonderingly.
‘That,’ he said. There was saliva dribbling out of a corner of his sloppy old mouth. This ruined old man was in the books. He was in the books. And even with his mind turned to rubble he could still wipe the floor with me.
‘Now play lady,’ he grinned. I didn’t get it. ‘Mary lady,’ he said. ‘Yes yes certainly.’
She was pouring tea, waiting for my answer. ‘Aya, you can’t play,’ I said, bewildered. ‘Learning, baba,’ she said. ‘What is it, na? Only a game.’
And then she, too, beat me senseless, and with the black pieces, at that. It was not the greatest day of my life.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

The Jazz Bass Book: Technique and Tradition

by John Goldsby

I bought this book back in 2005 (yes, Amazon remembers that!) in a hope to refresh/improve my upright bass technique. Well I didn’t but this is because I did not exercise at all. Instead, I was reading and re-reading it, as one would read fiction.

There are four sections: The History, The Players, Technique, and Concepts. The first section is not really the history of jazz bass but three short essays which should get any jazz enthusiast hooked. The history is covered in the next section, The Players, which consists of 48 chapters dedicated to great jazz bassists. As is explained in the Epilogue/Dedication, most of these musicians came on the jazz scene before 1970s, so the history of the last 40 or so years of jazz bass is yet to be written. I expected Technique to be less entertaining read, more or less along the lines of traditional bass methods. I was wrong. It proved to be as fascinating as the rest of the book, even though I did not run through any single exercise from this or, indeed, from any other section. The only exception is the Paul Chambers’s bass line from So What (see below), which I used to play years ago. Instead, I discovered some other useful things. For instance, I never thought of Dorian scale as W–H–W–W–W–H–W, or diminished scale as W–H–W–H–W–H–W–H (where “W” and “H” stand for “whole-tone” and “half-tone” intervals, respectively; see p. 159). The final section, Concepts, gets rather philosophical. What integrity, respect and honesty have to do with bass playing? Read on, you’ll see.

It’s beautiful — everything about it. The sound, the shape, the feel, the idea of it. It’s the foundation, the core, the heartbeat.
♪ ♪ ♪
No one invented jazz bass playing.
♫ ♫ ♫
Ed Thigpen once told me “the groove is like your heartbeat”. Okay, set down your coffee (or herbal tea), lay two fingers on the inside of your wrist, and count your groove — er, pulse. Your heart beats in a triplet: bu-duh-rest, bu-duh-rest, bu-duh-rest. Ed’s point? The groove is an organic thing; you are a living, breathing example of a groove.
♪ ♪ ♪
Remember, there are thousands of possibilities when you improvise — you just have to play one good one!
♫ ♫ ♫
A good bass player can groove alone or with a drummer, with a click track, or with stuff falling down stairs.
♪ ♪ ♪
When you run out of things to practice, ask a saxophone player or guitar player what they are practicing at the moment.
♫ ♫ ♫
Swing is one of jazz’s great gifts to humanity. Don’t screw it up.
♪ ♪ ♪
If I waited for inspiration every time I picked up the bass, whole gigs might pass before I played a single note!
♫ ♫ ♫
Respect yourself. Respect your elders. Respect your peers. And, as long as we’re on the topic, respect everyone — especially people who play bass!

The final quote is taken from Chapter 66, Major Melodies (p. 188):

When listeners hear something familiar repeated and developed, they feel they understand what you’re saying with your solo. Too much repetition and they get bored; too little and they’re confused.

Naturally, it relates to any kind of improvisation, not just jazz bass solo. I am trying to keep that in mind during my Zumba classes.

The enclosed CD has 47 tracks: examples, exercises and three play-along tracks, all performed by Bill Dobbins on piano, Hans Dekker on Drums and the author on bass. A great help to sight-reading challenged people like me. (Of course, I would love to hear all the examples from the book, but that probably will require another three CDs.) A pleasure to listen on its own, I should add.

And now, the promised bass line:

% *******************
% So What (Gil Evans)
% *******************
\version "2.12.3"
\layout {
  ragged-right = ##f
\header {
 title = "So What"
 composer = "Gil Evans"
\score {
  \chords {
    \set chordChanges = ##t
  \new Staff 
  \clef bass
   r 8 d8 a8 b8 c'8 d'8 e'8 c'8 
   r 8 d8 a8 b8 c'8 d'8 e'8 c'8 
   d'8 a8( a2.) \bar "||"

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Agua pa’ la Tierra

by Canteca de Macao

By their third album, Canteca de Macao perfected their trademark flamenco/punk/reggae/ska fusion sound: less ska/punk, more fusion and memorable melodies.

The CD is shorter than the band’s previous offering, and a good thing too: not “simply” great songs (I know, I know, there’s nothing simple about that) but the whole album glues together. There also is a “hidden” anonymous bonus track, which I suspect is called Agua pa’ la Tierra. As is the case with most bonus tracks, it is quite disposable.

The DVD contains (excerpts from) the concert on 8 September 2007, and two “official” videoclips, Bellas and Contigo. I love the music (coming from the band’s first two albums) but the video of the live performance could have been so much better — image, camerawork, sound, everything. Still, it is worth checking out, if only for the last song Moliendo Café with guests Alamedadosoulna. Don’t watch if offended by hairy armpits.

  1. Música
  2. Se va y no vuelve
  3. Vida de Carretera
  4. Green Yin
  5. Caños
  6. Agatea
  7. Madrizz
  8. Paco
  9. Jazzmín
  10. El atonte del vino
  11. Así es la vida
  12. La Lumbre
  13. Bonus Track
Concierto Circo Price (Madrid)
8 septiembre 2007
  1. Backstage
  2. No llores
  3. La rabia
  4. Bellas
  5. Chistosos
  6. Sin solución
  7. Qué pasa?!
  8. Contigo
  9. Alternativa libertaria
  10. Despedida (con Alamedadosoulna)
Videoclip “Bellas”
Videoclip “Contigo”

Friday, 17 February 2012

The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul

by Douglas Adams

Not really that long but, indeed, rather dark. Much darker than the first Dirk Gently novel, and significantly less funny, but not without some very funny bits.

The electronic I Ching calculator was badly made. It had probably been manufactured in whichever of the South-East Asian countries was busy tooling up to do to South Korea what South Korea was busy doing to Japan. Glue technology had obviously not progressed in that country to the point where things could be successfully held together with it. Already the back had half fallen off and needed to be stuck back on with Sellotape.
It was much like an ordinary pocket calculator, except that the LCD screen was a little larger than usual, in order to accommodate the abridged judgments of King Wen on each of the sixty-four hexagrams, and also the commentaries of his son, the Duke of Chou, on each of the lines of each hexagram. These were unusual texts to see marching across the display of a pocket calculator, particularly as they had been translated from the Chinese via the Japanese and seemed to have enjoyed many adventures on the way.
The device also functioned as an ordinary calculator, but only to a limited degree. It could handle any calculation which returned an answer of anything up to “4”.
“1 + 1” it could manage (“2”), and “1 + 2” (“3”) and “2 + 2” (“4”) or “tan 74” (“3.4874145”), but anything above “4” it represented merely as “A Suffusion of Yellow”.

Monday, 13 February 2012


by Johanna Juhola

Music of rare beauty. And, indeed, a rare record. Here you can hear three tracks from this album: Hippo, Lyyrinen Aikuisuus II and Miette.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

The Emperor’s New Groove

a film by Mark Dindal
Boom, baby!

We gave away most of our Disney DVDs. Kids just do not watch them any longer. This one is to stay though. The dialogue is perfect. The opening song alone (sung by Tom Jones — or should I say Sir Thomas?) stands head and shoulders above anything else I heard in any of Disney animations. One day I should try that combination of salsa and Riverdance.

See this palace? Everyone in it is at my command. Check this out: butler... chef... Theme Song Guy!

Monday, 6 February 2012

The Prince of Mist

by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

This is a young adult novel just waiting to be animated by the likes of Studio Ghibli. Three teenage friends, a lighthouse, a mysterious cat, a murderous villain à la Count Olaf... No happy ending, but quite a number of loose ends. Even though I feel that some of the lines could have been explored properly (rather than abandoned), I like that. I am sure it could be written better, and probably something got missing in translation, but still, I couldn’t put this book down. And here’s the passage that won me over:

Max had once read in one of his father’s books that some childhood images become engraved in the mind like photographs, like scenes you can return to again and again and will always remember, no matter how much time goes by. He understood the meaning of those words the first time he saw the sea. The family had been travelling on the train for over three hours when, all of a sudden, they emerged from a dark tunnel and Max found himself gazing at an endless expanse of ethereal light, the electric blue of the sea shimmering beneath the midday sun, imprinting itself on his retina like a supernatural apparition. The ashen light that perpetually drowned the old city already seemed like a distant memory. He felt as if he had spent his entire life looking at the world through a black and white lens and suddenly it had sprung into life, in full, luminous colour he could almost touch. As the train continued its journey only a few metres from the shore, Max leaned out the window and, for the first time ever, felt the touch of salty wind on his skin. He turned to look at his father, who was watching him from the other end of the compartment with his mysterious smile, nodding in reply to a question Max hadn’t even asked. At that moment, Max promised himself that whatever their destination, whatever the name of the station this train was taking them to, from that day on he would never live anywhere where he couldn’t wake up every morning to see that same dazzling blue light that rose toward heaven like some magical essence.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Henry & June

a film by Philip Kaufman

Henry & June is more a stylisation of a film set in 1930s Paris rather than a film set in 1930s Paris. Fred Ward is good as Henry Miller. Uma Thurman is overplaying her June Miller but this is perhaps all part of the said stylisation.

At two-something hours, it is a bit too long for a movie revolving around a rather predictable love triangle (later: quadrilateral and other polygons) involving Henry, June and Anaïs Nin (Maria de Medeiros). In spite of its numerous sex scenes, the film makes surprisingly unerotic viewing. The best parts are those featuring Henry’s friends: the magician, the clown and other performers.