Monday, February 28, 2011

the violent love king . . . sorry Charlie, but you're no Jim Morrison . . .

Dear Facebook, can you leave us one, just one, anything, that is about just being friends and doesn't have a dollar sign stamped on it? one?

Robert Earl Keen will be playing Floore's Country Store on May 13 . . .

Friday, February 25, 2011

wait, two-tenths? that's 20%! small?! gag . . .

Gates and Defense Department Comptroller Robert Hale said they are working toward getting the Pentagon audit-ready by 2017, but noted that the department -- which has thousands of auditors reviewing programs -- isn't blind to how money is being spent.

"I'm committed to audits. I understand we need them for public confidence. But the fact that we can't pass commercial audit standards does not mean we have no idea where we're spending the money that you send us," Hale said. "We have several thousand auditors watching us. And I note, if we had no idea what we were doing with the money, we'd have rampant Anti-Deficiency Act violations. Over the last five years, about two-tenths of our budget has been associated with ADAs. That's more than I'd like, but it's pretty small."

Jury Duty
by Allen Bartell on Facebook, Thursday, February 24, 2011 at 11:32pm

So the case was pretty interesting. This guy is driving a Bobtail truck (without a CDL) and runs past the Weight Station, thinking, according to him, that without a trailer he did not have to stop. It was his brother's truck and his brother was in the truck.The troopers pull him over and lead him to cross traffic and drive through the median, back to the inspection bay. They say that there they smelled stale alcohol on his breath. They guided him through the sobriety tests which he failed miserably all on video. They did not follow proper procedure on thier SOP for sober tests. The guy got into arguements with the troopers and they arrested him and had him sign a refusal of the breath test. They took him to jail and did not draw blood. One interesting thing the defense did was make the trooper try to complete his own test, walking the line, and he could not do it. He said, "Well I am very nervous in this court." defense responds, "Do you think my client was nervous there on the side of the road with the light flashing. The tropers say that the defenant told them he drank a 40 just before leaving Houston and heading to Huntsville.

That is how in ended yesterday and I was pretty sure he was drunk and since this was his 3rd DUI it was a felony.

TODAY, the defense calls Dannie (the defenant) up. Turns out this guy has a lot of issues, a lazy eye, lost toes due to diabetes, serious high BP, and mental problems. He takes seven pills every morning and night and could not even remember what all he was taking. Illiterate and dropped out of school. Probably bi-polar and that was why he got abusive with the cops. He almost fell stepping up to the chair to testify (nobody in the jury thought he faked it.) And could not do the sobriety test stone cold sober. (If he was faking it he was a hella good actor.) This dude could not in any way pass a sobriety test. He claimed he drank the beer early in the morning at a domino game and that was the only beer he drank. SO it boiled down to the fact that the only evidence the state presented as to his intoxication was that he had a stale smell of alcohol on his breath. That is hardly proof of intoxication. This, along with the troopers failure to follow their own rules, and the fact that they never asked this guy if he had any impairments that might affect the test (supposed to be asked before starting) and the fact that the jail has an on duty nurse to draw blood (but they didn't bother.) Led us to easily decide that the state did not PROVE that he was intoxicated. Not guilty. We all thought that there was no excuse for him to be driving that truck at all, but that is not what they were charging him with. he was operating that truck without a license and with his mental and physical state he should not be driving anything, but the case for alcohol impairment was not there. The DA also really blew it when he attacked the domino culture. He said in closure, "This is Dannie's life, dominos and beer, dominos and beer, dominos and beer, and then he drives a 13 ton truck home." Well there were 5 black women on the jury and the first thing they said, "He does not understand our culture, dominos IS an import thing for a lot of people and he made it sound like a terrible thing." (Bad move Mr DA.)

Honestly the testimony from the defenant was pretty hearbreaking, he was such a simple mind and so easily confused by the DA's questions that it did not matter what he answered, it just made the DA look mean and him look weak and feeble. In fact at one point the DA says, "Why should this jury believe YOU over two seasoned troopers?"

He answered, "I don't really care what the jury believes, that is between me and God and we both know the truth, I am dying, it makes no difference to me if I die at home or die in jail." I do believe he is dying, he looks like hell.

So I am driving home, and I go past the county jail and what do i see, Dannie, the defendent, walking along the highway. They had just released him. No ride home, and no compensation for the YEAR he had just spent in jail. A YEAR!! Here is a crazy thing, he did not recognize me. SERIOUSLY! I had to tell him I was on the jury. WOW. I also gave him a lecture, I told him that the 12 people who just freed him are terrified that he might hurt someone. That NOBODY thought he should have been driving that truck, and that he had put people's lives in danger. He said he was not going to ever drink again......hummmm? OK.......

Then I asked him, "Why in the HELL were you even driving that truck.?!!?!?!"

Turns out his brother was driving when they left Houston and he was so drunk that he was running cars off the road, so Dannie asked him to let him drive. In the video the first thing you hear him say is, 'My damm brother, he is no good, no good." My take is this, the brother has a job, Dannie does not. His brother was drunk but Dannie took the fall because the brother is the breadwinner for the whole family.

Final note that pisses me off about the whole thing. Tom Jones' killer, a third time DUI who killed my friend, gets three years in jail. This old man, who had not hurt anyone (although he did put people in danger) would have been facing 25 year to life. I don't understand that. And the chick who hit and ran on Jerry and I, she is still driving her car around Austin and as of yet, no charges. But this guy spent the last year in jail, only to be aquitted. I am baffled. I see how we treat the poor and the mentally ill.

After it was over,I asked the judge if they were going to do anything to help this guy. Judge looks down and says, "sadly there is not really anything in place to help in these kind of cases."

I know we did the right thing in that we did our job the way the facts led us to. But I don not think Dannie's story is gonna have a happy ending and I scared that he could hurt someone in the future. Heck I don't even know who or how he is gonna get his meds. It was an easy verdict, but nothing easy about hearing the case.

Crazy deal....

Linguist breathes life into ancestral language

By Samantha Balaban/Correspondent
GateHouse News Service, Lexington

“Sâpaheekanuhtyâtôh” — translated as “Let’s Make Soup”— is a children’s story that Jessie “Little Doe” Baird wrote in Wampanoag, the Algonquian language of her ancestors.

Wampanoag, or Wôpanâak, was spoken by tens of thousands of people in southeastern New England until the middle of the 19th century. After the fragmentation of Wampanoag communities in a land dominated by English speakers, the language ceased to be spoken and was preserved only in written records.

A linguist and 2010 MacArthur Fellow, Baird is reviving the long-silent language of her Native American community through children’s stories, educational programs and an 11,000-word Wampanoag-English dictionary.

On Thursday, Feb. 17, Baird spoke at the Lexington Depot in a talk presented by Lexington Community Education.

Baird, who introduced herself in fluent Wampanoag, is a “Mashpee Wompanoag woman.” Pointing outside the Depot at the full moon, she concluded her introduction by saying: “This is a powerful night for us ... don’t mess with me tonight.”

She soon switched back to Wampanoag to read “Sâpaheekanuhtyâtôh” to the audience. Speaking in a language that has been dormant for more than 150 years, Baird glided over long and complicated words with ease, clearly pronouncing both letters and what appears to be the number 8.

“In English, all these words are separate and string together like a choo choo train to make sentences. In Wampanoag, it’s all packed together,” said Baird. As for the 8, it’s pronounced “ooh”.

Although she is now fluent, Baird wasn’t familiar with Wampanoag until it came to her in a dream. According to Baird, there was a time when she kept having the same dream over and over.

“People were talking to me and they looked familiar,” she said. “I knew these people but I didn’t personally know them. I had no idea what they were saying.”

One night, “I was in a place where everything had been burned ... purposefully burned,” she said. There was a yellow house, and inside, circles of Indian people making circles, chanting.

“I’m going around this massive room listening,” said Baird. She tried to leave but was blocked. “Someone asked me: ‘What does this mean?’” But it wasn’t in English. “I don’t know,” Baird replied.

Sometime after her dream, Baird was driving down Cape Cod, a drive that she had done thousands of times, when she saw a sign that said “Sippewissett.”

“A light went on,” said Baird. “I wonder if this is my language? I wonder what my language sounded like?”

From that point on, Baird was on a journey.

In 1995, Baird undertook graduate training in linguistics and language pedagogy at MIT where she worked with the late Kenneth Hale, a scholar of indigenous languages and a Lexington resident. Baird received her master’s degree in linguistics from MIT in 2000.

Determined to teach others and revive the language, Baird founded the Wôpanâak Language Reclamation Project and developed accessible teaching materials, including a dictionary for adults and children to use.

Today Baird leads a range of educational programs and afterschool classes for youth, beginning and advanced language courses for adults, and summer immersion camps for all ages in the hopes of establishing a broad base of Wampanoag speakers.

The goal, she said, is to produce documents that the average person can use to keep the language “breathing.”

“It’s a living thing that people have a right to,” said Baird.

In her talk, Baird spoke of the Wampanoag language prophecy. According to the prophecy, there is “a time when our language goes away from us and a time when it comes back. The same children who had a hand in breaking the circle have a hand in bringing it back together.”

Thanks to Baird, it is the time for Wampanoag to come back.

Read more: Linguist breathes life into ancestral language - Lexington, MA - Lexington Minuteman

Thursday, February 24, 2011

What's the sudden rage for acquiring French Bulldogs? they're really cute until everyone has one . . .

132 Shuttle Launches . . .

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

showing back up, disappearing again, it's weird as can be . . .

facebook is on heavy drugs right now, messages and notes and comments and walls and pics and 'likes' disappearing all over the place

This is huge!

ITM Basketball playoffs, round two at Lampasas Friday! Tivy also advanced last night! CONGRATS TO EVERYONE!!!

Down to our final five rehearsals for Never the Sinner! We open next Friday and, despite obstacles that would bring down a small government, we are going to put on an amazing show. TJ Ashabranner, Philip Huddleston, Ken DeZarn, Jeff Cunningham, Jeremy Sosa, Blake DeWitt, Deanna Brandt and Max Watson are going to knock your socks off

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

World Music News Wire #44

A Rave on the Silk Road: Dance Music Icon Banco de Gaia’s Guided Tour of Electronica’s Eclectic Outlands


Persian strings and prog rock. Tibetan songs and ecstatic house. Welcome to the strange, wonderful world of DJ/remixer/dance music maestro Banco de Gaia (aka Toby Marks) whose work sprang from the hopeful exuberance of British house, the joys of sampling, and the advent of global music.

Now, new listeners unfamiliar with this funky founding father of eclectic electronica can savor nearly two decades of hits, rarities, and remixes on Songs From the Silk Road. An intro to the vibrant cross-pollination of house and world music, tracks shift from hard-hitting to playful, pulsing to ambient, all guided by a strong, omnivorous ear for powerful beats and delicate filigrees of sound.

BdG_Songs_From_The_Silk_Road Pensive modal harmonies (“Farewell Ferengistan”—named for an obscure Central Asian term for Europeans) alternate with hand drum-heavy dub grooves (“Amber”). Gentle digital pops and glitches (“Big Men Cry”) give way to driving rhythms, stirring vocals, and glittering keyboards (“Last Train to Lhasa”).

But back in the 80s, guitarist and trumpet player Marks hated drum machines. He loved prog rock, experimental jazz, classical, anything—just not synth pop. “But then house happened and changed everything. It opened up a whole new world for me, and I discovered this new machine-made way of making music,” Marks explains. “Combined with the new technology of sampling, I could suddenly have these big Pink Floyd-esque ideas that I could never have executed otherwise.”

But British house was more than a club craze, Marks recalls, and more than a cool new style of music. It was a scene that picked up where the seekers of ’69 left off, exuding a vibe of positivity and optimism in the social and political doldrums of ‘80s Britain. People talked of love, community, and the possibilities of living together in new, humane ways. They went to raves and, quite literally, embraced strangers.

Musically, this openness meant including a world of musics that were once beyond the pale of pop into dance tracks. Other cultures began sneaking into remixes, even of mainstream rap. “In ‘87, Coldcut remixed ‘Paid in Full’ by Eric B. & Rakim and featured a sample of Ofra Haza,” Marks remembers. “It was straight American hip hop with Israeli vocals, and that really inspired me. I was excited to hear someone combining elements that way outside of jazz and experimental classical music.”

Banco de Gaia was born. Marks took his penchant for the large-scale sonic landscapes of prog rock and began drawing on music from Tibet, Central Asia, and the Middle East to create dreamy, grooving tracks that felt distinctly different from other 90s dance music. Along the way, he realized that what seemed eclectic at first listen actually fit together perfectly. “I find it really stimulating working with Arabic rhythms and Asian string styles, for example,” Marks recounts. “When you start listening to music from other cultures, you soon hear that, below the surface, it’s not all that different. Often the fundamental principles are the same.”

Along with these universal qualities, Banco de Gaia was inspired by technology itself: the sonic spree of sampling, especially in its early days. Marks’s tracks from the early 1990s, such as “Sheesha,” reflect a happy-go-lucky approach to sound. “Back then, it was ‘What makes a noise? I’ll sample it!’” Marks laughs. “I would sample until the memory was full. Then I take some of the bits and mash them up into a tune,” which is how JFK and William S. Burroughs came to trade lines with Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto.

These early tracks made Banco de Gaia a club legend, as house expanded and splintered. Soon, Marks was inspiring a coterie of other electronic musicians fascinated by non-Western forms and sounds, groups like Afro Celt Soundsystem and Asian Dub Foundation. The Cure’s Robert Smith name-checked Banco de Gaia—“Banco de Gaia! Stolichnaya!”—in a song, sending droves of goths to Marks’s website and inspiring the title for “Big Men Cry” (a take on The Cure’s classic “Boys Don’t Cry”).

As word spread, Banco de Gaia climbed charts in the UK, into the album top 40, and won critical acclaim. Audiences were wildly enthusiastic, like the one at the live Glastonbury Festival set audible on “Last Train to Lhasa (Live at Glastonbury).” Marks found himself collaborating with everyone from Natacha Atlas to Pink Floyd sax player Dick Parry.

Recently, Banco de Gaia has paid homage to musicians like Parry and re-imagined the epic Pink Floyd track, “Echoes,” and cuts from King Crimson. To his delight, Marks found himself jamming with British prog rock icons Hawkwind, playing guitar for their 40th anniversary in London as Banco de Gaia celebrated twenty years of music making.

With two decades under his belt, Marks has seen a new generation of fans appear, kids who got turned onto Banco de Gaia thanks to savvy parents. Yet there’s still a gap in awareness, as what Marks calls “world music with a disco beat” seeps into the mainstream yet many know little about the scene and the musicians that started it all.

“I wanted to round up this body of work and create a portfolio for new listeners,” Marks notes. “The origins of this sound, a sound that’s now ubiquitous, are really interesting, and I want people to know more about it. Back then in early days, we were inventing this whole new thing. This album shows that, and how things have evolved since.”

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oooops . . .

Friday, February 18, 2011

PS22 is singing at the Oscars!!! How awesome is that!! Congrats you guys!!

Sleuth, with Jeff Cunnigham and Dave McGuff, has only two more showings left -- will be well worth your time to check this one out -- Hanszen Center, Schreiner University, 7:30 pm tonight and tomorrow . . .

ITM boys basketball team has their first playoff game Tuesday night in Sonora

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Hey Folks!!! Dana Cooper is playing in New Braunfels, Friday, February 18 at Oma's Secret Garden Underground, 12763 Gruene Road, 7PM

Another great honor for Tivy QB Johnny Manziel -- named Ford Texas High School Football Player of the Year . . .

Sleuth, with Jeff Cunningham and Dave McGuff, opens Thursday and runs through Saturday at 7:30 at Hanszen Fine Arts Center at Schreiner U!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

World Music News Wire #43

The Body Ecstatic: Master Afro-Latin Percussionist and Ifa Priest Carlos “Go Go” Gomez’s Elevated Smooth Electronica

Smooth Electronica artist and Latin percussionist Carlos “Go Go” Gomez is three things: master musician, priest, and martial artist. Now after decades as a sought-after rock, pop, and Latin player and as a spiritual seeker, he has found a groove-heavy way to merge these three paths on New Paradigm Global Music, a richly layered, multi-faceted sonic journey designed to engage, inspire, and elevate.

“One of the reasons for creating this music was to integrate the various parts of my life into one,” Gomez explains. “I wanted to break down those barriers that exist between being a priest here and a musician there and a martial artist over there.”

FinalCarloslarge Eloquent drones and elegant beats—punctuated by Gomez’s evocative and passionate percussion—reveal this newfound place of unity and an omnivorous musician at his best. Gomez has dug deep into his Afro-Latin heritage and played with Eartha Kitt, Tito Puente, Maxwell, Sade, and Mariah Carey, to name just a few. Yet this album reflects a new understanding, a new sense of unity and resonance after an amazing career and very full life.

Gomez, raised in the Bronx, grew up playing drums from the moment he could walk. Fascinated by both the Santeria saints/orishas of his Cuban mother and the revelatory Latin rock of Carlos Santana, Gomez became a professional musician and yogi in his teens, founding the groundbreaking group Seguida with several close friends. The band took Latin rock one step further—into soul, funk, and disco territory—and Gomez became an extremely versatile hard-gigging player.

And a powerful percussionist—so powerful it affected his health and nearly cost him his life. After doctors gave up on him, he turned to an Akan (West African) priest in Queens, who through herbs and prayer returned Gomez to both health and music. Gomez was so moved by the experience, he eventually traveled to Nigeria and became an Ifa priest himself. He continues to pursue both physical disciplines such as jeet kune do, tae kwon do, and yoga, and spiritual ones—reading and studying intensively about theosophy, the Kabbalah, and practicing meditation, Taoism, and Inner Alchemy.

This seemingly diverse experience converged one day a year and a half ago during a meditation workshop led by teacher Jim Self (whose voice graces “Law of Attraction”). During one meditation session, Gomez had a “transformative experience,” the kind of concrete, visceral spiritual experience he had craved for years. It changed the way he approached music.

No longer satisfied with simply “being someone else’s hands,” Gomez felt it was time to create music of his own. It was time to give expression to what he had gleaned from a complex and rich life behind the drums, in martial arts studios, and in temples. The resulting album traces an expanding spiral from slow and contained, to energetic and ecstatic, and finally to transcendent. “It’s an invitation to go inside, for listeners to reach the same state I found that day,” Gomez notes.

But this journey is not passive background music; its hypnotic quality is meant to spark movement and meaningful connection to the body. “Aremu Odudua” takes an age-old Santeria melody, as sung by Gomez’s late Afro-Cuban singing teacher Lazaro Ros, that tells of Odudua, the progenitor of the Yoruba. For Gomez, this Abraham-like figure resonates with Mantak Chia’s bone marrow cleansing qi gong—connecting with the bones, one’s very foundation.

The foundation of Gomez’s tracks is drones, and these reflect his many perspectives and influences, as well as his ultimate message. “Metu Neter,” inspired by the divination techniques described by Pan-African spiritual teacher and writer Ra Un Nefer Amen, unfolds in a “non-traditional mantra,” layers of sounds from different philosophies and faiths resonating as one.

“If you listen carefully, there are three levels,” Gomez explains. “The classic OM is divided into five different sounds, as it was taught to me at the Satchidananda Center in New York almost forty years ago. The second layer is a Taoist mantra, and finally the third is an Arabic chant reminiscent of the call to prayer. This was designed to represent the essential unity of all religions, that they are all part of the Universal Truth.”

Though the tracks revolve around drones—the sounds of flowing, splashing water on “Water Dragon” or the bells of “Law of Attraction”—Gomez’s sixth sense for rhythm keeps them hypnotic yet never static. “On ‘Metu Neter,’ for example, I was trying to constantly change my conga playing in a subtle way; it’s a metaphysical part of the song,” Gomez reflects. “Pop music requires absolute precise repetition, and before digital recording, I had to do it physically. That’s how I got on so many records. But I’m breaking that mold, and instead, I’m trying to create constant subtle change so that you barely even notice it, much like life.”

These musical concepts serve a greater goal: Gomez’s message of spiritual unity, love, and connection to the inner self through the body. “I love movement, and that’s why I did yoga and martial arts. But many people think dance and movement is just about seduction and sex,” muses Gomez. “Yet there’s also dancing for your own personal joy and for your spirit. Dancing can lead to internalization, to a transformative state of ecstasy and bliss.”

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Friday, February 11, 2011

RIP to a truly great man, and one of my personal heroes . . . Emory Bellard

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Josh & Kristi Grider play the Lazy Days Canteen at Roddy Tree Ranch on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. -- don't miss this, they're smokin' hot!!!

ITM Project Graduation Valentine's Dance at Roddy Tree, Friday at 7:30!!!

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

World Music News Wire #42

The Sound of Survivor Joy: Steve Riley & the Mamou Playboys Turn Devastation into Defiance with Piaf Tunes, Vintage Gear, and Swamp Funk

Absorb, conquer, and rock. Louisiana’s Francophone communities have faced down exile and persecution, natural and manmade disaster, by remaining resolutely creative. Steve Riley & the Mamou Playboys know this creativity intimately; what fiddler and co-leader David Greely eloquently calls “survivor joy.” It has echoed for centuries in everything from aching solo ballads to swamp pop blasts and funkified two-steps.

Their latest album, Grand Isle calls on this joy and shows its defiant, resilient forms in all their glory, with help from producer, friend, and swamp-n-roll legend CC Adcock. They toss aside roots-music formulas to channel the energy of an entire community of multi-ethnic, hard-hitting eccentrics and activists, from a mad musical inventor of New Orleans to a pensive professor-lyricist, from a vintage recording guru to a bold local staging an oil spill photo exhibit in her dining room.

SRMP_GrandIsle “Cajuns possess the magic ingredient that is only produced by genuine suffering,” Greely explains. “Survivor joy can be found around the world, in the world's best music.”

This magic element has been in full force since the BP oil spill struck Louisiana’s coastal communities, which were still recovering from the double blows of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The outrage and the loss of a way of life loomed large in the Playboys’ minds as they worked on their first studio album in five years.

Accordionist and singer Steve Riley recalled walking through the dining room of a local woman determined to share the true nature of the disaster with the world by exhibiting devastating photos of local wildlife slick with deadly oil. He captured the spirit of these community efforts in a call for transformation on “C’est l’heure pour changer (This is the time for change).”

After the disaster, Greely shared a stage with local Creole singers, whose poignant call and response evoked the depth of his rage and sorrow. Songs like “C’est trop (It’s too much)” or “Grand Isle” seethe and mourn, portraying the beautiful spot on the coast where jumping dolphins and picnic tables piled high with seafood were replaced by clean-up crews and TV news cameras.

Yet at the heart of what the Playboys do lies joy; it's music for dancing, even when it's political, historical, or intellectual. It’s music that has kept a people together through thick and thin, from French village to Canadian settlement to American exile. “You can go to cemetery in Poitou, France where it all started and see the same names you find in the phone book here in Louisiana,” Greely remarks. “We started in the same village together, and despite all that effort, or maybe because of it, we’re still together.”

Though a constant unifying element for Cajuns, the sound of survivor joy is diverse and varied. With help from Adcock, who’s played with everyone from Bo Diddley to Buckwheat Zydeco, the Mamou Playboys pushed the sonic possibilities hard. Still inspired lyrically and melodically by Louisiana roots music—neglected gems on old 78s or old collections of Creole proverbs (“Pierre”)—the group found Cajun music in the most unexpected places: in Edith Piaf songs, in ska rockers, even in ’80s pop.

Adcock laughs when he describes how ’80s tunes fit beautifully with Louisiana beats. Adcock and childhood friend Riley would use the two-step skills they learned dancing to Cajun bands with their parents and woo girls at high school dances, to new wave hits. This connection inspired the band’s take on “Danser sans comprendre (Dancing Without Understanding).”

Other connections also yielded gold in the studio. “We were trying to find the right groove for ‘C’est l’heure,’” Riley remembers. “CC and I messed around in the studio a bit and got a really cool groove. It came out with this ska feel,” aptly reflecting Louisiana’s peculiar position on the northern fringe of the Caribbean. “It’s like some of our Cajun beats, but way more relaxed.”

Inspiration for one of the album’s striking covers, Edith Piaf’s “Je ne regrette rien,” came from music industry guru Seymour Stein, who signed Madonna, The Talking Heads, and the Ramones to Sire back in the day. After hearing the Playboys one night, he suggested they try a Piaf tune, a comment greeted skeptically by the band. That is, until they tried it out and discovered “It’s really just a great swamp pop tune,” Greely grins.

Then there’s "Chatterbox," a song penned by Mr. Quintron, a musician whose eccentricity stands out even in New Orleans: He’s invented wacky drum machines, a quirky stage persona, and launched clubs in the 9th Ward. But his earthy, grungy, funky musical sensibilities resonate with the Playboys on the track, about a wake for a Cajun gal who was a fixture on the New Orleans punk scene. Named for a cafe in Eunice, Louisiana, a town important to both Riley and Adcock’s families, it captures the meeting of hipster weird and old-school bayou that shapes the region’s music. All to a double-kick zydeco beat harkening back to the heyday of Clifton Chenier.

The frenetic diversity—what Adcock calls “a Cajun iPod on shuffle”—evokes a musical journey through the decades, using vintage equipment in studios across several states to get just the right sound. “Lyons Point,” a tribute to the self-reliant spirit of Riley’s wife’s hometown, uses period reverb equipment to create a sound reminiscent of the Cajun records of the 1930s. “It’s not pristine, I’ll tell you that,” Greely exclaims. “We’re talking about using tape, playing through tube equipment, singing into mics shaped like silver footballs, just the strangest thing you’ve ever seen.”

Along with unmistakable and unique sonic qualities, vintage recording approaches pushed the Playboys musically. “When you're using this kind of equipment, you're committed; you can't fix it later,” explains Greely.

“The Mamou Playboys don’t put out an album unless we have something to say,” Riley reflects, “unless we’re setting the bar higher. This record is designed to make people scratch their head and wonder, and to push the music forward.”

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Tuesday, February 01, 2011

World Music News Wire #41

Sacred Trees, Demon Dances, and a Bold Beat: Japan’s Kodo Comes to North America with Innovative New Pieces and Staging, January-March 2011

Drums did more than make music in Japanese tradition. They were valuable tools found at every shrine. They marked the physical and metaphorical edge of a village: If you could hear them beat, you were part of the community.

Kodo, Japan’s preeminent performing arts ensemble, has lived this principle for thirty years, using thundering, soothing sounds that turn audiences into one big village from Asia to South America. Known for its unique interweaving of committed lifestyle, musical mastery, and vibrant traditions, the group returns to North America in January through March 2011, with four fresh pieces, a brand new recording, and the pulse of ancient festivals.

Akatsuki-cover Kodo unites high-energy percussion, elegant music, dance, and the striking physical prowess needed to sustain a precise yet powerful sound. Along with four pieces new to North America, the 2011 One Earth tour will see the debut of the youthful Kenta Nakagome on the group’s hallmark giant drum, the almost 900-pound o-daiko - a challenging, show-stopping instrument that demands both strength and tenderness.

This contrast of bold and delicate runs throughout Kodo’s new album, Akatsuki. The CD and bonus video chronicling the group and the landscapes that inspire it act as companions to Kodo’s dynamic live shows. Shamisen, koto, and kokyu (traditional Japanese fiddle) complement the percussive force, revealing the versatility of Japanese tradition and the performers who long to honor it. For several of the group’s newer compositions, featured both on tour and on the album, Kodo brings out different facets, creating unique arrangements for both live and recorded performance.

Innovation is deeply rooted for the group, however, and constantly refers back to Kodo’s unique grasp of Japanese traditional arts. The group has nurtured a new approach to staging and set design, which brings the spirit of Kodo’s wooden rehearsal hall to the world’s stages. Instead of hiding drums until needed, most of the group’s instruments remain in view, much as they do in the wooden, ship-like hall where the group creates its pieces. It brings a fresh vigor to the performance, highlighting the simple but beautiful forms created by drum, musician, and empty space and drawing the audience into the Kodo community.

The world-premiere original work that will open Kodo’s North American performances evokes the poignant bond between the ensemble and its home on the remote cultural treasure trove of Japan’s Sado Island. “Sakaki,” composed by Kodo member Masaru Tsuji, takes its name from a sacred tree used in Shinto purification rituals. Yet its origins are strictly Sado: the solo male dancer and the rhythms invoke Sado’s Onidaiko (demon drumming) dances, when villagers in fearsome masks are transformed into dancing demons. With crimson jaws and wild flowing hair, dancers force misfortune to turn tail, protecting crops, animals, and families for the year to come.

Tsuji reframes this bold and colorful display as a pensive moment, a coming to stillness before the great burst of taiko energy. But he, like others in the younger generation of Kodo artists, learned the heart of the piece from Sado locals, instilling deeper trust and understanding between artistic newcomers to the community and salt-of-the-earth islanders. “Pieces like ‘Sakaki’ show our profound commitment to the island,” explains Kodo member Jun Akimoto. “This dance piece is a token of thanks and appreciation from the younger generation of Kodo to the islanders who taught them traditional arts.”

Kodo’s uniquely intertwined communal life and commitment to art owes more than just this piece to Sado, an island the size of Okinawa off Japan’s northwest coast. The island saw an influx of new inhabitants when gold was discovered during the Edo period, and saw several centuries of artists and intellectuals in exile, extraordinary men banished by Japan’s rulers for political reasons. “Many cultures in turn came to Sado on thousands of ships from all over Japan. That made the island’s culture very complex and interesting,” explains Akimoto, who has worked with the group for over a decade.

In post-war Japan, Sado Island became a haven for artists seeking a different, more communal approach to creativity and tradition. The organic blend of cosmopolitan and folk, of new and old, makes Kodo’s repertoire feel constantly fresh, even as the group has developed its own way of life, trained hundreds of apprentices, built a remarkable arts village, and toured the world tirelessly for decades, setting the benchmark for all taiko that has followed since.

Yet relations between Sado Islanders and the newcomers were complicated at first, explains Akimoto: “Most of the Kodo members are from elsewhere, but we moved to Sado and live communally. For the first few years, some thought we were suspicious. We would run seven miles down the coast every morning, even in rain and snow. They thought this was crazy,” he laughs. “Nowadays, they are more welcoming and try to have us as a part of the community.”

This close tie to Sado doesn’t mean Kodo only finds inspiration in Japanese traditions and forms. Several pieces new to North America—including “Sora” and “Stride”—show how taiko can find common ground between unexpected musical territories. Kodo composers draw on the Irish beats they heard on a European tour or the samba reggae that caught their ear in Northeastern Brazil.

Kodo’s unifying beat extends the global village of the drum to unsuspecting and skeptical listeners. A recent tour in Europe provided a vivid example. Kodo came to Naples, where they played the prestigious Real Teatro di San Carlo, the world’s oldest continually operating opera house. The audience, decked out in formal attire, jewels, and furs, didn’t quite know what to make of Kodo’s unwavering energy. “During the first half, there was little applause. Nobody spoke, and there was total silence,” Akimoto recalls. “But by intermission, we could tell they were getting excited. They eventually went crazy. I never thought that would happen. They eventually all stood up and applauded.”

Kodo’s percussive fireworks and unexpected lifestyle reflect the ancient, complex traditions of the Japanese drum—and how Kodo judiciously harnesses its power to create something more than music.

“The drum is a ritual tool in Japan, played whenever a community needed to come together. If you can hear the sound of the drum, that means you are part of the community,” Akimoto recounts. “We would like to rephrase this story. If Kodo can bring drums and travel around the world and deliver the sound of drums there, we can unite the people who hear the sound and make them part of a community.”

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