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Thursday, August 16, 2018

To Rhiannon Giddens and Francesco Turisi last night, at the Chautauqua Institute, the second time we've seen Ms. Giddens this summer. The last time was with her full band; this time she was showcasing (or possibly workshopping) material she is collaborating with Mr. Turisi with, as part of a dance piece.

Ms. Giddens brings an extraordinary mix of emotion and intellectual passion to her work, and really always has. This is important because a great deal of what she does has it roots in minstrelsy, and that tradition can be toxic if not approached carefully, and with respect. Since winning a MacArthur Grant last year, and even a little before that she has been branching out and exploring other things, including songwriting, and this latest project seems very exciting. In a way it is the perfect thing to spend a residency at Chautauqua working on. Mr. Turisi, who's work I was unfamiliar with, mostly played percussion-- particularly tambourine,  with some accordion and a little piano. They are going into the studio next week and I'm excited to hear what comes out.

The Institute is a weird place. A couple of years ago it announced that it was  going to tear down and replace its original amphitheater, and the outcry was enough to make someone think that this was the greatest act of desecration ever perpetrated. I suppose other people have different standards for comfort, but I never liked the old benches and found these to be an improvement. Back in my WBFO days I visited the place more often, but even though I am a less frequent habitué this century I'd say that unless one knew that there'd been a renovation of the Amp there was really nothing that would suggest that it had changed.

One of the things that freaks me out about the Institute is its trapped in amber quality, which gives it a spooky, artificial atmosphere. I suppose, given its history as a peculiar, quasi-religious institution, that this is somewhat to be expected: Christianity in general is perpetuated in no small part out of a odd kind of nostalgia for a time and place where slavery and torture were common, and herding sheep was thought of as a good job, so why not have a little vacation community that pretends that it is 1874 in perpetuity? There are qualities about it that are charming: I like the fact that everyone is carrying a book, or face deep in a book, or playing an instrument; and I think the people who frequent the Institute are generally informed, thoughtful and well-intended, but as a music venue I'd have to say that the new Amp is a superior experience. As an architectural experience I think the grounds are what they have always been, but I know people who swear they'll never go back.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

As a New Yorker I reached full Trump saturation back during the Reagan Administration, so I never watched the TV show. The premise, that Trump is some sort of business genius, was and is risible, and the guests, or contestants or whatever all seemed trapped in D-List hell. Historians and political scientists are going to be scraping through those tapes for a long time, and I do not envy them.

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

The last time I laughed like this about political news was when Scalia died.

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers is my Official Hit Single of the summer. I'm surprised it took me so long to figure it out

Monday, August 06, 2018

ECM records to look into. At some point in one's jazz explorations it makes good sense to follow a label. Blue Note, iMpulse!, Verve-- these are labels that can provide a curated experience, and a different sort of way in.

Friday, July 27, 2018

The 80's. Whoa.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

To Jenny Lewis last night at Babeville, and yes, I am having the best music summer I've had in a while, thank you. Cut worms open, Brooklyn out of Cleveland, and I'm sure they listened to a lot of Neil Young back in the day.

Lewis' band was crackerjack, and she was wonderful. Not a strong voice, but expressive, it is as a performer that she grabs you: she really sells her material, which is sharply written and filled with hooks about heartbreak and irony.

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