Wednesday, June 30, 2010

JACK Report: Another Review in the New York Times

It's hard for me to believe what stars the JACK Quartet has become.  Another review in today's New York Times, the second in three days for four young men, the oldest of whom has just turned 30.  I think I'm just going to have to accept that they are a success and stop being so surprised.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

JACK Report: A Big Hit At Bang On A Can

The New York Times has been very kind to the JACK Quartet, and now, once again, the newspaper has published JACK's picture, this time in connection with the Times review of the annual Bang on A Can Marathon Sunday.   There were 20 or so groups performing in the marathon, which ran from 12:00 noon on Sunday to 1:00 a.m. on Monday. 

A number of bloggers have also posted their impressions of the performances, many of them quite favorable to JACK.  Here's one who commented on another musician's reaction to JACK.  Here's another, who called JACK "the big hit of the day,"  at least up to the point that they played.  Here's another who did a live blog of the marathon and says JACK "just tore up Xenakis.  Here's another with a more general description of the marathon.

Tonight, JACK plays at Le Poisson Rouge, a concert which has gotten some advance buzz, including mentions in The New Yorker and The New York Times, and a blast from a conservative cretin at the National Review.  We'll see what the reviews say about that performance

Monday, June 21, 2010

Book Report: "Solar" by Ian McEwan

Solar Solar by Ian McEwan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Ian McEwan, the author of books like Atonement, Chesel Beach and Saturday; isn't known for his humor, particularly, but this book is very funny, in a peculiarly English slap-stick sort of way.  It's about a scientist who wins a Nobel Prize at a young age, and then spends the rest of his life basking in his laurels and acting the cad.  He is utterly immoral, ditching wives and mistresses on whims; stealing the ideas of associates, and looking for ways to make money without having to work.  His life takes a turn when the wife he has been cheating on, cheats on him with a contractor and a junior associate scientist.  The hero (or anti-hero), manages to kill two birds in what has become a McEwan trade-mark, the bad guy falling down.  It all comes to an improbable end in the desert in New Mexico, but McEwan is such an excellent wordsmith that you put up with the schlock.  This book was made for summer beach reading.  It is short and fun.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

JACK Report: A Nasty Cretin Gets His Comeuppance

I used to like to read National Review back when William F. Buckley was the editor.  Although conservative, he was intelligent, with a dry sense of humor (and, besides, I was more conservative back then when I was naive.)  The people running it now don't even try to write intelligently.  They have become part of the Tea Party snarling pack of  wild dogs determined to rip the flesh off any liberal or imagined liberal they can find.

But, I had to smile when I became upon Jay Nordlinger's article in National Review huffing and puffing about the leftist domination of new music.  His attempt to turn sounds into some kind of political statement is just stupid, but he did mention Son Number Two's JACK Quartet, and there is no thing as bad publicity in the arts world.  He lumps JACK in with the whole leftist music conspiracy, which is fine by me.  They could be criticized for a lot of things worse than being part of a leftist cabal.

Now another blogger, takes after Nordlinger with a vengeance.  He calls Nordlinger a "nasty cretin" and "an obvious idiot and a boor." I don't know why he's holding back.  I could give him some additional epithets, but Nordlinger doesn't deserve the time and space.  I will make sure that the blogger gets on JACK's mailing list.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Book Report: "Songs Without Words" by Ann Packer

Songs Without Words Songs Without Words by Ann Packer

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Don't make the mistake I did and confuse Ann Packer with Ann Patchett.  Ann Patchett wrote some very good books, including Bel Canto and Truth and Beauty.  That's the author I thought I was getting when I checked out Songs Without Words.

I would call this "chick lit" except that it does a disservice to all the chicks I know and like.  It probably would be better labeled as "writers workshop" lit.  Some time, some place, someone told Packer that lots of detail enrich a story.  It does, when used with discretion.  But there should be a point to the detail. It should show you things about the character or plot that help you better understand the story. Pointless detail makes you want to scream "get on with the story!!!" 

The story is about how a family and its friends are impacted when their teen-age daughter tries to kill herself.  To complicate matters, the mother's closest friend lost her mother by suicide when she was a teenager.  The pressures that this action puts on the family are shown with great insight, knowledge that is probably only learned from first hand experience.  (According to my friend, Mr. Google, Packer's father committed suicide when she was a teenager.)  The weakest points are the beginning of the book when the family's life is too idyllic to be believable and the end, which is a little too much and-they-all-lived-happily-ever-after for my tastes.

I credit Packer with telling a story on a difficult subject, it's just that the book would be so much better if it had been more tightly edited. 

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Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Book Report: "Imperfect Birds" by Anne Lamott

Imperfect Birds: A Novel Imperfect Birds: A Novel by Anne Lamott

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Anne Lamott is a good writer, there is no question in my mind about that.  I loved her memoirs, "Traveling Mercies," and "Plan B."  I was less enthralled with her novels, "Blue Shoes" and "Joe Jones."  Her latest novel, "Imperfect Birds," was published in April of this year and is a follow-up story to "Rosie," which came out in 1983.  The new book has the same strengths and weaknesses as the earlier ones.

"Imperfect Birds" has the feeling of fictionalized autobiography.  It's about a recovering alcoholic/drug addict mother and her teen-age daughter who is also a drug addict.  It depicts their conflicts and co-dependencies in what seem like very realistic ways. A number of Lamott's books touch on those themes, as she is a recovering drug addict.   Lamott is good at leavening the dysfunctions with humor.  Lamott is unapologetically spiritual, but doesn't use the language of conventional religion to convey her beliefs.  She certainly has not led a conventional "godly" life."

The weakness of Lamott as a writer is described by herself in her description of James, a writer who is the step-father of the troubled daughter.  I don't have the exact language at hand, but the gist of it is that James is very good at writing description and dialogue, which he gleans from everyday people and situations.  He is not so good with plot.  My wife and I were listening to the book being read as an audiobook on a recent trip and as the reader read the description of James's writing, by wife said, "She is describing her own writing."

The book is better than average because of its strengths.  It doesn't rate five stars because of its weaknesses.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

JACK Report: The New York Times Likes Their Performance at Merkin

I was wrong in the preceding post; the New York Times has already published review of the JACK Quartet's performance last night.  They liked it.

Travel Report: We Love New York

New York City is always such an exciting place to be. It is buzzing with activity, at all hours of the day and night; there is such diversity of peoples, and, oh, by-the-way we have a son, daughter-in-law, and soon-to-be grandchild living there. We got here early Friday afternoon. Son Number Two was practicing with JACK and a composer for the opening performance of Tribeca New Music Festival at Merkin Concert Hall, so we tiptoed around the apartment and tried not to distract them.

While the quartet practiced, The Wife, who has never seen soil that she doesn't want to put something in, decided to do her part in beautifying Brooklyn by buying some plants at Home Depot and fixing up the tiny garden in front of the apartment building.

Friday evening, we had an excellent dinner prepared by our daughter-in-law, The Cellist, and then headed downtown on the subway with Son Number Two for a gig at The Local 269, where SNT was playing with a group he occasionally performs with called (for some unexplained reason)
the cellar and point .  They describe their music as "garage-chamber" music, which actually makes sense.
Saturday morning, we worked on assembling the crib we brought from Illinois.  It is hand-made by my father from a cedar tree cut down on my grandfather"s (the baby-to-be's great-great grandfather) farm and looks beautiful after stripping the old varnish and putting on oil.The crib needed two more rubbings of steel-wool and one more coat of oil, which SNT, TC and TW did on Sunday.  The crib is beautiful.  I just hope the baby is cute enough to deserve it.

SNT on Saturday morning also had to go to Manhattan to rehearse with another composer for the Saturday night performance.  He left for the subway station about an hour and a half before he needed to be there, but about a half hour later, he was back.  After waiting and waiting for the train, which is supposed to run every 24 minutes, an announcement was made that there had been a fire on the subway and the line was shut down in both directions.  So, we took off in our car for Manhattan via the Manhattan bridge.  The traffic was exactly what you've heard about Manhattan traffic.  About 40 minutes later, we had gone less than five miles.  The worst part was getting over the Manhattan bridge; we made pretty good time once we were actually in Manhattan, but SNT was still 20 minutes late for the rehearsal.

The quartet planned to practice from 11:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m. and then take a three-hour break before doing a dress rehearsal at 5:00 p.m. for the 8:00 p.m. concert.  TC, TW and I headed downtown by way of subway (by that time, the line was open, although running slowly) and met SNT for some late lunch at a Korean restaurant.  By the time we were finished eating and had done some looking around, SNT needed to head to Merkin for the dress rehearsal.  It was very hot in Manhattan, in the low to mid 90s, but TC, TW and I decided we could walk from around 32nd Street where we had lunch to 67th street where the hall is located, which is a distance of about two and a half miles.    There are all kinds of interesting sights along the way.
A newly-wed Indian couple posing for pictures in Columbus Circle.

A limber street performer showing you can be limber and cool at the same time.

The concert was well received.  There are some things I could say about it, but a New York Times reviewer and a photographer were there, so I will wait until the review comes out; probably Monday or Tuesday.  We came home late on the subway. 

Sunday morning, we slept late, ate some excellent french toast and then made shopping trips to Ikea, Trader Joe's and The Home Depot and then TW, SNT and TC futzed around in the garden and rubbed the crib with more steel wool.  Tomorrow morning, we head back to the Midwest. Depending on the traffic getting out of here, we may try to make it in one day.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Travel Report: Off to the Big Apple To Deliver A Crib

Anonymous Becky wonders in a comment on the posting below whether I was sending some kind of coded message when I mentioned going to New York City to deliver a crib. I apologize. I had forgotten that I neglected to mention in this forum that Son Number Two and his wife, The Cellist, are expecting a baby, around October 1st. It will be a boy and I know the name, but I'm not telling until the parents announce the name.

The Wife and I are really excited about having a grandchild, and she is excited about being a grandmother. I have not yet gotten used to the idea of being old enough to be a grandparent, but I realize it's difficult to have a grandchild without being a grandparent. So, overall, I'm excited too. At this point, I'm drawing the line against being called "grandpa," or any of its variations. I think I'm going to try to get the little tyke to call me "crockhead," but it will probably come out "CaCa" or something so I'm sure my fight against cutesy is quixotic.

We're taking a baby crib that my father built for one of my younger siblings from a cedar tree cut from my grandfather's farm. So, that will be a physical connection from the baby to its great-great-grandfather. That is really exciting to me. The crib belongs to one of my brothers, we're not sure which one and had been stored at the Amish museum in Arcola. My brother, the Humble Carpenter-Farmer-Philosopher has worked very hard restoring the finish and bringing it up to modern codes by fixing the side so it won't slide down. It is looking just like I remember it looking when it was new. I will try to post a picture after we get it assembled in New York.

Besides delivering the crib, we're also taking the table we had made for SNT and TC for their wedding and various baby things TW had saved from when SNT was a baby, including his bedraggled teddy bear, one of his first outfits and his favorite baby books.

We're also going to hear SNT play while we're there. Friday night, SNT performs with a guitarist and some other people at some venue about which I am unsure at the moment. We'll find out when we get there. Saturday night, The JACK Quartet opens The Tribeca New Music Festival at Merkin Concert Hall. Sunday, we'll relax and Monday we'll head home.

The SUV is packed to the gills and I'm heading out to start the day off right by walking 3.6 miles before I come back to sit in the car all day.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Book Report: "The Flying Troutmans" by Miriam Toews

The Flying Troutmans: A Novel The Flying Troutmans: A Novel by Miriam Toews

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Although a Mennonite writer, Toews has no identifiable Mennonite themes or characters in this book. It's about the troubled life of a family in which one member, the mother of two children, 16, and 11, is mentally ill. Her sister flies back from Paris because of a failed love and winds up finding meaning in her life by taking the children on a cross-country trip to find their father. They have lots of adventures, none of them particularly original, and lots of insights, none of them particularly insightful. I am very critical of the endings in most books, and the ending of this book impresses me mainly for being even lamer than usual. I gave the book three stars because the writer is a good technician.

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