Sunday, March 21, 2010

Shorts: Science Fandom

Not quite random selections from the week:

  • Normal Science talks about science fandom. (Whatwhat?) Follow the links if you aren't familiar with the two debates under discussion. Enlightening stuff.

  • On a not dissimilar note, I finally listened to Michael Mann on Point of Inquiry (sadly Grotheless). Under discussion: how media coverage and denialists fail to cope with the history and breadth of the case for AGW.

  • Rationally Speaking tackles one of my sore spots once again, Krista Tippett Some day I will try to decide whether her fluff is simply meaningless or actually harmful.

  • Sunday Music: DJ Shadow and Dan the Automator

    This week's top five as tabulated by last.fm: De La Soul, Portishead, DJ Shadow (w/ Dan the Automator), Amy Winehouse, Belle and Sebastian.

    I mentioned over at 52 Songs that US denizens have a tendency to avoid music from other cultures or containing lyrics in something other than English. There are a few exceptions. College undergrads majoring in a foreign language tend to obsess over one or two artists singing in that language. Anime-fans can get really into Japanese pop music. And a certain sort of geeky music lover stumbles onto Bollywood soundtracks. (In fact, I'm surprised the AV Club doesn't have a "Gateway to Geekery" feature on it.)

    I was turned onto the Bollywood from a KCRW interview/guest DJ session with Danny Elfman where he played a few selections from Khal Nayak (which I have sitting here waiting for me to find the time to watch it). Along with the Asian Underground trend, a renewed interest in Bollywood soundtracks. I don't listen to as much proper Asian Underground anymore (and always preferred North African influenced music anyway), but the DJ Shadow / Dan the Automater tracks spun this week were from Bombay the Hard Way, which remains an albums that I frequently play when coding or doing data-entry. I'm not even sure what either producer contributed. Here's "Theme from Don", which sounds simultaneously like 1998 (the year Bombay was dropped) and Isaac Hayes style funk.

    Sunday, March 14, 2010

    Sunday Music: Bessie Smith

    This week's top five: Echo and the Bunnymen, Lemuria, Bessie Smith, The Presidents of the United States of America, and Fotheringay.

    Here's Smith with one of her signature songs, "St. Louis Blues," in her only known film appearance.


    The arrangement - possibly by the song's composer, W. C. Handy - is very atypical for Smith's recorded work, although it may fairly represent what her appearances in larger stage shows may have sounded like. Her recorded career begins with small-group sessions based almost entirely around her singing the melody with only a little improvisation from a horn or two around her alto voice. Later recordings introduce more musicians and fleshed-out arrangements.

    Smith occupies that wonderful gap between blues and vocal jazz that I like. She's representative of what's now called "classic female blues," and from my (young) standpoint, it looks like their stories were ignored by blues and jazz historians for being an impure amalgamation too influenced by record companies afraid of black male blues singers (who have always defined the blues tradition). It's become apparent that female singers like Smith were well-regarded and drew huge crowds (not just white record company owners). Smith was included in the Ken Burns's Jazz and her fame and contemporary influence was adequately noted, but that documentary's Whiggish construction of jazz as its own microcosm failed to really tell stories like Smith's (or W. C. Handy's) because it focused too much on their virtuosity and humble beginnings, rather than how they grew as musicians.

    Here's Smith with something more representative of her 20s output:


    And here she is with back up from a dance band (Buck Washington's in fact):

    Sunday, March 7, 2010

    Sunday Music: A Mix

    This week's last.fm top five: Tommy Peoples, Yusef Lateef, Steeleye Span, The Beach Boys, and Jelly Roll Morton's Red Hot Peppers. Some of the numbers were inflated due to an iTunes/iPhone/Last.fm double-scrobbling mix-up. I don't have much to say on any of these today, so here's the short version.

    Jelly Roll Morton: I've been meaning to sit down and fully absorb the Alan Lomax collection that Rounder released. Morton's personal myth-making is probably going to feature in another project I'm working on.

    Steeleye Span: More Brit folk rock. Here they are with "Lark in the Morning."


    Tommy Peoples: Discovered thanks to Altan and my exploring of their roots. Peoples is one of the best living outputs from the Donegal tradition. Here's part one of a documentary on him.


    The Beach Boys are the sort of band on whom everything has been said before. In case you haven't seen it yet, here's a Youtube channel breaking apart their classic album, Pet Sounds. tape by tape. Here's "Wouldn't It Be Nice."