Martin Moretto Quintet

Just loved this CD.  I’ve refused, so far, to put it into my endless stack of other compact discs because I do not wish to have to go digging for it later on.  I want it available at any time.

Martin Moretto is an Argentine guitarist.  His quintet is comprised of:

  • Bill McHenry, tenor sax
  • Phil Markowitz, piano
  • Santi Debriano, bass
  • Vanderlei Pereira, drums
  • Martin Moretto, guitar

It’s beautiful jazz music.   The sax, bass and piano provide the intimacy and conversational interaction of a trio.  Moretto’s guitar adds some Latin overtones to each composition.  McHenry’s sax and Moretto’s guitar are the stars of this CD, sometimes conversing, sometimes reciting.  I would have appreciated a little more accent on the drums which would have really drawn out the Latin flavor that’s inside each song.  But, Moretto’s guitar brings it out occasionally.

Emmet Cohen – In The Element

Emmet Cohen‘s trio put together some intelligent original songs and a few standards.  The CD, which is his debut, is called In The Element.  Cohen is the pianist of the the trio and is joined by Joe Sanders on bass and drummer Rodney Green.

At 21, he’s already accumulated awards and accolades and the music on this CD is evidence why.  It’s beautiful stuff.  This is jazz that does not force you to take notice of it, but intrigues you until you do.  It’s feel-good music, the piano is a delight.  Sanders and Green are so perfectly balanced with the piano on all these songs it’s hard to remember they’re just a trio; it sounds like an ensemble at times, though remaining personal as a trio should.

There’s no exuberance of youth on display here, either.  It’s mature arrangements, subtle and subdued harmonies.  The music speaks for itself; it swings, it stirs, it’s intelligent, lyrical precise.  Cohen has all the elements on display here for a magnificent sounding trio whose music is discerning and approachable.

Lars Dietrich – Stand Alone

What if Sherlock Holmes was a time traveller and journeyed to the fictional era of Blade Runner? That would be a cool movie, and here’s the soundtrack already, Lars Dietrich’s Stand Alone.

Many years ago I remember being impressed with Joe Satriani’s Surfing With the Alien.  It was one of the first all instrumental rock albums I’d ever heard and all the instruments had been played by Satriani himself.  Similarly, Dietrich plays everything on Stand Alone.  Drum machine loops, keyboards, strange cyber-violoins, mangled bag-pipes – that’s what I heard, lots of experimental electronica.

Everytime I listen to it, all I can see is people in very tight leather suits outlined with electric blue lights riding light cycles.  Since I do like Tron, I didn’t mind the music.  It’s all very imaginative, epic and humorous, concrete and abstract.

A sci-fi flair seemed to stand out even when reading the titles of the songs.  For example, the opening track is “Lost.”   Ever since a certain television show it is now inextricably linked with time travel, quantum physics, death and polar bears.  An odd combination, to be sure, and that fits Dietrich’s music.  There’s also “Exit Ship”, “Netalace”, and “Clustarrr”.

The cover art was cool, too; post-impressionism with a touch of apocalyptic bleakness.  There was some kind of strange hovership and a lone shadow.  It fit with the feel of the music, that of an otherworldy or futuristic lone visitor come to enlighten us with electronics.

Michael Cain – Solo

Pianist and composer Michael Cain has a new CD available now called Solo.  It contains the five following compositions, all originals composed and performed by Cain:

  1. Kammotion
  2. Prayer
  3. Gerald
  4. The Question
  5. Last Waltz

This work is a beautiful and precise thirty-five minutes.  Cain was “initially a jazz major” but “found that classical music was occupying more of his time and switched to that major.”  The first minute or so of the opening track displays Cain’s classical music influence.  But the liberating jazz foundation is still there on these tracks.

But there’s more than just traditional piano going on here.  There’s some pretty cool electronics and some surreal funkiness, almost Barry White-ish without the shallow sound of the 70s.  The electronics at times sounded like the pin scratching old vinyl, or aliens sucking out brains (really, and not gross) .  The electronics lend, I felt, a modern edge to this music; The electronic insertions, when they weren’t the bass lines and drum beats (at least, I’m guessing that those instruments were electronically produced), were interludes that complemented the improvisational and scattered nature of the piano.

But Cain’s piano was beautiful and tranquil during the majority of the CD.  The electronics never detracted from it.  The second track, “Prayer”, has ended up being my favorite.  It sounds funereal, hymnal, the somber, slow tones aching and resonating like the tender climax of a sad romance.  And he displays a nearly sacred feel as he plays through the musical scale.  Perhaps that’s the classical influence.

His arrangements of piano and electronic sound effects is intriguing and well played.  It’s old and new altogether.

Asphalt To Ecosystems: Design Ideas for Schoolyard Transformation

At one of the schools where I used to pick up my children there is a field of grass upon which stands a tree.  It was one of the central attractions for all the elementary students just released from school.  They ran around it, sat beneath its limbs, climbed it, hung from the branches.  At one point the contrast finally struck me – here’s an old tree surrounded by young kids.  Is that what drew these kids in some way?  Did they feel safe around it, knowing that its long years of growing strong roots made it relatively stable?  Then we get older and old trees remind us of our youth.

Even if these esoteric thoughts enter not into the young minds playing on trees there is no doubt that the outdoor world has great knowledge that can be imparted to the young.  They get to build their muscles as they climb and run, they learn patience as plants grow, they understand the intertwining nature of the planet upon which we all live.

That, I feel, is the essence of Asphalt to Ecosystems: Design Ideas for Schoolyard Transformation, a new book by Sharon Gamson Danks published by New Village Press.  As the title indicates, it discusses ways to transform current barren schoolyards into oases of the natural world, kids being collected into outdoor classrooms, planting gardens both for beauty and for crops, learning about natural cycles by experience not reading from a textbook.  Danks takes a school administration and parents and the local community through each piece of designing an ecologically sound schoolyard.  Any group wanting to transform their school will be doing themselves a favor by reading this book.

The book doesn’t just have words to describe these new schoolyards, it is replete with pictures providing inspiration as to how school grounds can be beautified.  Danks goes on at length about how some schools have successfully integrated some of these ideas.  Schools in Sweden and Norway, for example, have done some marvelous work with rocks.  I enjoyed the experience of the Manglerud School in Oslo, Norway.  The school worked with a local architect to create a ‘mini-mountain’ out of 350 boulders from the nearby Svelvick moraine.  The boulders came in many colors, shapes and sizes and represented rock types found throughout southern Norway.  The school carefully  and securely arranged the stones into the rough shape of a mountain, mimicking the rolling landscape.  The resulting paly structure has peaks and valleys and nooks in which children can sit, climb and play imaginative games.  Very quickly you can understand how this natural approach can teach a variety of subjects, from creativity to geology.

Of course, some in this country might automatically start getting queasy when they imagine their little scions clambering about on rocks.  What if they fall?  They’ll hurt themselves, won’t they?  And then who will be to blame?  Due to the litigious nature of American society, modern schools have these very thoughts before parents do and thus try to sanitize all the danger they can from schoolyards in an effort to absolve themselves of liability.  Danks does touch on this subject of safety and liability on several occasions throughout the book.   It’s a subject that local schools and parents will have to come to terms on.  She does make this observance (p. 139):

“These standard school playgrounds also emphasize games with rules created by adults,  at the expense of imaginative games that children make up  on their own.  They make it difficult for children to engage their creativity, their desire for real physical challenges, and their need for exploration and discovery.”

Children – and parents – should consider being responsible when it comes to playtime.

Ah, but alas, while the book advocates a paradigm shift in education and the design of schools, it is plagued by “corporate speak””:  “The strongest ecological schoolyards usually arise from a participatory design process that reaches consensus about future goals and priorities for the grounds.”  That was on page three.  I feared I had somehow printed out my work emails and pasted them in the book.  I found I was wrong.  I then hoped that perhaps this was just a sickness infecting the introductory part of the book and I again found myself in error.  That pattern of speaking permeates the pages.  She mentions “empowering children”, “best practices”.  My mind took refuge in the pictures.  For a time I found no inspiration in the book, only irritation.  Why did such a grand concept as this book presents need to be couched in such stale, lifeless, distant – dare I say it? – verbiage?

But, what is the book trying to accomplish?  Well, it is appealing to existing schools to transform from the standard schoolyard – the barren, asphalt and concrete prison camp – into an ecological schoolyard – inviting, earthy compounds of education.  Thus it needs to grab the attention of an already stale school administration and inspire them to do something new.  Additionally, it is a reference book, a text book, a dense encyclopedia of environmental knowledge and examples.  It’s not meant to be read through like a novel or a manifesto; it’s a handbook to use as a school makes the journey from what it is to what it wants to be.  It accomplishes its purpose.

I couldn’t help but think that the program advocated here echo an older time.  A time when children were taught about the world as they worked in it, as they experienced it with their family.  Alas, now, how many times do we hear how little time families spend together?  Now the schools we force our children into must be transformed to give them the experiences we as parents are not giving them.  Parents should read this book.  Schools should read this book.  Maybe some of these ideas can be put to work at your own local school.  Or, just maybe, some families could institute these or similar ideas at home.  A yard, front or back, could benefit from the same changes promoted in the book for school grounds.  Small gardens at home can be educational and even help a family move towards a self-sufficient status.  So use this material wherever you can.  Unleash some creativity.

What We See–Advancing the Observations of Jane Jacobs

Cities have been places of refuge, innovation and industry; they can also be considered refuges of crime, pollution and consumerism.   They are huge population centers and do have an impact on human life and the environment.  Whether we see them as a destination for a better life or an environ to escape to reconnect to nature and a better life it seems that cities have long been part of human history and seem to be sticking around for now.  So we’d best learn to deal with them.

Jane Jacobs was an influential activist whose seminal work The Death and Life of Great American Cities influenced many of her peers and some of the next generation of urban activists, developers, city planners and environmentalists.  A new book from New Village Press has collected essays from leaders in these different fields into one volume entitled What We See – Advancing the Observations of Jane Jacobs.  The book is an acknowledgment of her influence, a tribute to her vision and offers a glimpse into what the future could be for cities if these writers have their way.  It was good to see that the book is, to an extent, global.  The essays touch on conditions in Canada – specifically Toronto, Jacobs adopted city – and on the designs and aspirations of cities in Germany, Japan and India.

The book is divided into six sections:  Vitality of the Neighborhood; The Virtues of Seeing; Cities, Villages, Streets; The Organized Complexity of Planning; Design for Nature, Design for People; and Economic Instincts.  Each section has four or five essays.  They are written, for the most part, in a conversational manner that’s accessible to everybody.  A few of the essays have the potential to make the reader a little glassy eyed (for me, those were in the last section on city economics – not my cup of tea), but you don’t necessarily need specialized knowledge to grasp what the writer is conveying.  That quality is an important one in a book such as this, especially as these essays can motivate people to become more active in their communities and cities.  If you were left with the feeling that only individuals with engineering and planning experience could do anything about the state of cities that would be contrary to the purpose of the writings and the spirit of Jacobs herself.  After all, she did not have any professional training in any of those fields.

Jacobs was interested in seeing the good in cities and not focusing on what’s bad.  After reading these essays it becomes apparent that most of Jacob’s philosophy towards cities was observation; simply take note of reality.  Seeing the history of a city, the kind of people in the city, seeing where they interact – all those things shape a city and should be accounted for in new growth.  And this new growth needs to be organic.

Of course, observation implies time and patience.  That quality seems to be quite lacking in the leadership of many cities.  Some of the writers touch on this, too.  Deanne Taylor, in “Between Utopias,” points out that the cost of activism is “thousands of life hours.”  She describes the decision Toronto needs to make, which applies in principle to many cities:  “the city will have to decide if it wants a heart or a mall.”  The mall may be faster.  And Ron Shiffmanin “Beyond Green Jobs:  Seeking A New Paradigm” states, ” Unfortunately, as of this writing the city [New York] has chosen to ignore innovation and pursue instead a familiar and politically comfortable path, one that ignores the needs and imperatives of our time.”  All the writers here have some excellent visions for their cities, alas, it does seem that they also share this same obstacle.

Section Five, Design for Nature, Design for People had some fascinating discussions.  Janine Benyuswrote “Recognizing What Works:  A Conscious Emulation of Life’s Genius” and it proved to be an exciting discussion of biomimicry and its use in city development.  Biomimicry is an emerging scientific field that has so many insights to provide it’s unreal.  The discipline studies the designs in nature and then copies, or mimics, those designs to solve human issues.  For example, solar cells are being designed that follow the sun just like leaves can.  She made an interesting comment in her essay.  “Energy is sipped and waste is unthinkable in the natural world.”  This reminded me of children.  They eat and drink whatever’s in sight, with no real thought about it being gone tomorrow.  As parents, part of raising children to maturity is teaching them the concept of finite resources.  So the natural world is mature, humanity – and its cities – is not.

This is a very enjoyable book that can make you evaluate the way you and your family live and can make you take a closer look at the city or town in which you live.  Perhaps this will enable you to see it in a new light or at least understand it better.