Monday, September 11, 2017

Can Music Be Perfect? Vol. 79

Charles Mingus's two Changes albums are among my very favorite recordings. There are versions of this song on each of the albums, but the instrumental on Vol. 1 (this one) is the winner. My favorite pianist, Don Pullen, takes a piano solo that is uncharacteristically lovely and lyrical; George Adams kills it on tenor, and the bassist... well... he's Mingus.

Whatcha gonna do when the pond goes dry?

At least, that's how I hear it.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Holger Czukay, RIP

Can was kind of a cross between German prog-rock and Lou Reed, and apparently Holger Czukay was their "major sound architect." That sound, hard driving and full of oddly distorted electronic effects, was unlike anything else. This album (Landed), which I still have in vinyl, had great, twisted tunes and a most amazing glossy cover. It was popular at parties in the late 70s, at least for a song or two.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

John Ashbery, RIP

I've been dabbling in his Flow Chart for a while now. Concentrating, I just don't get it. Relaxing, nearly nodding off, I hear the music in the words. It may be gibberish, but it is not nonsense. Or do I mean the reverse?

Walter Becker, RIP

As are many others of our generation, I imagine, we are playing a lot of Dan today. I can understand why they are disdained or actively disliked by many– the slickness bordering on schmaltz, their unseemly seeming admiration for molesters and low-lifes, the flirtations with racial stereotypes. But at a time when jazz was fracturing between free-jazz noise and fusion schlock, they showed that jazz could be pop and still maintain musical integrity and– yeah– hipness. Interestingly, I suspect their influence will be greater on jazz than on pop moving forward.

As college students we revered Pretzel Logic and had our serious doubts about the sellout that was Aja. I still love Pretzel Logic, but Aja has improved with age. Yes, that was Wayne Shorter taking the solo on the title track. Yes, the album was worthy of his consecration. (And yes, the very best Steely Dan album was a Donald Fagen solo album– The Nightfly. That doesn't detract from Walter Becker's greatness.)

Sunday, August 27, 2017

In praise of ducks

No, not our fine feathered floating friends, praiseworthy though they be... I mean those little piles of rocks (cairns to many) that mark your way along a trail. Most ducks are humble things, a couple of flat stones stacked in a visible spot. Of course, we know from Andy Goldsworthy and countless anonymous predecessors that a cairn can be a lovely, deliberate thing, but the typical trail duck is a utilitarian object, and it seems that the most haphazard, ungainly, and precarious are often the most visually pleasing. Placement is everything with a duck... the whole point is to guide you in the right direction from an ambiguous fork or a boulder-strewn section of trail, so the duck must be fairly obvious just past the point of confusion. Ducks are also a nice example of spontaneous, anonymous human cooperation.

Carson Pass ramblings

I was happy to squeeze in a couple nights up near Carson Pass before the end of summer. Tropical moisture up from somewhere brought rollicking afternoon thunderstorms, the biggest hail I've ever experienced (from the car), glorious sunsets, and gratitude that my old REI tent fly still repels water. Where a wet winter's snow retreats from the higher spots, it's barely spring, with shorter cooler days not far behind.

Lupines and paintbrush on the trail up to Lake Winnemucca, with Round Top in the background...

Elephant's head...

Fireweed lines the west shore of Round Top Lake...

Marsh marigold is often the first plant to get its toes wet when a snowfield retreats...

A lily near Woods Lake...

Sierra Nevada elements in black and white...

Friday, August 25, 2017

Sci-fi wanderings

The Left Hand of Darkness
Ursula K. Le Guin
I'd never read it before this summer. The first two-thirds are a well-crafted gender-bending political fable. The remainder is a well-crafted gender-bending buddy adventure story. The gender-bending must have been revolutionary when it was published... less so now, but the story-telling and character development hold up just fine.

Too Like the Lightning
Ada Palmer
I read this before I read The Left Hand of Darkness, and I now see that it is a longer, convoluted homage to Le Guin's classic. The excellent Crooked Timber blog devoted an entire "seminar" to this book and its sequel. It is high-high-sci-fi. I admired the author's ability to drop the reader into a recognizably human but quite odd social milieu. There are lots of characters involved in a complex web of political and sexual alliances. But the story-telling is not up to Le Guin's standard... and I'm not sure I have the attention span for this sort of thing.

Critter corner...

The Children of the Sky
Vernor Vinge
A Fire Upon the Deep introduced readers to the Tines, the most interesting aliens in any book I've read. Doglike creatures, "individual" Tines actually consist of small packs, which communicate using a kind of sonic mindspeak. Vinge explored the complications and limitations of this mode of existence in fascinating detail, embedding it in a sprawling space opera featuring, as so many such books do, the arrival of human refugees on the Tines' distant planet. This sequel, actually published after a prequel, is not nearly as eye-opening as the original, but the politics and even economics of the novel will keep your attention. Along with those complicated, fascinating, not-human Tines.

Children of Time
Adrian Tchaikovsky
What happens when spiders get bigger and a whole lot smarter? The writing is merely functional, and the humans who occupy half the chapters are not terribly interesting. But the spiders are pretty cool, from their matriarchal, atavistically man-eating social structure to their deployment of ant colonies as computing machines. And the book may inspire you to learn a little more about the genus Portia of jumping spiders, whose descendants are the heroes of the book. If you are like me, you are very fond of jumping spiders, with their funny eight-eyed faces and extraordinary leaping ability. But you may not want to be around when they make that evolutionary jump.