Friday, January 30, 2009

Road Shows, Vol. 1

Our greatest living improviser, Sonny Rollins seems only to have sharpened and deepened his glorious sound as he enters his 79th year. It is the paradox and the beauty of the saxophone that it can simultaneously achieve a ringing metallic intensity, warmth, and fluidity, and no one has perfected the sound the way Sonny has. Road Shows, Vol. I, collects live performances from 1980 to 2007, and the energy and excitement is evident in every cut. The unaccompanied flights of fancy, the high-pressure honking and wailing, the witty musical quotes, it's all there. Not every cut is studio quality... in particular, the piano on "Easy Living," recorded in Warsaw in 1980, may last have been tuned before the War, but by and large the sound is great and the music could not be better.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Sudden tanoak death

The latest Pacific storm, mild as it was, blew the haze right out of Silicon Valley and greened up the moss and lichens in our foothills... a perfect afternoon for a stroll through beautiful Huddart County Park in Woodside. As in many of our coastal range forests, the tanoak is widespread in Huddart. A variable tree, it is often found at the margins of dense redwood groves, heroically stretching upward to compete for sunlight with the world's tallest species.

The tanoak has tremendous aesthetic value, its rather smooth light gray bark, mottled with patches of moss, providing contrast with the deeply fissured and dark maroon redwood trunks. The tanoak's ovoid, deep green, and slightly serrated leaves remind me a little of the leaves of the American chestnut, a magnificent east-coast beauty that no longer grows beyond head height before succumbing to the chestnut blight.

Our tanoaks now suffer a similar fate, alas--this species apparently the tree most vulnerable to sudden oak death. The accompanying photo, from a UC-Berkeley report, is typical of what one sees throughout Huddart Park. One's sadness at what may eventually be the loss of 100 percent of the tanoaks is compounded by the thought that the sudden oak death organism, Phytophthora ramorum, is ubiquitous in these hills. The notion that its spread may be slowed much by human effort seems wishful thinking to me. If the true oaks prove to be no more resistant than the tanoaks, the California landscape faces drastic and depressing changes ahead.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


The new president's speech did not disappoint, but the highlights were, most appropriately, Rev. Lowery, and especially Aretha's rendition of "My Country 'Tis of Thee." Breathtaking. I'll never again hear it as a cheesy second-rate rip-off of the Brit national anthem. We own it now.

Update: I guess we already owned it. Some history I should have known.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Free Jazz Classics

In my college days I loved free jazz for its anarchy and noise, rhythmic freedom, silent spaces, and the beautiful contingency of collective improvisation. And I still do... but now I come to find out that the great free jazzers I thought I knew and loved were also secretly composers of intricate structures and melodic themes worthy of Shostakovich, if not Mozart or Richard Rodgers. This and more you will learn from The Vandermark 5's extraordinary two-CD recording, Free Jazz Classics Vols. 1 & 2. The musicianship is first-rate. The compositions reward careful listening, again and again. And they'll give you just the amount of noise you crave.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Hey kids, don't eat these!

They are alleged to taste pretty good, but your first may be your last!