Archive for March, 2009

loose moose and mouse nests

March 31, 2009

It’s true – there was no “World of Music” show today on The Radiator. Thanks to everyone who got in touch to ask about it. I was looking forward to it too, since the online streaming and phone service were just restored last week.

Everything’s fine. I do have a good explanation though, are you ready?

It started yesterday (Sunday) around 2p, trying to leave Bennington. The RAV4 lost power. Engine still ran along more or less smoothly but there was no acceleration. And then two emergency lights came on: one forthright (“check engine”); and the other downright mysterious – “VSC TRAC” – not my first encounter with this particular cryptogram, in fact I found I had written the translation in the Toyota manual the last time it spontaneously manifested: ‘Vehicle Skid Control’. In other words a completely unilluminating warning light considering the present situation, which had occurred on dry pavement. Alarming, nonetheless. So not entirely purposeless after all. It only looks that way.

A little nursing along and power cycling got the vehicle as far as East Arlington where an open (chocolate) shop could be found to borrow a phone. 45 minutes later the flatbed showed up to tow it the 13 miles back to the dealership in Bennington.

intact airfilters: SO overrated.

intact airfilters: SO overrated.

Meanwhile, waiting for the tow, a quick check (to be clear: not by me) inside the engine casing revealed a disturbingly cozy scene of domestic bliss: the little space beyond the punctured air filter housed several large wads of random fuzzy materials and…sunflower seeds.

Lots and lots of perfect little sunflower seeds. Black and shiny, black-oil sunflower seeds. All jam-packed in there.

Curious: it’s just the same kind of seeds we use to fill the bird feeders. The feeders on the back deck. All the way around the back of the house, on the back deck, with many deep feet of snow covering the ground inbetween. How did they…? Doesn’t matter. They did. And here they were, happily piled up by the hundreds, staying warm over the winter in my engine compartment.

It occurs to me I’m lucky it’s been a relatively dry spring so far, or they might have sprouted. Or molded. Or sprouted THEN molded.

Must.   Move.   On.

So, OK, another night in Bennington. That’s alright. Bennington’s nice. And the dealership opened first thing in the morning, so it would just be a matter of time before we’re back on the road.

(redundant.)

(redundant.)

But there’s a little more to this story before the happy ending.

At a stoplight on the way to Toyota I looked out the window of the tow truck and noticed…a flatbed truck hauling a whole herd of life-sized white moose (with one brightly colored one, at the back.)

It was a long bed, the moose were two abreast, and there must have been around a dozen or so strapped on back there.

The moose are hardly recognizable in this raw form as kin to the same, colorful beasts that walked the streets after the last Bennington Moosefest.

But I realize that’s exactly what this herd had come for.

I thought about it – soon they’d be dropped off, one by one to assigned artists all over town, and they’d be brought to full artistic life just in time for the unveiling in mid June as Moosefest 2009 gets underway.

The stoplight turned too soon to get a picture. I tried to be content with the memory of that image alone…a flatbed truck hauling a large herd of albino moose. You don’t see things like that very often. Not even in Vermont.

When the car had been dropped off at the dealership, we called a taxi to bring us back to the same motel we’d stayed at the night before.2009-mar29-benningtonmoose011

As soon as that taxi turned into the motel driveway…there it was! Unbelievable! There sat the moose truck, with its leggy fiberglass cargo, parked across the length of the parking lot. I was going to get a picture after all. What luck.

The sunset was pink, and I was able to get a little of that reflection in a couple of the shots.

The only finished one was painted to look like a Tiffany lamp and it glowed in the evening light. It was beautiful.

After dark, it rained. And I took a few pictures of the herd standing in the puddled parking lot with reflections glowing all around them.

By the I got up this morning around 6:45 I noticed the truck and the moose had already already gone. Off to a really early start.

That should have been the end of the story of the encounter with the albino moose caravan, but there’s one last part to share before this story ends.

The dealership opened at 8 this morning, we arrived around 7:45. Got in right away. Then Toyota thoughtfully provided a ride to go get breakfast at a nearby diner while the car was being worked on.

The omelette and benedict plates had just been placed on the table when a loud conversation began behind me. A man, talking to a woman and another man, and someone on the other end of the cellphone.

“Yeah, well I gotta drop one off at the school, and another one near County, and then I gotta go downtown…” (pause) “Well one fell off the truck you know and broke an antler so I gotta fix that before I…” (pause) “That should be alright, they’re not that heavy so if he can give me a hand when I get there…”

The driver of the moose flatbead was sitting right behind me.

When they were getting ready to leave I got up and shared with him and his crew the pictures I’d taken the night before, and we talked about the coincidence of it all. Took a few more pictures out in the parking lot, then we went our own ways for good.

By the time breakfast was done and we got a ride back to the dealership, the car had been fixed. That fast. Seems the seeds had infiltrated the throttle mechanism, and the engine shut down as a precaution to prevent any more driving that could cause further damage. (Never did get an answer exactly why the ever-vigilant ‘VSC TRAC’ felt its presence was necessary in this situation.)

The techs vacuumed out the engine (professionally and technically, I am certain, as only dealerships can do at $65/hour), replaced the air filter, and reset the warning lights. Good to go.

So that’s the whole excuse story. Missed work today, and missed doing the show at the Radiator. On the positive side there are a few cool pictures to show for it, and an extra unplanned day off is always welcome.

I did get to meet the moose driver.

And, I found out from the dealership that mice are quite repelled by the scent of peppermint oil. Need to get some right away. (Now if I can also figure out how to keep those annoying seeds from swarming in when it starts to get cold I’ll be all set.)

Hope to catch up with you next week at the Radiator. I picked up a recording of Alash (the Tuvan throat singers – see previous post) at the show on Sat. night and it’s great. We’ll give it a listen and check out some other new stuff on the next show. ‘Til then enjoy the moose gallery:

If you’re an artist who has participated in one of these large scale public art projects I’d love to talk to you about your experience with it. Drop me a comment here or get in touch.

Alash: a band and a river

March 30, 2009

Hmmm…how to spend a rainy night during mud season, in Bennington,VT? Let’s see…maybe we should start with an exotic concert of exciting Mongolian music, and then move on to an after-hours toga party with the whole town getting in on the gladiator fun. Throw in a pomegranate margarita, an enthusiastic audience and a lot of inspiring visual art, and I’d call it just right!

I came to Bennington to see the night’s headliners at the Basement Music series, the program sponsored and hosted by the Vermont Arts Exchange. (Now, trying to leave yesterday – that was a whole different story. Stay tuned.)

2009-mar28-alashinbennington013On Saturday night the VAE welcomed Alash, a popular quartet of musicians from Tuva. The concert marked their return to the venue (many times over) with evocative-sounding instruments like the byzaanchy, the igil (or ‘horse head fiddle’), and the banjo-like doshpuluur.

But with this kind of music the real draw for the audience is always the singing. In the native Tuvan language the style is described as xöömej (“hoo-MAY”), or in English, throat singing. If you’ve never heard this kind of singing the only way to describe it is to think of the low, multi-toned sound of a digeridoo – or cicadas in the trees on a warm summer evening. Now conjure up the fragrance of a handful of fresh garden dirt, and add to that the earthy texture and taste of red beets.

Throat singing sounds like the combined effect of all of those deeply visceral sensory experiences.

It feels like it too. As a listener throat singing can physically resonate in your own body, with the overtones it produces allowing you to “hear” sounds that aren’t even actively being created.

In the 1990s when San Francisco musician Paul Pena heard throat singing for the first time, he taught himself how to do it. Pena wove the singing into his blues, and the seamless result gives new dimension to the description “roots music”. Pena’s whole remarkable journey, both as a musician and as a traveler, is documented in Genghis Blues. It’s largely thanks to that film that people around the world came to know about Tuvan throat singing.

Fortunately throat singing is no longer only heard by the nomadic people who live in the windswept Tuvan wedge of land between Mongolia and Siberia.

I liked learning that “Alash” means ‘river’. There is a fluidity to throat singing that is boundless: in time, in style, and in its inspirational capacity to move the spirit.

the goddess sings

March 26, 2009

Aesop’s moral might be: when you dump an artist, you must be prepared for the most extraordinary of responses.

‘Extraordinary’ is just the word for Nina Paley’s 82-min. animated tour-de-force, Sita Sings the Blues, showing now at the Green Mountain Film Festival. I haven’t raved like this about a film (ranted, tried to convert friends and family and coworkers…) since last fall, upon seeing Let The Right One In – coincidentally, another of this year’s Festival offerings. Before that? I don’t remember.sita-blues1

The single fact that Paley’s work is autobiographical goes a long way to fast-track it to the top of the genre, and advance this remarkable vision far beyond most definitions of an ‘animated feature’. More than a breakup catharsis (surely must have been that too, though) Sita speaks to the greater arc of human relations, survival, and self-realization – in the most humorous ways imaginable.

The film employs the full range of artistic devices and expression. An epic Indian text (the Ramayana) gives us the story of Rama, an Indian Prince, and Sita, his virtuous, suffering, and wrongly accused wife. This is interwoven seamlessly with Paley’s own incredible experience of getting dumped (by e-mail!), while she’s on a business trip in New York and her husband is in India.

Three congenial Indonesian shadow puppets offer contradictory interjections in a sort of ‘chorus’ role, to advance (and, sometimes hilariously confuse) the narrative.

The story is visually realized through a combination of paper collages and cutouts, hand-painted watercolor backdrops, and lush, colorful computer-generated 2D animation techniques that appear to exist in their own unique universe of time/space relationships. There is art of untold riches to be found in breaking the rules, and Sita is nothing if not artful.

And finally, now that your imagination is nearly saturated, I’ll mention that the whole story is punctuated by Sita’s clever music/dance interludes, overlayed by the superb singing of ’20s-era diva Annette Hanshaw. It’s eerie how the well-worn lyrics to standards like “Mean to Me”, “Moanin’ Low” and “Who’s That Knockin’ At My Door” take on new life in this setting, it’s as though they’ve been waiting the better part of a century for this very chance to come together in a single voice and illustrate the story of Nina, Sita, and lovers everywhere. Why Annette Hanshaw? The filmmaker can explain that one.

sita-blues2

Sita is  joyous. It’s naughty, irreverent, exuberantly inventive, and, deeply touching.

When you see Sita, you will likely find it so captivating you will want to own it. To watch it over and over again yourself, and share the special experience with others. To which Paley says, ‘no problem’! You can buy a copy (when the film becomes available commercially, possibly next month…or not…) but you can also download, share and copy the film absolutely free under the creative commons provision.

And then of course there’s the other option: you could make your own version of the film. If you’re the creative-minded type you may want to seriously consider going to the website’s store and buying Nina Paley’s 320G hard drive, signed by the artist (how do you sign a hard drive? :) and jam-packed with all of the original, high-resolution digital files that were used to make the movie. Think of the possibilities there!

How fitting that Sita is so accessible, for a film about love, loss, (empowerment!) and other such commonly shared human experiences.

“That’s all”!

—————–

Sita Sings the Blues has two more screenings at the Festival; Sat. the 28th at 6:30am and Sun. the 29th at 11:30am. With greatest thanks to Ms. Paley for the gift of this exceptional film, her genorosity in sharing this personal experience in such an inspired creative expression, and – for the laughs! Preview Sita here on YouTube.

news from The Radiator

March 26, 2009

logo-newradiator1Good news! The Radiator is back in business with online streaming and phone services after a month and a half blackout. This is the direct result of intensive, active fundraising efforts from our dedicated all-volunteer staff, the generosity of individual contributors, and our valuable underwriting relationships with area businesses. Please help if you can in any of these ways to support community radio in Burlington, VT – it’s vital for a democratic society to have an independent forum for culture and information! Thanks.

freedom AND joy

March 25, 2009

Please find your red pencil there on the music stand, and note:  it’s The Art of Conducting. Not the ‘discipline’, not the ‘science’, not the ‘practice’, not the ‘profession’. The Art.

In last night’s 6:15pm feature at the Green Mountain Film Festival, Leonard Bernstein – young, charming, sharp and acutely articulate – patiently and passionately unraveled the complexity of skills one must have to rise to the rarified eschelon of the truly GREAT conductors.

He knew. Instinctively, it seems. Only 37 years old when this film was made (in 1955, for the popular “Omnibus” TV show), by that time Bernstein had held prominent conducting positions  with the New York Philharmonic, the New York City Symphony and Tanglewood, along with many guest conducting appearances around the world.bernstein

The film begins with an engaging tutorial on the basics of conducting: how to understand a conductor’s baton gestures; what considerations a conductor makes when opening a new score for the first time; and, how one goes about synthesizing all of the dense information in a score into a unified understanding of the music, and the composer’s intent.

Early in the film as Bernstein begins to apply these basics to a real score (Brahms’ first symphony), he reads aloud the tempo marking at the top: “un poco sostenuto“, he says, then asks in mock exasperation, “how can you tell the rate of speed from three Italian words?

That got a chuckle from the audience, and yet it illustrates definitively the relative negligibility of  a composer’s markings – and music notation, too, for that matter – isolated from the conductor’s interpretation, which brings all of the information together and breathes life (music!) into a performance.

The Art of Conducting ends with Bernstein reviewing the list of ‘must have’ conducting  mechanical and musical skills, and he observes that proficiency in all of these areas makes for a very—adequate conductor.

Surprising. After all of that, what else could there possibly be to it?

Bernstein pauses, and then offers in a nearly conspiratory whisper, “it’s communication“: that innate ability to translate the acquired knowledge and gestures into the kind of passion and artistic singlemindedness that fuses orchestra with conductor, and ultimately fuels a group’s musical vision, combustion, and success.

This film came as a timely supplement to an article I had just read, in the new debut issue of  Listen magazine. Victor Lederer discusses the exhibit of Bernstein’s working (notated) scores, which were  displayed recently at Avery Fisher Hall.

Most telling of all? – Bernstein’s own handwritten marking in the fourth (‘ode to joy’) movement of Beethoven’s Ninth. Lederer notes that “freheit” is penciled in over “freude“, as ‘freedom’ trumped ‘joy’ for his historic 1989 Berlin performances celebrating the fall of the Wall.

Beethoven was both composer AND conductor, and yet it still takes an artist of Bernstein’s skill to give that already sublime score a final coat of wax before rolling it out in public. He interprets the score in a vision that’s both right for the music, and right for the occasion of its performance.

That’s a great conductor.

——-

The Green Mountain Film Festival isn’t even halfway over yet – please support them and their dynamic creative vision by checking out the diverse offerings over the next few days!

playlist: #65 (3/23/09)-New season, new tunez

March 23, 2009
World of Music
Pgm #65 – 3/23/09 – New releases & new acquisitions for our first show of Spring
Listen online Mondays 3-5pm EDT at The Radiator
—-
Nas with Youssou N’Dour & Neneh Cherry: Wake Up (It’s Africa Calling) / Open Remix http://www.intrahealth.org/open/ (download) – USA / SENEGAL
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Tsuumi Sound System: Hotas / Hotas / Aito Records 10 – (FINLAND)
Galitcha: J’entends le Moulin / Célébration Blé d’Inde / Celebration / http://www.galitcha.com 2006 – (CANADA)
Barbara Eramo: blackout / In Transparenza / EM 8001 – (ITALY)
Mohammed Reza Shajarian & Kayhan Kalhor: Dotar Instrumental / Night Silence Desert / Traditional Crossroads 80702 – (IRAN)
Bebo & Cigala: Inolvidable / Lágrimas Negras / Calle 54 Records 653086 – (CUBA)
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Ivo Papasov & His Bulgarian Wedding Band: Byala Stala & Kopanitsa / Orpheus Ascending / Hannibal 134624 – (BULGARIA)
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Delbon Johnson: It’s Always Springtime in Nassau / Calypso / Putumayo 205 – (BAHAMAS)
Kruno: Spider Man / Gypsy Jazz Guitar / GJD 2006002 – (CROATIA)
Paname Dandies: Les chips / Le Swing de L’Escargot / Volvox music 703 – (FRANCE)
Pink Martini: Amado Mio (Love Me Forever) / Sympathique / Heinz Records 1 – (USA) * At the Discover Jazz Festival – 6/13/09, 8pm -http://www.discoverjazz.com/
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Roswell Rudd & The Mongolian Buryat Band: Four Mountains Blue Mongol / Soundscape 1147 – (USA / MONGOLIA) * Tuvan throat singers “Alash” in Bennington this weekend:  http://www.alashensemble.com/performances.htm
Chiwoniso & Vibe Culture: Hupenyu Kutenderera (Life Moves in Circles) / Timeless / Metro Studios 3 – (ZIMBABWE)
Anura Jayasingha & The Balladeers: Jay Awardhanapura / Welcome to Sri Lanka / Arion 64087 – (SRI LANKA)
Amália Rodrigues: Marcha Da Mouraria / The Essential Collection / Manteca 59 – (PORTUGAL)
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A.R. Rahman & Chinmayee: Tere Bina / India / Putumayo 288 – (INDIA) *NEW*
Les Orientales: Stenitek (“Besame Mucho”) / Music-Hall d’Algérie / mk2 Music 8345106342 – (FRANCE / ALGERIA)
El Arroyo los Cagaos: Campamento de Santana / Zacapeya / http://www.arroyoloscagaos.com 2007 – (SPAIN)
Farid Ali “Mr. Gambus”: Zapin Blues / Turning Point: Gambus Goes Jazz / Lite Ears Productions / http://www.mrgambus.com – (THAILAND)
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Manu Chao: Me Llaman Calle / La Radiolina / Nacional Records 68496 – (FRANCE / SPAIN)
Rokia Traoré: Niènfing / Bowmboï / Nonesuch 79852 – (MALI)
Bob Marley & The Wailers: No Woman No Cry / Legend / Island 1290169 – (JAMAICA)
Antonio Carlos Jobim: Waters of March / The Best of Antonio Carlos Jobim / Hip-O Records 429702 – (BRAZIL)
Mariza: Vozes do Mar / Terra / World Connection 1814 – (PORTUGAL)
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Omar Sosa: Ollú / Afreecanos / Otá Records 2008 – (CUBA / AFRICA) * Omar Sosa at the Flynn this Friday night, 3/27 (two shows) – http://www.flynntix.org *
Lucky Dube: Peanut Butter / Lucky Dube Captured Live / Shanachie 43090 – (S. AFRICA)
Umalali: Yündüya weyu & Hattie / The Garifuna Women’s Project / Cumbancha 6 – (BELIZE)
—-

new tunez for spring

March 22, 2009

“The plan of the house, The body in bed, And the car that got stuck, It’s the mud, it’s the mud…” (from Jobim’s “Waters of March“)

el-arroyoloscagaosOur first springtime show brings a new release sampler tomorrow to the Radiator, starting at 3 – (new recordings, along with recent additions to my library!) El Arroyo Los Cagaos is a fun group from Spain, they’ll stop in for a tune from their 2007 recording “Zacapeya” – from France, the Paname Dandies sing a Django-style ode to potato chips, and Portugal’s premiere fadista Mariza sings a gorgeous love song to the sea. We’ll preview one of the featured artists from this year’s Discover Jazz Festival and, yep – Antonio Carlos Jobim sings his lilting tribute to mud and romance and this mixed-up month of March. Listen to “World of Music” online or at 105.9FM in Burlington, VT.

VSO concert: mambo!

March 22, 2009

 

2009-mar21-vsoVSO conducted by Jaime Laredo

Soloists:

Albert Brouwer, flute

Nancy Dimock, oboe

Mark Emery, trumpet

Program:

Leonard Bernstein: Overture to Candide

Henry Cowell: Hymn and Fuguing Tune No. 3

Richard Danielpour: Rocking the Cradle

Samuel Barber: Capricorn Concerto

Bernstein: West Side Story Symphonic Dances

Candide glittered (and yes, it was gay too), the Barber beamed a rare ray of WW II-era sunshine, the Danielpour stormed and solemnly ruminated (1st and 2nd movements, respectively), and the Cowell – well, you need to ask someone who gets that piece better than I do. Might have been fine, I just couldn’t tell you. I always feel like I need ‘night vision’ headphones or something to cut through the thick murky fugue of the string parts, enough to hear what’s really happening in there melodically.

The Vermont Symphony Orchestra offered quite a fine night of music tonight. The program was varied and well paced, and the ensemble was polished with notable moments of flair and inspiration, particularly with the balance of the flute/oboe/trumpet solo trio against the rest of the group in Barber’s Capricorn Concerto. (And I decided tonight after hearing the orchestra’s swinging, spirited Westside Story dances that “mambo!” is hereby the new “bravo!”)

This was the fourth of the five Masterworks concerts during this 75th anniversary year, with the entire season being a celebration of “Music of Our Time”: every concert’s repertoire focuses on works written since 1935.

Artistic Director and conductor Jaime Laredo, in a personal and heartfelt introduction to Danielpour’s “Rocking the Cradle”, promised the audience a return to the more standard subscription series offerings of Brahms and Beethoven next year. The announcement prompted a few pointedly hearty claps. He furthered the thought with the hope that this season’s concerts have been enjoyable, though all contemporary and somewhat offbeat (my paraphrase). With this, the Flynn resounded with an enthusiastic cheer and loud round of applause. Who says concertgoers don’t want to ‘be subjected to’ contemporary music? Not this crowd!

Next (and final) Masterworks concert is Saturday, May 2nd. See you there.

I’ll be the one standing up to send out a loud ‘mambo!’ at the end.

siempre palante, siempre musica

March 21, 2009

I thought I knew what to expect, walking into the Fleming Museum last Wednesday evening. The musuem had advertised a 5pm showing of the influential 16-minute 1929 silent surrealist film, Un Chien Andalou. A non-linear, non-cohesive black-and-white collaboration between Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali, the film’s one stated mission is to show nothing that is rational. It succeeds.

What I did not expect was the Chien chaser, a short film that made for a surprising double feature: Iris Morales‘ fascinating 48-min. documentary about the Young Lords, the Latino advocacy organization that worked in impoverished areas like the Bronx, and the barrios of Chicago and Puerto Rico in the 1960s and 1970s.statepuertoricoflag

¡Palante, Siempre Palante! employs vintage video footage and stills and many first-person interviews to concisely cover the formation, zenith, and ultimate disbanding of the Young Lords organization. We follow them in their many organized efforts (“Palante” translates to “struggle”) to raise the social profile and equality of Puerto Ricans and other Latinos, and improve their living conditions and life opportunities in the nation’s inner cities.

Including the famous garbage strikes in the Bronx, breakfast programs for young children, and the hijacking of a mobile TB screening truck, the film also documents some of the personal and philosophical struggles within the Lords and covers the key points in their evolution, notably the adaptation of an amended platform to be more inclusive of the women who had joined the group.

When a historian is interviewed, she talks about the realization that Puerto Ricans must come to in embracing their own culture – the fact that it is actually a blend of three distinct world cultures: Spanish, African, and native Taíno Indians.

Ramito's "Un Aguinaldo Para Ti"

Ramito's "Un Aguinaldo Para Ti"

It’s an insight that goes a long way to explain the amazing diversity in the island’s musical sounds and styles: from the simple strumming of the native cuatro to the dramatic, story-heavy plenas, to brassy and percussive Afro-rican big band sounds.

It’s such an exciting variety – Puerto Rican music is all of these things.

The visual narrative in Palante! is supported by a soundtrack packed with great Latino music: I thought I heard Tito Puente, Ray Barretto, maybe the Palmieris (Eddie and Charlie), and Ismael Rivera(?) And other music I couldn’t as easily identify. Hard to tell. I waited for the music credits at the end but only found one, for the composer who had contributed some original compositions to the soundtrack. Who were they? Maybe it’s a question best left unanswered, so that the music can be left in its context as part of the documentary.

For some grooving Puerto Rican sounds I can make a few recommendations, and you’ll probably have a few of your own to add to this very short list:

- one of my favorites: Willie Colón – trombonist, singer, big band leader. For hot, sassy salsa try his brassy “La Gran Fuga” (The Great Escape) or “Cosa Nuestra”, both on Fania records. The extra bonus on these two is the legendary singer Héctor Lavoe. There is real chemistry here, it does not get better than this.

Colon/Lavoe: "La Gran Fuga"

Colon/Lavoe: "La Gran Fuga"

- Eddie Palmieri and Dave Valentin – two Latin jazz greats together on the recordings “La Perfecta” and “La Perfecta II” – the name says it all.

- Ramito – classic. You could almost even say ‘old school’ except for the fact that Ramito’s style and licks are so good and timeless they keep getting borrowed and recycled by today’s artists. It kind of makes even his old recordings sound fresh. Try “Un Aguinaldo Para Ti” (on Ansonia records).

- Pulpo (Gilberto “Pulpo” Colón, Jr): a protégé of Charlie Palmieri, the pedrigee shows in a terrific new recording with a lineup including TEN other top Latin musicians: “Pulpo’s hot bread” – not to be missed.

Like I said – this is a really short list and doesn’t even begin to cover the wealth of recordings by Puerto Ricans like Ismael Rivera, Los Tres Hermanos, Tito Puente, Tito Rodriguez, the Fania All-Stars, Rafael Cortijo, and…and…and…! Can you believe it, all of that great music from an island about the size of Connecticut.

As always I recommend starting the exploration with something you like. Listen to it, learn about it, find related recordings and artists, and you’re on your way! Curiosity will take you much further than any formal music education ever could.

For further reading: P.O.V.’s Youth Outreach Tool Kit

3/22/09 – NOTE: The filmmaker was kind enough to respond to the music soundtrack question, please see Iris Morales’ answer in ‘Comments’ below. Thank you Iris – and congratulations on the film, it is a complete (and completely realized) vision.

Persian springtime

March 19, 2009

Red-wing blackbirds are making their way back into the area. This morning along Hinesburg Hollow Road I noticed the sentry’s first appearance, a lone cloaked figure waiting atop the golden tufts of roadside catttail. Seemed early (especially for the coinciding return of the mosquitos and other seasonal insects that feed these birds), but then I think of that New England saying about the annual show of autumn foliage: “whenever it gets here, it’s right on time.”  Patience…patience.

Cold or warm, birds or no birds, in a definitive downbeat for spring the vernal equinox arrives tomorrow morning at 7:44AM EDT. And with it, the start of the Persian New Year, the annual “Naw Ruz” festivities.

2009-mar15-iranflierLast Sunday, Bristol’s Holley Hall hosted “Iran Revealed“, a program sponsored by the One World Library Project. Around a hundred guests filled the space in a special celebration of the Persian holidays welcoming the onset of springtime.

The afternoon melted away in the fragrant grasp of jasmine tea, sweetly perfumed rosewater and cardamom candies, and the warm hospitality of the local Samimi family as they shared poetry readings, family photos, and many varieties of personal insight to their long-lived culture.

The second half of the festivities began with a presentation by Steve Zind, a descendent of the Zand dynasty whose many visits to Iran (both personal and professional; each type of visit characterized by its own inherent benefits and setbacks) yielded a lifetime’s journey of beautiful photos, thoughtful observations, and rich stories.      

Naw Ruz, we learned, is a celebration originating with Persia’s native Zoroastrians around 2,500 years ago. These days it’s an occasion celebrated by all Iranians, regardless of faith: Muslims, Christians, Jews and Bahá’í all come together in the 13 days of the festival’s activities. It’s a time to visit with families and friends, share traditional foods including apples (for health) and garlic (representing healing, or medicines), eggs (for fertility – it IS springtime!) and prepare the mind and spirit for the New Year. 2009-mar15-irancelebinbristol07

On the last Wednesday night before the equinox, the darkness is filled with blazing outdoor fires that celebrate the last days of winter in a joyful musical party. Zoroastrianism is, after all, a faith built around the power of earthly elements.

I thought about all of this last night, the Weds. night before the equinox, as I was driving home through the countryside – the half moon shone above and I imagined golden bursts of Naw Ruz fires punctuating the blue hill silhouettes. Not surprised to see that there were none. Unlike Iran right now, the reality of late March in Vermont is nighttime temperatures that still peak in the single numbers and teens. 

On the final day of the festival (12th day after the equinox) the celebration comes to an end in a huge outdoor picnic – with (need I mention?) more live music, singing and dancing. As the picnic closes everyone gathers with the small vases or containers of grass they’ve been growing on windowsills – wheatgrass, or lentil or mung bean – and ties the grassblades into loose knots, in the hope for good luck in the coming season and year.  

And so, grass knotted, family and friends visited, ancestors remembered and New Year’s hopes secured – Naw Ruz ends and Persians welcome the new season. As do we all – happy springtime!

From the inside of the event’s program, this verse by the 14th c. poet Hafiz:

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

This Sky

This

Sky

Where We Live 

Is no place to lose your wings.

So love, love, 

Love. 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~


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