Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Fire Water

In an incredible act of American Indian synergy, I bought a 16 oz can of Narragansett with two Sacajawea dollars tonight.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Cliff Walk

February 18 | 3:18 pm | Newport, RI

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Compass Shatters Magnet

The Vandermark 5
Johnny D's - Somerville, MA
Tuesday, February 13th

It's been almost four years since I last saw this band play live. They are still one of my favorite bands around and I hope that another four years doesn't elapse between now and the next time I hear them perform. Though I wasn't too excited about make the drive up to Boston for a Tuesday night show on the eve of the huge winter storm that turned out to be something of a dud, at least in southeast New England, it was fun to be back in my old neighborhood. I had only been to Johnny D's once before, for a Marc Ribot concert back in 2001. The crowd wasn't as large as the one at the Ribot show, but they were a lot more attentive, and with good reason.

The show got off to an unexpected start. I arrived around 8:45 (the show started at 8:30) and the band was already playing by the time I got there. I can't remember the last improvised music show I went to that started within 30 minutes of the published starting time. This was the first time I heard the band play live with their new cellist, Fred Lomberg-Holm. I was sad to hear trombonist Jeb Bishop was leaving the band. I thought his playing added a really interesting dimension to their sound and I had my doubts as to whether or not a cello could really replace that. I'm still not sure I feel about the addition of Lomberg-Holm. On the positive side, he can do some really interesting things with effect pedals. At times, it almost sounded like he was playing an electric guitar, which brought back some good memories of band prior to Acoustic Machine. Bishop's electric guitar was used sparingly in the days of the electric Vandermark 5, but I really liked the way it was used to give the music a harder edge On the negative side, the cello is not a trombone and it doesn't really bring the same kind of energy.

The first set was a lot more jazzy than I was expecting. Most of the numbers they played were upbeat and swinging, which is something that this band hasn't been doing as much of over the past few years. Vandermark picked up the clarinet for at least one piece in first set and parts of two more pieces in the second, which was a lot more clarinet than I am used to hearing from him. His clarinet playing is always very expressive, more so than any of his other alternate horns, so it was nice to hear more of it. Unfortunately, he didn't bring his tenor sax with him for this show. I asked him why he wasn't playing any tenor between sets and he explained that the band was getting ready for a European tour and carry-on luggage restrictions preclude him from brining his tenor and baritone saxophones as well as his clarinet and bass clarinet. The perils of being a multi-instrumentalist, I suppose. Dave Rempis split his time between alto and tenor sax so it's not like there was no tenor representation, but it would have been nice to hear Ken play a few licks on his most powerful horn.

The music in the second set was a lot sparser and tended to highlight individual group members instead of featuring full-bore group improvisation. The one exception was the last piece prior to the encore, a new song entitled "Compass Shatters Magnet". It started out with a Tim Daisy mallet solo on his drum kit which led into a hard-driving group improvisation with Kent Kessler laying down some particularly vicious bass lines which served to both keep the group anchored and help push them over the edge at the same time. It was an incredible piece and I hope it makes it onto their next album. The Vandermark 5 is a working group in the purest sense of the term. I've probably seen them play at least a dozen times over the past nine years and I can't recall ever hearing them play anything that predates their current album. This concert was pretty typical in that regard, about half of the music was from their latest release, A Discontinuous Line, and the rest were new songs.

Overall, it was a great show. It was also great to see the Boston Phoenix publish a review of the show. I found their coverage to of the local improvised music scene to be spotty at best when I lived in Boston a few years ago, it's nice to see that they are paying more attention to it.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Beating a Dead Horse

Not to keep writing about Parade Magazine, but Michelle pointed this out to me today and I just had to mention it. This week's issue (the annual worst dictators in the world issue) featured a question in Walter Scott's Personality Parade regarding the status of Kentucky Derby champion Barbaro. The reply stated that Barbaro has recovered from his January 13th surgery and is in stable condition. Unless you have been living under a rock without access to Deadspin for the past couple of weeks, you certainly have heard that Barbaro is now in horsey heaven.

The online version of Parade includes a retraction and explains that Barbaro was euthananized after the current issue went to press. Barbaro was put down on January 29th and the current issue of Parade came out on February 11th, so it appears that Parade goes to press at least two weeks before it is published. I was somewhat surprised to learn this. Of course, it's not like Parade contains any timely information, so I guess it doesn't really matter when it goes to press.

Monday, February 12, 2007

I Dream of Geni

I came across a new website today. It's called Geni and it appears to be a Web 2.0 social networking approach to genealogy. It's an interesting concept, but I don't know how useful a socially networked family tree can be. It seems to me that only people from huge and/or fragmented families would need a website to figure out who all of their living, Internet-savvy relatives are. Perhaps they are working on software to mine historical records for birth, death, and marriage information so they can link you to your pre-Internet descendants. That would be a really cool feature.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Dictator of the Year

If Parade Magazine's annual Worst Dictators in the World issue isn't enough to get me out of the blogging doldrums, I don't know what is.

This year's list began with a disclaimer noting that previously ranked dictators Fidel Castro of Cuba and Saparmurat Niyazov of Turkmenistan were excluded from this year's list. Castro was excluded for handing over the reigns (at least in name) to his brother in July and Niyazov was excluded because he died in December. I don't agree with either of these choices because this list has always been a survey of the worst dictators over the past year. Both men were in power for most of last year, and both had personality cults so immense that their presence will be felt in their countries for decades to come, so I don't think they should have been excluded.

Sudan's Omar Al-Bashir and North Korea's Kim Jong Il finished 1-2 for the second year in a row. Iran's Ayatollah Khamenei shot up six places into third place this year. I'm not going to defend Khamenei, but I think it's pretty obvious that his rise from 18th to 9th to 3rd place over the past three years has more to do with the increasingly defiant and bellicose rhetoric that has been coming out of Tehran with regards to nuclear weapons, Israel, Iraq, etc. While Iran has become a more repressive place over the past few years, it's hard to justify Khamenei's jump from the outskirts of the "best of the rest" two years ago to the top three today based solely on his lousy human right record.

The top 10 welcomed two new members this year, Libya's Muammar Qaddafi (who placed 11 last year) and Syria's Bashar Al-Assad, who moved up from 16th. I'm not sure why Qaddafi moved up, since if anything, he's been cleaning up his act as of late.

China's Hu Jintao jumped up two places to reclaim the number 4 spot this year. I continue to be puzzled by his high ranking in this survey. The Chinese government is no champion of human rights, but at least they have given their population some measure of economic freedom. Furthermore, China appears to be on a positive trajectory. The Chinese people as a whole live freer and more prosperous lives than they did ten, twenty, or thirty years ago, which is more than the people who live in most of the countries under the control of the top 10 dictators can say. The people of Myanmar have been stuck living under the control of a brutal military junta over the past 15 years and have seen their economy collapse and their country branded an international pariah and yet their leader, Than Shwe, comes in two places below Hu this year.

The 10 worst dictators list needs to decide if it wants to rank the world's dictators solely based on their dictatorial bona fides or if it wants to weigh each regime's human rights record against it geopolitical importance. The reason China always places so high (I assume) is because it's a country that wields a lot of power on the international stage. This year's list begins with an eye towards geopolitical significance (Sudan, North Korea, Iran, China) but it then switches to a more of a pure dictatorial quotient, placing Zimbabwe in the number 7 spot and four leaders of relatively obscure African countries in places 11-20 (Equatorial Guinea: 11, Swaziland: 12, Eritria: 13, Cameroon: 19). I'm really curious as to how Cameroon's Paul Biya managed to move from unranked to number 19 this year. I feel like I pay fairly close attention to international news and I fancy myself a bit of an Africa watcher and I've never ever heard of this guy. I don't recall reading any news about Cameroon in the past year good or bad (other than the Cameroon Crazies).