Wednesday, 29 July 2015


by Better Than TV

When I was in Cambridge earlier this year, my friend Sergio told me that his band is about to release their debut CD any day now. When it finally was released, he promptly sent me a copy to Gran Canaria.

I heard one of incarnations of Better Than TV performing live in Cambridge some years ago, and then again what was (approaching) its current line-up rehearsing at Sergio’s house in 2013, the very day I unsuccessfully tried to enjoy, also on Sergio’s suggestion, the May Bumps. So it was not exactly unfamiliar stuff, but I still was impressed by quality of music on this record. (For the record, all tracks were captured live, something I would not say, er, without looking at the CD sleeve.)

What is Late? Not exactly cutting edge of modern jazz but, as Bertie Wooster could have put it, there is a time for cutting hedges and a time for not cutting hedges. In fact, I am quite happy away from being cut by any edge provided that I am not bored. And Better Than TV — indeed, quite unlike TV — won’t keep me bored. They could have easily put in a few standards (and make a good job of that too) but no, we’ve got nine originals, all penned by Sergio, and quite diverse at that. Latin-ish groove here, funky theme there, blues yonder, a bulería at 5 pm, a samba later, and so on and so forth in a stylistically united variety. My favourite so far is Morse, a beautifully hummable upbeat jazz-waltz, with just right balance of discipline and improvisation (incidentally, it is the shortest track on the album). But really there are no weak cuts here, and the band consistently shines without showing off. Respect.

The only minor annoyance is the not-so-well “hidden” track in the end. Why anyone still bothers to hide the tracks anyway? Just call it track #10 and tell me when it was recorded.

Independently produced, not even on an “independent” label but without any label, Late is a quiet but confident debut of a label-free band. Given that it was recorded two years ago, one should expect a follow-up soon... please?


  1. 1000 and one
  2. Standing with Sally
  3. Elliulogy
  4. Morse
  5. pm
  6. FEAB
  7. Samba per mi
  8. Se volete
  9. Late
  10. Standing With Sally (alternate take)
All tracks written by Sergio Contrino

better than TV

    David Burgoyne: piano
    Ed Blake: drums
    Gavin Spence: trumpet, flugelhorn
    Sergio Contrino: electric bass
    Tom Green: trombone
Recorded live at Churchill College Music Centre, Cambridge
Tracks 1—5 recorded by Tom Howe on 10/6/2013
Tracks 6—9 recorded by Andy Cross on 8/12/2013
Mixdown Engineer: John Ward
Mastered at Metropolis Studios, London by Andy ‘Hippy’ Baldwin
Produced by Sergio Contrino and John Ward

Friday, 24 July 2015


by Terry Pratchett
    ☠ Boy saves the princess but chooses not to marry her.
    ☠ Alternate realities can co-exist.
    ☠ If you want Death’s job, learn how to speak in all caps. Now.

Mort was the first book of the great fantasy master that I read, some time at the end of last millennium. It was borrowed from the then newly-discwoverled (by me) Saffron Walden library. It took me exactly one evening and one full night. I finished reading about five in the morning, and I was working that day. I don’t remember if I came across a read this absorbing ever since. On the darker side, no other book of Pratchett I read was quite up to the standard set by Mort.

Now that I re-read Mort fifteensomething years later, I enjoyed it even more. I think most of its humour was lost upon me the first time round. A lot of brilliant ideas, barely mentioned here, could easily have been developed into fully blown novels. (Maybe they were.) And, while I did remember most of the book, some parts of it completely slipped off my mind, like the scene of Mort’s very first solo job.

The witch stood up, leaving her body behind.
“Well done,” she said. “I thought you’d missed it, for a minute, there.”
Mort leaned against a tree, panting heavily, and watched Goodie walk around the log to look at herself.
“Hmm,” she said critically. “Time has got a lot to answer for.” She raised her hand and laughed to see the stars through it.
Then she changed. Mort had seen this happen before, when the soul realised it was no longer bound by the body’s morphic field, but never under such control. Her hair unwound itself from its tight bun, changing colour and lengthening. Her body straightened up. Wrinkles dwindled and vanished. Her grey woollen dress moved like the surface of the sea and ended up tracing entirely different and disturbing contours.
She looked down, giggled, and changed the dress into something leaf-green and clingy.
“What do you think, Mort?” she said. Her voice had sounded cracked and quavery before. Now it suggested musk and maple syrup and other things that set Mort’s adam’s apple bobbing like a rubber ball on an elastic band.
“. . .” he managed, and gripped the scythe until his knuckles went white.
She walked towards him like a snake in a four-wheel drift.
“I didn’t hear you,” she purred.
“V-v-very nice,” he said. “Is that who you were?”
“It’s who I’ve always been.”
“Oh.” Mort stared at his feet. “I’m supposed to take you away,” he said.
“I know,” she said, “but I’m going to stay.”
“You can’t do that! I mean—” he fumbled for words — “you see, if you stay you sort of spread out and get thinner, until—”
“I shall enjoy it,” she said firmly. She leaned forward and gave him a kiss as insubstantial as a mayfly's sigh, fading as she did so until only the kiss was left, just like a Cheshire cat only much more erotic.
“Have a care, Mort,” said her voice in his head. “You may want to hold on to your job, but will you ever be able to let go?”

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Theo Croker & Nettwork live

Yuri and I went to see Theo Croker and Dvrk Funk performing at Plaza Santa Ana in Vegueta. It was a pleasant surprise to discover this American band. Yes, a classic jazz quintet format (Theo Croker, trumpet; Michael King, keyboards; Kassa Overall, drums; Anthony Ware, reeds and Eric Wheeler, double bass), playing mostly original compositions, melodic, full of interesting rhythmical twists and, indeed, funky — not all the time, just enough time to keep the audience happy. Hardly groundbreaking stuff, but then again, sometimes you need to keep the ground intact and concentrate on delivering the quality music. What they did.

When they finished, Yuri went home. Judging by his saying that is was not exactly his cup of steak, he didn’t enjoy the music as much as I did. I wonder what would he make of the next act, which was a totally different, er, bucket o’shrimp.

Featuring Charnett Moffett (electric bass), Stanley Jordan (electric guitar, keyboards), Casimir Liberski and Jeff “Tain” Watts (drums), Nettwork could be called a jazz supergroup. Jordan is one of my all-time axe heroes, and his Stolen Moments (also featuring Moffett) is one of the finest jazz guitar recordings ever. I was really looking forward to see them live. But there’s an inherent danger with supergroups: the whole is often less than the sum of its parts. Don’t get me wrong, it was not bad at all, for a bunch of guys jamming together, but I expected more than that. Take the first composition (don’t know the title, for Nettwork didn’t bother to introduce their songs): imagine the intro to Speed King played for fifteen minutes. I mean, you only can play so much of one chord, even with yummy solos. For me, the band did not compare favourably with Dvrk Funk who were more “together” and took less time to deliver their message. Oh, and they should lose that singing.

As for Stanley Jordan, he appeared to lose none of his magic touch. I hope to see him playing again.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Noumoucounda Cissoko & Zara McFarlane live

This double act kick-started the Canarian International Jazz Festival 2015 on Friday 3 July. So I boarded the bus #8 from Las Palmas to Vecindario (where I’ve never been until this day) and arrived to Plaza de San Rafael just in time to get one of the last free seats and a caña of Heineken (€1) before the show started.

Senegalese singer and kora player Noumoucounda Cissoko was supported by Kissima Diabaté (vocal, djembe), Frederic Hirschy (electric bass) and Yoann Julliard (drums). What a feast for the ears and eyes! It might be not exactly what you’d call “jazz” but who cares when it’s groovy? A group of young Africans turned up and started to dance, at first in front of the scene. Then, for the encore, they joined the musicians on stage, while the audience went completely wild.

The name of Zara McFarlane sounded vaguely familiar but I never heard her music until last Friday. The young British singer was accompanied by the trio of Peter Edwards (piano), Max Luthert (double bass) and Moses Boyd (drums) in what would appear like a mainstream jazz idiom, especially after Cissoko’s extravaganza. Yet mainstream it ain’t. There wasn’t a single standard; instead, soul-flavoured original compositions with clever lyrics and quite unique singing style. Oh, and a wonderful, happy smile.

Both acts featured some magic call-and-response improvisations: machine-gun-speed djembe/kora duel of Diabaté and Cissoko; seductive, almost erotic scat vocal/drums exchange between McFarlane and Boyd. And I was about to start complaining about lack of quality live music on this island!

The night was growing rather chilly and the wind was interfering with Zara’s microphone. At midnight, the show was over. I had to rush to catch the night bus (#5) back to Las Palmas. By the way, it stops at the airport. Good to know in case you need to get out of there in the middle of the night.

Friday, 3 July 2015

The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood

by James Gleick

Apart from furnishing me with great quotes for my blogs, this may be one of the most fascinating books on information theory I’ve read. Considering that I was reading this book once a week, while travelling by train from Santander to Bezana and back (11 minutes each way), I managed to finish it, well, under four months.

I feared that, after the great start, it would continue in a less spectacular fashion, gradually losing the steam and eventually reaching the thermodynamic equilibrium with the literary noise around me. I’m glad to report that this didn’t happen. True, as we move closer to the present day, it becomes progressively out-of-date: think about the future of the cloud computing in post-Snowden era (the book was published in 2011). Thankfully, the author seems to be well aware of that.

After “information theory” came to be, so did “information overload”, “information glut”, “information anxiety”, and “information fatigue”, the last recognized by the OED in 2009 as a timely syndrome: “Apathy, indifference, or mental exhaustion arising from exposure to too much information, esp. (in later use) stress induced by the attempt to assimilate excessive amounts of information from the media, the Internet, or at work.” Sometimes information anxiety can coexist with boredom, a particularly confusing combination. David Foster Wallace had a more ominous name for this modern condition: Total Noise. “The tsunami of available fact, context, and perspective” — that, he wrote in 2007, constitutes Total Noise. He talked about the sensation of drowning and also of a loss of autonomy, of personal responsibility for being informed. To keep up with all the information we need proxies and subcontractors.