San Francisco Offside Festival – May 24-26

Alex Pinto and I had a crazy idea—to organize a three-night jazz festival that exclusively celebrates local musicians and composers. The Bay Area is home to such immense musical talent, what’s even more crazy is that nobody ever thought of doing this before. So, in the spirit of creating the change you want to see, we have embarked on this adventure together and have been getting a great response from the local community. We hope to make this an annual offering, but for now we’re focusing on the first venture, which happens in just over two weeks. Here’s all the official details!

Jazz is alive and well and living in San Francisco! So say the creators of San Francisco Offside, and the many talented local musicians taking part in this year’s inaugural festival.

Born of a passion to celebrate the unique creativity and diversity of the local jazz scene, SF Offside has gathered together some of the Bay Area’s most exciting musical talent for an event unlike any other. The three-night festival showcases notable local musicians and composers, like Marcus Shelby, David Boyce, Darren Johnston, Lisa Mezzacappa, Larry Ochs, Erik Jekabson, Aram Shelton, Eric Garland, and many more.

Night One: “Excursions” – Thursday May 24 @ El Valenciano, 1153 Valencia Street

The festival kicks off with three different ensembles with one thing in common—mastery of traditional techniques coupled with fearless commitment to exploring innovative territories. Bassist Lisa Mezzacappa opens the evening with her improvisational “garage jazz” quartet, Bait & Switch. Following is an experimental trio featuring saxophonists Dave Rempis from Chicago (the festival’s only non-local musician!) and Larry Ochs of ROVA with the ubiquitous Darren Johnston on trumpet. These Are Our Hours, a brand new quintet featuring core members of the Oakland Active Orchestra, close the evening with explorations grounded in jazz and free improvisation.

Night Two: “Onward” – Friday May 25 @ 50 Mason Social House, 50 Mason Street

The second night of the festival takes a decidedly contemporary look at straight-ahead jazz and presents three Bay Area composers and their respective trios—bassist Marcus Shelby, trumpeter Erik Jekabson, and guitarist Alex Pinto. Celebrated as a leading light of the Bay Area’s jazz scene, Shelby will perform with a fresh trio that features the talented young pianist Joe Warner and the versatile Tiffany Austin (Martin) on vocals. Jekabson, respected both as a bandleader and as a sideman, brings his post-bop improvisational sensibilities to the mix, while Pinto, a young guitarist trained in Hindustani classical music (who also happens to be the festival’s co-director), has a distinctive modern sound all of his own.

Night Three: “Junction” – Saturday May 26 @ Special Location TBA

The festival closes with an evening of genre-expanding music that intersects jazz in distinctive ways. Secret Sidewalk, an innovate quintet bridging electronic/tape music and jazz, spotlights Marcus Stephens on sax and electronics. Blending rock and jazz strategies, the recently formed Klaxon Mutant Jazz All Stars is an illustrious quintet featuring music by all five members—Eric Garland, Henry Hung, Kasey Knudsen, George Ban-Weiss, and Colin Hogan. Bay Area staple and masters of improvisation, The Supplicants, with guest drummer Hamir Atwal, end the evening with a musical journey that takes many unexpected directions. (The venue for the closing night of the festival will be announced May 21st.)

SF Offside Festival

A co-production of local jazz guitarist Alex Pinto and local music curator Laura Maguire, SF Offside was created to fill a perceived gap in the regional jazz festival circuit. With an exclusive focus on homegrown talent, the mission of SF Offside is to draw attention to the incredible creativity to be found right here in our own backyard, and to build larger audiences for specifically local jazz offerings. The hope is that San Francisco ultimately gets the recognition it deserves as home to a rich, diverse, and exceptionally talented jazz community.

RSVP


All Quiet on the Western Front?

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything here even though there has been so much to write about. We had lots of great performances at Viracocha in March—the Live ‘n’ Local show with the Revolution Duo (amazing improvisation with Charith Premwardhana on viola and Matt Szemela on violin), The John Brothers Piano Company, and Wiener Kids; Aaron Novik‘s latest project, Dante Counterstamp; Janam and The Nice Guy Trio; and Karina Denike. Then earlier this month we had The Immortal Billie Holiday tribute show with many great performers including Kally Price and her Old Blues and Jazz Band.

Also this month was the fifth annual Switchboard Music Festival at the Brava Theater. I thought the selection of music this year was exceptionally diverse compared to previous years. Dominique Leone and the Ensemble Epouser did their last ever performance of Stravinsky’s Les Noces. Volti, a choral ensemble dedicated to new vocal music, were absolutely breathtaking. Pop duo Ramon & Jessica were their usual charming, quirky, clever, and versatile selves. I did not get burned out at all this year (it’s a ten-hour festival!), in large part, I think, due to the greater variety of styles. I recall last year, which seemed to lean more heavily toward avant-garde, feeling at a certain point like I just couldn’t take in anymore music, my brain was feeling so fried.

It’s great to see Switchboard grow so noticeably each year, not simply in terms of number of people attending (they outgrew the original small studio in Dance Mission a few years back), but also in terms of how the vision has matured and its execution become more smooth. This year, for example, they projected info about each artist/ensemble on a screen at the back of the stage, which also indicated when there was a break between performances, and how much time we had to grab some food or a drink. That was much appreciated (though I still managed to miss  Dan Cantrell’s performance when a “friend” insisted we walk all the way to Folsom and 24th just for coffee).

The other most notable performance I’ve seen this month was drummer and composer Eric Garland’s Hodge Podge Ensemble this past Sunday night at the Community Music Center on Capp Street. Which brings me to my next topic, The San Francisco Offside Festival, a three-night festival (May 24-26) that me and Alex Pinto are putting together! It celebrates “the creativity and diversity of the local jazz scene” and features many incredible local musicians and composers, including Eric Garland (and also two of his bandmates on Sunday—Lisa Mezzacappa and Colin Hogan). I’ll post something more official about it soon, but meanwhile, click on the link for more details. We are very excited about it.

Between organizing a jazz festival, booking music at Viracocha, trying to keep on top of Live ‘n’ Local, and . . . I don’t know . . . holding down a fulltime job, I’ve been pretty busy. Hence the silence. Whew! It feels like I’m just catching my breath before continuing to march up a steep hill. But march on I will.

More deets about SF Offside coming soon!

“Mad Genius” with Wiener Kids, The John Brothers Piano Company, and Revolution Duo

Mad Genius” – legitimate category or over-used trope? You decide.

Live ‘n’ Local SF proudly presents Wiener Kids, The John Brothers Piano Company, and the Revolution Duo in an evening of insanely good musical derangements.

WIENER KIDS
Brain child of drummer/composer Jordan Glenn, Wiener Kids began as a duo with guitarist Steini Gunnarsson. After Steini moved back to Iceland Jordan picked the project up again a year later, this time with the help of reed masters Aram Shelton and Cory Wright. The music is inspired by small dogs, old bikes, Muppets, cheap Halloween decorations, babies with glasses and other wiener kids. It’s fast and slow, loud and soft. It draws as much from Jan Svankmajer and Hans Bellmer as Peewee Herman and Jim Hensen. It’s music made by ex/current weaklings for everyone!

More Wiener Kids on Fenderhardt

THE JOHN BROTHERS PIANO COMPANY
An art collective formed by John Steven Morgan, John Thatcher Boomer, and Max Moriyama, the John Brothers’ primary aesthetic mission is to bring different art forms directly to the public outside of established venues in settings like mass transit boarding areas. The John Brothers regularly take a small spinet piano to San Francisco, Berkeley and Rockridge BART stations and play continuously for up to seven hours. All music, though containing several different styles ranging from jazz to blues to stride and classical, is composed by John Morgan and Thatcher Boomer. Max Moriyama provides sole artistic direction—putting a “face” to the John Brothers Piano Company by combining century old illustration with modern techniques to create a nostalgic sensibility.

Listen to John Brothers on Bandcamp

REVOLUTION DUO
Comprised of two wildly talented string players—violist Charith Premawardhana and violinist Matthew Szemela—the Revolution Duo are making their debut performance tonight at Viracocha. Charith Premawardhana is founder and director of Classical Revolution, the global phenomenon of local origin that has been bringing chamber music to the masses for over five years. He has performed and recorded with a long list of artists, such as Beats Antique, The Mars Volta, Meklit Hadero, and the Jazz Mafia. Matt Szemela recently moved from NYC to SF and already has become one of the most in-demand musicians on the local music scene, playing with groups as musically diverse as the Berkeley Symphony, Family Folk Explosion, Musical Art Quintet, Todd Sickafoose, as well as in his own innovative chamber hip-hop duo, Vytal Theory.

LIVE ‘N’ LOCAL SF is dedicated to supporting the thriving local music scene by promoting great music, regardless of genre. L ‘n’ L is especially interested in music that is inventive, distinctive, virtuosic, and exciting. Find us on Facebook and Twitter.

RSVP ON FACEBOOK

Saturday March 3rd

Viracocha

998 Valencia Street, SF

Doors at 8pm / Show at 8:30pm
$8-20 sliding scale


The Many Fables of Faubus

Every social movement should have its own music.

That, at least, is the view of local bassist, composer, arranger, and educator Marcus Shelby. His latest project, Soul of the Movement: Meditations on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Porto Franco, 2011), a result of many years of exhaustive research, travel, and creative work, forms a kind of musical catalogue of the American Civil Rights Movement.

With beautifully written liner notes including lots of amazing B&W photos from the 50’s and 60’s—a portrait of the smiling Rosa Parks in Montgomery, Alabama, strikers in Memphis holding signs that simply say “I am a man,” walking single file between a line of pointed bayonets and a row of tanks, black protesters in Washington demanding “integrated schools” and “decent housing,” contrasted with photos of white protesters from Arkansas demanding an end to integration—it is easy to get a sense of that troubled period in American history.

But there’s a deeper connection to be found in this album and that, of course, is through the music. An orchestral suite containing a mixture of traditional spirituals and freedom songs, re-arrangements of some jazz hits associated with the movement, and many swinging compositions from Shelby himself, the music conveys a real sense both of the monumental struggles of the Civil Rights Movement and of its unassailable spirit

Shelby began his work on Soul of the Movement with a Charles Mingus track, “Fables of Faubus,” the piece from the civil rights era that first revealed to him “how music can open up consciousness.”

Fables has an interesting history.

Mingus originally released the track on his 1959 album (clear your throat as you say this) Mingus Ah Um. The song was inspired by events in 1957, when the Arkansas National Guard prevented a group of nine black teenagers from entering the previously whites only Little Rock Central High School, in which they were newly registered students. It was three years after Brown v. Board of Education, which had ruled that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. But changes were slow coming and, in some cases, especially in the South, vehemently resisted.

Leading the segregationist effort in Little Rock was Orval Faubus, then governor of Arkansas. Faubus ordered the National Guard to block the nine black teens from entering the high school and, many contend, engineered the entire crisis by stirring up racial fear and hatred amongst the white population of Arkansas. Thanks to Faubus and his machinations, not only were the Little Rock Nine prevented from entering the school, but they also had to deal with crowds of angry white segregationists who verbally abused, spat on, and threatened them.

Several weeks after what should have been their first day, the students were finally admitted to Central High School under escort of the US Army, a directive from President Eisenhower. For the next year, the nine students faced daily hostility, harassment, and violence at the school.

Like many others at the time, Mingus was outraged by this incident, and wrote what is considered to be his most overtly political song. Ironically, Columbia Records refused to allow Mingus to record Fables with the original lyrics he had written for it, so it was first recorded (and became a hit) as an instrumental.

By current standards, the lyrics could hardly be considered offensive, opening with the rather reasonable request, “Oh Lord, don’t let them shoot us.”

As Shelby says, “In retrospect, they’re not that explicit, not that charged. But in 1957/58, I imagine that they would be to the Southern ear. But they’re basically saying, ‘Oh Lord, don’t let them kill us. Oh Lord, don’t let them lynch us. Oh Lord, no more KKK.’ So…” Shelby pauses in reflection, “that’s how ridiculous things were back then.” Indeed, the greatest insult Mingus irreverently hurls in the direction of Faubus is that he is “sick and ridiculous” for teaching hate—pretty mild language given the latter’s egregious offences.

According to Shelby, that kind of reaction to political music was typical at the time. “A lot of the artists’ original works that spoke out against racism and segregation were banned by the big labels,” he says. Shelby also notes how two decades earlier, Columbia had similarly refused to release Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit,” the powerful song about lynching in the South. In the end, Holiday had to record the song with Commodore, a smaller, alternative jazz label.

 

When I first discovered and became a fan of “Fables of Faubus,” I had no idea of this rich history. I just really liked this swinging, irreverent tune with its unforgettable opening theme. The track has multiple themes and tempo changes, so there’s lots of variation with room for some great solos to keep things interesting, and it’s always so satisfying to return to that cheeky opening theme.

Shelby describes Fables as “quite a modern composition for its time” because of its long form. With angular, multi-layered melodies, which, he says, are typical of Mingus, and a beautiful harmonic construction containing a diversity of colors, textures, and voices, the piece offers many different expressive possibilities for a jazz orchestra.

Not surprisingly, Fables is a favorite of many jazz musicians.

When the New York saxophonist and bandleader Mitch Marcus was still based in San Francisco, it was one of those tracks his quintet regularly performed at the Wednesday night jazz jam at Amnesia (which continues now with guitarist Mike Abraham). For Marcus, the political aspect of Fables is important, but it’s not the main attraction. “I’m such a huge fan of Charles Mingus’s music,” he says. “I can’t think any of his tunes that I don’t like, and that one is just . . . it definitely speaks to me, very deeply.”

Marcus recorded his own version of Fables a few years back, not for release on any album, but just to have a recording of this favorite from the Amnesia sessions. As he describes it himself, it’s “real loose—just a jam session, but in the studio.” Although there are some differences in instrumentation, e.g. guitar instead of piano, Marcus doesn’t mess too much with the piece. “I’ve always found Mingus’s music to be so perfectly, so thoughtfully arranged,” he says, “that I’ve never felt much need to do too much, other than put your own voice on it.”

Contrast Marcus’s version with The Nice Guy Trio’s recording of the tune on their debut album  Here Comes The Nice Guy Trio (Porto Franco, 2009), which features their usual mix of trumpet, accordion, and bass, as well as special guest Dave Phillips on pedal-steel guitar.

“I love it!” Marcus says of this unusual arrangement by Nice Guy trumpeter Darren Johnston, who, coincidentally, also plays trumpet on both Shelby’s and Marcus’s recordings of Fables. “The pedal steel is from bluegrass and country music,” Marcus explains, “and I don’t think I’ve ever really heard a pedal-steel player play jazz, let alone play Mingus. That just kind of knocked me out.”

Although the particular instrumentation may be unexpected, in terms of rhythm and melody, Johnston’s arrangement also stays true to the original. “All we do is shake it up instrumentally,” he says. With its many counter-melodies, arranging Fables for the trio felt very natural for Johnston, and its obvious humor made it a good fit for the Nice Guys, who “are basically a bunch of goofballs.” The newly-formed trio had just started to incorporate the tune into their repertoire, when they began a collaborative project with Phillips. For Johnston, having Phillips play on Fables was “a perfect match” and he especially liked how the pedal-steel sounded on that whimsical intro.

But, of course, the whimsy inherent in Mingus’s composition belies the fact that it was written in response to a very serious matter. So, what of the political nature of this song? Was knowing the historical context in which this tune was composed part of Johnston’s motivation for recording a version of Fables?

“If anything it would almost make me hesitate,” he says. “I’m always drawn to protest songs and I’ve written quite a few. I tend to be thinking about human rights and civil rights all the time, trying to do what I can, seeing art and music as a form of activism. But The Nice Guy Trio is three white guys. We’re not an integrated band. And it’s a song about the American Civil Rights struggle. So, you just have to make sure your own intentions are in check, I guess.” Smiling, he adds, “I hope that Mr. Mingus would not disapprove of our arrangement.”

In many ways, the fact that a bunch of white guys are celebrating the music of Mingus, mixing it up in new and exciting ways, is an indication of how much progress has been made since the Civil Rights Movement. “Back in the 60’s this wouldn’t have happened,” Johnston says. “We were more polarized then.”

These days, you’ll find many non-black musicians honoring Mingus with interpretations of Fables.

New York’s contemporary chamber ensemble Project Trio, consisting of bass, cello, and flute, can be seen here rocking out in a short-form version of Fables.

Amongst others, I also discovered a fantastic blues/reggae version by UK artist Tony Menzies AKA “Tony Mingus” (who sings the original Mingus lyrics with great style and sincerity); a dub version with flute by a Peruvian artist; a glitchy electro-house interpretation by a French DJ/producer; and a strange, slightly creepy, and so not swinging Logic demo of an arrangement of Fables for string quartet.

Oklahoma’s top-notch Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey does a wonderful piano-heavy version on their album The Sameness of Difference (Hyena Records, 2005). Interestingly, their most recent album, The Race Riot Suite (The Royal Potato Family, 2011), tells the mostly forgotten/suppressed story of Tulsa’s 1921 race riots, in which the city’s affluent African-American Greenwood District was intentionally burned to the ground, resulting in hundreds of deaths and thousands of injuries amongst the black population there.

It seems a safe bet to say that Mingus’s work, particularly Fables, has inspired generations of jazz musicians, black and white alike, to create music that challenges and subverts the status quo of inequality, prejudice, and denial. As a result, consumers of that music start to ask questions. “That’s the very least that music can do,” Shelby says. And “Fables of Faubus” is one of those songs, he says, that makes people ask questions. Its cryptic title alone provokes curiosity. “Every composer wants to know what that means,” he says. “And every musician who plays that song.”

So, what does it mean?

An obvious interpretation is that the song simply tells the story of Faubus, a tale that we can perhaps learn something from. Fables are, after all, supposed to have a moral to them. Shelby, however, points out another possible interpretation, one that makes sense of the plural “fables” in the title. Governor Faubus, he believes, was actually more alarmed about the situation than the white community in Arkansas initially was. His reaction to the possibility of Central High becoming an integrated school was so severe that it directly influenced the community’s response. “And part of that was him telling all these stories, these ‘fables’,” Shelby says. “He was making up stories about what would happen if these kids entered this high school to try to scare these white parents.” So, the “fables” of Faubus are these stories Faubus made up in an attempt to incite racial fear and hatred.

On his travels through the South, Shelby met and ended up becoming good friends with historian Dr. Adam Green, son of one of the Little Rock Nine, Ernest Green (the first black student, and only one of the nine, to graduate from Central High). Adam Green is responsible for writing the wonderful liner notes on Shelby’s album.

Shelby and his family also visited Central High and took a tour together. It was important for him to share the experience with his two young daughters. “Kennedy, my oldest one, was very much inspired by this whole thing,” he says. “As I was.” When he started the project, he felt like he already knew a lot about the history of the Civil Rights Movement. But through his extensive research and travels—immersing himself in the music of the period, meeting the families of key figures in the movement, visiting historical sites in the South with his own family, and uncovering new connections to the movement—Shelby began to develop a greater and deeply personal insight into the immense power music has as a form of communication that can inspire and instigate important social change.

It should not be surprising to learn, then, that Shelby’s current project, Green and Blues, is a suite inspired by the sustainability movement. It will premiere in September this year.

The Live ‘n’ Local Completely Non-Arbitrary, Totally Objective, and Fully Informed 2011 Music Awards

Um, yeah. Personal interests, subjective biases, and half-baked ideas play absolutely no role in what is about to follow. These are the highlights of my year in music. Awards style.

(Drum roll, please.)

MOST ADDICTIVE INDIE POP ALBUM OF 2011 DESPITE THE FACT IT WAS ACTUALLY RELEASED IN 2010 AWARD

With her smoky “whisky and honey” voice, jangly guitars, upbeat rhythms alternating with slow, moody melodies, and catchy songs that you simply must sing along to while dancing in your kitchen/living room/bedroom, Ash Reiter’s Paper Diamonds (self-released, 2010) easily wins this one. As I didn’t discover and become addicted to it till this year, it seemed appropriate to include it in the 2011 awards. Favorite songs include the high-energy title track (I double dare you not to sing along with the chorus: “Give me love, oh give me looooooooove…”), the soft, atmospheric “Albatross,” and the moody, plaintive “La Bahia.” I guarantee your husband/wife/roommate/neighbor/dog will love it too, which is a good thing when you play it ten times a day.

MOST DELICIOUSLY SHIVER-INDUCING INTERPRETATION OF A CLASSIC AWARD

This one goes to bassist/composer Seth Ford-Young for his spellbinding version of Erik Satie’s already gorgeous “Gnossienne No. 1” from his eponymously titled debut album (Porto Franco Records, 2011). Ford-Young’s achingly beautiful Gnossienne features the always amazing Rob Reich on accordion and Evan Price on violin, and between them they will break your heart into a million pieces. Don’t be surprised if you shed a tear or two listening to this, or if you’re suddenly inspired to grab a dark stranger for a slow, intimate dance.

If you’re a big Satie fan like me, you might also be interested in another incredible interpretation of this particular Gnossienne by Spanish guitarist/singer Javier Ruibal, which Dore Stein of Tangents Radio first turned me on to. Ruibal’s “La Flor de Estambul” is Satie’s music set to lyrics in Spanish. Yum!

MOST INTERESTING AND INDESCRIBABLE PERFORMANCE ON AN ELECTRIC GUITAR AWARD

The absolute highlight of the Outsound New Music Summit this year was Italian avant rock guitarist IOIOI’s improvised response to local composer Kanoko Nishi’s graphic score, a mysterious series of drawings of which the audience only ever saw the effects. IOIOI (Cristiana Fraticelli) used a loop station and a bunch of effects pedals to build sounds and textures on the guitar, which mostly lay flat on the ground before her. Sitting atop the strings she had placed a prayer bowl that she tapped and in which she rattled various objects, creating vibrations along the guitar strings. She also used chopsticks on the guitar in the most remarkable ways that I can’t even begin to describe. At times she played the guitar like it was a violin, at times like it was a percussive instrument, and all of these sounds were layered upon one another for a mesmerizing effect.

But if I could sum up what made it all so utterly captivating, it was the purity of IOIOI’s childlike curiosity in exploring all the sonic possibilities of her instrument. I was very lucky to spend some time with her after this performance and record a great interview with her and Nishi about their creative process. Hopefully some day I will write more about that.

BEST REBUTTAL BY A FAMOUS CELLIST TO A FAMOUS HECKLING VIOLIST AWARD

Amongst the many contenders for this award, in the end I had to give it to cellist Joan Jeanrenaud for her response to the eighty-five year old violist Bernie Zaslav’s horrendous heckling at a small avant-chamber concert dedicated to the viola.

The incident—which involved the heckled musician throwing his viola to the ground mid-performance (which, of course, broke it) and storming off stage, once he had untangled himself from the curtains—became know locally as The Viola Riot AKA Viola Gate. When one particularly irate member of the audience repeatedly accused Zaslav of being nothing more than “an asshole,” Zaslav indignantly countered, “I am a violist,” to which the quick-thinking Ms. Jeanrenaud rejoined from her seat in the audience, “Violists can be assholes too!” Priceless. To get the full story in more detail than you probably care for, see my The Riot of Spring, 2011.

MOST ELECTRIFYING PERFORMANCE AT THE REVOLUTION CAFE AWARD

And yes, the Rev does warrant its own category. Every night of the week you can catch live music there and it’s always free. Of course, it’s a well known fact that the musicians get paid shit, so keep that in mind when the tip jar is being passed around. Despite this, it is still a place to hear great music on a fairly consistent basis. Over the years, I have been introduced to some fantastic acts there, thanks to drummer Aaron Kierbel and bassist Joe Lewis, who have been booking the music there. In August this year, guitarist Vic Wong, who regularly plays there with his gypsy jazz group, Panique, introduced one of France’s leading gypsy jazz guitarists, Sebastien Giniaux and his quartet.

Suffice it to say, this man was insanely good. Sometimes he played so fast, I couldn’t actually see where his hand was. At one point I thought I saw smoke rising from his guitar strings (seriously!). Giniaux played a mixture of original and classic gypsy jazz tunes, with charming references to pop culture nonchalantly thrown in, like when he started one song with a gypsy jazz version of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” then seamlessly shifted into a Django Reinhardt tune as though it was always meant to be played this way. If Giniaux’s electrifying playing weren’t enough, there were also a group of swing dancers performing some outrageous moves in the tiny, cramped space that is the Rev. The crowd went absolutely wild. This one will definitely go down as one of the best nights ever at the Rev.

MOST MEMORABLE LINE OUT OF A MUSICIAN’S MOUTH DURING AN INTERVIEW AWARD

By this I mean an interview that I personally conducted, of which there were many this year, more than I was able to write about in the end. Most of my interviews are done one-on-one, but occasionally I interview people together, which can be a lot of fun too. This was the case back in May after the Cardiacs tribute show at Café du Nord when I interviewed four members of ReCardiacs Fly (normally members of Reconnaissance Fly). Guitarist Marc Laspina arrives late to the conversation; unlike the others, still sporting the Cardiacs’ signature white cake makeup with smeared red lipstick. Expounding the genius that is Cardiacs, he blithely lets slip the line “Musically it’s like opening God’s cookbook.” I just really liked that line.

ReCardiacs Fly

To learn all about that evening and why so many people become obsessive Cardiacs fans, once they finally discover this British band’s crazy prog/punk music, read my Too Many Irons (and Other Recipes). Also, check out some posts on the topic of Cardiacs and their local tribute band, ReCardiacs Fly on the Memory Select blog.

MOST MAGICAL, UNBELIEVABLYFUCKINGGOOD TRIBUTE SHOW EVER AWARD

Apart from the just mentioned Cardiacs tribute show and, of course, the show that ultimately wins this award, I can’t say I’ve been to too many tribute shows this year, not to mention in my whole life. However, I can assure you that the truth of the following falls into the category philosopher Immanuel Kant called “synthetic a priori,” which basically means I don’t need to have gone to any tribute shows to know that this one was the best EVER.

Of course, I’m talking about the Amy Winehouse Tribute show with San Francisco’s soul/funk/blues powerhouse Con Brio at Viracocha in August, the show that left me rather gobsmacked, as you can see from the post I wrote about it the next day. I’m not sure I’m any more articulate on the topic four months later. What blew me away was the incredible talent of all the artists involved—Con Brio and their dazzlingly good lead singer, Xandra Corpora, and all the amazing guest vocalists, Rose Logue, Amber Gougis, Wolf Larsen, Atiim Chenzira, P. Wolf & Avi (now Goodnight, Texas), Ali Niedbalski, Latriece Love, and Quinn DeVeaux—and how they managed to pull together such a magical show in so short a space of time. Each one made the Amy Winehouse songs they sung their own while also honoring the memory of this bright, shining star that burned out way too soon.

While we’re on the topic of Con Brio, I have to mention their impressive debut, From the Hip (self-released, 2010), which would have won an award except that it was released last year and I already pulled a fast one above with another 2010 album. Con Brio are about to release their second album, The Bay is Burning (a live recording), on February 11th at The Independent. It should be a fantastic show with the lively Latin-fusion band LoCura opening.

THREE BEST ALBUM RELEASES OF THE YEAR BECAUSE IT WAS TOO HARD TO CHOOSE JUST ONE AWARD

Narrowing it down to three was already difficult enough, but I managed to pick three very different albums for this award, though interestingly, all feature strings.

First on the list is The Nice Guy Trio‘s stunning second album, Sideways and Alleys/Walking Music (Porto Franco Records, 2011), so-named for the two suites—composed by accordionist Rob Reich and trumpeter Darren Johnston, respectively—for the trio plus string quartet. I was lucky to attend the premiere of these two works at the Yerba Buena Gardens last year, though the beginning of Johnston’s Walking Music was rudely drowned out for several minutes by the clanging bells of St. Patrick’s across the street, a fact that made me cringe with embarrassment because the church had been built by my great-great-uncle, a Catholic Monsignor, after the original St. Patrick’s had been reduced to a pile of rubble in the 1906 earthquake. Amazing how family can still embarrass over 75 years after they’re gone!

Thankfully, these awful bells do not make it onto this album that represents a real development for both composers, neither of whom had written music for a string quartet before. Reich is known for his epic, cinematic scores, and Sidewalks and Alleys is no different in that respect, whereas Johnston’s Waking Music has much more of a jazz swing to it, though there are also strong elements of classical and folk in his compositions, with hints here and there of the East. The album is full of haunting melodies brought to life beautifully by the strings. But there is also a real depth to the music beyond the prettiness. The robust sense of journey in both suites is heightened by the composers’ adventurousness, by their willingness to turn dark corners and wander down half-illuminated pathways, traversing many moods and emotional landscapes.

The second album to win this award is the delightful debut offering by Musical Art QuintetNuevo Chamber (Classical Revolution, 2011). While I am as guilty as the next person of using such terms as “genre-defying” to describe music that draws on multiple styles for inspiration, it is safe to say that this album lies firmly in the chamber category, which is not to say that it does not bend or stretch that category in any way. On the contrary, the quintet’s composer, bassist Sascha Jacobsen (who is also a member of tango ensemble Trio Garufa) deftly incorporates many styles of music, most prominently Argentine tango. The album’s title—which, I suppose I should confess, I inadvertently furnished during an innocent conversation with Jacobsen about the quintet’s style—is an allusion to Nuevo Tango, the style of music pioneered by Astor Piazzolla that draws on traditional tango while also incorporating elements of jazz and classical. The newer electro-tango wave, which includes such bands as Gotan Project and Bajofondo, could be considered an extension of this musical development. Indeed, Jacobsen also throws a few electro-tangos in the mix on Nuevo Chamber.

As much as I love the album, it is no substitute for a live performance by the quintet. When they opened for Quijerema at Yoshi’s in October, they completely stole the show and had the audience eating out of their hands within seconds of their first piece, the lively “Milonga de San Francisco,” which also opens Nuevo Chamber. They’ve also brought down the house a number of times at the Revolution Café’s Monday night chamber jam. Jacobsen’s high-energy, rhythmic compositions have a lightness and airiness to them that makes their sweetness all the more digestible. In live performances, he gives each of his musicians plenty of space to improvise and show off their stuff. Lately, the insanely talented violin player Matthew Szemela, who until very recently was based in NY, has also been jamming with the quintet, driving the crowds wild. This man could seriously out-fiddle the devil himself! Live ‘n’ Local and Classical Revolution will be teaming up on January 13th to present the first in a series we’re calling “Electric Chamber,” which features both MAQ and Szemela’s duo, Vytal Theory.

The last winner of this award is Foxtails Brigade for their utterly charming “sort-of-Christmas album,” Time Is Passed (self-released, 2011). Foxtails Brigade is Laura Weinbach on vocals, guitar, and compositions and Anton Patzner on violin and arrangements, with cellist Lewis Patzner, percussionist/multi-instrumentalist Josh Pollack, and bassist Joe Lewis helping out. Both Weinbach and Patzner are classically trained musicians from musical families, so it is no surprise to find sophisticated, intricate instrumentation on this chamber pop album that is simply gorgeous. Foxtails’ music also has elements of jazz and blues, particularly in Weinbach’s vocal stylings. That she was made as a child to memorize and perform jazz standards from the likes of Blossom Dearie (an unusual form of punishment for bad behavior!) comes through in her lush, almost angelic singing, especially in songs like “Lost in an Endless Dream” or “I’m Not Really In the Christmas Mood This Year.”

But make no mistake, the pretty-as-a-picture Weinbach—who looks a little like a Victorian urchin who has stepped out of Edward Gorey illustration—is no angel. Her lyrics are full of doom and gloom, like in the whimsical “Unfairness Awareness,” where she sings about all the other ungrateful children getting ridiculous Christmas presents they don’t deserve: “Diamonds for Daniel / though he’s a boy / three puppies for Amanda / she thinks they’re toys / And when everybody else receives their fun-filled treat / there’s only dust for me.” No wonder she’s not in the mood for Christmas! All this slightly misanthropic sentiment around the holidays is, of course, what ultimately adds to the bittersweet charm of Time Is Passed.

GREATEST CONTRIBUTION TO THE LOCAL MUSIC SCENE AWARD

Speaking of bittersweet, it is with some sadness that I announce that the winner of this award is Peter Varshavsky and Porto Franco Records for their tireless work supporting and promoting local music in the Bay Area. Peter and his father, Sergei, started the label almost three years ago and within that short space of time have managed to release an incredible selection of music from local artists. We’ve already mentioned Seth Ford-Young’s eponymous debut and The Nice Guy Trio’s Sideways and Alleys/Walking Music. Also released this year was Marcus Shelby Orchestra’s Soul of the Movement: Meditations on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (more coming on that soon!), Gojogo’s 28,000 Days, the Mitch Marcus Quintet’s Countdown 2 Meltdown, to name just a few. In their three years, Porto Franco have released music from a wide variety of artists across many genres, such as Ethiopian-born singer/songerwriter Meklit Hadero, Balkan brass powerhouse Brass Menazeri, blues singer/guitarist Seth Augustus, gypsy jazz ensemble Gaucho, and indie pop duo Ramon and Jessica.

But, as it turns out, not having a particular niche is not a viable business model and so going into 2012, Porto Franco will be phasing out the record label aspect of their activity, focusing instead of the less-costly Porto Franco Files, a successful video series that Peter started this year. Although Peter will be returning to graduate school to complete his studies in mathematics, I’m sure Porto Franco will continue to do great work, actively supporting the local creative music scene and promoting San Francisco as a music destination to rival the likes of New Orleans or Nashville.

HANDS DOWN THE BEST PERFORMANCE OF THE YEAR AWARD

I didn’t even have to think about this one. Without a doubt, this goes to Steven Schick and the Paul Dresher Ensemble for Schick Machine, which played at Z Space in April this year. Schick Machine is a collaboration between Paul Dresher, local composer and inventor of some of the wildest instruments you’ve ever seen, Daniel Schmidt, another inventor of crazy musical instruments, Matt Heckert, builder of kinetic sculptures, and renowned writer/director Rinde Eckert. The one-man show is performed by Steven Schick, a master percussionist with an astounding ability to extract every texture of sound from objects, be they simple household objects, wildly inventive creations that are both visually stunning and rich with sound possibilities, or sparser inventions born of an idiosyncratic mind.

Schick Machine‘s lone character, Lazlo Klangfarben, moves around from station to station in his subterranean (as I imagine it) sound laboratory that looks like the whirring, spinning, grinding internal workings of a giant piano organ. At times he conducts a kind of locomotive symphony between the different parts of the huge machine, at other times he plays a single instrument tenderly and slow, and the playing becomes a kind of meditative dance. Eckert’s philosophical ponderings through the character of Klangfarben punctuate Schick’s virtuosic playing, and add the kind of intellectual depth these wild inventions demand. His words capture beautifully the emotional resonance Schick extracts from each instrument, and the narrative frame provides a solid context for Schick’s sonic explorations.

I do hope the Paul Dresher Ensemble considers a re-run of this incredible show in 2012.

Well that’s it, folks, for this year. Congratulations and many thanks to all our winners, and here’s to another great year in music!

Live ‘n’ Local SF & Classical Revolution Present: Electric Chamber

Friday January 13 @ 8pm

Viracocha, 998 Valencia Street

What explains the enduring appeal of chamber music?

No doubt the beauty, subtlety, and complexity of the music—not to mention the passion and virtuosity of its players—are all part of it. But these qualities can be brought to bear on music of any kind, and more and more, classically trained musicians are venturing beyond the traditional confines of the chamber into new and exciting territories. The San Francisco Bay Area, in particular, is a fertile breeding ground for such genre-bending, cross-pollinating creativity.

The ELECTRIC CHAMBER series showcases some of this incredible creative talent.

Our first installment features the electrifying MUSICAL ART QUINTET, a high-energy string ensemble playing music inspired by the dances of Latin America, including a few electro-tangos, and VYTAL THEORY, an innovative duo comprised of DJ/producer/rapper Elan Vytal and violin virtuoso Matt Szemela, AKA String Theory.

Musical Art Quintet

Formed in 2008, Musical Art Quintet is made up of some of the Bay Area’s most talented string players. With a core repertoire of original compositions and arrangements by bassist Sascha Jacobsen, the quintet’s music is rooted in rhythm and dance, drawing inspiration from styles as diverse as Argentine Tango, Klezmer, Afro-Cuban, Cha-Cha-Cha, Malagasy, and Electronica. The quintet cemented its status as a top notch string ensemble, recording with Nuevo Flamenco guitarist Stevan Pasero (Twelve Shades of Night, 2010) and Argentine Tango group Trio Garufa (El Rumor de Tus Tangos, 2010). The group—Classical Revolution’s 2011 Ensemble-in-Residence—just released its charming and delightful debut album, Nuevo Chamber, on the Classical Revolution label.

Vytal Theory

Vytal Theory is an inspired answer to traditional conceptions of musical collaboration. Comprised of a DJ, who mixes music as well as video, and an electro-acoustic violinist performing on a custom six-string violin, the duo brings a diverse array of musical backgrounds and influences to the stage. What results is a new sound that both celebrates tradition and challenges present boundaries, moving forever forward.

ELECTRIC CHAMBER is brought to you by Live ‘n’ Local SF, whose goal is to promote and support innovative music played live by local musicians, regardless of genre, and Classical Revolution, a social movement of global reach and local origin, now in its sixth year of bringing chamber music to the masses.

 

Dublin Can Be Heaven

As I’m contemplating what might be my last days ever in Dublin, a particular old song keeps coming to mind, the chorus of which goes:

Dublin can be heaven / with coffee at eleven / and a stroll / in Stephen’s Green.
No need to hurry / no need to worry / you’re a king / and the lady’s a queen.
Grafton Street’s a wonderland / there’s magic in the air / there are diamonds in the lady’s eyes / and gold dust in her hair.
And if you don’t believe me / come and meet me there / in Dublin / on a sunny summer morning.

Although commonly known as “Dublin Can Be Heaven,” the song’s title, as I just learned, is actually “The Dublin Saunter.” It’s about a Dublin native, a self-professed “rolling stone” who has traveled far and wide only to discover that “there’s one place on this earth I’ve always liked the best, just a little town I call my own.”

Written sometime in the 40s or 50s by Dublin songwriter and radio broadcaster Leo Maguire (no relation), and made famous by singer Noel Purcell, it’s a nostalgic song evoking a golden era that happened long before I was born. The romantic sentiment it expresses, like Dublin itself, feels distant to me. While I too have “been north and I’ve been south, and I’ve been east and west,” if there’s one place that I’ve always liked the best, that would be San Francisco. That’s the little town that I call my own.

Whenever I return to Dublin, to my so-called “hometown,” I feel like a stranger in a strange land. The rows and rows of cramped-looking terraced houses, some with tiny front doors that reveal how short people were just a few generations ago, feel oppressive to me in their uniformity, each one mirroring perfectly the one beside it. They are the same houses I walked past everyday on my way back and forth to school.

I walk past them again now, on narrow streets not built with all these cars in mind. Often only one car can pass at a time. Irish drivers, unlike the typical American one, are happy to pull in and wait for the other to pass. Motorists here are refreshingly polite.

Despite the huge increase in the number of cars, large swaths of the city center are still cut off from traffic, including the pedestrianized “wonderland” that is Grafton Street. There you’ll find the famous Bewleys Cafe, established in 1927, and a slew of street performers dotted the length of the street. Many a Saturday afternoon in my youth was spent sauntering along from one busker to the next.

I wonder if I will ever return to Ireland after this visit. All that has kept me coming here will soon be gone forever and I can think of no reason why I might want to come back again. It is a thought that elicits no trace of nostalgia.

Tonight, I will decide what few things from my parents’ house I want to take back with me to San Francisco. On Sunday morning, I will leave this house for the last time. I will probably never see any of the neighbours here again, families who, like ours, have lived for many decades on this quiet cul-de-sac street, lined with the usual terraced houses, each one perfectly mirroring the next, except for the style of window and particular shade of grey or cream the facade is painted.

Neighbours here are very good and can always be relied upon in times of need. They cut the grass for us, bake apple pies, and offer rides wherever we need to go. Some of these families have known my family across three or four generations. It is strange knowing that those ties will simply wither away now, that another family will eventually take up residence in this house.

Again, it is a thought that elicits no trace of nostalgia.

And yet, and yet . . . that song keeps going round in my head. “Dublin can be heaven, with coffee at eleven, and a stroll . . .”

Dublin, I guess this is my goodbye.

Tales from the Other Side (of the Bay)

Friends will tell you, it takes a lot to tempt me out of the Mission. And for good reason! Why go anywhere when there are a bunch of great venues all within a few blocks of my house?

Occasionally, though, I will venture out into the nether regions of San Francisco and even (gasp!) over/under the bay to Oakland or Berkeley. This week was an unusual one for me in that I crossed the bay not once but twice to attend concerts in Berkeley.

Wednesday night I went to see Herbie Hancock at Zellerbach on the UC Berkeley campus. If you’ve never been, it’s a huge auditorium with three distinct levels. Our seats were way up there in the nosebleeds. We had purchased the second to cheapest price available, which, with two different kinds of fees smacked on top, came out to almost $50 a head.

Now, I don’t normally go to see big names from out of town, partly because of the exorbitant prices for tickets, partly for political reasons (I believe in supporting local artists), and partly because inevitably I end up being disappointed by the big names. Sadly, this too ended up being the case for Herbie.

I’m not exactly sure why I decided to spend the big bucks to go see him in the first place. It’s not like I’m an especially huge fan or anything. Recently I’ve been a little addicted to one particular track of his, “And What If I Don’t” from the 1963 album My Point of View and also from a later compilation, Cantaloupe Island. I think I just really wanted to hear him perform it live and, because of that, I somehow got in into my head—despite the threat implicit in the track’s title—that he would.

So what was disappointing (other than that fact that he, um, didn’t)?

For a start, his drummer, Vinnie Colaiuta, was out of control, and I do not mean that in a good way. Someone should have put that man on a leash! Seriously. He took every opportunity he could to go ape-shit on the drums, when really there are times in which one should just chill out, sit back, and . . . I don’t know . . . keep the goddamn rhythm or something? But no, dude was like a crazed animal most of the time. I found it distracting and annoying. It was like he was in permanent solo-mode. I wanted to tell him, “Dude, you ain’t the star of this show!”

After that, there was nothing in particular to point to that didn’t live up to expectations. A huge venue like Zellerbach is obviously not very intimate and this kind of music played by just four musicians seems a little out of place in a venue like that. It gets swallowed up by the vastness of the space, especially by the time it reaches the nosebleeds.

Also, I couldn’t help but think some of the synth-heavy music sounded a little cheesy and dated. So 80’s . . .

And then there’s the economic assessment of the experience. They were good, but were they $50 good? At that price, I’m expecting to be blown away and when that doesn’t happen, disappointment inevitably sets in. Yeah, big name—what do you expect?

Friday night, on the other hand, I paid a mere $10 admission into downtown Berkeley’s Subterranean Arthouse to see Wiener Kids, the brain child of local drummer and boy wonder Jordan Glenn.

I don’t know exactly how many different ensembles Glenn plays in, but I think I like them all, and it’s rare a week goes by that I do not see him perform with some group or other. I had seen the particular configuration that is Wiener Kids once before at the Switchboard Music Festival in April, but I think by the time they played my brain was so fried from listening to hours of experimental music that I did not fully take in the Wiener genius. That, and/or they have just become out of control in the intervening months. And this time, I mean that in the best possible way.

Wiener Kids is Glenn on drums, Aram Shelton on alto sax, and Cory Wright on bari sax. Shelton and Wright also sometimes play bass clarinet and clarinet, respectively.

According to Glenn, “Wiener Kids sounds like a ninety pound weakling throwing a spastic tantrum regarding something not really important.” I love how composers describe their own music! And it’s true. The music is in that territory between experimental jazz and progressive rock, with lots of abrupt changes in rhythm and direction, brief moments of abstract insanity, a lot of whimsy and humor that will make you laugh out loud, and also enough structure and melody to keep it accessible for music plebs such as myself who are not steeped in theory. There are also some unexpectedly beautiful harmonies between the two reed players that might catch you off-guard amid all the silliness.

Glenn’s playing—in complete and utter contrast to what I saw of Colaiuta’s on Wednesday night—is subtle, playful, and so delightfully creative. Thank goodness for “ninety pound weaklings” who don’t need to pound on as many surfaces as possible to prove their technical chops! It is obvious why Glenn (who I’m sure weighs at least a hundred and twenty pounds) is such an in-demand drummer in the local creative music scene. It is also obvious that he, Shelton, and Wright play together a lot, such is their onstage chemistry.

In fact, just a week before they all played together at Viracocha in one of Shelton’s ensembles, Marches. That group also included keyboard player Michael Coleman and drummer Sam Ospovat, both of whom made a guest appearance on Friday night, along with eight other musicians, for the first and last pieces in the Wiener set.

I really liked how the music shifted compositionally when the ensemble changed from big band to trio, and then back again. For example, the last song of the set, “For My Mother,” which is also the last song on the new album, What A Mess, sounded like a slightly off-kilter New Orleans funeral march, quite a contrast from the spastic, proggy episodes we had heard before. I call them “episodes” because many of them come in under a minute long and seem to end mid phrase, which is part of what makes the music so much fun. There are always quirky little surprises to keep you on your toes.

As if that weren’t enough bang for your buck, the opening act Kapowski, an Oakland based pop quartet that also includes Coleman on keyboards and Ospovat on drums, gave a fantastic performance, which ended with a screening of their adorably cute new video. Lead singer Jesse Rimler’s plaintive, languid vocals, somewhat reminiscent of Thom Yorke or Rufus Wainwright (though stylistically very different from the latter) are very easy to listen to. The instrumentation, consisting of two sets of keyboards, bass, and drums, is an unusual mix that works really well with Rimler’s whimsical song-writing.

And just when you thought the evening could not be better value for money, add on two Wiener Kids CDs for only $15 and you’ve got yourself a real bargain! I took home the aforementioned new album and also Wiener’s first, Why Don’t You Make Me? 

To which the only appropriate response is: And what if I don’t?

The Revolution/Corporate Oligarchy Mystery: Solved.

A favorite meeting place of mine for many years now has been the Revolution Cafe. Sunday, a day like any other, I had made a plan by text to meet with a friend there. He was to text me again when he was ten minutes away and then I would head over and meet him. It sounded fairly straightforward.

I was busying myself at home with various tasks when eventually I got another text saying, “Hello? It’s been 20. Should I just come over then?” I wrote back saying that I had been waiting for the ten minutes “heads-up” but that I would be right over. A simple miscommunication, most likely. English was not his first language. It was no great enigma.

The first whiff of mystery wafted into the Rev when my friend informed me that he had indeed sent me a ten minute “heads-up.” Nevertheless, I told him, I had not received his text. I even showed him my inbox, devoid of said text.

A small mystery, perhaps. Not one that merits further investigation, you might think. Just one of those vagaries of daily life in the digital age. Random texts sometimes evaporate into the ether, never to be seen again.

Until, that is, you learn, as I did, that the text had contained the words “revolution” and “corporate oligarchy” in it.

We wondered. Could it be possible that the content of the text, those particular words that were used, had somehow triggered a kind of message censor system? Did the phone companies have some means to scan and block messages with specific content? And, if so, whose company was intercepting the message? His or mine? We became suspicious. Curious.

He tried to resend the text. We knew that if the second time around I still did not receive the text, we were on to something. Something really big.

“I’m 10 min away from revolution. I’ve had it with this corporate oligarchy ;-).”

The message didn’t go through! What were the phone companies up to? I sent him a text that said, “Revolution corporate oligarchy. Testing 1 2 3.” My message went through . . . But what did that mean? The mystery only deepened.

Not satisfied to entertain mere hypotheses, we decided to run some more tests, disprove some possibilities in the hopes of narrowing in on a plausible theory. What specific words might have triggered this filter? Was it simply all three together, a specific pair, or was there one in particular? We designed the first experiment.

We began by testing one word at a time. “Revolution”—the text went through. “Corporate”—the text went through. “Oligarchy”—the text went through. No real surprises, there.

Our inquiries continued.

Next we tested pairings. “Corporate oligarchy”—the text went through. “Revolution corporate”—the text went through. And finally, “Revolution oligarchy”—the text went through.

Then we tested all three words together. The text went through.

So, we determined, the words by themselves were not enough to trigger the filter. Yet something about the particular wording of his text had.

Why, those sneaky motherlickers, we thought! Those phone companies, trying to stop the revolution against corporate oligarchy by blocking any texts that appear to call for, you know, revolution against corporate oligarchy. We wondered how many companies were involved. He had Verizon, I had MetroPCS, so at least one of those, though we had yet to determine which one. Probably AT&T too. Of course, AT&T! And maybe he was now on some secret government list of people trying to incite revolution against the corporate oligarchy by text message.

Perhaps they would be reading all his texts from now on, those backsterds! They were trying to suppress the goddamn revolution against corporate oligarchy and we had accidentally stumbled upon their nefarious scheme. We would expose them and, in doing so, would foment an actual revolution against the corporate oligarchy. We would hoist them with their own petard. We would bring them down by sending messages that they would then block, and thus everyone would know that the corporate oligarchy was trying to suppress the revolution against them.

But then I wondered, what if that message my friend had sent had been corrupted in some other way that had nothing to do with the content? Maybe the phone companies were not that smart and it was just a random coincidence. We had to be sure. I asked my friend to type a new message with the exact same content as before— “I’m 10 min away from revolution. I’ve had it with this corporate oligarchy ;-).”—and try sending it to me anew.

Again, the message didn’t go through. We were definitely narrowing in on the truth.

It was not just specific words, but specific sentences that triggered the filter. To be sure, the technology was impressive. It seemed rather sensitive, intelligent even. It appeared to detect nuances of the language that went beyond syntax, which in itself was a spectacular feat of artificial intelligence. The problem was these phone companies—and we didn’t yet know which ones—were using this incredible technology for dubious purposes.

It was obvious we would need to collect more data, we would need to broaden our experiments to include more people, more phone companies. Facebook, Twitter, word of mouth. We would use whatever resources were available to us. “Try it for yourself!” we would tell all our friends. “See if your phone company blocks messages about the revolution against corporate oligarchy!” And people would be shocked, outraged even, when their messages were suppressed. It would be glorious. It would be huge.

We started to wonder if it was the combination of these two particular sentences that had triggered the blocking system, or if one sentence or other might have been enough. We would need to narrow it down so we could give clear instructions to others who wanted to test the system on their own phones. So, there were two more texts that needed to be sent.

The first—”I’m 10 min away from revolution”—went through, which left us with “I’ve had it with this corporate oligarchy ;-).” He sent the second message and we waited. Nothing.

So, here we had it. We had narrowed it down to a single sentence. The phone companies, apparently, did not want us expressing our dissatisfaction with corporate oligarchy. Unbelievable!

Unless . . . there was one more thing to test . . . the winking emoticon. It had to be ruled out, so we could be certain. He sent me another text with nothing but the emoticon. We waited. Nothing. It couldn’t just be that, could it? An emoticon?? He sent me one last text, this time without the emoticon . . .

My phone beeped. I had a new message, but what did it say?

“I’ve had it with this corporate oligarchy.”

Message received, mystery solved.

😉

About Last Night

It’s always a humbling experience to be surrounded by the exceptionally talented. Last night’s Amy Winehouse Tribute show at Viracocha was one of those nights that has left me struggling to find words that even come close to describing what transpired. It feels like any attempt would either fall short or sound cliched, hyperbolic. Words like “awesome” (you know, as in inspiring real awe), “epic” or “mindblowinglyfuckingood” are all definite candidates, but they still seem inadequate somehow. Perhaps once I’ve picked my jaw up off the floor, I will become a bit more articulate. Meanwhile, the word that comes closest to capturing the entire experience for me is this: “humbling.”

And also: “Damn!”

Amy would have loved it.