Monday, September 22, 2014

La Boheme in Salzburg



In the long history of the Salzburg Music Festival, operas by Puccini had been performed only twice. Why? Because the Salzburg festival is a stuffy affair with sky-high ticket prices, and in those parts Puccini is considered to be a sentimental composer who appeals to the masses. No matter that three of the six most widely-performed operas is history are by Puccini (La Boheme, Tosca, Madame Butterfly). If you want to hear them, you can hear them somewhere else.

In 2012, the festival broke the ice for a third time, mounting a production of La Boheme that was captured on film, and the Film Society of Minneapolis/St. Paul ran it on Sunday at St. Anthony Main. It was a beautiful afternoon outside, but more beautiful inside the theater, where Anna Nektrebko, Piotr Beczala, and an otherwise strong cast belted out the love duets and other tuneful arias that are so familiar and yet so moving.

We had seen the new Met production of La Boheme in April (at a movie theater, of course), and I was wondering if I was ready for another dose. The fact that the Salzburg version is set in modern times, with “poets” making DVDs and “painters” using cans of spray paint, might come as a refreshing change; it was inducement enough to give La Boheme another shot.


The sound in the theater wasn’t great, but it was loud, and the magic of Puccini’s orchestration took hold almost immediately. The modern settings made it possible for the set designer to introduce a pallet of  truly garish colors, and the torn jeans, ragged t-shirts, white-rimmed sunglasses, and colorful leather jackets did nothing to undermine the powerful musical effects. It was only in the second act, where a Parisian street scene was rendered with model hotels sitting on an enormous Google map of the city, did the update become slightly risible.

As if in compensation, that act was enlivened by the appearance of Musetta, with Nino Machaidze offering us a very modern slant on that character.

Meanwhile, Anna Netrebko played the seamstress Mimi as poor and also less than glamorous, though once again, she made the character fit the music. No opera in the repertoire is more emotional than La Boheme, and Netrebko’s powerful rendering went a long way toward making it all convincing.

In fact, at a certain point it occurred to me that the howling pains of anguished love that pepper the opera had an almost animal quality. The cacophony at the end of act three, for example, when Rodolfo and Mimi and splitting up on one side of the stage while Muesetta and Marcello are having a heated jealous spat on the other, seemed like a primal whorl of chaos…but very pleasant to listen to.

It’s sometimes suggested that Wagner’s music is better than it sounds, while Puccini’s music sounds better than it is. But this can’t be true, because music is no better or worse than it sounds. The sound is the music.



The Minneapolis / St. Paul Film Society will be bringing in four more operas this fall and winter, to be aired on Tuesday nights and Sunday afternoons. They all sound pretty good. See you there?
The Magic Flute: Oct 21 and 26
Don Carlo: November 18 and 23
Eugene Onegin: December 16 and 21
Romeo and Juliette: January 27 and February 1



Sunday, September 14, 2014

Washing Windows


Anyone who was outside on Saturday afternoon would agree, it was a perfect day for washing windows.

The biggest challenge we face lies with the twelve-pane wooden storm window in the living room, which has been deteriorating little by little for decades. It’s a heavy window and it sits directly above a thick spreading yew that’s difficult to get behind. The saving grace is that once we’ve lifted the window out of its casing and off the sill, we can lower it and set it down on the bush. After we’ve made our way back out from behind the bush into the yard, we can then lift the window again and carry it over to the driveway to be cleaned.

The lower left corner of this massive storm window looked so shaky when we tried to lift it, I was afraid some of the panes were going to fall out. After lugging it across the yard and leaning it against the car, Hilary went inside to get some Gorilla Glue. 

After a few more trips inside to get a nail, then a pair of pliers, we finally succeeded in reaching some glue that hadn’t solidified in the bottle. I applied it to the loose sections of the corner using a toothpick, then squeezed about a tablespoon down into the seemingly hollow core of the pane. Then we carefully rotated the window ninety degrees so its weight would bear down forcibly on the newly repaired corner while the glue set.

My job would be to stand by the window, which is roughly five feet tall and seven feet wide, to make sure the wind didn’t blow it over. The glue would take an hour or more to set, so I had my work cut out for me.

I looked over at the globe cedar that needs sheering, and the zinnias that were laying on the ground, having been beaten down by the recent rains. A blue jay flew overhead, and then I saw some goldfinches across the roof of the house in the oak tree in the back yard.


The leaves of the oak have always been slightly yellow, due to the nutrients lacking in the clay soil hereabouts. I pondered whether it might be a good thing to lose that oak tree altogether. But its dead branches offers so many perches for the birds as they approach the feeders.

The sky was blue and there were isolated waves of wispy ice clouds here and there, like white cake decorations applied with a comb.

Hilary had gone inside to wash some other windows, and when she came back out I said, “How long have I been standing here?”

“About ten minutes.”

“Is that all?”

“Maybe fifteen.”

These are the critical minutes when the glue is setting, and I knew my continued patience would be rewarded. I’m unusually adept at staring off into space for extended periods when there’s work to be done. All the same,  I was getting bored, and a few minutes later we decided to lift the window again and move it between the two cars. There wasn’t much of a breeze anyway, and in that position a rising gust would hit the window harmlessly, face on, rather than waffling down its length.

For the next hour we washed pane after pane, using pages torn from old copies of The New York Review of Books. In one issue I spotted a three-year-old review by Philip Lopate of a book by Edward Hoagland that I purchased not long ago as a remainder, but didn’t like. I set those pages aside.

The glue set remarkably well, as it turns out. After washing the twelve panes on both sides we hoisted the massive storm window back up onto the yew, then scrambled behind the bush and set it carefully into place again. Magnificent.

A few minutes later, as I was settling in to read the review, I heard a loud thud. A bird had flown into the window. A thrush now lay motionless on the seat of a metal patio chair, his pale dotted breast exposed. At first I thought it was a veery—an elusive cinnamon-colored bird with an ethereal downward-looping flute-like song. But I later got to thinking it was a gray-cheeked thrush, due to the drab back and rather prominent spots.

One of the drawbacks of perfectly clean windows is that birds can’t see them. Sometimes they hit them. Often they revive; this one didn’t. Eventually I carried it down into the yard and set it in the shadows amid the ferns.

(Both veerys and gray-cheeked thrushes spend their winters in Venezuela and north-central Brazil. I wonder if Rima, the bird-spirit in W. H. Hudson’s once-famous South American novel, Green Mansions, was a veery, though I suppose there are plenty of other candidates in the southern hemisphere that I’ve never heard of.)
 
On a lighter note, when Hilary was wrestling one of the aluminum combination storms back into its track, she noticed a spindly insect climbing the outer pane. It was a grasshopper of some sort, though it was bright green, and looked like it was born yesterday. Its surface looked tender, like a spring leaf, and it was less compact than the standard, yellow-brown grasshoppers that leap off the trail in front of you in droves in late summer.

We watched it climb uncertainly up the glass, taking alternate steps with its four spindly front legs, two by two, while using the two long trailing legs for stability as needed. It continued up to the corner of the window, then proceeded slowly out of sight, up the painted clapboard wall of the house. 

Looking it up later, I determined that the creature was a katydid. (I’d never heard of such a thing.)

"That wasn't a grasshopper, that was a katydid," I shouted to Hilary in the next room.

"It'n not katydid," she shouted back, "It's KAY-tee-did."

Postscript: Sunday morning we stopped at the local bird store and picked up a set of window decals. The theory is that they reflect ultraviolet light, which the birds can see a lot better than we can. They see the leaves and avoid the glass, while we see nothing.

The truth of the matter is, I can see the leaves just fine. They don't entirely ruin the view, but once the fall migration is over ...


Saturday, September 6, 2014

Louise Penny Comes to Town


The news that mystery writer Louise Penny was going to appear at the Prior Lake Library, under the auspices of Club Book, was big news in the Twin Cities. She draws large crowds wherever she goes, but makes relatively few public appearances, and fans flew in from Washington D.C., Chicago, North Dakota, and Denver last Saturday to hear her at the Scott County Library venue.

Most of the three-hundred-odd fans who began to line up outside the building hours before the event were local, of course. By which I mean they were from Saint Cloud,  Menomonie, Rochester, and everywhere in between. The branch manager at the Prior Lake Library had been busy for weeks, recruiting volunteers, fielding phone calls from enthusiastic readers with various special needs who planned to attend, and generally devising solutions to a host of contingencies—few of which materialized, as luck would have it. (I happen to know this because my wife, Hilary, is the branch manager at Prior Lake.)


The atmosphere at the library when I arrived was festive, to say the least. (The farmer’s market being held just down the street didn’t hurt.) Many of the early arrivals had brought camp chairs, but soon the line stretched down and around the outside of the building for about fifty yards.

Three quarters of an hour before the event, the doors to the auditorium were opened and people began to shuffle in. Each guest was given a numbered ticket, to make sure the hall wasn’t filled beyond capacity and also to facilitate the orderly signing of books after the event.

Louise herself arrived in a limo and spent a few minutes eating a croissant sandwich at the Edelweiss Bakery around the corner before making her appearance. And what an appearance it was. She strode down the street from the bakery carrying a big white box of pastries she’d bought to share with the numerous volunteers working the event! 


By the time she got up to the microphone, she’d made about forty new friends, the atmosphere was electric, and roughly a third of those in attendance were clutching copies of her latest book, The Long Way Home, most of then newly purchased at a table outside the hall staffed by Common Good Books, one of the program sponsors.

Although the Gamache series of mysteries has its share of murders, most readers would agree, I think, that much of its charm derives from the appeal of detective Gamache himself, who seems a bit like a New World Inspector Maigret, and the quirky  and endearing characters who inhabit the village of Three Pines, located in a remote region of Quebec south of Montreal, where many of the tales take place. 

It didn’t take long for Louise to impress those same qualities—quirky and endearing—on her admirers in the audience, as she described, with humor and self-depreciation, her difficult path to “getting published,” the embarrassingly meager turnouts at her early public appearances, and other aspects of her life and career. 

For example, Louise was deathly afraid of insects as a child (along with a lot of other things) but when she was eight years old, she began to read, and love, Charlotte’s Web. She was halfway through the book before it dawned on her that Charlotte was a…spider! (Huge laugh here.) Thus she began to emerge, little by little,  from her shell of childhood phobias.

Louise told us a touching story about her mother taking a part-time job during a rough patch in the family’s income, and then bringing Louise downtown to buy, not food, but a painting, with the first money she earned. With the panache of a stand-up comedienne, she also described the unlikely string of coincidences that brought her face to face with the woman who became her agent, and took us down some slightly bawdy side streets as she wrestled with her scarf, before opening the forum for questions from the audience.

No doubt, Louise's years as a radio host for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation have made it easier for her to wow an audience. But I also got the impression that she’s been through things worse than a hardscrabble upbringing, critical rejection, or spiders, and has emerged with a sensitivity to both the complexity and the goodness in people that makes it easy for her to engage her many readers and fans, on the printed page and also face to face.

Louise loves to talk about herself, and she’s delighted by her literary success, but there isn’t much vanity in it. It’s obvious that she loves people (including herself) and reaches out to strangers to acknowledge them as individuals, too, with the childlike avidly of a medieval saint.

I felt a little of that myself, a few hours earlier, when, on a tip from one of the library volunteers, I wandered over to the bakery to say hi to Louise and perhaps get a photo. There she was, sitting alone by the window in an empty room, munching on a croissant sandwich.

I ordered a croissant myself at the counter and then said, “Are you Louise Penny? Do you mind if I take your picture? I don’t want to disturb your lunch…”

“No, please sit down,” she said. (The fact that I was wearing a Scott County volunteer badge may have helped.)


So I sat and took the picture. Then I felt obliged to come clean: “I’ve only read one of your books, the first one, but my wife says I ought to try Bury Your Dead. That’s the one about Samuel Champlain. Right?”

“Oh, so you’re interested in history?” All of this in a cheery, sing-song voice, accompanied by a slightly pained expression, which I hoped was the result of trying to eat while talking...

“Yes. European history. That was my field.”

“Prior Lake is such a pretty town,” she immediately volunteered. So I mumbled a few things about the older part of town, the lake itself, current development. And then, pushing my luck, I said.

“So, you live south of Quebec?”

“South of Montreal, actually. Quite close to the Vermont border.”

At this point I could not resist mentioning that the only time I’d been in the area, we’d flown in to Burlington, Vermont, and driven across the border to Quebec province, where we were struck by the antique agricultural patterns—those long, thin farms stretching down to the St. Lawrence River. Who knows? We might have driven right by her house.

“Well, you should go to Quebec City,” she said.

“Oh, we did go there,” I replied. Elaborate lines of travel conversation were beginning to take shape in the back of my mind: bicycling in Quebec City; Shadows on the Rock; the shrimp fishermen (on strike) we once came upon before dawn near Matane on the GaspĂ© Peninsula; the huge gannet colony on Bonaventure Island  ….

But what I said was, “I’m going to leave you in peace to enjoy your lunch.”

“Oh, but you haven’t taken your picture,” she replied.

So I took a second photo and scurried out…then slunk back in to snatch my croissant, which had been sitting in a bag on the counter the whole time.

A few minutes before the program was set to begin, I was standing near the back of the room, surveying the sea of book-lovers in front of me, when someone came up from behind and shook my arm. It was Louise! "Hi, there," she said, with a big smile before hurrying off.


The intent was clear enough. She wanted to reassure me that I hadn't ruined her lunch.


Louise stuck around for two hours after the program, signing books, adding personalized greetings, and having her picture taken with anyone who was interested. Then she was off in her limo to the airport and on to Seattle, where she had an evening engagement, leaving behind a welter of good feelings to remind us all, as her mother had reminded her, of what a powerful and beneficent force art (and personality) can be in this often crazy, mixed-up world.  

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Elena Ferrante: The Story of a New Name

Elena Ferrante is the mystery woman of Italian fiction. No one knows much about her. No one knows who she is. James Wood wrote a profile in the New Yorker a while back, but it was mostly speculation and analysis of her works. The recent speculation is Italy in that she's really a man. I doubt it.

Readers are usually fascinated to know, after reading a novel, “How much of this really happened?”

In the case of Ferrante, there’s no one to ask.

Yet to judge by the second installment of her trilogy, The Story of a New Name, much of it probably close to the truth. I say this because the book is sprawling and full of incidental details that seem to be lifted from someone’s personal diary rather than concocted as structural elements of a plot.

The book is set largely in Naples, and it deals with two young women, friends since childhood, who become estranged after one marries into a successful but crime-tinged family while the other continues her education, falling in love with the son of her favorite professor.

That's a very simplistic description of a 400-page novel, needless to say. It reminds me of the TV Guide description I saw once of Hamlet: "Man returns home to find father dead."

The novel is well worth reading, I think, if you can survive the occasionally long-winded and irrelevant passages. Rather than describing it in greater detail, I might just as well refer you to the review I wrote, which appeared in Rain Taxi a few days ago. 

In case you’re interested.


  

  

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Three Days in a Leaky Canoe


I had always attributed the water than collects in the bottom of the canoe to my wet shoes. But on our recent trip to the BWCAW, it seemed to be accumulating more rapidly than any pair of shoes could account for…and because we’d loaded off the dock at the landing, my shoes happened to be dry. Strange.

By the time we reached the north end of Sawbill Lake, after an hour and more of paddling into a stiff wind, it was an inch and a half deep under my seat, though the water hadn’t made its way to the front half of the canoe. 

After an additional half hour of searching for a campsite, we secured the only one left within reach, on a back bay on the lake’s northwest corner.

When we set out for an evening paddle an hour later, I noticed a more severe leak near the center of the canoe—a slit in the aluminum through which water was gurgling at an alarming rate. That leak had just “sprung.” We returned to camp immediately and applied duct tape both inside and out. After standing around for ten minutes wondering what to do, Hilary said, "Why don't we try it out?" And so we set out again, just to see what would happen.

The tape held. Nevertheless, the hairline crack was at precisely the spot in the hull that buckles every time I hoist the 80-pound vessel onto my knee, before heaving it up onto my shoulders with a trick of leverage I mastered 45 years ago and still (just barely) command. I was well aware that if that two-inch crack became a six-inch crack, four or five portages further into the bush, we’d be in big trouble.

So it happened that we spent three nights camping on the same spot on Sawbill Lake.

As Hilary’s brother Paul matter-of-factly put it when I described the situation to him later, “So, you had a good excuse not to do so much work.”

Right On, Brother. 


 But it was a good spot. Out of the way. Only two parties came near in two days, one of which was looking for the portage in a different bay a mile away. (Lord, have mercy.)

The view was somewhat enclosed, though without much effort you could see several miles of lake spread out to the south. And a creek feeds into the bay from the north. The last time we camped here, I walked down to the creek to see if a moose was anywhere nearby—only to see a moose climb down the opposite bank that very instant to feed in the stream for twenty minutes!


We saw no moose during out recent visit, but we did make a different discovery. If you follow a little trail to the south along the shore, climb over a few fallen trees, and shimmy up a rock face, you come to a little island easily reached by a short hop over the gap in the rocks.  

This island has several rock shelves that look west, and they're shady and cool during those morning hours when the campsite itself in scorched by the sun.

Thus we found ourselves occupying a multi-room suite.


In the morning, we sat on the rock shelves, reading or sketching.

We spent the afternoons back at camp, doing the same.

Each day we went out on two or three paddles around various nearby islands and up the creeks on the north end of the lake. (The tape was leaking more than at first—but not as much as the leaky keel.)


The woods behind the campsite was open, and if I happened to hear an interesting bird call, I might spend half an hour finding out what it was. Waves of warblers would sometimes pass through, already on their way to Central America. We saw myrtle warblers, Nashville warblers, black-and-white warblers, and quite a few pine warblers, too.

Our first evening Hilary spotted a beaver swimming past the campsite on his way up the creek. The next evening, he reappeared from the opposite direction as we were eating dinner, swimming directly over to where we sat to get a better look at who the intruders were.


Waking up before dawn and emerging from a tent is always glorious. I made it through the night, you say to yourself. Yes, I slept well (though you’ll be wondering in a few hours why you’re dog tired.) You look around, happy to be alive, happy for the clear skies, though the temperature is 42 degrees, and fog is racing down the creek and out into the bay in the morning shadows, obscuring the opposite bank to a height of thirty feet. No, happy isn’t the word for it. Indescribably joyous.

Three loons are cavorting in the bay fifty yards away. “I wish Hilary was up,” you say, though you know sleep is more important than loons.

You start a fire. Bang a few pots making the coffee on the butane stove. The sleeper wakes.

Two of the loons come back, fishing not more than ten feet off shore. They linger for fifteen minutes, appearing and disappearing, following the west shore of the bay out into the larger lake. Sublime.


After a cold breakfast—granola, instant milk, figs, banana chips, turkey  jerky—it’s time to head out to the “island.”

Though you’re several miles from a road, you’re hardly alone. Two teenage boys camping with their parents a half-mile up the lake are fishing in your private bay.

“Our canoe sprung a leak,” you shout.

“We have some resin and fabric patches,” they offer.

“It’s an aluminum canoe,” you counter. “But thanks.”

“Do you want us to go fish someplace else?” one of them asks.

“Um, that would be nice.”

And so they do.

I don’t like to get immersed in a novel when I’m already immersed I the landscape all around me, so I often end up at the two extremes—German philosophy or Japanese poetry. (Shades of WWII?)

Thus, Ernst Cassirer: “Universality is not a term which designates a certain field of thought; it is an expression of the very character, of the function of thought.”

Or Basho:

Birth of art -
Song of rice planters,
Chorus from nowhere. 


Time passes. The deer flies grow tired of buzzing around my head. The sun drops and the shadows swing across the campsite. Yet here I sit, caught in the sun’s rays again. Should I move? Or should I wait for the shadows to return? Already, it’s getting cooler again. And if I moved, those Chinese wasabi snack crackers sitting in the grass in a zip-lock bag would be farther away than ever.

An afternoon swim is refreshing.



Cassirer cogently dismisses the aesthetic positions  of Bergson, Nietzsche, Santayana, and even Croce in a few choice paragraphs, insisting on a theory that acknowledges the inseparability of beauty and form.
Meanwhile, I turn to poetry, not bothering to count the syllables:

The haze departs,
Sunlight bathes the far shore.
Relax, it’s summer.
--
Hunting the pack for banana chips,
I find smoked almonds!
Unexpected delight.
--
Cool evening breeze
assuages the sunburn –
How long before I dash for another shirt?
--
Carpenter ant in the tree all day,
Gnawing, gnawing—
“I want to get out!”
--
The super-moon rises
Later each evening—
Water waits to shine.
--
Waterbugs dart across trees and clouds,
Unsure what line to take:
When they meet, they hop!
--
Iridescent loons
drift by the canoe—
regal, they think only of fish.
--
The eagle’s high-pitched cry
Disturbs my sleep—
Brother, I was up there with you!


Monday, August 11, 2014

Jazz: Overrated?


It’s been widely noted by now that the recent Washington Post editorial declaiming the death of jazz was written by someone (Justin Moyers) who knows very little about jazz. In any case, any “think piece” that purports to tell us in what direction “jazz” as a whole is going is obviously painting with a very broad brush.

Moyers' first specific point, that “Jazz takes great songs — and abandons the lyrics that help make them great,” draws our attention to one of the many veins of musical interpretation that call themselves “jazz.” I number myself among those listeners who would argue that most “vocal jazz” isn’t really jazz at all, though it’s a near relation, and often pleasant to listen to. The problem is…the words. Even the most inspired lyrics grow tiresome with repetition. The singers know this, of course, and do all they can to keep the phrasing interesting, then step back and let the band strut its stuff.

Though Moyers likes lyrics, he doesn’t think much of improvisation. No wonder he doesn’t “get” jazz. That’s what it’s largely about. He shares that handicap with most listeners, to judge from the fact that jazz hasn’t been widely appreciated or “popular” since the early 1950s, when it ceased to be “dance” music.

Moyer argues that jazz has stopped “evolving,” but the point is immaterial. Evolution is overrated. In any case, the concept is misleading when applied to jazz idioms. Big Band music didn’t “evolve” into bebop, though bebop's creators cut their teeth in the big bands. The two genres are distinct, offering different thrills, and they’re both being performed today. 

By the same token, modal jazz didn’t evolve out of the small combos of the 50s, nor did fusion evolve from modal jazz, though we’ve been brought up to think that way. The music has gone in many directions, without rendering its predecessors uninteresting or “extinct.” What has remained throughout is a distinctive lilt or pulse and an exuberant urge to extemporize. Once those elements are gone, we’ve entered a new domain.


A few nights ago Hilary and I went to St. Paul to pick up a family friend who was arriving from Chicago on the train. The train was due to arrive at 10:03 p.m. We showed up a half hour early and parked at the first open meter we could find. It happened to be directly in front of the Black Dog Coffee House. 

We wandered in to find that a very young trio was playing some darned good jazz. They looked like high school kids, but they were probably college juniors. The drummer looked like my nephew, Paul—scruffy beard along the jaw line, a little overweight, a little shy, but also funny and exuberant. He did the talking.


The bassist was a wiry dude who crawled happily all over his instrument during his solo. The pianist was a clean-cut kid who probably had a closet full of Bill Evans’ records back at the dorm—his harmonic sense was already remarkably advanced.

They were working hard, and were great fun to listen to. There might have been five people sitting at tables nearby. Some were fiddling with their phones. The ones who were listening might have been the musicians' parents.

I never caught their names, but at the end of the set, the drummer urged us to return the following night to hear the trumpeter Steve Kenney. And so we did.



Kenny is a seasoned trumpeter, and he brought some other veterans with him: Brian Courage (bass), Babatunde Lea (drums), and Christopher Thomson (tenor sax). They played a set of standards ranging from “Summertime” and "Bye Bye Blackbird” to “Maiden Voyage” and “Caravan.” 

The intros were often slow, dissonant, and only vaguely rhythmic. The tune would emerge by fits and starts, then the band would step up the beat on cue and head into the arrangement, exchange solos, and then return to familiar ground.

It’s a standard formula, and it’s a kind of music I love. There is seldom a dull moment, and there is very little distance between performer and audience—maybe twenty feet. Kenny’s solos were often fierce, though I sometimes found Thomson’s saxophone riffs more musical.

Kenney took the time to point out that "Maiden Voyage" is a modal piece but very "chordal," which presents a challenge to a group without a piano. They pulled it off nicely.

That Herbie Hancock tune holds a special place in my heart: the version I listened to when I was about the age of those kids up on stage was on an album called Happenings by the vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson, with Hancock on the piano.

The odd thing is, Hancock's slow and meticulously developed solo on that track is associated in my mind with the slow movement of Ravel's Piano Concerto in G, with which I was equally infatuated in those years. Whither jazz? Hancock's recent album The River, devoted largely to Joni Mitchell tunes, has all the harmonic ambiguities of impressionist French piano music... but also the probing and inventive forward thrust of genuine jazz.

I've heard other, and sometimes more exciting, versions of "Maiden Voyage" since, including one at breakneck speed by alto sax Justin Robinson on The Challenge, a bouncy and irreverent one by an ensemble led by Fred Hersch, and a largely unrecognizable one by the pianist Robert Glasper.

The Kenney-Thompson version was also very good.

These talented men were twice the age of the youngsters we'd heard the previous evening, and they drew twice the crowd--maybe twelve avid listeners. We stayed for the entire set, grooving the whole time while nibbling on a well-designed hummus plate.A glass of wine from Catalonia was also involved somewhere. At one point I dropped a ten into the donation jar (cheap skate!).

No, jazz is not dead! Nor is it over-rated. It's the best. And it lives. It's just that most people don't "get" it, and it bothers them.
  

Friday, August 8, 2014

Cool August Morning


These cool summer mornings must be considered great. Or better yet, heavenly.

There’s a cardinal on the feeder, I can only see the bottom of his reddish tail, bobbing up and down as he eats.

House wrens chatter in the distance. And the blue jay delivers his submarine chortle from off in the woods.


The goldfinch is fearless, but prudent. He doesn’t waste time, just nibbles and leaves, close enough that I can see his dainty orange beak.

Raccoon tracks on the deck. He’s been in the ashes of the grill, looking for grease.

Suddenly a plan for the day takes shape:
—fill the birdbath;
—water the compost pile with the same hose;
—admire the cup flower that’s finally blooming after months of clumsy growth.


 Then, another cup of coffee.

Down in the yard, I come upon the remains of a robin. Hawks tend to swoop in from the south, nab their prey, and enjoy a meal in privacy on this very spot.

Now it’s the sharp “tisk, tisk” of the red squirrel, and a single nuthatch with his nasal “beep-beep.”


Four chickadees chuckle on the same branch. It’s a family! But I don’t think they’re getting along.

Finally chipmunk arrives. He slept late.


And now all the birds are singing at once! I've never heard anything quite like it...unless it was that morning we were camping in a county park near Northfield. I never found that park again.

You can’t really capture the joy of such a morning.


Just keep the windows open, stay away from the computer.

Keep the breeze moving through.