Friday, August 28, 2009

Fantasy Island

On the recommendation of a friend, I started following Rainn Wilson's Twitter feed recently. Normally, I don't have any interest in celebrity self-promotion, but Wilson's Twitter is often interesting, funny, or poignant. I loved this tweet from yesterday where he solicits advice for his upcoming fantasy football draft. It seems that the staff of The Office has an "office" fantasy football league. I'm not sure if they formed the league because they enjoy fantasy football or it's some sort of method acting technique they use to get into their average office worker characters, but either way, I love it.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Double Trouble

I've seen this commercial for KFC's latest menu item a few times so I assumed that it was taking American by storm. I learned today that this new culinary creation is currently being test marketed in Providence and Omaha, so I'm one of the lucky few able to experience the deliciousness of the Double Down, which is ostensibly a bacon and cheese sandwich with a bun made out of boneless pieces of fried chicken. For the record, I have yet to try one and have no plans to do so. My lack of interest may lead directly to the Double Down not testing well enough to merit a nationwide release, but it's a chance I'm willing take.

Normally, this is where I would go into full snark mode, but after The AV Club called it "the Reichstag fire of health care reform", I don't think there's anything else that can be said. I hope that I have an opportunity to use that analogy somewhere else, though. But is the Double Down really that bad? The concept seems a little dated. The bun-less sandwich sounds like something straight out of the Atkins craze of a few years back. The bacon seems forced, and I feel like the current incarnation of the add bacon to everything craze is starting to fizzle out. Other than that, I don't see how this is much different than other items on the menus of America's fast food restaurants. Don't get me wrong, the Double Down is kind of disgusting and definitely not something you should eat on a regular basis if you care about your health, but it isn't a new low in the field of culinary arts.

Case in point, last night I dined on some deep-friend clam-infused dough balls. Clam cakes, as they're usually known in these parts, are a Southeastern New England institution and a staple of seaside seafood shacks. Clam cakes have a better name than the Double Down and a simplicity that makes the Double Down look even more thrown together by comparison, but are they really all that different? If clam cakes can be considered a classic comfort food cherished across generations, can the Double Down really be considered a harbinger of the end of the times?

Restaurants need to innovate in order to attract customers. For fast food restaurants, that means either offering more calories per dollar than their competitors or combining a limited set of ingredients in new ways. Most innovations across the food service industry will be forgotten as quickly as they appear. A select few will become part of humanity's culinary lexicon for a few years, a few generations, or, if they're really good, forever. I'm not predicting that every greasy spoon will someday serve a version of the Double Down, I'm just saying that the difference between a beloved culinary institution and an affront to good taste on a plate is smaller than we think.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Newport News

More thoughts from the Newport Jazz Festival.

I was disappointed to see that RIPTA has discontinued their seasonal bus service from the Newport Visitors Center for Fort Adams. Even in these times of challenging state budgets, it's an embarrassment for city like Newport that relies so heavily on tourism to lack a public transport option from its downtown to one of its most popular attractions.

That being said, the water taxi that I wound up taking from Perrotti Park to Fort Adams was quite nice.

This was my first visit to Fort Adams, and I was really impressed with it. I'll definitely be going back some weekend when it's not playing host to a music festival to check it out.

There was no shortage of booths selling handicrafts at the festival, but I didn't see any selling recordings. Jazz fans are notorious record collectors so I was surprised to see that there wasn't even a tent selling recordings of the featured musicians.

My favorite show other than the V5 was the Christian McBride trio, which kind of surprised me. It wasn't anything earth-shattering, just really good and straight-ahead jazz. I was looking forward to Vijay Iyer's show, but with the exception of their last number, I couldn't really get into any of their tunes.

NPR music was at the festival and has made many of the concerts available for download (not the V5's set, unfortunately)

The ProJo mentioned the V5's set in their review today:
The Vandermark 5, a group of young Chicagoans, started the process with a mix of wailing horns, cello and bowed acoustic bass, completing the demolition on their final song as the second-stage crowd roared. “Some people probably hated it,” said cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm, “and some people have told us it was their favorite thing of the festival so far.”

Ken's take on the V5's set, via twitter.

Here's a link to some pictures that I took of the V5 before their set.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

New Thing at Newport

Vandermark 5
Newport Jazz Festival - Fort Adams State Park - Newport, RI
Saturday, August 8th

I've never bothered making the trip down to Newport for its iconic jazz festival because, like most big jazz festivals, it tends to feature lowest common denominator acts that play the same old tunes year after year. Newport Jazz impresario George Wein decided to do something about that this year, as this article from the Boston Globe back explains. This year's line-up is fairly impressive, but the Vandermark 5 alone was worth the price of admission for me. Alas, I was not disappointed.

One of the great things about Vandermark is he never talks down to his audience. When I saw him play with School Days at SXSW in 2001, they played a couple of old Archie Shepp and Roswell Rudd songs and he dutifully announced the song titles and composers to the crowd despite the fact that most of them were there for the punk rock act that followed them and most certainly had never heard of Shepp or Rudd (or Vandermark, for that matter). The Vandermark 5, as far as I know, only plays original tunes, so there was no free jazz history lesson going on, but their song selection was in no way pandering to the audience in Newport.

Simply put, their set rocked - literally and figuratively. I don't think I've ever heard them play a set as hard-hitting as the one they played in Newport. The first number that they did started out on a rocking note with Fred Lonberg-Holm playing a great serpentine cello solo against the bass and drums before Vandermark and Rempis joined in on tenor and alto saxes, respectively. Vandermark played tenor for most of the set. He occasionally picked up the clarinet, but his bari was not on stage. His most impressive solo was during the most subdued number of the set, Early Color, but all of his solos were strong. The band sounded really tight. It probably helped that most of the songs were from their forthcoming album, but still, it's pretty amazing to watch a band playing music that is both highly improvised and very precise at a breakneck pace stick together as well as they did.

I was quite impressed with the crowd; at its peak, it was standing room only. Vandermark appeared to share my sentiments, as he spent most of his time between numbers thanking the crowd and George Wein himself, who was on hand for most of their set. The biggest crowd pleaser of the day was Cement, a cacophonous song that was let off by Tim Daisy and featured some devastating hooks in addition to a Vandermark-Rempis tenor sax tête-à-tête.

The few times I've seen Vandermark play in front of a so-called crossover audience, he's been incredibly well-received and this show was no exception. While it's never going to be considered mainstream, this is music that adventurous ears are ready for, even if they aren't particularly attuned to jazz. Hopefully, the Vandermark 5's first US jazz festival appearance won't be their last.