Friday, May 21, 2010


Karel Čapek's The Gardener's Year is an absolute gem of a little book. First published in 1929, it consists of the Czech author's amusing and amused observations about gardening and gardeners. Of course gardening also serves as a very workable metaphor for various aspects of the human condition. Consider Čapek's short chapter "Preparations," tucked between November and December, on what transpires beneath the soil as the plants appear to go dormant for the winter:
Sometimes we seem to smell of decay, encumbered by the faded remains of the past; but if only we could see how many fat and white shoots are pushing forward in the old tilled soil, which is called the present day; how many seeds germinate in secret; how many old plants draw themselves together and concentrate into a living bud, which one day will burst into flowering life--if only we could see that secret swarming of the future within us, we should say that our melancholy and distrust is silly and absurd, and that the best thing of all is to be a living man--that is, a man who grows.
The translation, by M. and R. Weatherall, is similarly lovely throughout.

Sunday, May 9, 2010


By night the blossoms of our beautiful native flax Linum lewisii close and droop; come morning they lift their heads, open up, and stare into the sun. Which is a nice thing indeed if your front yard faces eastward.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Rediscovering some old faves

I bought Gary Burton's Dreams So Real on vinyl when it first came out in 1976 and it quickly became one of my favorite albums, but I had not really listened to it much in many years. All that changed with my recent visit to the used jazz CD bin at Rasputins. Nearly 35 years later I could still hum along to every solo. The rap against ECM Records has been that they are purveyors of soulless new age Euro-jazz, but this album still has a nice little edge to it. The band is tight and proves the feasibility of producing plenty of energy through cool fusion. Pat Metheny turns in some nice work, but among the accompanists it is Steve Swallow's driving bass line that keeps things moving. More than anything, the album showcases vibraphonist Gary Burton, whose playing ranges from lyrical and sensitive to mind-boggling... can he really do that with "just" four mallets?

On the same trip I picked up The Best of John Coltrane (Atlantic 1970). The title is misleading: all of the tracks here were recorded with his quartet over a two-year period (1959 and 1960). On the other hand, you can't argue with the music. Coltrane as soloist, composer, bandleader, conceptualist, visionary. McCoy Tyner and Elvin Jones tearing it up. Aside from the recording quality, it's hard to believe this music is now a half-century old.