1 2 3 10 11

Staff Picks Audience: Music & Movies

Airbow by Maria Kalaniemi & Sven Ahlbäck []

book-jacket

view/request in library catalog

What is Finnish button accordion music, anyway? If you like Sharon Shannon, you’ll love Maria Kalaniemi.

She’s virtuosic, soulful and versatile. On this album she teams up with Swedish fiddler and scholar of folk music Sven Ahlbäck for a selection of traditional Scandinavian tunes and original compositions. They are both technically brilliant and have a wonderful synergy together. Johan Hedin joins them on nyckelharpa (Swedish keyed fiddle) and Swedish singer Susanne Rosenberg is featured on a few tunes. The music is spare, gorgeous, with a haunting energy that’s both ancient and contemporary. This is great listening for fans of Nordic or Celtic folk, fiddle tunes, or the undeservedly-maligned accordion.

Tagged: , , ,

The Last Days of Disco by Whit Stillman []

book-jacket

view/request in library catalog

Whit Stillman’s third feature, The Last Days of Disco, is set in New York City the early 1980’s. Here we find a group of young professionals who are all, whether they are aware or not, in a period of transition. This moment of change also mirrors the current stage of the popular music (please see the title!).

Alice (Chloë Sevigny) and Charlotte (Kate Beckinsale), somewhat recent graduates of Hampshire College, are working in the lower echelons of the publishing industry. Despite having not much in common (and they can readily admit that they may not be ideal candidates for friendship), the duo decides to share a railroad style apartment with another young woman.

The tight living quarters teamed with Charlotte’s persistent insensitivity create a great deal of tension and bickering. Furthermore, there’s also tussling over potential/previous love interests. An escape from this turmoil is the local hot spot; it’s a fashionable discotheque possibly modeled in Stillman’s memory from his days hanging out at the famed Studio 54. Chris Eigeman, a Stillman mainstay, is cast as Des McGrath. McGrath is a sardonic manager at the said Manhattan club and he ultimately realizes that the owner has some sort of a shady operation going on.

When viewing The Last Days of Disco, one can’t help appreciating the dedication in creating such memorable characters and the overall writing in general. The film is filled with quick and witty dialog… most of which you cannot imagine being spoken by actual people. In one instance, Eigeman’s character begs the question, “do yuppies even exist? No one says, ‘I am a yuppie,’ it’s always the other guy who’s a yuppie. I think for a group to exist, somebody has to admit to be part of it.”

The struggle of social identity and finding one’s general placement in society underlie this brilliant comedic drama.

P.S. After a viewing, one may discover that disco does not suck!

Tagged: ,

Last Picture Show by Peter Bogdanovich []

book-jacket

view/request in library catalog

In keeping with the “New Hollywood” theme, I thought we’d take a look at another Roger Corman student and another film in the Criterion Collection’s America Lost & Found series. Following his directorial debut Targets (a brilliant “Frankensteining” of Corman stock footage of Boris Karloff and a completely new script about a local assassin), Peter Bogdanovich adapted Last Picture Show with the book’s author Larry McMurthy.

The film is set in a transitional period, both for the landscape and members of the graduating high school class, in a rural north Texas town in the early 1950’s. Timothy Bottoms, Jeff Bridges, Cybill Shephard and Randy Quaid play the local teenagers who are thinking about their futures outside of their small home town. Relationships, the military, money and taking care of family members all play important roles on these characters’ decisions. Two adult figures, Cloris Leachman and Ben Johnson, both won Oscars for their performances in supporting roles.

Robert Surtees’s soft black and white cinematography over the dusty roads and old shop signs hang a general feeling of loneliness over Last Picture Show. Bogdanvoich’s subtle humor, rich character drama and calculated pace, earn him comparison to the French master François Truffaut. He would also continue to look to the past, mostly filming in black and white, in years to come with films like Paper Moon, What’s Up Doc? and Nickelodeon.

In The Last Picture Show, we can feel that change will come in this part of Texas and that Red River shall inevitably have its final curtain.

Tagged: , ,

Zombie by Fela Kuti []

book-jacket

view/request in library catalog

Devoted followers of Fela Kuti include ?uestlove, Jay Z, David Byrne, Baaba Maal, Ginger Baker and Vampire Weekend. In recent years, Knitting Factory Records has been a key player in creating what one might call a revival… or better yet, a “Fela-bration” to honor the late Afrobeat star. Album reissues, magazine features, curated boxed sets, a documentary and even a Broadway show have been unleashed upon us adoring fans within the last couple of years. Our wallets are sad, but ears have never been happier.
The best way to describe Afrobeat to those unfamiliar is vocal based song with influences in jazz, funk and African highlife music. The reissued Zombie cd contains four such (lengthy) tunes with Fela’s excellent musicianship and commanding vocals. Chanted call and response singing, frenetic, pulsating rhythms, stellar percussion, a deep brass sound and an electricity (that no words can do justice) fill the album as well.
Zombie, like many of Fela’s albums, is a packed with a strong political message. The cover depicts the artist performing in concert with a juxtaposition of faceless, Nigerian soldiers meant to look like zombies. This 1977 release was a massive hit, but its radical lyrics and the mentioned cover art angered government officials. As a result, an attack was ordered on Fela’s commune. Sadly, he was severely beaten and his grandmother was tossed out of a window and would later pass away due to the injury. Fela Kuti lived on though and did not stop letting his voice be heard until his death in 1997.

Tagged:

Richard Pryor: Omit the Logic []

book-jacket

view/request in library catalog

Marina Zenovich’s film is an excellent portrait of comedian and actor Richard Pryor. We see all the brilliance, unflinching confidence, missteps, self-destruction, triumphs and pain. Omit the Logic hits the ground running with Pryor’s earliest televised stand-up appearances with a routine resembling what Bill Cobsy was up to in the early 1960’s. However, after a disastrous set in Las Vegas, Pryor disappears and later resurfaces in San Francisco as a completely unique, uncensored entertainer.

The film highlights much of Pryor’s autobiographical material. After a fair share of belly laughing at these classic, personal routines about his childhood, relationships with women and drug use, the documentary leads us to Pryor’s difficult past. Contemporaries, colleagues and followers such as Bob Newhart, Paul Mooney, Dave Chappelle, Mel Brooks, Robin Williams and Whoopie Goldberg contribute anecdotes to Pryor’s perplexing story. It’s both noble and heartbreaking how Richard Pryor persisted to find humor in the darkest of places.

Tagged: , ,

Into the Lime by The New Mendicants []

book-jacket

view/request in library catalog

The New Mendicants are Joe Pernice, Norman Blake and Mike Belitksy. Pernice and Belitsky, Pernice Brothers alumn and current Toronto residents, met Blake (Teenage Fanclub) at a London gig back in 2000. About a decade later, Norman sent Joe a message: “Back in Canada at the end of next week. Want to be friends?”

Into the Lime‘s initial collaborative spark came care of submitting music for a film adaptation of Nick Hornby’s book A Long Way Down. Despite the novel’s dark subject matter, the album is a sweet sounding, almost like a modern day Everly Brothers record. Clever songwriting and close, two-part harmony are present throughout. Pernice takes many of the leads. He’s an American (once residing in Northampton, MA!) who tries to sound like a Brit. Blake’s pure, high harmonies are coming from a Scotsman maybe hoping one day to be a Byrd. The album is the perfect blending of voices and styles. The friendship and enthusiasm for this side project is clearly audible on the recording.

Tagged: ,

Bored To Death []

book-jacket

view/request in library catalog

Jonathan Ames casts Jason Schwartzman as his alter-ego “Jonathan Ames” in the comedic, sleuth series Bored To Death. Ames is a young author from Brooklyn with motivational issues struggling to complete his second novel. One evening he turns to famed pulp writer Raymond Chandler for inspiration. After completing Farewell My Lovely, he proceeds to take out an advertisement on Craigslist boasting his reasonable rates and unlicensed detective services.
Each episode follows Schwartzman on madcap cases, painful romantic encounters and surprisingly tender buddy-buddy moments with brilliant co-stars Ted Danson and Zack Galifiankis. The show also features cameos appearances from John Hodgman, Patton Oswolt and Kristen Wiig.

Tagged: , ,

Three Solo Pieces by Lubomyr Melnyk []

book-jacket

view/request in library catalog

Ukrainian-Canadian composer Lubomyr Melnyk is positive that he’s the fastest pianist in the business. A boast from his website reads: “in exactly 60 minutes, Melnyk sustained an average speed of over 13 notes per second in each hand, yielding a remarkable total of 93,650 INDIVIDUAL notes.”
Despite Melnyk’s dexterity and technique, listening to Three Solo Pieces feels nothing like a frantic, fast paced album. Rather, this “Continuous Music” recording, which is filled with seamless melody and overtones, is a rich, mysterious and ethereal experience. Relying on a constant sustain pedal, this modern classical album is both cacophonous and soothing. Quite the feat and quite the recording.

Tagged: ,

Judex []

book-jacket

view/request in library catalog

I tend to be someone who knows what he’s looking for in the stacks and will often go in with a list. We can’t always be a slave to structure though. Judex is a film I checked out based solely on the intriguing box cover. It also is a part of the Criterion Collection… so, I knew I was in for something interesting.

This 1963 French movie is an homage to a 1916 silent film of the same name. Set at the time of the original, Judex hits the ground running with a mysterious blackmail letter, a murder, strange sci-fi/occult touches and a stoic, caped man. Countless twists and turns, masks, hidden identities, a circus, knives and a lovable detective color this suspenseful caper. Furthermore, Judex is photographed in the most brilliant black and white with stylish camera angles that would make any film nerd’s heart have serious palpitations.

It pays to sometimes take chances with movies; going in blindly. However, I’ve done the work for you already on this one. So, go ahead and enjoy George Franju’s Judex!

Tagged: ,

Sensation: The Story of Tommy []

book-jacket

view/request in library catalog

I first heard the Who’s Tommy as a teen or pre-teen after borrowing a copy from the Russell Library in Middletown, CT. That’s really the age to delve into both the angst and sensitivity of the Who… in fact, it’s the best time to explore music in general as that feeling of the world opening up to you begins. What followed this library trip was a huge Who obsession and, after the realization that Pete Townshend and I share a birthday, I was convinced there was some sort of connection between myself and the music. I’m sure I wasn’t the only teenager who felt this way.

Martin R. Smith’s documentary doesn’t focus on the stellar musicianship of the band (that coverage can be found anywhere… I mean, listen to a Who album!); rather, it leads the viewer through Tommy‘s high concepts and tells the story of a band in a state of transition. It is evident we have a “pre” & “post”-Tommy Who for the history books. Tommy, an album many consider as the first “rock opera”, legitimized Pete Townshend as a true composer, gave Roger Daltry the confidence to stand out front as the powerful lead singer (often in fringe), took the Who to opera houses around the world and turned the band into a stadium rock monster.

The film features interviews with Pete Townshend, Roger Daltry, John Entwhistle (archival), Keith Moon (archival), former Who manager Chris Stamp, Tommy album artist Mike McInnerney, Who biographers and a couple Rolling Stone Magazine nerds. It also has audio recordings of Townshend demos and several live performance clips.

Tagged: ,

The Art of the Steal by Don Argott []

book-jacket

view/request in library catalog

The Art of the Steal is a documentary that addresses the issue of public ownership of artwork. Don Argott’s film focuses on a much heated conflict in the state of Pennsylvania concerning the Barnes Collection and Foundation. Albert Barnes, a wealthy chemist turned art collector, acquired one of the most stunning Impressionist and Post-Impressionist collections in the world. He housed this uniquely curated collection along with a school as the Barnes Foundation in Lower Merion, PA. After his death in 1951, it was made clear by his will that the collection would not move nor would any of the work be sold under any circumstances.

Here’s where it gets interesting… Barnes’s wishes were not shared with many of the powerful Philadelphia politicians and society members. As management changed hands, the film highlights political nonsense and a long spiral of undermining of the collection’s owner over a sixty plus year period. Many issues arise in the dealings with the collection of art (now worth an estimated twenty-five billion dollars) and we really don’t have a clear cut understanding of whose interests are actually being served.

The Art of the Steal is a fascinating look into both the political and art worlds.

Tagged: ,

Bach Unaccompanied Cello Suites by J.S. Bach; performed on double bass by Edgar Meyer []

book-jacket

view/request in library catalog

This is one of the most amazing CDs I have ever heard.  Edgar Meyer is a musician’s musician who is in high demand in the classical, folk and bluegrass worlds.  He has partnered with the likes of Yo-Yo Ma, Joshua Bell,  Bela Fleck and Mark O’Connor, and he composed a violin concerto for Hilary Hahn.  Here he partners with Johann Sebastian Bach in a new interpretation of the suites for solo cello with a much deeper voice.  He solves the technical problems of the bass — larger reach and slower-speaking strings, for example — with a technical mastery that is just mind-boggling. But this is not just virtuosic fireworks.  The bass sings under his fingers.  And you can hear the 30 years of practice and love for the repertoire in this recording.  Meyer is right up there with Casals on my shelf.

Tagged: