Saturday, December 28, 2013
It takes a certain disposition to plunge yourself into the waters of Venice Beach at anytime of year. The bathtub of a thousand street performers and Jim Morrison disciples is the beneficiary of a dozen points of sewage runoff and enough steel scraps to build another roller coaster. Plus the Pacific never really gets as warm as Baywatch might suggest. Nonetheless, as far as goofy American traditions go, there are far worse places than Southern California to take the plunge. (Just imagine what those polar bear die-hards endure in Coney Island!) Hence the 55th annual Venice Penguin Swim. The average water temperature is in the high 50s and afterward you can dry off with a cheap, blasphemous T-shirt featuring the cartoon character of your choice. Start the year off right.
Venice Penguin Swim @ LA Weekly
The Jamie Baum Septet +
In This Life
This album roars out of the opening gate with the blistering “Nusrat,” a nod to Qawwali vocalist Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, whose presence reverberates throughout the record. Baum opens everything up with a short, breathy flute statement before the full band jumps in with the horns on blast. Drummer Jeff Hirshfield’s splashy restraint is pushed relentlessly by tabla player Dan Weiss who doubles up on the intensity as the furious melody stutters with lightning speed. Guitarist Brad Shepik makes a jarring leap into the madness towards the end, wielding enough might to cut a car in half. The intensity pulls back for the next few tracks. The tribal funk of “Ants and Other Fatihful Beings” is demolished by a jarring piano solo from John Escreet that does not quite pair up with the meticulous arrangements of Baum’s melody while “Richie’s Lament,” a tune dedicated to Richie Beirach, one of four listed producers on the album, revels in space with a hymnal-like quality. Bass clarinetist Douglas Yates ascends over that roominess with measured confidence. Baum later tackles two compositions from Khan including “The Game” from his early 90s English fusion Mustt Mustt. The performance is driven by Escreet’s bouncing simplicity with Shepik bubbling up in through the seams. The tune is played like a fairly straight-forward jazz affair, eschewing the pop production values of the original as well as the rugged melisma of Khan’s vocals. It’s Pakistani origins are buried way deep. Baum’s long-gestating record is heavily influenced by her travels in Southeast Asia but the overall sound of the project cannot be pinpointed to any location on the globe. She effortlessly blends seven or eight voices into an orchestra that at times feels unstoppable.
One For Rudy
High Note 7256
Organist Joey DeFrancesco’s One For Rudy is a sweet dollop of swing but far from a main course. The trio (Steve Cotter on guitar, Ramon Banda on drums) strolls through ten tracks of mostly well-worn standards in a nod to recording engineer Rudy Van Gelder who supervised the session last summer. This band has a lot of experience on the road together but this is their first studio outing. The liner notes include a strange quote from DeFrancesco in reference to his sidemen that raises some eyebrows: “They were my B band. Well, now they’re my A band.” Is that really a compliment? What led to the promotion? Ah, nevermind. Things progress slowly at first with a lighter than air take on “I Don’t Wanna Be Kissed” breezing by while “Canadian Sunset” gets a tumbleweed rub amid the gently propulsive swing. The band hits their stride midway through on a blistering version of Freddie Hubbard’s “Up Jumped Spring.” DeFrancesco is at his flamboyant best, opening the tune solo before letting Cotter spin an elastic take on the changes that works well against DeFrancesco’s ebullience. A driving interpretation of “Monk’s Dream” gives everybody a chance to shine. Banda trades fours with DeFrancesco in a bouncing conversation that highlights the undersung drummer’s chops. The trio is in fine form throughout but they don’t shed any new light on the repertoire or the format. The result is an entertaining enough blowing session but DeFrancesco and his bandmates could make a record like this every single day if they wanted to. The main accomplishment of this album is acknowledging the importance of Rudy Van Gelder and getting to personally show him some gratitude for his decades of work. A gesture we all wish we could make.
Horse racing embodies what a lot of Americans really want from sports: outdoor yelling, large beers, readily accessible gambling and participants who can be shot if they underperform. There is no venue in California that has been offering those perks for as long as Santa Anita Park. The oldest still-functioning racetrack has picturesque views of the San Gabriel Mountains and warm enough temperatures to open the day after Christmas (Let's see Saratoga try and do that!). But there's plenty to do at Santa Anita Park Opening Day even for those who don't like the ponies. The place is an art deco marvel full of intricate details and gorgeous, horse-themed photo opportunities. And if that isn't enough, the Santa Anita Mall is right next door. Black Thursday, anyone?
Santa Anita Opening Day @ LA Weekly
Monday, December 16, 2013
|Woodrow Wilson Smiles for the Camera|
It takes a certain kind of personality to write biographies for a living, delving into the nitty-gritty of strangers' lives, unraveling mysteries and angering relatives. A. Scott Berg has been quite successful in that line of work, winning a National Book Award for his biography of literary editor Max Perkins in 1978 and a Pulitzer Prize for his biography of aviator Charles Lindbergh 20 years later. His subjects are all 20th-century American cultural icons (Katharine Hepburn, Samuel Goldwyn Jr.) and his newest topic fits that mold perfectly -- President Woodrow Wilson. Berg spent 13 years on the 800-page-plus doorstopper. He'll be discussing the finer points of gaining access to personal correspondence and how to dominate the best-seller list with author Mona Simpson.
Thursday, December 12, 2013
MAD magazine was always been the definitive black-and-white, advertisement-free spoof magazine. Cracked has held on a long time and they even managed to pilfer a few of MAD’s writers at the height of their powers but the other insanity-themed parody magazines that tried to ride MAD’s coattails were short-lived. Riot, Nuts!, Get Lost, Madhouse, Whack, Flip, Eh!, Wild, Blast, Gag? They just couldn’t cut it. The parody parade peaked in the 1970s and there was a real lack of variety between the topics they covered and no shortage of attempts at Spiro Agnew jokes.
The following photos offer just a small fraction of the ridiculousness once available on newsstands and it is a reminder that at one time there was plenty of work for people who could draw a good David Carradine caricature.
MAD vs. Cracked: The Sting
|Crazy vs. MAD: The Bicentennial|
Crazy vs. Cracked: Serpico
Cracked vs. MAD: The Godfather Trilogy
Cracked vs. Sick: Jaws (with a Z)
Crazy vs. Cracked: Kung Fu
MAD vs Cracked vs Crazy: Bionic Woman
Special thanks to the Berkeley Library of Entertainment, Cartoon & Comic History.
Tuesday, December 10, 2013
|Courtesy of the artist|
|Albert "Tootie" Heath, center|
Monday, December 09, 2013
|B.B.King contemplates how to defend himself with a sharpened guitar pick.|
B.B. King Live From Cook County Jail (1971)
Eric Burdon & Jimmy Witherspoon Black & White (1971)
Louis Jordan What's the Use of Getting Sober (1942)
Amos Milburn Let Me Go Home Whiskey (1953)
Is there any other Christmas parade in the world that can boast about having named Tom Arnold as grand marshal twice? Maybe but certainly not one as big as the Hollywood Christmas Parade. When the parade first started in 1928, only one person was wearing a costume: Santa Clause. Nobody was standing around dressed as Elmo taking photos for tips. If a guy milling about looked like Charlie Chaplin, it was probably actually Chaplin. Eighty-five years later, Hollywood Boulevard has become the Times Square of Los Angeles and the daily parade of weirdos and tourists is the perfect fit for celebrities and drumlines to strut their stuff in a light jacket. The annual tradition has had its ups and downs but this year’s grand marshal, Buzz Aldrin, is all class. Hopefully he can come back next year and tie Tom Arnold’s record.
It's always fun to sit next to a great storyteller at a party. The best tales stick with you, whether they're about stumbling upon Bruce Springsteen on the Jersey Shore or two years spent learning irrigation in the Peace Corps. The Moth has hosted events devoted to the art since 1997, building its reputation on the idea that storytelling is the oldest, barest and most challenging form of entertainment. In founding the organization, poet George Dawes Green famously envisioned re-creating nights on a friend's porch in his native Georgia -- telling low-key yarns while moths flitted about, presumably. But good ideas tend not to stay small, and so there's been a one-hour radio broadcast since 2009 -- , which airs on both KCRW and KPCC. There's a book. And there's a series of live events, like tonight's in Hollywood, when 800 people will fill a concert venue for . It's a different kind of challenge from what Green imagined, but some of L.A.'s best storytellers -- including Les Kurkendaal, Mona Simpson, David Ullendorff and Lauren Weedman -- will take it up willingly. How could you not want to listen in?