Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Beauty In All Things


Today is a rare day: snow in Memphis. We only get it a couple times a year, tops. Accumulation is minimal, not even an inch on the ground really, and it's all wet and slushy. As I look out on the world, I'm reminded of Kurt Elling and his call that we find the beauty in all things.

The Beauty Of All Things - Kurt Elling

Kurt is one of the leading men in modern jazz, but he's not your typical jazz singer. He is in improvisor, a fantastic singer as well, but most importantly, he's an interpreter. He's fully capable of going "out there," free-wheeling to whatever tune he chooses. But more important is the way he feels the songs he sings, how he brings poetry into each verse to give it deeper meaning. The years he spent in divinity school no doubt molded him into what he is today. He is a deep, amazingly talented musician who surrounds himself with only the best.

Here's videos of Kurt doing perhaps his best interpretation, My Foolish Heart. The First is with Bob Mintzer's Big Band, which is excellent:

This next video, while sadly cut short by mere seconds, is absolutely stunning. Elling performs a stellar version at the Monterey Jazz Festival, interpolating the poem "The Moon Was Once A Moth" by Sufi saint Rabia of Basra, an eighth century muslim poet.


The moon was once a moth who ran to her lover,
they embraced, and she ultimately passed away
with such a smile everywhere
on her body.

Over a period of time, her wings fell to the earth
and sanctified the meadows.
Angels came and buried the limbs
that touched His mouth.

The moon was once a moth who ran to God,
they entwined.

Now just her luminous soul remains
and we gaze at it
at night.

Here's Kurt performing "Not While I'm Around," another of my absolute favorites, taken from an NPR performance at Kennedy Center. I'd link you to the entire performance, but it is sadly no longer available...

Kurt Elling - Now While I'm Around (Live @ Kennedy Center

Last up, here's a wonderful version of Nature Boy that I just ran into this morning, while making this post:

If you enjoyed what you heard, support Kurt and buy some of his work. Everything is good but I highly recommend Live In Chicago, Man In The Air, and Flirting With Twilight.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Brad Mehldau Demands Your Attention

Just in case you somehow have missed him all along, Brad Mehldau is fucking brilliant and deserves your full attention. I mean every minute of it. Don't turn away, take every moment of it in. This is what freaking music is all about and is one my absolute favorite covers:

There's plenty more where that came from so I'll leave you alone now and let you get started on that...

More Brad Mehldau than your weak brain can handle.

World of Goo-dness

World of Goo is an amazing experience.

  • It's an absolute work of art
  • It features insidious level design
  • It has an amazing soundtrack
  • It's freaking genius

  • The game was released on Wii as the first really high-profile download on the WiiWare service. According to gamerankings, it has received an aggregate score of 94% from top reviewers, making it the third highest scoring game on the console. I can't say enough about how amazing it is, though for full disclosure I must admit that I haven't beaten it fully yet. I stopped with about two levels to go. No time like the present I suppose.

    I bring up World of Goo because this week has seen several news stories about the game. Peter Moore, Prez of EA Sports, spoke about World of Goo on his blog on Sunday and seems to have come away from the game, a demo of it at least, impressed (thanks to Wiiware-world for the tip):

    There's a lot to learn from the EA alumni who started 2D Boy and built something as creative and unique as World of Goo, with such a small team and little money. It's that type of creativity and entrepreneurial spirit that can really drive innovation, and I'd like to think we're setting the right priorities and taking the right steps to deliver more experiences in this vein from EA SPORTS. "

    Let's hope so, EA Sports has gotten better about improving their games year-in and year-out but the Wii certainly needs some love. Outside of Madden and Tiger, most of the Wii/EA Sports titles have been abysmal.

    Secondly, Kyle Gabler, one of the two programmers responsible for World of Goo and the man behind the soundtrack, felt it was time to unleash his musical opus onto the world. I thought the soundtrack was amazing as I played the game; further listening proves I was correct. It's free, so download the whole thing if you please, I've included a small sample below. If you really want to show your support, download the game for your Wii or for PC/Mac, available right here from Gabe and Tycho's awesome Greenhouse Games service. The Wii version will run you $15 and the PC version is a few dollars more at $20, though I can't see that there's any difference, other than perhaps the ability to mod/expand the game with user-created content.

    Kyle Gabler - Years of Work

    Get the World of Goo Soundtrack

    Comedy We Can Believe In

    Comedy Central's The Daily Show aired live last night to cover the inauguration and it's aftermath. Stewart and Co. had me rolling the entire show. Catch the full show below or stay tuned for the highlights.

    Full Episode: The Daily Show, January 20, 2009: Changefest '09

    Selected Highlights:

    Jon Stewart & Jason Jones discussed Obama's Speech and made the point that I was trying to make yesterday, it's not about the speech so much as it is about the speaker and the delivery. Obama's words often echo Bush's but the way he presents himself, his past actions, and his calm demeanor are what make him seem the antithesis to George W. Bush:

    Samantha Bee was up next with her report from the Ball's but pay close attention for the Aretha Franklin clip. Plus, she said "doody":

    Gershwin's Greatest

    Dealnews pointed out this hidden deal at Amazon: George Gershwin's greatest composition, in my mind at least, Rhapsody in Blue. Also included is An American In Paris, a nice enough classical composition, but not one of my top choices. Regardless, a full recording of Rhapsody's full 20 minute length is pretty cheap at $1.98, since the CD version is going for $8.99.This CD version, which I own, sells for $7.99 but includes an extra work, Gershwin's Grand Canyon Suite. Unless you're desperate for a hard copy, I'd stick with the digital download.

    Listen to the exact version you'd be downloading:

    Rhapsody in Blue - Leonard Bernstein;Columbia Symphony Orchestra

    Also check out this interesting highlights version by The Five Browns:

    It's neat, but the conversion to YouTube video doesn't do the power of five pianos justice, it seems.

    Below is the link for the album, plus an extra link to Andrea Bocelli's album Amore, which seems like an excellent pickup for just $1.99. I'm not even sure if it's something I'll be into, but my wife likes Josh Groban and this seems like a good replacement.

    Last but not least, here's a link to Amazon's Bestselling Classical Keyboard selections, in case you enjoyed this post. There's all kinds of great stuff and I unearthed another great deal, Beethoven's other 5th, his Piano Concerto, for only $2.97. I'm listening right now and it is fantastic!

    O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

    NPR has a story up talking about some of the more memorable interpretations of Francis Scott Key's Star Spangled Banner. I've always really dug the Marvin Gaye version, even though it is so very different from the original, but I think that the real joy in music is finding new formulas for old songs.

    One of my favorite versions, which most people have probably never heard, is that done by my absolute favorite band ever, Béla Fleck & the Flecktones. Recorded for their 1991 album Flight of the Cosmic Hippo, it perfectly captures the majesty of the piece but expands on it perfectly. There's minimal improvisation but the combination of harmonica and banjo really fit the tune extremely well.

    I grew up in middle Tennessee and one of the local affiliates, WKRN if I'm not mistaken, ran the Flecktone's video for the song every night before they went off the air. Why was I up nightly, watching TV stations go off the air? Because I'm a geek and I was up late browsing BBSes or Bulletin Board Systems; consider it a sort of pre-Internet. It was during the AOL era but was for people who didn't want to, or couldn't, shell out $20 a month for a bunch of chat rooms and useless crap. Anyway, I stayed up all night typing to strangers on message boards and browsing "warez" with the TV on. It was here that I gained an early appreciation for the Flecktones, but at the time I had no interest in jazz. Several years later, as I adopted a broader musical understanding and picked up on artists like the Yellowjackets and John Pizzarelli, I quickly gravitated towards Béla and the band due to their close association with the Dave Matthews Band, of whom I was a devoted fan.

    Fast forward to the present and Béla Fleck and the Flecktones are still my favorite band, I catch them every chance I get. Their shows are phenomenal and even their most recent album, a collection of Christmas songs both old and new, blows my mind.

    Coincidentally, Flecktone Jeff Coffin is joining DMB to fill the void left by the loss of Leroi Moore, but I get the idea he's still planning to keep with the 'tones as well, which I hope is true. DMB is gaining an amazing talent, which is not meant as a hit on Leroi, but Jeff is just an incredible artist. I'm actually somewhat interested in their next album as a result.

    Anyway, time to post some music. Here's a small taste of the Flecktones, including the aforementioned Star Spangled Banner, in a live setting.

    Béla Fleck and the Flecktones - The Star Spangled Banner > Hole In The Wall (Live)

    You can get the entire 1991 concert this track is from at the Live Music Archive. You can preview it below, though some of the track names are messed up on this particular show...

    Download entire show as .mp3 files

    1991 for the Flecktones is ancient history; Howard Levy filled the fourth slot playing harmonica. After he left, they spent a few years as a trio and made some amazing albums but the modern 'tones feature Coffin on saxophone, as intimated previously. Here they are jamming Next on Conan O'Brien.

    Purchase some Flecktones music, if you like. If you wish to support the artist more directly, buy it straight from their own website: Music Store

    Buy Three Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, my favorite 'tones album, @ iTunes

    ...of course, any discussion of the Banner always leads me to think of Roseanne Barr's awful rendition in 1990 and here's the best video I could find of that moment. I don't find it offensive, personally, just awful. It wasn't funny, as she had hoped, but it proved that she had no business on a national stage singing anything at all.

    Tuesday, January 20, 2009

    We Can Work It Out

    One more note for a day filled with change, here is a positive tune by the greatest band around, the singing Beatles. We Can Work It Out was co-written by Paul and John and charted well upon it's release in 1965. The version I'd like to talk about today, however, was recorded by a living legend, Stevie Wonder. In 1970, Wonder's album "Signed, Sealed and Delivered" was released and was considered a mediocre album, considering the others in his amazing catalog. The album, however, would likely be considered a monumental work for most other artists.

    Stevie Wonder - We Can Work It Out

    Stevie received a Grammy nomination for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance in 1972 for this track and I find it's well deserved. The original by the Beatles is certainly great, but Wonder's version, coming on the end of the civil rights struggle, suggest overcoming the racial divide and coming together as a country.

    You can get this whole CD today at for an amazing $1.99. I already had the four best tracks from this greatest hits collection, but for $1.99 if even two of the tracks are decent, it's worth the price. Nab a copy yourself, you won't regret it.

    If you enjoyed this, Stevie's The Definitive Collection is an outstanding view of his career until the 80s. Highly recommended!

    "On this day...

    ...we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord."

    Words from President Barack Obama's Inauguration speech, which just aired. Regardless of how well a speech is written, it takes a certain kind of person to deliver it effectively and Obama truly has this gift.

    The entire speech is available here, thanks to the BBC News, where I found it immediately afterward. Strangely, I haven't seen it posted at any of the American news sites just yet.

    "In the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations."

    Also of note, The Guardian has an interesting side story about Obama's speech writer, Jon Favreau, not that one. Pretty cool that a guy younger than me is writing speeches for the President and doing such a great job of it.

    A New Day For America

    As our country takes a new leader, I'm compelled to share my interests with whoever will listen once again. I'm Jowey, a guy with lots of interests and never enough time to follow all of them at once. I'll take time every day or so to tell you about what I've discovered on the Internet and in our other realms of entertainment. Maybe you'll enjoy it, maybe you won't, but hopefully we'll all be entertained in some way! See you soon!