Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Red Hot Two Step: Zydeco Scion C.J. Chenier Shows the World That It Can't Sit Down

C.J. Chenier talks a lot about energy. Ask him why he recorded a certain song and he’ll tell you he likes the energy of it. Why does he love zydeco music? It’s the energy. And so it should come as no surprise that C.J.’s new album, Can’t Sit Down is so jam-packed with energy it could power a small city!

Recorded live in one session at Rock Romano’s Red Shack Studio in Houston, Texas, Can’t Sit Down is all about truth in advertising: give it a spin and watch your feet get to work whether you want them to or not. C.J.—whose father was the late Clifton Chenier, perhaps the most celebrated zydeco musician in the genre’s history—cut the album live in the studio quickly, in order to capture the freshness—the energy—of the material. For that reason, he dispensed with a producer, opting to handle the task himself.

“I figured that nobody knows better what I want than I do,” he says. “Nobody knows better how I want my accordion to sound. Nobody knows better how I want my band to sound. So I decided to stop going with other people’s ears and start going with my own.”

The 11 tracks on Can’t Sit Down are among the most potent of C.J.’s long career, starting with the album-opening title track, written by Clifton. “I play that song pretty much how I played it with my daddy,” C.J. says. “I really liked it so I said, ‘OK, let’s try this one,’ and everybody fell right in. It just clicked. That’s a sign that something is a keeper, when everybody can fall in and it feels good.”

“Hot Tamale Baby” is the other Clifton-penned tune on the album, and then there’s “Paper In My Shoe,” a song written by Boozoo Chavis and Eddie Shuler and usually credited as the first zydeco hit. But some of the songs on Can’t Sit Down come not from the zydeco world at all but from unexpected sources, especially “Clap Hands,” penned by the great singer-songwriter Tom Waits. “I didn’t understand Tom Waits at first,” confesses C.J. “But my guitar player is a Tom Waits freak and one day he brought a video of Tom Waits. That’s where I learned to appreciate what he was doing. When I heard ‘Clap Hands’ I said, ‘I like that song. I can do something with that song.’”

Three blues staples bring even more variety to Can’t Sit Down: Joe Williams’ classic “Baby Please Don’t Go,” John Lee Hooker’s “Dusty Road” and Richard M. Jones’ “Trouble In Mind.” Explains C.J., “You gotta add flavor. When I started playing with my daddy, he played flavorful all night. He played blues, some boogie, he played some waltzes. He mixed it up. You put a good blues on there and it’ll energize the rest of the album.”

One last cover song on the album holds special meaning to C.J., Curtis Mayfield’s “We Gotta Have Peace,” which closes the CD. “That song reflects what I’ve been feeling,” C.J. says. “We need peace, we gotta have it. That’s why I have my grandson talking in the beginning, because if we don’t get it together, where is his future?”

Rounding out the album are three C.J, Chenier originals: “Red Shack Zydeco,” which C.J. calls “a true zydeco song”; “Zydeco Boogie,” which he co-authored with an old friend, Wilbert “T.A.” Miller; and “Ridin’ With Uncle Cleveland.” Uncle Cleveland would be Cleveland Chenier, Clifton’s late older brother and the acknowledged master of zydeco washboard. Says C.J., “He’s the grandfather of the washboard. Nobody has the technique he had. My uncle Cleveland used to call me sometimes on Sundays and he’d say, ‘I’m coming to pick you up. We’re gonna take a ride.’ We’d go ride around. He’d always have a half pint of Crown Royale in his top coat pocket. He’d pick me up on Sundays and him and me would hit a club here and hit a club there, and just have a good time.”

Indeed, C.J. Chenier has been having a good time doing what he does for more than three decades. He was still in his teens when he started out, playing in funk bands in his hometown of Port Arthur, Texas. C.J.’s life changed when Clifton asked his son—who had played saxophone and keyboards before picking up his dad’s instrument, the accordion—to join his Red Hot Louisiana Band. “My mother told me that he was always saying that when I get old enough he was going to try to get me in his band,” says C.J. “I never thought it was gonna happen.”

When that time did come, C.J. admits, he didn’t quite “get” zydeco music at first. “I just didn’t understand it. It all sounded the same to me. Until I started playing it. Then I was able to understand what was going on. But every time I heard it my feet were tapping and my head was boppin’. It was such a fun music and the people partied so hard that I fell in love.”

By the time Clifton passed away in 1987, C.J. knew that his life’s calling was to continue his father’s work—not to play the way Clifton did but to bring zydeco into the present. “My daddy always told me to do the best I can do in my style,” he says. “You master what you do. He told me, ‘Be yourself.’ Clifton Chenier already did his thing. I’m trying to just be C.J. Chenier.”

Make no mistake about: C.J. Chenier is a master too, and Can’t Sit Down is surely this master’s masterwork!

An Upward Slide: Slide to Freedom Finds the Divine Crossroads of Indian Classical and Southern Sacred Music on 20,000 Miles

They sat in silence, holding their breath as the last note of a wild, twining jam faded in a legendary Memphis studio. “Well, what are we going to call that?” laughed sacred steel elder Calvin Cooke, looking across the room at the 17th-generation Indian virtuoso, the hard-touring Canadian folk musician, the merry tabla whiz, the bold singer-songwriter from Austin.

The answer: Slide to Freedom, an ongoing conversation exploring where many sliding, singing strings from across the planet meet. Created by established roots and world music multi-instrumentalist Doug Cox and revered Indian classical master Salil Bhatt, the project brings together fantastic flights of musicianship, wild slide inventions, and the great, transcendent ache that unites sacred songs and deeply personal ballads.

On 20,000 Miles, the band, now regularly joined by Canadian-Indian percussionist Cassius Khan, collaborated with Calvin Cooke, founding father of sacred steel, and members of electric gospel legends The Campbell Brothers, as well as special guest BettySoo, the Americana-inspired darling of Austin’s singer-songwriter scene.

Striking Indian classical pieces weave into newly forged spirituals. Unexpected covers (Hank Williams, Chuck Berry, The Zombies) trade licks with ghazals (Northern Indian songs touching on the divine and erotic). Sacred steel sounds alternate with the ingenious complexity of Bhatt’s satvik veena (a hybrid between a slide guitar and the traditional Indian veena) and Cox’s unique instrumentarium. The result: a catchy, uplifting reflection on the transcendent buzz and moan of mortality.


“Down in Memphis, we had three members of the Campbell Brothers, though the whole band came to watch. We had Calvin Cooke, a Korean-American singer, two guys from India, and a white guy, me,” Cox laughs. “When we were setting up, someone called Boo Mitchell,” the second-generation head of the legendary Royal Recording Studios. “They asked who he was recording, and he answered, ‘The Rainbow Coalition!’”

But this wasn’t about diversity for its own sake, or for quirky novelty. This was a serious, if unexpected, meeting of musical minds. “We weren’t just looking at charts and banging off parts,” Cox continues. “We were interested in what the others were doing—and in taking risks.”

“At the start of the Memphis session, you could feel the different players ripple in and out of confidence, between riffing and tiptoeing because they didn’t want to stomp all over each other,” Soo recalls. “We were all trying to get an idea of where the person would go next. But at the end of the day, everyone let loose. It was magical.”

The session’s breathless final moment and Cooke’s quip came at the end of the grimly named yet musically uplifting “Suicislide,” a free-form dash that harnessed Khan’s vocal abilities and challenged Soo to reach deep, far out of her usual comfort zone.

“Calvin was sitting there, this serene wizard, but as soon as he put his hand to the strings, he created these amazing moments. He could really hold a groove and make it refreshing,” notes Khan. The elder statesman of sacred steel, a recently evolved grass-roots slide style born in Southern churches, Cooke’s bittersweet lines feel at home with Khan’s tender percussion on Soo’s intense “Still Small Voice.”

The heartfelt precision of Khan’s tabla is matched by the seemingly effortless solos that flow from Bhatt and Cox. Often cheekily compared to Jimi Hendrix, Bhatt can shred, but can also make his strings express deep subtleties backed by 500 years of family tradition and a lifetime of rigor. Cox, equally at home on a variety of instruments and in a range of genres, adds distinctive, gritty vocals and intriguing timbres, letting his gadgie (a metal resophone developed by an eccentric English instrument maker) rumble out tasty bass lines.

With years of collaboration behind them, Bhatt and Cox have reached a new level of friendship and interaction on 20,000 Miles, one that moves away from long-format cross-cultural jams to nuanced ballads and carefully crafted instrumentals. “Salil has the ability to reach out to audiences that might not be able sit still for Indian Classical music,” Cox explains. “He was playing to reach out to North Americans in a new way, rather than just responding. Together, we found a way to make both traditions more compact and accessible to new listeners.”

Yet Bhatt, Cox, and Khan carefully kept true to the spirit and practice of Indian classical music, while digging deeper into gospel and country. For more classical pieces like “Vishwakans”—composed by Bhatt’s renowned father Vishwa, a frequent guest musician with Slide to Freedom—the trio recorded together in Khan’s Vancouver-area living room, sitting in a circle on the floor.

“With our Indian Classical background, Salil and I had to retain the appropriate feel, while leaving room for Doug’s input. For the ghazal (‘Anjuman’), we all had to remain more traditional,” says Khan, a rare perfomer who can play tabla and sing at the same time. “But for many of the other compositions, we three relied on our uncanny intuition. We winked through it and jumped in with both feet.”

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Premier League, The Rooney Rule, And Changing The Game

US National Team Players Association, September 23, 2011

England's Premier League is considering instituting a version of the Rooney Rule, the National Football League's mechanism to insure minority coaches have a fair shot at head coaching jobs.

By Jason Davis - WASHINGTON, DC (Sep 23, 2011) US Soccer Players -- England's Premier League finds itself working through a difficult equation when it comes to race and coaching at the professional level. On one side are the vast numbers of minorities playing the sport at all levels, including 25% or more at the professional level. On the other, the number two. That's how many black managers are currently employed out of 92 professional clubs.

For North American pro sports fans, this is a familiar discussion. How does a sport, especially one with a long history of denying opportunities based on skin color, right that historical inequality?

Though no one should be arguing that North American professional sports is devoid of racial bias, meaningful steps have been taken to create opportunity. There's a long list of firsts for African American and Hispanic players in Major League Baseball, the oldest pro team sport in the United States. What was - decades of institutionalized racism that barred participation - is no more. That list of firsts includes players, coaches, managers, league executives, and team owners.

English professional soccer's efforts to remedy the lack of opportunity for minority players along with the environment that waited for them should they make the professional level began relatively late. Into the 1980's, minorities trying to play in the English League were still facing a day-to-day racism that was overt, menacing, and dangerous. The English game has changed over the last twenty years on the field and in the stands. Where it hasn't is on the sidelines.

Around 25% of English professional players representing multiple countries and heritages would identify as black. The numbers are significantly smaller for Asian and Hispanic players. Yet just two out of 92 professional clubs have black managers. That doesn't include the black players and coaches working in England that never reach the professional level. The number only gets bigger on one side of the equation. England has already admitted they have a problem, and they're now working on a solution.

Across the Atlantic, the National Football League faced this very issue. The coaching ranks were not representative of the black players in the NFL, much less African-American participation at all levels of the game. With numerous black coaches, it made no sense that so few ever ended up as NFL head coaches. The numbers simply didn't add up, and Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney responded by championing what's become known as the Rooney rule. Simply put, NFL teams have to show the league that they've interviewed at least one minority candidate for open coaching positions.

Since the rule's adoption, this has created opportunities for black coaches. It worked, because even though it did not mandate teams hire minority candidates, it allowed those candidates the opportunity to dispel erroneous notions about their ability to do the job based on historical prejudice. Rooney's own Steelers won the Super Bowl with an African-American coach who never played in the NFL.

While England debates the merit of a similar rule for the Premier League down through the Football League, American soccer is left out of the conversation for two reasons: There's not the historical precedent of denying opportunities to minority candidates, and the League has already acted, enacting a modified version of the Rooney rule.

There may not be a sense that the sport in the United States suffers from the same institutional racism that infects the English game. Part of that is the newness of Major League Soccer. A league born in the mid 1990's isn't going to carry with it the weight of history. With professional soccer already considered a foreign sport by most Americans, having a multi-national component on the field and on the sidelines made sense.

By establishing the MLS version of the Rooney rule - called the Coaching Diversity Initiative - the League made it clear they would work to try to solve what's now being discussed in England. Even for a new league like MLS, there's the potential for problems. Acting early helps to prevent the perception of bias in hiring practices. Considering the multiple ethnicities participating in soccer in North America, it's a necessity.

Though the rule’s announcement came and went so quietly that most American soccer fans probably don’t even know it exists, it's in place for a reason. Hispanic player and participation numbers are huge in the United States. Groups and individuals have worked for years to establish a soccer tradition among African Americans. Success on the field means a support system that got the player to that point. Those coaches and administrators should also have opportunities at higher levels. It's only fair, something the English professional game continues to struggle with.

Mandating teams interview at least one minority candidate, one that is presumably qualified for the position, hurts no one. It's a valuable step in a process.

England is considering taking a major step based on historical precedent in working towards making sure minorities are given equal opportunity in the coaching ranks, but it's a small step in the big picture.

Soccer can be the game for all people, regardless of race, ethnicity or gender. Though even in soccer the elite athletes at the highest professional level have rare athletic prowess, that's not a necessity to understand the game as a coach. For a sport that has been identified so heavily with exclusion, soccer is in the position to take the biggest steps towards full inclusion.

Jason Davis is the founder of Contact him: Follow him on Twitter:

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

High Holy Revival: The Afro-Semitic Experience Gets Age-Old Prayers Dancing in the Aisles on Further Definitions of the Days of Awe

For The Afro-Semitic Experience, there is dancing before the temple of sound. The kings and queens of the Cotton Club trade eights with the rock stars of cantorial music’s golden age. Booker T and the MGs and Astor Piazolla inspire new visions of High Holy Day chants.

Joined by the last of the old-school cantors, Jack Mendelson, the group lays down Further Definitions of the Days of Awe, live explorations of cantorial music, jazz, Latin vibes, Afrobeat and soul. Innovative technique and rock-solid roots get feet tapping and spirits soaring. Just in time for the High Holy Days, the (Jewish) New Year and Yom Kippur, the album presents a positive, cross-cultural reimagination of repentance and catharsis.

Creating new settings for the midnight prayers of Selichot, the service that marks the beginning of the most holy time of the Jewish liturgical year, The Afro-Semitic Experience returns worship to its creative, vigorous roots. It celebrates the intersection of gospel spirit and the passion of hazzanut (an ancient Jewish style of cantorial singing). It finds powerful new points of contact with the divine.

“Prayer and study are a major tenet of all three Abrahamic faiths. That’s great, but to get there, worshippers often got rid of cathartic experience,” reflects group founder, bassist and composer David Chevan. “But we need the dancing at the temple, those ecstatic moments. That’s really where we’re coming from.”


For a musician like Chevan and group co-founder, composer, and keyboard wizard Warren Byrd, the links were clear between the most sacred of religious moments in cantorial masterpieces on old 78s and sounds of jazz, soul, and gospel. Listening to Mendelson, who grew up singing with some of hazzanut’s greats, Chevan felt the same contours and dynamics that he experienced as a seasoned jazz performer and as an occasional bassist in several of Brooklyn’s African-American churches.

“I was curious how I would accompany this music if I ever got a chance,” Chevan recalls. “I realized that The Afro-Semitic Experience could do it really wonderfully. We could color the settings the right way and make them interesting, while still bringing out the spiritual qualities.”

The group finds the sway of tango in a stately Selichot prayer (“Adoshem, Part I”) and Otis Redding-style soul in their setting of “Viddui”, a prayer that is an acrostic list of sins worshipers chant to seek atonement High-energy Latin beats (“Adoshem, Part 2”) transform fervent prayers, while slow-burning congas (“Shomer Israel”) and atmospheric trumpet and bowed bass (“Tivieynu”) perfectly support the deep expressiveness of cantorial music.

This moment—where poignant emotion and sonic prowess intertwine—unites Jewish and African American musical tradition. “I’d spent plenty of time as a child and young adult in the presence of the ululations of high praise in churches, seeing my sister, or my neighbor’s son or daughter “slain in the spirit” or speaking in tongues accompanied by Hammond organ, piano, drums, and clapping hands,” Byrd recounts. “The melismata of hazzanut is virtually congruent to the trills and swoops of gospel singing. Our group’s improvisational directive is as free as playing impromptu accompaniment for spontaneous songsters at the Sunday morning service.“

The group’s mix of spirit, complexity, and spontaneity impressed Cantor Jack Mendelson, who heard the group’s interpretation of several vintage cantorial performances. He began meeting with Chevan, singing him lines he had learned and honed over decades of training, davening, and teaching others—including his filmmaker son Daniel, who sings with him on several tracks.

Mendelson is one of the last in a long line of cantors that extends back to the Old World, men revered for their voices and followed them as avidly as any rock star today. Jacob Mendelson caught the tail end of an era when jazz icons would catch top cantors at services, and cantorial singers often savored shows by the great African-American vocalists.

Steeped in the improvisatorial savoir faire of cantorial tradition, Mendelson loved getting a chance to connect his art with jazz. “I can go crazy as long as I stay in the mode. You have to practice and have a good ear, like a jazz musician,” Mendelson explains. “I ask all of my cantorial students to listen to Ella Fitzgerald. When she sings a song, she sings around the song. It’s never the same thing twice...which is what a great cantor does.”

Yet vocal pyrotechnics are only part of the deep Afro-Semitic connection Mendelson and the group bring to light. “For me, hazzanus comes from a place of deep struggle and sadness beneath the surface. There’s a lot more going on emotionally once you tap into that,” notes Daniel Mendelson, who absorbed both his father’s and his opera singer mother’s art. “In a similar way, jazz comes from a place of the blues. To play the blues, you have to know why they need to be played. But it’s also finding joy through that struggle.”

In a small circle or a big house of worship-turned-dance-floor, The Afro-Semitic Experience brings people to this joy. “At a benefit show several years ago in a chapel at Yale, we got into a groove and all of a sudden, the other performers jumped up and started dancing together,” Chevan recalls. “There we were, in a church, with everyone dancing, looking at each other, and thinking wow. It’s all making sense.”

Not long after Katrina, Byrd recalls, “We found ourselves in Lafayette, Louisiana, for a gig at a synagogue. The turnout was small, and the sanctuary was deemed too big by our small contingent, so we moved to the rabbi’s study. At our slight nudge, the attendees formed a semi-circle around us. It was one of the best concerts we ever had.”

This esprit du corps rises from a communal approach to composition. Though Chevan often plays instigator, bringing food for thought to the group, members will craft the perfect horn line or add just the right percussive elements. When Mendelson insisted they work on a Hassidic kaddish together, at first “I didn’t feel it,” Chevan says. “Then I realized that the horn line needed to capture that almost rude boy ska flavor, as well as a klezmer vibe, and we figured the piece out. The neat thing is how much those sounds overlap. [Veteran percussionist] Baba Coleman really brings that to the piece.”

The commitment to group music making has turned the group’s message of cross-cultural connection into a big, dancing reality. “The best moments often come with audiences from different communities. We get to watch people getting into the moment, touched by what we’re doing,” reflects Chevan. “It’s amazing when communities do come together, and you see them listen to each other’s songs and start to dance, side by side. “

“In this music, there really is no room for narcissism,” Byrd muses. “The tuning in to my fellow musicians and the audience trumps any self-centeredness.”

Friday, September 09, 2011

Club And Country

By Jason Davis, US National Team Players Association

For American fans, there could be no better reminder that the interests of club and country are diametrically opposed than the last round of US National Team friendlies. Players that are both coming into their own as professionals as well as featuring for the National Team find themselves pulled in different directions by teams bent on forcefully expressing their respective positions. American internationals are finding out the hard way that what's good for their status with the National Team isn't necessarily good for them in the eyes of their full-time employers.

At a time when European clubs are pushing for less international release dates when their agreement on the calendar with FIFA expires in 2014, club vs country is once again a hot issue. How does that impact the United States? Well, consider the situation of Jozy Altidore and AZ Alkmaar.

Viewing form through the prism of the potential National Team contributions, Jozy Altidore getting the starting job at AZ is a welcomed rush of success for a player long tabbed for glory in a USA jersey. With former US National Team stalwart Earnie Stewart serving as AZ's technical director, Altidore is in a unique circumstance for a National Teamer in Europe. For Altidore, that's made it an opportune situation in Holland after spending several seasons trying to win a starting job at various stops on loan from his former club Villarreal.

With AZ, Altidore has already scored more goals than all but the most optimistic outlook could have foreseen, and seems to be coming into his own as a (still very) young player. Some of the credit for that has to go to AZ manager Gertjan Verbeek, who showed confidence in his American acquisition - one he had a hand in landing in the first place - and allowed him to shine. It should be all sunshine and smiles for the National Team. A striker the team needs to have take the next step is happy and scoring with a good club in a good league in Europe.

The trouble started with the change in US coach. Verbeek had a deal with former National Team coach Bob Bradley. No Altidore for the September friendlies as he settles in with AZ. Considering how well that settling in process has gone, keeping Altidore in Holland for the September dates took on an even greater importance. Sending Altidore to LA was simply not in Verbeek's plans.

Enter new National Team coach Jurgen Klinsmann, who made it clear early and often that he would be choosing a first choice squad whenever possible. With the September dates already set on the schedule before Klinsmann took over, the European National Teamers got the call to travel to Los Angeles for a Friday fixture, and then Belgium on Tuesday.

The travel, plus the training, plus the international fixtures themselves, gives European coaches good reason to be miffed when their American players are called up for friendly games split between the US and Europe. Needless to say, for Verbeek this was a problem.

Verbeek, being the club coach and beholden to FIFA rules that require he release Altidore at Klinsmann’s request, isn’t beholden to any rule that says he must hold his tongue. He didn’t, and let fly with venom to Voetbal International :

“That's eleven hours flying. And then that doesn't factor in the time difference. This is very dumb of Klinsmann. This serves no one... I have tried to stop it, but he did not appear lenient. And Jozy himself said he didn't want to go... Klinsmann has been appointed the successor to Bradley and clearly he wants to draw his own lines. Whereas it concerns all parties, is it not more important that Jozy gets fit faster? It is pure self-importance from a man who had but one year as manager with a club and got fired. That says enough."

So we know at least two things. 1) Verbeek isn't shy with his opinion, and 2) Klinsmann's plans go beyond the desires of a European club coach.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Belgium 1 - USA 0

September 06, 2011

The United States historic difficulties winning in Europe continued on Tuesday, with a loss at Brussels's King Baudouin Stadium. Nicolas Lombaerts scored the game's only goal in the 55th minute. Both teams had would-be goals called off, with the United States thinking they had an 86th minute equalizer only for the referee to decide otherwise.

Five Things From Belgium

US National Team, US soccer, Belgium, USA, carlos bocanegra

By J Hutcherson - WASHINGTON, DC (Sep 3, 2011) US Soccer Players -- The United States lost 1-0 to Belgium in Brussels on Tuesday. Here are five things, a few game specific and a few general, to consider as the National Team moves onto the October friendly window.
The Goalkeeper

Nothing buys a team time to get other aspects of their game together like a goalkeeper stopping shots. That was Tim Howard on Tuesday, as if anyone really needed that reminder. What Howard did especially late in the first-half wasn't just keep Belgium out. He kept them honest, forcing them to reconsider their shot selections and what they were doing with their own offense.

That disrupted the flow of a team that seemed to be in control. Instead of going into the half with a goal, they went in with questions. Whether it's Europe or CONCACAF, club or country, that's what having a player of Howard's caliber means. When he's own his game, he wins time. Other than goals, that's the most valuable commodity available over 90 minutes. It's easy enough to stress the save that didn't happen without considering the ones that did. That's not a blanket excuse, but in this game on this night it applies to what Howard did for his team.

We've seen three versions of the National Team under Klinsmann, and we've seen who he subs in and why. What this tells us is simple. When goals aren't getting scored in the first-half, where does Klinsmann look? First place is the point of attack. That's meant bringing on Juan Agudelo, a player that is capable of making the kind of solo runs that can shake up the opposing defense. What Agudelo has been doing in the Klinsmann setup is more than the super sub role where a coach brings on an attacking player late in the hope that one or more goals fall. Agudelo enters the game earlier than a super sub - in the 63rd against Costa Rica and at halftime against Belgium. He's stepping into a role that already exists in the Klinsmann system, a way to reset the attack in real time. It's a lot to put on a young player who isn't a given in the lineup at club level, and it's an interesting move from the National Team coach.
System Soccer

One of the issues with a new coach openly talking about a new system is that it becomes tough to judge early in any direction. Sweep through all challengers, and the expectations might get raised past any realistic assessment. Fail to win, and patience becomes an issue. No coach wants to be locked into a time line. There's a long list of coaches still arguing that they didn't have enough time to get their system in place before being shown the door at clubs and with National Teams all over the world. Though there's no question that appeals to a system that has yet to show any benefits can be used as a crutch, it's much tougher to figure out a set of realistic expectations. 'What should happen when?' before the obvious milestones of qualifying and competitions. It's as simple as that, and it's not limited to the coach or those running US Soccer.

Soccer America's Paul Gardner had an interesting point in a recent article following the loss against Costa Rica. The US has an established reputation for fitness, yet that's become a talking point for Klinsmann. The US could be fitter is the simple takeaway, especially for players in Major League Soccer. Yet there's a push/pull between a National Team coach stressing fitness with limited time with a squad and the MLS teams doing what they do day in and day out. Again, like system soccer it becomes tough to fairly judge. There's certainly such a thing as focusing too much on fitness with any professional club. It's a thin line between fit and exhausted, or over training and becoming more susceptible to injury. That's no knock against what Klinsmann is saying or doing, by the way. It's just the reality of only having the National Team squad for limited periods of time. With that in mind, the bulk of the work happens at club level, and there's a wide disparity in club training environments.

There's an argument that we're hearing too much too soon from Klinsmann. There are two quick points to make here. 1) It's a nice contrast to the previous setup for those working in the media. 2) Distill his comments and he's not really saying that much. Klinsmann has shown he's more than capable of staying with a set of talking point, slightly altering them for a given situation but not offering much in the way of depth. The problem is the more those points get repeated, along with Klinsmann's almost contagious enthusiasm for the job and his team, the more it opens up Klinsmann and his team to some basic complaints. First and foremost, there's the lack of goals and the wins that normally go with them. Klinsmann deserves credit for his goodwill campaign, but it has its limits. After Tuesday, there's a case he's already reached them. Keeping quiet has its benefits, even for a personality as affable and as genuinely engaged as Klinsmann.


Match: USA vs. Belgium
Date: Sept. 6, 2011
Competition: International Friendly
Venue: King Baudouin Stadium; Brussels, Belgium
Kickoff: 2:45 p.m. ET
Attendance: TBD
Weather: 61 degrees; light rain

Scoring Summary: 1 2 F
Belgium 0 1 1
USA 0 0 0
BEL – Nicolas Lombaerts (Marouane Fellaini) 55th minute

USA: 1-Tim Howard; 2-Steve Cherundolo, 4-Clarence Goodson, 5-Carlos Bocanegra (capt.), 3-Timmy Chandler; 6-Maurice Edu, 10- Jose Torres (15-Jeff Larentowicz, 76), 8-Clint Dempsey; 7-Robbie Rogers (14-Kyle Beckerman, 46), 9-Jozy Altidore (18-Juan Agudelo, 46), 11-Brek Shea
Subs not used: 12-Bill Hamid, 13- Michael Orozco Fiscal, 16-Sacha Kljestan, 17- Jonathan Spector
Head Coach: Jurgen Klinsmann

BEL: 1-Simon Mignolet; 2-Laurent Ciman, 3-Toby Alderweireld, 4-Vincent Kompany (capt.), 5-Nicolas Lombaerts; 6-Timmy Simons; 7-Eden Hazard (16-Marvin Ogunjimi, 63), 10-Axel Witsel, 8-Marouane Fellaini (15-David Hubert, 63), 11-Dries Mertens; 9-Igor de Camargo (14-Romelu Lukaku, 63)
Subs not used: 12-Jean-Francois Gillet, 13-Timothy Derijck, 17-Jelle Vossen 18-Moussa Dembele, 19-Vadis Odjidja-Ofoe, 20-Jelle van Damme, 21-Thibaut Coutois
Head coach: George Leekens

Stats Summary: USA / BEL
Shots: 6 / 13
Shots on Goal: 2 / 5
Saves: 4 / 2
Corner Kicks: 3 / 5
Fouls: 11 / 13
Offside: 1 / 2

Misconduct Summary:

Referee: William Collum (SCO)
Assistant Referee 1: Graham Chambers (SCO)
Assistant Referee 2: Stuart Stevenson (SCO)
Fourth Official: Philippe Vandecauter (BEL)

The Smiling North: Frigg’s Expert Playfulness and Nordic Exuberance Return to North America

Dour Scandinavians? Don’t make the Finnish and Norwegian folk virtuosi of Frigg giggle.

“The overall picture people have of Scandinavians has very little to do with the music,” Antti Järvelä, fiddler and Frigg founder explains. “People think Finnish music in particular is melancholy and minor. But if you look at tunes from before World War II, seventy percent are in a major key. They are happy.”

This neglected joy—the good times of Nordic parties, dances, and weddings— inspired the seven-member group with deep folk roots to breathe fresh life into their ancestors’ wild and merry tunes. The result: the string-bending, tongue-in-cheek genre of “Nordgrass.”

On Grannen and on stages from Malmö to Malaysia, Frigg bursts with an energy and freewheeling fun that belies their intense musical training. Veteran international performers with decades of touring under their belts, Frigg return to North America this autumn for an extensive tour that will spread the sheer pleasure of Northern tunes across the Upper Midwest and several major festivals (Chicago, Albuquerque, Bloomington, IN).

“Frigg is on the new edge,” Järvelä smiles. “And we are making very happy music.”


Though they now play more abroad than they do at home, Järvelä and several fellow Frigg players have deep roots in Nordic tradition. They hail from one of Scandinavia’s roots-music hotspots, Kaustinen, a small Finnish town of 5,000 which boasts literally hundreds of fiddle players. After decades in training at folk music sessions, guided by exacting relatives and musical elders, Järvelä and company felt it was time explode tradition wide open. And they have a blast doing it.

“In the old days, we did things very particularly,” reflects Järvelä, who’s played with fellow Frigg fiddler Esko Järvelä since the two were barely out of kindergarten. “We really learned lots of details and were required to stay in the form of our teachings. Basically, when you smiled then, it meant you had made a mistake. Now when we smile, it has nothing to do with mistakes.”

Frigg departs from those hard-learned bounds, absorbing the rollicking reels, rippling triplets, and lonesome loveliness of the British Isles and American bluegrass—and makes them sing. “Maple Cake Farm” recalls a glorious day the group spent as guests in New England, as the mandolin suggests the rolling contours of American folk melodies. Party tunes like “Rajrajraj” (a Norwegian exclamation of good times) would be equally at home at an Appalachian front-porch jam or a good old-fashioned Irish céilí.

Yet the band is at its brightest when bringing innovation to the traditions of Scandinavia. The reserved grace of the Norwegian traditional tune “Grannen” or the upbeat savor of “Potatisvals,” composed by Swedish folk icon and musical mentor Ale Möller, open up into sliding solos, merrily brandished bows, and experimental wavelengths. “Amurin tiikeri,” part of an unexpected collaboration Frigg undertook with Norway’s top military marching band, ropes in drums and horns, taking tradition into anthem territory.

Though steeped in tradition and highly trained, Frigg’s vibe remains strikingly spontaneous and democratic, on stage and off. Members shift, changing the energy of the group, and everyone brings in old gems or new ideas to try out.

“Someone will remember a good tune or come up with a good idea,” Järvelä explains, reflecting on the band’s creative process. “We try it out then and there, and if we feel there’s potential we leave it for a while, then come back to it. We build an arrangement up from the feeling we have in that moment.”

This easy-going, happy-go-lucky feel leads to moments of barely controlled chaos live, but Järvelä loves every minute. “There are some tunes that are hard to play on stage, old rocking waltzes and such. We go over the edge. We even lose track of where we are in the music,” Järvelä recounts. “But so long as someone keeps the tune going, it doesn’t matter. Different characters emerge from behind the instruments. And the audience goes crazy.”

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Scouting Report: Belgium

By Clemente Lisi, US National Team Players Association

Following a 1-0 loss to Costa Rica, the United States takes on up-and-coming Belgium on Tuesday in Jurgen Klinsmann’s first test on European soil as US National Team coach. Belgium - 37th in the FIFA World Rankings and 22nd among European teams - has something to prove in front of a home crowd in Brussels.

“They’ve got some good individual players,” US defender Carlos Bocanegra said. “It’s going to be a tough game and another challenge for us. They are a quality team in Europe and it’s good for some of our younger guys to get that opportunity. It will be a good test for us.”

Belgium was one of Europe’s better teams for much of the 1980s and ‘90s, producing players such as goalkeeper Jean-Marie Pfaff, defender Eric Gerets, midfielder Jan Ceulemans and striker Enzo Scifo. These days, Belgium is working on trying to reclaim some of that past glory. They're relying on a generation of players like goalkeeper Jean-Francois Gillet, defender Vincent Kompany, midfielder Moussa Dembele and striker Romelu Lukaku.

Like other National Teams across Europe, Belgium is a multi-ethnic squad, using players who are the sons of immigrants that moved to the country over the past 20 years. At the same time, the team has also benefited from policies put in place a decade ago by many of the country’s first division clubs aimed at developing youth players.

As expected when playing in Europe, he Americans shouldn't have it easy against Belgium. The Red Devils are solid in many parts of the field. Belgium's 24-man roster for the US friendly features five players based in England’s Premier League. On defense, Kompany uses his size and strength to muscle players off the ball just like he does every week for Manchester City. In attack, Lukaku, who signed with Chelsea over the summer, uses bursts of speed and energy to create scoring chances, while Axel Witsel possess a powerful shot. The glue that brings all these components together is midfielder Timmy Simons. The 34-year-old has been capped 83 times since 2001 and has been a regular in the lineup for the past seven years.

Belgium is in the midst of trying to reach the finals of the 2012 European Championship. Currently in third place behind Germany in Group A, they have a 3-3-2 record and is competing with Austria and Turkey for a chance at the 14 remaining spots up for grabs for the 16-nation tournament (after Poland and Ukraine automatically earned participation as co-hosts) that will be played next summer.

Belgium has been coached by Georges Leekens since 2010. He is in his second spell as coach following a two-year stint back in the 1990's. In April, Belgium’s FA rewarded Leekens for his team’s results, extending his contract another two years so that it would terminate in December 2014. A master tactician and author of several coaching books, Leekens is devoted to fielding a strong backline and a scrappy four-man midfield.

When needed, they will play a physical style normally not associated with coaches as tacticians. Timmy Simons is one of the most aggressive players out there, committing 19 fouls in 606 minutes – the second-most in the Euro 2012 Qualifying tournament. Fellow midfielder Marouane Fellaini is ranked fifth, recording 15 after clocking 351 minutes.

While Leekens may at times shun creativity in favor of a muscular defense, it doesn’t mean that Belgium isn’t an offensive threat. Leekens’s squad has mastered the ability to surprise opponents, especially against the run of play, and have effectively used that to score goals. The US defense and midfield will need to avoid that effective trap. A perfect example was Belgium’s 2-0 road win this past year against Austria. While Austria controlled the pace of the game and most of the possession, the Belgians took an early 1-0 lead with Witsel and was dangerous on the break. A second Witsel goal after halftime finished off the game.

This past Friday, Belgium did not look so impressive in its Euro ’12 Qualifier against minnows Azerbaijan. The 1-1 draw put a dent in Belgium’s chances of reaching the European Championship, dropping them to third place and a point behind Turkey with two games left. After taking the lead thanks to a Simons penalty kick, Azerbaijan tied the score with four minutes remaining when Belgium’s defense left Rauf Aliyev unmarked in the box. Aliyev headed the ball in for the easy goal.

One American player, Sacha Kljestan, is familiar with Belgium. Kljestan, the former Chivas USA defender, joined Belgian club Anderlect last year, scoring four goals in 28 games for the club. He is a teammate of Lukaku and defender Denis Odoi and will likely see more playing time than the 24 minutes he saw against Costa Rica as a second-half sub for Robbie Rogers.

The Americans, meanwhile, are coming off a surprise loss against Costa Rica in a game the US dominated for long stretches, especially during the first-half. For Klinsmann, the Belgium friendly gives him a chance to test players against a quality European side.

While Europe is familiar territory to the former German international, the Americans have traditionally struggled on the continent. The USA has not played away from home this year and will be without Landon Donovan (who returns to the Los Angeles Galaxy for MLS duty), while Fulham's Clint Dempsey will likely play his first game under Klinsmann.

This is the first meeting between the USA and Belgium since 1998 and the fourth overall. In two of those matches played in Belgium, the USA failed to score. Overall, Belgium holds a 2-1-0 advantage in the all-time series. For Klinsmann, it's a chance for his first win in his third game in charge of the USA.

“Belgium will be another good experience,” Klinsmann said. “We want to try to develop that style of play that we are confident on the ball and that we try to pass our way through difficult situations and tight spaces. It will take time.”

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Back In The Day: The NASL's Longest Game

NASL, North American Soccer League

By Michael Lewis, NEW YORK, NY (Sep 1, 2011),US National Team Players Association

Until that night 40 years ago, Carlos Metidieri had never been thanked by an opponent for scoring the winning goal in a soccer game. Then again, Metidieri and his Rochester Lancers and Dallas Tornado had never played in a game like the one they had participated in on September 1st, 1971.

After Metidieri connected for the winner in the Lancers' 2-1 victory over the Dallas Tornado in the 1971 North American Soccer League playoffs, a Tornado player approached him moments later and said: "Thank you Carlos for scoring a goal because we couldn't do it anymore."

The teams had just played - no make that endured and survived - 176 tortuous minutes of soccer. The game was only four minutes short of two full 90-minute matches. It began at 8 pm and ended at 11:59 pm - one minute before midnight - before 8,309 fans at Holleder Stadium in Rochester, NY.

Today, Major League Soccer and the United Soccer Leagues in the United States use extra time and a penalty-kick tie-breaker to decide playoff matches and prevent marathon games. In 1971, however, NASL playoff games were played out until literally there was a last team standing.

"It was like being in the desert without water for four weeks," Lancers forward Manny Seissler said after the game.

Lancers coach Sal DeRosa called it the "most unbelievable game I have ever seen."

Indeed, even if that seemed to fall short of describing what transpired that late summer night.

After they had traded goals in regulation, Rochester and Dallas battled into extra time. Each extra time - technically, it was called overtime in those days - lasted 15 minutes. Like the National Hockey League playoffs, the teams continued to play until someone scored, although the soccer designers probably thought it highly unlikely that a game would need six of those overtime periods.

Metidieri, the man of the hour - or would it be more appropriate to say he was the man of four hours? - picked it up from there.

"Going to the bench for the second overtime, we could tell looking at the guys' faces we were giving up a bit," he said. "We were tired. Some of the guys changed shoes. Some had cramps."

Dallas defender Gabbo Gavric's thigh cramped in the 165th minute. Since both sides had used their allotted substitutions, Gavric stayed around the center circle for the rest of the match, kicking the ball whenever it was in his vicinity.

"My body didn't bother me as much as my feet," Metidieri said. "I remember my feet going crazy. I went through two pairs of shoes. And after a while the ground got so hard our muscles were giving up. We tried throwing water in the shorts. We bit oranges and put ice in our mouths. It look like we were going to get fat instead of losing weight because we were going through oranges and coffee and all that stuff. It was a painful experience."

A painful experience that seemed like it was never going to end.

Metidieri said that by the time the players went out for the third overtime "the players were even more tired and so were the people in the stands. But they didn't move. They wanted to see what was going to happen. It was sometime around midnight and there was a throw-in near where my wife was sitting. I told her to start cooking breakfast and that I might be there in a couple of hours."

DeRosa and Dallas coach Ron Newman, who would later coach Kansas City in the early days of Major League Soccer, pleaded with NASL commissioner Phil Woosnam several times, ask him to stop the game of have it decided by penalty kicks or even by the number of penalty kicks already taken. After the fifth overtime, Woosnam said that he would wait and see.

So the game went on and on and on. Finally, in the sixth overtime, Metidieri scored off a poor clearance by a Dallas defender.

"I got the ball from the right side," Metidieri said. "Ken Cooper [the Dallas goalkeeper and Kenny Cooper's father) went down and missed. I was coming from the left side and I just hit it right and it went into the net. I looked around and saw our players falling down and then I saw fans coming onto the field, putting players up on their shoulders. It was like there was a pot of gold on the field and everyone wanted to get rich. It was like we won the championship. They went wild."

"For about 15 minutes I was riding the backs of people up and down," Metidieri added. "They were throwing me like a beach ball. That was fun. It was one of the greatest feelings to be on top, to see the people love you and see them excited because you won the game. It was the biggest moment of my career."

Some strong words for the only player in NASL history to win back-to-back scoring titles and MVP awards. As it turned out, despite the 12th-hour heroics in the marathon affair, that game was not for the championship. That was the first match of a best-of-three series.

That night Metidieri told reporters, "I think this will take the stuffing out of them. We shouldn't have too much trouble with them in Dallas."

But it wasn't so.

The Tornado won the next two games. The final game, quite appropriately, took 148 minutes, also at Holleder. But it was won by the Tornado, which went on to defeat the Atlanta Chiefs for the title. That was the second longest game in NASL history, but hardly anyone remembers that match in comparison to what happened forty years ago tonight.