Breaking rhythm

Under duress, a lot of traditions can go by the wayside. Example: we couldn’t find cotechino this year, having gotten started on our shopping a little too late, so we will be ringing in the new year with salmon and lentils instead. Oddly appropriate, given the little tidbit that Zalm dug up earlier this month about Christ being of the lineage of Salmon. This will be an adaptation of the redoubtable salmon with favetta and citronelle that we learned to make in Seattle, with lentils instead of favetta since we’re clearly in the wrong season for fava beans.

Other than that? Same tradition as before: going to bed early on New Years Eve. But this year we listened to a month’s worth of Funky 16 Corners during dinner, and I will be playing a few minutes of Redline, my new in-between hours addiction, prior to crashing for the night. So the wheel of time does move on rather than just in a circle.

Where is my mind?

I’ve been offline for a really long time, in terms of this blog’s history, and thought I’d surface for air to post a brief update.

It’s been a quiet Christmas here at Jarrett House North. My mom came up to spend Christmas with Lisa and me, and we’ve had some nice gift giving and some really excellent meals. With only two cooks at any given time, we had to simplify the feast of seven fishes for Christmas Eve—instead, we just did pasta aio i olio with shrimp covered in breadcrumb with parsley and garlic and baked. On Christmas Day we did a beef tenderloin studded with pancetta with a nice red wine and shallot sauce.

Christmas Eve services at Old South were nice this year, a ceremony of lessons and carols. The opening, as in the Anglican service, was “Once in Royal David’s City”; for us, the opening verse was intoned from the back balcony of the church as the rest of the choir stood in the aisles with lit candles, then sang the second verse a cappella before the organ and congregation joined the final verse. The choir was good, despite the last minute addition of a substitute tenor (and one other tenor—me—being exceptionally sleep deprived).

What else? We have upgraded the photo equipment here at the Jarrett House, trading our old sturdy Nikon for a Canon PowerShot SD600. (I wanted something with higher resolution so I could print photos larger than 3″x4″; to my delight, the PowerShot is also faster, simpler, and generally better. Proof eventually to come once I get a chance to take some serious photos with it.)

And my old trusty 10GB iPod has been upgraded for a 30GB video iPod, thanks to a slew of gift certificates to Apple from my family. Now I have more room for music—I can fit at least 20 playlists on the thing alongside my standard rotating roster of unlistened-to music, plus photos, plus videos, and the screen is beautiful, bright, colorful, and shows album art. Special bonus: it fits in the car cradle I bought prior to the cross-country trip for the old one.

Today: a trip to the North End to get cotechino, a little light housework, and maybe even a nap.

The day the funk stood still

The Hardest Working Man in Show Business has taken his last curtain call. Obituaries: AP, New York Times plus local reactions, Washington Post plus appreciation.

I first became aware of James Brown through “Living in America,” I’m sorry to say, but even that throwaway song became mystery and power when he grunted out “I feel good!” at the end. There were other echoes of Mr. Dynamite around in the 1980s—Eddie Murphy’s “hot tub” had an army of middle school kids aping Eddie aping the Godfather of Soul. And the appearance of “I Got You (I Feel Good)” on the Good Morning Vietnam soundtrack inspired one Jewish kid I know to learn that simple yet smoldering saxophone solo and play it for hours in echoing stairwells. But mostly JB’s influence was invisible, embedded in a thousand rap songs and cultural-ironic remixes.

For me personally, that changed in college, when on a whim and a flier I picked up a discount copy of 20 All Time Greatest Hits through my CD club (you remember CD clubs, right?). And then I found out that it was just the teaser for Star Time, and that found its way to my doorstep too. And then I was hooked. Throwing on “Sex Machine” at parties, driving down the road with fellow musicians deconstructing the beats on “Funky Drummer”…

James Brown taught this white Presbyterian boy about soul power. Without JB, I probably never would have discovered Parliament—first because I wouldn’t have known that I liked funk, and second (thanks to JB alums like Bootsy Collins) Parliament never would have existed.

Another appreciation from Funky16Corners.

Elsewhere: Sony settlements aplenty

There are brief stirrings on the Sony Boycott blog, where I’ve posted pointers to settlements made this week by Sony BMG to the tune of about $6.75 million so far. A drop in the bucket, to be sure… and there’s still an FTC investigation pending.

Combine these settlements with the recent news that major labels like EMI are investing in MP3 distribution rather than DRM models, and there’s a little trend. With the benefit of a year’s hindsight, maybe the Sony BMG debacle actually marked a turning point in the music industry’s long war against its customers. not considered harmful

I saw the series of posts last week on Universal Hub about the new MBTA site, but didn’t think too much about them at the time. It’s honestly been a long time since I’ve even ridden the T. But today I found myself needing to find a T station, and my usual standby (go to Yahoo! Maps, find your starting location, and do a Yellow Pages search for transit) just didn’t appeal. So I hit the MBTA’s web page, and lo and behold, absent the crush of people that apparently Slashdotted it on Friday, the Google Maps powered trip planner is actually useful. Who’da thunk it?

On Vox

I’ve been playing with Vox, the new service from SixApart. So far it seems like a really slick Ajaxy blog site with some good features (Flickr integration is especially nice), one killer feature (per-post privacy settings), and some big glaring omissions, especially the lack of compatibility with Metaweblog API tools like MarsEdit.

However, I think the lack of tools won’t keep Vox from getting users. The friends-and-family concept is killer. The blog I’ve got set up on Vox is private, so my friends and family have to join the site to view it. My question for Six Apart is, what’s the ratio of people who join to people who actually post to their blogs?

Holiday meme

Yep. When there’s no room in the brain for anything else, try a meme. As seen on Isis:

1. Egg nog or hot chocolate?

The nog, but only if I make it. True story: we used to do team Christmas parties in my first job, and we were all supposed to bring refreshments. I brought eggnog, and not knowing any better decided I was going to bring real eggnog. This one had a fifth of whiskey in it, and the whole team was pretty darned unproductive the rest of the afternoon.

2. Does Santa wrap presents or just sit them under the tree?

Actually, Santa wraps presents then sets them under the tree. Yes, Virginia, Santa Claus is a grammar Nazi.

3. Colored lights on tree/house or white?

Growing up I was always a white lights on tree, no lights on house kid. These days it’s colored lights on the tree and while we haven’t done any exterior decorations, one of these years…

4. Do you hang mistletoe?

Never did. I was always a weird, no touch kid and never wanted that stuff. Now, I may have to find a way to sneak some into the house.

5. When do you put your decorations up?

Late. This year, very late. I might get a tree up by Christmas.

6. What is your favorite holiday dish (excluding dessert)?

The quail risotto that I made a few Christmases ago in Pennsylvania with quail my Uncle shot. Including plucking the shot out of the quail as I prepared it.

7. Favorite holiday memory as a child?

Christmas Eve services in my home church. There would always be an organ recital at 10:30 pm and our organist was into moody minor key modern arrangements. I can’t remember the composer who did the Greensleeves arrangement that we heard year after year but it’s stuck with me.

8. When and how did you learn the truth about Santa?

I don’t remember but my Mom probably does. Maybe I just figured it out.

9. Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve?

I’ve always kept away from spoiling the surprise, but my wife’s family believes in opening presents early.

10. How do you decorate your Christmas tree?

Tree is artificial and pre-lighted, so sets of balls and ornaments that match are first—balancing the colors around the tree. Then heirloom ornaments. Finally the star, which I optimistically bought one year out of college and have been storing and using ever since, which has been challenging considering it’s blown glass.

11. Snow! Love it or dread it?

Both. Love it when it’s falling and it’s cold, dread it when it’s four months old and everywhere.

12. Can you ice skate?

Yes, but I haven’t tried in years.

13. Do you remember your favorite gift?

Maybe my first iPod, in 2001 when I was a grad student and we were living on a fixed income. It was a gift from Lisa.

14. What’s the most important thing about the holidays for you?

Thoughtful and watchful anticipation of the coming of Christ and meditating on the meaning of forgiveness. Followed closely by not killing people at shopping malls.

15. What is your favorite holiday dessert?

My mom’s chocolate covered candied orange peel.

16. What is your favorite holiday tradition?

Tie: Being together with my parents and sister on Christmas Day, and my wife’s traditional Christmas Eve dinner of seven (or at least multiple) fishes.

17. What tops your tree?

See answer to #10.

18. Which do you prefer, giving or receiving?

When I’m feeling depressed and self effacing, giving. When I’m feeling strong and honest, receiving.

19. What is your favorite Christmas song?

Right now, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.”

20. Candy canes?

Oh yeah, preferably with a good book.

21. Favorite Christmas movie?

A Charlie Brown Christmas. Though I still get hysterical giggles when I think about the scene in the mid-90s Charlie Brown Christmas special when Peppermint Patty falls off the curb, and Marcie asks, “Slouching toward Bethlehem, sir?”

22. What do you leave for Santa?

Whiskey. Or holiday ale.

Tagging: Zalm, Small Cafe.

December 18 and all is well

To those of you who know what’s going on with me and Lisa: all is well with our world. To the rest: you’ll find out soon enough.

But here’s a note from last year’s Christmas mix to tide you over:

I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along the unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

Till ringing, singing on its way
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

A holiday hint Protest or Celebrate?. A nicely done tweak at those who protest the lack of publicly endorsed Nativity scenes and insist “It’s Christmas, dammit” when you wish them Happy Holidays, in the form of a letter from the Big Guy himself:

How I personally feel about this celebration can probably be most easily understood by those of you who have been blessed with children of your own. I don’t care what you call the day. If you want to celebrate My birth just, GET ALONG AND LOVE ONE ANOTHER. Now, having said that let Me go on.

If it bothers you that the town in which you live doesn’t allow a scene depicting My birth, then just get rid of a couple of Santas and snowmen and put in a small Nativity scene on your own front lawn. If all My followers did that there wouldn’t be any need for such a scene on the town square because there would be many of them all around town.

Also see this post on Universal Hub about the aforementioned anti-Happy Holidays crazies.

CD Review: Bootsy Collins, Christmas Is 4 Ever

bootsy collins christmas is 4 ever

Christmas albums by popular artists face a pretty significant challenge: how to make the holiday canon, which ranges from medieval plainchant (“O come, o come, Emmanuel”) to high classical music to Tin Pan Alley tunes and children’s TV show theme music, sound like it belongs to the artist and not let the artist be overwhelmed by what can be a lot of schlock. There are three basic approaches to the challenge: go ultra-traditional with the arrangements, create a bunch of originals in the Christmas spirit, or just be yourself and damn the torpedoes. My latest favorite Christmas album, Bootsy Collins’ Christmas is 4 Ever, takes the third path with a vengeance and ends up with one of the most fun Christmas albums I’ve listened to.

Bootsy, for the uninitiated (though that hardly seems possible), is the funky, funky bass player behind James Brown’s late 60s output (“Sex Machine,” “Super Bad,”) and George Clinton’s Parliament and Funkadelic (where he gained notoriety for his costumes—star-shaped sunglasses and thigh-high rhinestone studded space boots as well as his outer-space bass playing), and a pretty substantial run fronting his own combo, Bootsy’s Rubber Band. This, in sum, is a man who could definitively answer Funkadelic’s question, “What is soul?” So what, pray tell, is Bootsy doing facing down such white bread Christmas classics as “Jingle Bells,” “Winter Wonderland,” “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer,” and “Silent Night”?

As you might expect, Bootsy solves the clash of genres by throwing a party. And a pretty damned good party too. The arrangements on this collection are tight, with key contributions from fellow ex-PFunk stars Bernie Worrell, Garry Shider, and Fred Wesley (who arranges the tight horn charts that propel the most spectacular songs and is the other James Brown alum on the record), and an array of guest vocalists ranging from the traditional R&B styles of a bunch of folks whose names I didn’t recognize to some rap contributions by Snoop Dogg. There are voice cameos from other friends of Bootsy, from Buckethead to George Clinton to the late Roger Troutman, bringing Christmas greetings.

And damned if it doesn’t all hang together. The horns make it feel like a Parliament reunion, and there’s a propulsive funk beat that runs through the whole album that makes one want to stand up and dance. (For this writer that’s no mean thing.) But for me the standout moment is deep in “Silent Night,” which may be the only time this holiday standard has grooved, where Bootsy answers the sung line “Sleep in heavenly peace” with a fervent “You and me, baby!” Aah, right on.

This post also at BlogCritics.

Non-traditional Christmas gifts

Just in time for the holidays, a pair of BoingBoing links to some great gifts for that person who has everything. First, the OnDemand Action Figure Builder, which primarily seems to be about hair and face type generation and clothing choices — the available body type is essentially a GI Joe, limiting one’s ability to do really creative figures—but is still pretty cool. I can already see a big aftermarket in doll-sized custom t-shirts. Maybe this is a market opportunity for CafePress?

Second, of course, what everyone needs is a novelty USB memory stick, particularly one that draws a little power from the USB port to, um, go to town. Don’t miss the movie. Love ’em up!

Maestro, wait, I’m still downloading the score

Very cool: the Neue Mozart-Ausgabe (New Mozart Edition), an online archive of scores to all the composer’s works. Please note the Personal Use Only warning before you download a set of scores for your next concert performance…

The resource is going to be invaluable for scholarship. Why, I myself have already downloaded the scores to KV. 231 and 233 (the “Kiss My Ass” canons) for further study.

You’re a tired one, Mr. Grinch

The Pops Christmas season is upon us. Last night I sang the opening night performance for the Boston Pops Christmas concerts. It’s a fun concert as always, even if the repertoire isn’t very highbrow. As I said to someone last night, “I have probably 10 or 20 CDs of Renaissance and Medieval Christmas music, but I don’t have but one or two of traditional Christmas music, and sometimes it feels like I should reverse that ratio.”

That said, there was one extremely pleasant surprise on the program, an orchestral work by Resphighi called The Adoration of the Magi, which I had never heard before and which is a haunting, stately work. The crowd, which at a Pops concert can get kind of noisy with the drink service and so forth, was hushed at the conclusion, which is a rare thing indeed.

Oh! And there was Seussiness as well! We did an orchestra plus chorus plus spoken word rendition of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, complete with the Who Christmas anthem (“Da-who dorays, fahoo forays, welcome Christmas…”) and “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.” And it was pretty awesome, in a way that only acting out a favorite childhood TV Christmas special on stage with the world’s greatest Pops orchestra can be.

And now I’m dragging. But it’s OK. The other joyous thing about this Christmas season is that last Friday’s trip to Washington, DC was the last business travel of the year for me. (Insert wild Kermit-the-Frog arm-waving cheer here.) Being on the road more or less continuously since August has really wiped me out. I’m looking forward to being offline for a while to recharge.

Because I didn’t post much this week…

I thought I’d do a rare Sunday post. It’s clear and beautiful here in a so-far-dry late autumn/early winter kind of way. Even the snow flurries at the beginning of the week and the snow squalls on Friday left no lasting traces. Much like my Christmas planning so far: we have a photo and text but no card yet. (Tomorrow.) And I still don’t know if our Christmas tree will light up after this spring’s flood.

But the holiday recordings are out! Well, technically, I didn’t have to pull anything out from anywhere. In the pre-iTunes days, around the first of December I would pull all my Christmas CDs out from the back of the drawer and replace them with the world music CDs, not from any animosity to Afropop but because they were filed right in front of the Christmas discs. This year, all I did was go into iTunes, select the Holiday genre, and command-click to check them all for inclusion in the normal shuffle. Then Lisa and I listened to hours worth of Christmas recordings yesterday, from the Stax Christmas collection and the Blind Boys of Alabama in the morning to the new Sufjan Stevens Christmas box (which rocks, btw) as we made spaghetti amatriciana last night.

So in honor of the season, here’s a random playlist of holiday music for your ass:

  1. Bootsy Collins, “Boot-Off (aka Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer)” (Christmas is 4 Ever)
  2. Cathedral Choral Society (J. Reilly Lewis, cond.), “Hallelujah Chorus” (The Joy of Christmas)
  3. Ella Fitzgerald, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” (Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas)
  4. Choir of St. John’s College, Cambridge (Christopher Robinson, cond.), “The Lord’s Prayer” (John Tavener, composer) (Christmas Proclamation)
  5. Boston Camerata, “Gaudete, gaudete” (A Renaissance Christmas)
  6. New York Ensemble for Early Music, “Orientis partibus” (Nova: A Medieval Christmas)
  7. John Denver and the Muppets, “Noel: Christmas Eve, 1913” (A Christmas Together)
  8. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir, “Joy to the World” (It’s Christmas)
  9. Anonymous 4, “Liber generationis” (A Star in the East)
  10. The Sixteen (Harry Christophers, cond.), “Drive the Cold Winter Away” (An Early English Christmas)