jazzy_dave: (bookish)
Nina Auerbach "Our Vampires, Ourselves" (University Of Chicago Press)





This is quite a helpful synopsis of vampire literature and film, from the early 19th century to 1995. She is one of the first scholars to take the vampire phenomenon seriously.

The first part of the book, focusing on the 19th century, was the most interesting to me, being the most unfamiliar; Auerbach's contention that pre-Dracula vampires were typically in homoerotic plots is intriguing. The scope of the book narrowed considerably toward the end, with a whole chapter devoted to post-Reagan vampire lit/film; this narrowing gave the book an unbalanced feel. If this was written a few years after 1995 then I am sure she would have included Buffy into her synopsis, but alas, the Slayer does not figure, and anyway, we do have other great academic books on Sunnydale's heroine.

Her book's central claim - the construction of the vampire changes in reaction to the social and political milieu of the times - is convincingly argued.

So, with the aforementioned caveat, it is excellent thoughtful read on the subject.
jazzy_dave: (bookish)
Barney Hoskyns "Small Town Talk" (Faber & Faber)







The social atmosphere of Woodstock, New York in the sixties was the antithesis of San Francisco, California. Where San Francisco had Haight-Ashbury, with its influx of hippies, acid trips, and psychedelic rock, Woodstock had folk musicians with acoustic guitars, searching for solitude and solace. Woodstock also holds the mystique of its association with the Woodstock musical festival, even though the actual connection between the place and the event is tenuous at best. I've long been fascinated by the sixties movement, both culturally and musically, and so this book appealed to me on many levels.

The material is meticulously researched, and its clear that the author has a special affinity for this town. For me, though, the reading experience is too weighed down in details. I simply didn't find every aspect of the town's history as captivating as the author clearly does. The first third of the book drags. I found myself continually putting the book down, eventually forcing myself to get back to it. We learn things like the exact addresses of many of the people living there early on, which is meaningless information to those of us unfamiliar with those homes and streets.

The middle of the book is more interesting, as we get into the heart of the cultural and musical icons, their lives in Woodstock, and their connections to one another. We spend a lot of time on Dylan, of course, since he and Woodstock are forever interwoven. We also spend a lot of time learning about Albert Grossman, the manager of many big-name musicians back then, who more or less ruled over Woodstock.

For me, the book is bogged down with a lot of detail that simply didn't hold my interest. That being said, it is well written and offers some great insight into life in this idyllic town for a handful of cultural icons.
jazzy_dave: (black jazz)
Martin Williams "Jazz Changes"  (Oxford University Press)







This book collects articles published in magazines like Saturday Review and Down Beat, as well as a wide variety of liner notes. Martin writes in his characteristically clear prose that thankfully avoids technical jargon and he is not afraid to make definitive judgements about the quality of a musician's recordings.

Among the many jazz artists covered here in portraits, accounts of rehearsals and specific live performances,and in-depth reviews of recordings are: Earl Hines, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, John Lewis, Milt Jackson, Eric Dolphy, singers Dinah Washington and Billie Holiday, and Duke Ellington.

Martin does not restrict himself to the established jazz masters, but also has some interesting observations about the blues singer, Robert Johnson, and the black poet, Langston Hughes.

One of the most interesting pieces is an interview with Ross Russell of Dial Records about the famous recording sessions with Charlie Parker that generated much controversy within the jazz community.

Martin presents an unusual but highly informative glimpse of three jazz bassists in his appealing piece on Scott LaFaro, Steve Swallow, and Gary Peacock.

Although Martin was a recognized authority on early jazz and the author of books on both New Orleans jazz and Jelly Roll Morton, he does not limit his writings to this period. For example, this book offers an extended profile of Ornette Coleman, as well as an analysis of a recording of a 1969 concert by Coleman at NYU. Martin also discusses the musical career of pianist Steve Kuhn and presents an interview with "outspoken" trumpeter Ruby Braff.

The centrepiece of the book, however, is certainly the 54-pages of extensive notes written to accompany the release of the multi-volume set of historic recordings made in 1938 by Jelly Roll Morton at the Library of Congress. In a series of 12 brief essays, Martin blends historical, biographical, and musical analyses to produce a fascinating set of commentaries on some of the most important recordings in the history of jazz.

Like Martin's other collections, including Jazz Heritage and Jazz Masters in Transition, 1957-1969 (Macmillan Jazz Masters Series), there are essays in this volume that should interest just about any jazz fan.

My only criticism of this collection is that it contains material published in other books by Martin. For example, his account of Thelonious Monk playing at the Five Spot, the piece about a rehearsal with Milt Jackson, a similar treatment of a rehearsal with Jimmy Giuffre's trio, and a critical appraisal of four over-rated pianists, all appear in one of Martin's other collections. But this is a relatively minor shortcoming, as everything contained in Jazz Changes is worth reading and probably twice.

Highly recommended for all jazz fans who want to expand their knowledge of jazz and its many "changes." I totally agree with the dust-jacket blurb from the Washington Review: "Read anything of Williams you can get your hands on...His knowledge of jazz is all but unmatched."

jazzy_dave: (bookish)
Vladimir Nabokov "Speak Memory: An Autobiography Revisited" (Penguin Modern Classics)






Even the name of this wonderfully lyrical autobiography is commanding. Speak! And speak it does. Of love, of loss, of finding a new life and being able to leap to safety to embrace it. But......Love....more than anything is what Vladimir Nabokov's partial autobiography resonates with. His enduring and all-encompassing love for his family.

He takes the reader on a journey of the senses, of the dim and yet luminous memories of childhood, through the eyes of a genius with unprecedented attention for detail. Nabokov does not walk us through every relationship, every transition, etc. Rather, he gathers and recollects the memories of colour, of feeling, and learning that are most important to him. There are remarkable passages in this text, including remarkably varied intellectual topics, i.e.: literature, politics, chess, mathematics, lepidoptery, etc.

It only covers 37 of his 77 years, but what 37 years it was! St. Petersburg to Cambridge, Berlin and Paris to America. The book ends with his sighting of the ship that will carry Nabokov and his little family to America and safety. The safety that so many were not able for so many terrible reasons to find themselves, including members of his own family.

Nabokov does not give a blow-by-blow account of his life, but in vignettes that 'speak' of his life and his family's life. He tells the story of his courageous father and the battles for a democratically styled Russia, the powerful personality of his beloved mother, his tragic brother....all is exposed, yet not. The story of his life with Véra, his other self, is given, but not displayed. The love he feels for his little son Dimitri is almost beyond words. All of this is served for the readers' enjoyment.
jazzy_dave: (bookish)
Seamus Heaney "Station Island" (Faber & Faber)



He is a writer of the immediate and the physical. He writes with the feel of the iron in your hand and the soft humus sinking beneath your feet. He writes the bite of the wind, and the romance of expectations met and surpassed, or crushed as the case may be. Yet for all the present and gross of his writing, there remains a sheen of the mythic and the sheer understanding of the immortality of the classic as it mingles constant with the world around us today.

Here there is history as a series of ghosts as one walks the stations in search of - what? Here is a man cursed to be a bird, seeing the world from a new perspective and trying to make sense of the insensible. It's a romance that is difficult to characterize firmly, and even more difficult to fully understand, as all of Heaney's work tends to be. Layers upon layers, yet the beauty remains undeniable.


The lesson, ultimately, seems to be that it is impossible to ever choose a favourite work of Heaney's. It's all brilliant, all different, and all undeniable. It is deep meditation on the wrenching emotional cross-currents of the conflict that blighted Northern Ireland and the role of artists in witnessing and addressing that world. The beauty and fluidity of his verse are breathtaking. He is a master. It is a book to read over and over again.

Help Needed

Feb. 1st, 2019 06:31 am
jazzy_dave: (sheik your booty)
Like our friend {a_phoenixdragon} my finances are not going to stretch till next payday and with this cold weather biting keeping warm is essential. The work has not picked up as much as I would have liked and once February is over it is great again, Meanwhile, if you can help out in any way dear LJ friends please send any donations via Pay Pal to -

jazzbodave@outlook.com
jazzy_dave: (bookish)
Maryanne Wolf "Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain" (Icon Books)






What an incredible book. Supremely readable, it seems undignified to label this 'popular science', because the number of references shows clearly that this has been as thoroughly researched as any serious scientific book. The only thing, really, that puts it into the popular category is the lack of note markers in the text - which is nice, until you get to the notes and realise how hard it is to relate them back... a very minor gripe.

Maryanne Wolf's title alludes to the different aspects of reading exemplified by Proust's description of the book, in 'On Reading', as a place to take refuge and explore other realities and ideas, and the part the squid has played in the historical study of the brain. If you like, it's the felt experience of the reader complemented by the mechanics behind the scenes. The book is divided into three main parts: how the brain learned to read - a retrospective of the history of reading and brain science; how the brain learns to read over time - what we know or believe now about reading acquisition; and when the brain can't learn to read - a survey of current research and developments in dyslexia.

Wolf's style is delightful. Even when she is explaining the complexities of brain imaging and how that might relate to reading development, she is never less than fluid (though I suspect I fell into the trap that, she tells us, Socrates feared would arise through literacy: that of ceasing to question, and reading without truly understanding!). It's not the kind of book where you find yourself so bogged down in the technical descriptions you are unable to move forward. The science is leavened with anecdotes from her own research and family life and seasoned with numerous interesting literary and historical references (personal favourite: Eliot's analogies for Casaubon's mind from Middlemarch).

Wolf closes with a call to arms to urgently consider the implications for the current generation of schoolchildren of 'growing up digital', repeatedly worrying at the notion that the ease of access to information provided by the internet may produce a crop of children with little or no curiosity about exploring texts further than their surfaces.

I found this completely fascinating from just about every perspective: the history of reading, writing and alphabets, which I knew very little about; the process of language acquisition, which was particularly interesting as my youngest child is at the stage of beginning to reliably recognise letters; dyslexia, which I knew absolutely nothing about (nice too that Wolf uses The Lightning Thief for an epigraph in one of these chapters); and her personal mission statement in the final chapter. Everyone with an interest in reading should seek it out.
jazzy_dave: (bookish)
Carolyn Cassady "Off The Road" (Black Spring Press)








The tone of Carolyn Cassady's memoir of her time with Jack Cassady has a bit of an undercurrent that seems hard to believe until she reveals a bit of truth in an incident with her teenage children one night. After finding out that an evening with their estranged father and Ken Keasey's band of Merry Prankster's has not lived up to expectations: Both of them admitted to a certain amount of disillusionment, now that they had seen their idols as ordinary people. My sacrifice had not been in vain.

In reading Off the Road, one realizes that without being a character in Kerouac's novels, her time with him would have amounted to being nothing but being the wife of a serial cheater, general compulsive (drugs, gambling, any other hobby of the moment), absentee father and classic man-child. But he was who he was and this memoir was realized in 1990 - during one of many revivals of all things Beat. One cannot blame the woman for wanting to recount this time with these men she knew before they all became famous, but it is clear that while she feels a need to live up to the legend, she still wants them to be seen as mere men. After all, she sacrificed the better portion of her younger life to living the attitude many individuals are content to read about or play at for a weekend or two.

Carolyn's version of events is well-packed with letters from Ginsberg and Kerouac (the latter who she had her own affair with, the former who she became friends with after he wanted to make up for having his own affairs with Neil). It's also a reminder of the limitations for women in the late forties and early fifties if hey found themselves in the precarious position of being the main breadwinner for a family. Portions of the memoir do drag when discussing the benefits of Edgar Cayce's Spirituality, but it becomes understandable as both Ginsberg and Kerouac begin their own spiritual journeys. She is very protective of the lives of her children, mentioning them only when absolutely necessary in the story. I do respect this protection, but as the story drags on through Neal's various exploits and her seemingly limitless ability to forgive for the sake of the family, I did find myself wondering why (since this was published in 1990 - nearly 30 years after Neal's death), there was no mention of any impact this rocky relationship had on them later in life.

What struck me most is the level of naivete that she displayed at the beginning of her relationship with Neal. There were quite a few moments that caught me rolling my eyes in disbelief. However, I guess that so would she have the benefit of hindsight. What Off the Road did really well for me was to portray the double standards that built the basis of On the Road - and which are not mentioned by Kerouac.
jazzy_dave: (bookish)
John Gribbin "The Fellowship: The Story of a Revolution" (Penguin)





Gribbin’s devotion to all things scientific makes him the perfect person to write about the early days of the scientific revolution and the Royal Society, England’s premier scientific society (and still in existence today). The Society was founded in November 1660 as a group of 12 natural philosophers with the aim of creating experiments which would allow them to understand the laws of nature and the universe without bias from religion or previous suppositions.

Gribbin’s history narrates the lives of some two dozen scientists and thinkers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. While it seems a little heavy on biographical detail at times, the various threads to come together to give a very good picture of the creation of the scientific method. A decent start for those looking background on the history of science.
jazzy_dave: (bookish)
John Eidinow  and David Edmonds "Wittgenstein's Poker" (Faber & Faber)






Edmonds and Eidinow provide a fascinating window into a very brief, yet meaningful exchange between several of the greatest philosophers of the twentieth century- Ludwig Wittgenstein, Karl Popper, and Bertrand Russell.

Wittgenstein and many of the philosophy faculty, graduate students and other scholars would gather weekly in a classroom on the campus of King's College in England for great philosophical discussions and stimulating debates.

On this particular occasion, at one of their meetings on a day in late October of 1946, Karl Popper was in the area giving a lecture and was invited to attend the meeting of the moral philosophy club. Wittgenstein's brief argument with Popper, which took place at that small classroom at King's College in the presence of Bertrand Russell and a handful of graduate philosophy students has become the stuff of legend.

Wittgenstein and Popper reportedly debated back and forth about their differing perspectives on the deep philosophical and linguistic argument at hand- including by some accounts Wittgenstein accentuating his point with a poker from the fireplace. Following this brief exchange, Wittgenstein reportedly made his point, threw down the poker and left the room. Reports differ as to who won the argument, but it has become part of both of their enduring philosophical legacies.

This thoughtful book sets the scene for this interesting exchange. The authors also provide a fascinating background into the early life and upbringing of both Wittgenstein and Popper- Wittgenstein as the son of a wealthy European oil tycoon who endured much tragedy in his younger life and eschewed wealth and privilege in his adult life; Popper coming from a more austere working class background.

A concise window into Wittgenstein's (and to some degree Popper and Russell's) works is also provided. Wittgenstein had published his brilliant yet somewhat obtuse "Tractatus Logico Philosophicus" some years earlier. Popper had written "The Open Society and Its Enemies," which was a scathing critique of authoritarianism and further developed the "open society" concept put forth by Bergson.

This book is a fascinating read, and provides enough concise background that one does not have to be a philosophy scholar to enjoy and benefit greatly from reading it. I highly recommend it!
jazzy_dave: (bookish)
Ian Stewart "Calculating The Cosmos" (Profile Books)







From space exploration to astronomy to astrophysics to cosmology these are unusual topics for prominent mathematics popularizer Stewart. However, it almost seems that his real purpose here is to express scepticism about dark matter, cosmological inflation, dark energy, the Big Bang itself, and "fine-tuning" arguments. Sure, he says a lot about the role of mathematics in the various topics, but almost entirely using words rather than symbols and equations. This does make the book more digestible and informative for many readers but is not rigorous for those like myself who prefer it chunkier with the equations thrown in. Personally, I would opt for the Roger Penrose book "The Road To Reality" to give me the real meat of the subject.  
jazzy_dave: (bookish)
Clive Gamble "Thinking Big" (Thames and Hudson)






At the core of the "Social Brain" hypothesis is the suggestion that social group size in primates is limited by the relative size of the neocortex. This posed a challenge for the early hominins who moved beyond the forest habitats occupied by their ancestors, as in open habitats, they would be more vulnerable to predators and their main defence would be that of a belonging to a larger group. At the same time, increased group size also makes direct contact between individuals more difficult. Physical grooming - a primary means of maintaining relationships in primate groups - must be replaced by other, more symbolic connections (such as language) if the group is to remain cohesive. In meeting these challenges, our ancestors embarked on a process of brain evolution which facilitated larger effective group sizes and the transmission of innovations over long distances and between widely scattered groups. This capacity to handle large, dispersed, social networks is the key to human evolution.

It's a persuasive thesis. However, it is significant that this book does not represent a balanced synthesis of all the disciplines which have contributed to the "Social Brain" hypothesis. Rather, it emphasises the work of the 7 year long "Lucy to Language" project which focused on the archaeological evidence. and the book reflects the strengths and weaknesses of this emphasis.

I tend to look for strong evidence and assess it objectively. I found the evidence for the rule of three and Dunbar's number, as presented, a little weak, given that humans tend to find patterns even in random numbers. More particularly, the aspect that I found most disconcerting is that, in places, the book asserted the social brain hypothesis as though it were established fact, thereby displaying a rather worrying bias, given that many, if not most, people do not accept that the hypothesis is well established. In other parts, the book was much more cautious about the speculation that group size drove brain size and hence human evolution. With the addition of more objective skepticism, the account made for more pleasant and indeed, for me as an outsider, very interesting reading.

It is relevant to add that, great apes aside, there is much less evidence for the social patterns of our hominid ancestors and one can well take the view that even wild speculation is better than nothing (provided that it is not taken too seriously). In Thinking Big, the speculation is mostly carefully explained. All in all, it seemed to me to be a valiant attempt to peer through the mists surrounding our prehistoric past, albeit that I did not always find the assertions about the glimpsed apparition convincing.
jazzy_dave: (bookish)
Naomi Alderman "The Power" (Viking)





This novel was dramatised as a book of the week by Radio 4 during the last year, and I had this in hardback finishing it over the weekend. It took longer to read than expected and the reasons for this will be explained below.

At the heart of gender politics is the question of whether men and women are inherently different, or are shaped by our experiences. The Power takes this on by asking, what would happen if women gained a physical advantage over men? Would the world be transformed into a nurturing, empathetic utopia? Or do women and men who get power inevitably exploit it?

The novel is framed as the manuscript of a (subservient) male academic called Neil, writing five thousand years in the future, which he has sent to ‘Naomi’ for review. He is trying to make sense of events that occurred in our present.

The story begins when adolescent girls suddenly develop the power to deliver electric shocks. They can also awaken a latent power in some adult women. This causes dramatic social change, told through the stories of three female and one male character. Roxy is a teenager from an East End gangster family, Ally, an American of around the same age who is running from abusive carers, Margot an ambitious US governor and single parent and Tunde, an ambitious freelance journalist from Nigeria.

What’s interesting is that not all girls and women have the same power. Some have greater electrical capacity, and some are better able to control and use what they have. But there are also those who have the vision to see how the world is changing and how to use existing structures to exploit it. Immediately power begins to shift.

Women in countries from Saudi Arabia to India rise up. The three female characters all see opportunities – Roxy in organised crime, Ally by starting the religious cult of Mother Eve and Margot by organising a public-private paramilitary organisation. Tunde travels the world documenting change and finds both allies and anger among the women he meets.

The first part of the book also takes a nuanced approach to what the power might mean. At times the power is turned against women. They are barred from certain posts if they have it. There is the talk of restrictions and cures. Teenage girls turn on each other. But as their power becomes more entrenched and men begin to encounter the limitations that some women do now (like not leaving home without the permission of a female guardian) it highlights to the reader how wrong and bizarre they are.

As the novel went on though, I found my attention wandering and I struggled to finish it. There are a couple of reasons. The plot loses its way and the ending is a bit of a cop-out. There’s a certain amount of exposition. But the key problem is in the narration.

When I think of the dystopian novels I’ve enjoyed the most (eg 1984, The Handmaid’s Tale) they show the workings of society through the perspective of one character. You gain a rich, immersive sense of the fear and the humiliation and the tedium they face every day. Here we have a kind of helicopter view. The four main characters and those around them just aren’t that interesting as individuals and their stories overlap in ways that aren’t always convincing.

They are all in positions of power and influence in some way, perhaps because those are the stories that would survive. They are all single at the start of the book so we don’t see how the changes affect long-term relationships and the institutions of marriage and the family (key areas for feminists). We also don’t have much sense of what happens to women and girls who have the physical power but no social or economic capital to exploit.

The book ends with Naomi commenting on Neil’s manuscript, in particular being mildly dismissive of his assertion that men once dominated society, because there is little evidence of it in the historical record. Neil insists that is because those who have power decide what is history. This shows both the strength and weakness of the book to me. It’s a nice reversal and makes its point, but the point is quite an obvious one. Despite my caveats, it is still a good read. 
jazzy_dave: (bookish)
Nick Hornby "Stuff I've Been Reading" (Penguin Books)




I was unaware of the existence of The Believer, the magazine for which Nick Hornby writes a regular book review column and his columns are always amusing, and there is an overlap in our tastes when it comes to Muriel Spark. One of the reasons we both like her is that her wonderful books are so short, often under 200 pages long.

The assembled columns go from mid-2006 to the end of 2011 (though he skipped 2009), all very deftly written with self-deprecating humour, aware of his own prejudices. One of the delights of the book is his discovery of YA literature as a thing of beauty, starting with Skellig (which I have read) and then Tom's Midnight Garden (which I have not). Sadly Hornby refuses to read anything science fiction-ish.
jazzy_dave: (bookish)
Jennifer Clement "Widow Basquiat: A Memoir" (Canongate Books)




In Widow Basquiat, Jennifer Clement writes of Suzanne Mallouk's encounter with Jean-Michel Basquiat and the art and club scene in NYC in the early 80s. She profiles Basquiat's one-time lover, friend, and muse in a series of short, poetic vignettes interspersed with what appear to be the subject's own recollections. Clement selects evocative details to convey people, time, and place.

The book withholds judgement. Drug use and promiscuity are shown for what they were in these people's lives at the time.

At first, I wasn't sure whether the collection of vignettes would be perhaps too sketchy to be satisfying, but by the end of the book, I had changed my mind.

In fact, I enjoyed the style of this book very much. The writer used even the rhythm of the text to convey the mood of a very dark glittery tumult that surrounded Suzanne in this. I found it very easy to become enthralled and empathetic with the characters portrayed.

Conserve

Jan. 5th, 2019 11:56 am
jazzy_dave: (jazzy drinker)
A dull ache of a whitewashed drenched sky awaiting sunshine. Perhaps it will come. Perhaps not. The long ache of waiting till Thursday too. That day two or three of the companies I work for are paying my remunerations - a couple of three-figure sums. I am still expecting one from Service Monitor to come into my account for Monday or Tuesday. Between these days and now I am having to lie low and conserve. Conserve the meagre funds left till then.
jazzy_dave: (bookish)
Megan Hunter "The End We Start From" (Picador)







I completed this short novella in two sessions in between watching Voyager on Netflix.

Humanity lies at the heart of the dystopian story. Why does she say ‘’presumed’’ to refer to a past incident? An accident we all have faced, especially when commuting daily. Is the spreading of inhumanity and personal isolation one of the signs and causes of disaster? Perhaps we need to face a universal catastrophe in order to realise how wrong we have been, how imprisoned in our microcosm? The mother doesn’t answer her own questions, she contemplates, tries to find something that could possibly make sense and hold on until a new day dawns.

To talk about themes, characters and language in this book seem to, in my opinion, be dry and completely unnecessary. There is no dialogue, only short sentences that reminded me of the best examples of existential poetry. And yet, in two short paragraphs, there is more character development than we meet in whole chapters in other books. The mother’s voice is completely humane, sometimes desperate, most of the times calm and acute.

The story of Noah from the Old Testament, the Greek myth of Deucalion and Pyrrha are constantly used in the narration. Most civilizations have their own myth of the Flood as a punishment for the avarice of men. Perhaps, mankind has been afraid of the power of water since the beginning of Time, perhaps we’ve known the damage we cause to everything that was given to us. There are also many references to myths of the Creation from many different cultures.

I don't think that anyone who is going to read this novel will manage to remain indifferent. It is a beautiful book, with a moving, profound and hopeful conclusion.
jazzy_dave: (bookish)
Margaret Atwood "The Penelopiad" (Canongate Books)




The Odyssey is a long epic poem about gods and warriors and the ultimate Trophy Wife. In the Penelopiad, Margaret Atwood spins this tale on its head.

The Penelopiad is a very slim volume- not even reaching 200 pages, with very wide margins. The Trojan War takes up only two pages of the book. And yet, Atwood's simple phrases get the job done.

We see Penelope as a real person, not as the flatly-characterized, devoted wife millennia of storytellers have given us. She has a wry sense of humour, she is self-deprecatory, she is clever, she has a difficult son and an unfaithful husband. And she makes a great effort to do the best she can in the twenty years her husband is away.

We get her perspective from Hades, as she walks through death, meeting people such as her cousin Helen (presented brilliantly as a stuck-up young woman obsessed with her own beauty). She gives great commentary about modern life by telling us she sometimes shows up at seances to learn about life today, and wonders why people are so obsessed with this "Marilyn" woman.

But the most moving parts of the story, in my opinion, is in the chorus of the twelve hanged maids, and in the ways they attempt - by way of a 21st century court, and a college lecture - to be granted justice for what was done to them by Odysseus and Telemachus, and in the haunting way they choose to go after Odysseus, after death.

With The Penelopiad, Atwood brings to life the other side of The Odyssey- that of the many women left behind to tend hearth and home. She revitalizes the character of Penelope, making her a solid, practical woman who loves her husband, even though she might not think he deserves it. For such a slim volume, The Penelopiad packs a punch. Highly recommended.
jazzy_dave: (bookish)
Martin Williams "Jazz In Its Time" (Oxford Univ. Press)




Jazz In Its Time is a collection of Martin Williams' short record reviews, columns, and articles first published in Down Beat, Jazz Times, Metronome, and Saturday Review. In addition, several LP record annotations are included.

Williams covers a wide range of jazz musicians in these fairly brief pieces, including Sidney Bechet, Pee Wee Russell, Lester Young, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Teddy Wilson, Fats Navarro, Art Farmer and Jim Hall, Sonny Stitt, and Jacki Byard.

In a section entitled "Appreciations," Williams gathers together what he calls "profile-appreciations," slightly longer essays on six fairly well-known jazz artists: Lee Konitz, Lionel Hampton, Bud Freeman, Thad Jones, Bobby Hackett, and Harry Carney. In these pieces, Williams deftly summarizes the musicians' contributions to jazz while at the same time presenting readers with a glimpse of these figures as individuals away from the nightclub stage and recording studio.

The record annotations included here also reflect Williams' wide range of expertise in the important task of writing liner notes. His comments deal with LP records by Count Basie, Charlie Parker, The Modern Jazz Quartet, and a rather diverse group of trumpeters: Freddy Keppard, Tommy Ladnier, King Oliver, Louis Armstrong, Henry 'Red' Allen, Dizzy Gillespie, and Miles Davis.
Williams covers a lot of territories, and in the process offers a number of judgements about developments in jazz. For example, while acknowledging the seminal influence of Miles Davis' record, Bitches Brew, on the jazz "fusion" movement, Williams argues that fusion was basically an artistic "dead end." Williams also comments on such pivotal figures during this period as John Coltrane and Miles Davis, as well as two musicians who belong to the movement once called the "New Thing" -- Eric Dolphy and Ornette Coleman. Williams' remarks on both Dolphy and Coleman reflect his genuine admiration for their contributions to jazz, a position that not many American jazz critics took at that time.

Jazz In Its Time is a book that rewards its readers through its author's use of clear, jargon-free prose that offers pleasurable reading while at the same time educating jazz fans on some of the greatest musicians and most controversial trends in jazz history.
jazzy_dave: (bookish)
David Byrne "How Music Works" (Canongate Books)





Byrne, like Devo frontman Mark Mothersbaugh, has remained very active in music, even though the days of large stadium shows have long passed him by. If your tastes venture beyond Top-40 or American Idol, then when David Bryne talks, it's worth taking the time to listen.

How Music Works is a chimaera of a book. In parts, Bryne does explain the evolution of music from primitive man, and how it functions on a subconscious level. This ground has already been recently covered by Alex Ross in his excellent book "The Rest is Noise," which is duly credited by Bryne. But of greatest interest to me was how the industry works -- and how it evolved from a label-centric distribution model to today's internet free-for-all. Bryne tells us about the finance of the business -- how in the day of the label, bands might be courted with private planes and mountains of cocaine, but all of that expense was applied against advances given to artists, and in many cases, blockbuster albums could net little or no profit. The real money is in song credits that could provide perpetual income. In this, Byrne has done quite well for himself, well enough to eke out a career in music with the resources to conduct his own financial experiments in music distribution. He has discovered the label no longer plays a pivotal role for artists seeking a profit. A label can create greater exposure but at greater cost. When the artist can keep a majority of profits from the get-go, as long as he has some following, a decent wage can be earned. Byrne explains that today, the means to create a top-notch recording are within the means of anyone so inclined with a PC and skills. This also cuts down or eliminates recording studio expense (many famous studios have been shuttering their doors of late).

And of course, we get anecdotes from Byrne's colourful career. We learn about the inner-workings of that magical New York nightclub, CBGB, and how the likes of The Ramones, Blondie, Patty Smith, and The Talking Heads all rose from neighbourhood rats to international prominence, ostensibly on the wave of punk rock, although in the case of The Talking Heads, they never really fit the canonical punk motif.

Since the book is a collection of essays, sometimes the same subjects (and indeed the same references) come up several times, making the book occasionally repetitive. Unless you're a working musician, the book provides details about how music is currently made and consumed that you've probably never thought about before. That's a great thing for a book to do.

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