January 28, 2008

Oh that whacky Mingus!

Category: Music — Cranky @

In 1956, bassist and jazz composer Charles Mingus brought to vinyl a sublime masterpiece called “Pithecanthropus Erectus”. I was lucky enough to find a copy of it in a local music store, and this weekend I gave it the attention it deserves. It’s a beautiful example of directed improvisation, and I’m amazed when I listen to it.

Five musicians brought this music to the world. The saxophones were contributed by Jackie McLean on tenor and J.R. Monterose on alto, Mal Waldrun played piano, and Willie Jones played the drums. With Charles Mingus guiding the flow on the acoustic bass, the title track takes us through a four part story of early man, from walking erect to bringing about his own downfall.

Mingus didn’t write this piece of music. He presented it in a series of broad strokes, defining the framework for the piece, but each musician was allowed to bring his own style and interpretation to the performance. That’s not to say this came together easily. There are stories of fistfights between Mingus and McLean, and the antagonism between the performers is the stuff of jazz legends, but when it finally hit vinyl the result was something nobody had seen before.

There are times when the saxophones diverge and devolve into discord, with each performer pulling notes from their instrument as if they were using a crowbar, and then suddenly everything slips back into synchronization in a way that seems perfectly natural and right. Pithecanthropus Erectus is a piece about individuality, teamwork, and simple mastery of jazz, and when I listen to it the 50-odd years since its recording simply fall way.

To somebody who does not “get” jazz, the attraction is difficult to explain. An album like this is about musicianship, flow, and intuitive nuance. Sometimes I wish I could unplug the part of my brain that responds to certain types of music and plug it directly into the brain of the person to whom I’m speaking. Wouldn’t that be handy?


January 22, 2008

Look! That bottle has a cork. It must be great wine!

Category: Social — Cranky @

Over the last couple of years I have been learning a lot about wine. I’ve learned about the regions in which they are produced, the types of grapes used, and the basics of the process. I’ve learned about oak barrels, tannins, and flavonoids. I’ve learned about history, and about tradition.

When I first began to really look at wine seriously, I found the rich red wines were a bit too much for my palate. That situation was swiftly rectified, and now I prefer a nice merlot or a shiraz to nearly any white or blush offerings, although a light ehrenfelser is sometimes a treat. I learned some of the subtleties involved in tasting, and subsequently describing, a wine. Words like “oaky”, “buttery”, and “bouquet” are no longer opaque, and I understand why proper serving temperature is stressed so heavily. An overly chilled red wine is a mistake!

In my travels I have perused discussion forums, consulted “experts”, read countless reviews, and I’ve learned one more thing.

At least 9 out of 10 wine “connoisseurs” are completely full of shit.

What is it about wine that makes it so attractive to pricks and poseurs? I read a review of a wine that I particularly liked where the “expert” said, “I wouldn’t give this to my dog.” I’ve seen posers use words like “ethereal” and “pedestrian” to describe wine – singularly unhelpful terms of no value. I’ve listened to people talk with disdain about commonly enjoyed varieties, apparently in the belief that something available to the masses can’t possibly be decent.

Wines, like cigars, attract critics who enjoy stomping all over the opinions of the common man. I can’t taste a wine and tell you the vineyard and the year, but I can tell a jackass from 100 yards or more.

For all of the hypercritical pinheads who just can’t wait to tell me how bad my taste in wines is: my fondest hope is that you descend into alcoholism, lose your house and savings, and are reduced to buying $4 bottles of “little-c” champagne one shopping cart full of empties at a time.


January 11, 2008

Now It's Time For, "Ask Mr. Daniels!"

Category: Entertainment — Cranky @

Trevor from Ohio asks: “I often find myself feeling less than confident and nervous when I am pressed into social situations. How would you suggest that I address this problem?”

Jack: At the bottom of every bottle of our fine, charcoal mellowed, Tennessee whisky is a little thing we like to call “liquid courage”. Trust us to bring you through your evening.

Jane from Omaha asks: “I feel depressed for weeks at a time, hardly moving. Can you help me?”

Jack: When depressed, many people don’t take the time to drink enough fluids. While we aren’t psychologists, we can help. One bottle of our wonderful sipping whiskey each day and you’ll be better off. It’s made with cool, pure spring water.

Jeff from Kamloops asks: “My girlfriend of five years and I have been fighting a lot. She wants to get married, and I don’t. Should we just give up and separate?”

Jack: We pride ourselves on our whiskey, which draws its beautiful amber colour and rich flavour from the toasted oak inside each white oak barrel. The toasting process caramelizes the wood’s sugars. We also pride ourselves of our long, rich tradition of helping men just like you to remember just who wears the pants in your relationship.

Joy from Toronto asks: “Sometimes I want to go home with guys I meet at the bar, but I’m so worried about what people will say about me if I do. Is there any way to let my inner slut loose?”

Jack: I’m so glad you asked that, Joy. We’ve been making the ideal excuse since we were first licensed in 1866! All you have to say is, “Did I really? I can’t remember anything from last night!”

Luke from Seattle asks: “I’m unhappy in my job, but in this market I would be foolish to quit. What can I do to liven up my workday?”

Jack: Your workday may be a lost cause. But if you drink a bottle of our 1904 Gold Medal Series whiskey and stand next to a phone with your bosses home phone number in your hand, you will probably find that your problem has been solved for you in the traditional fashion.

Frank from Norman Wells asks: “Sometimes the day after I drink your product, I feel nauseous, dizzy, and just plain terrible.”

Jack: We’ve heard isolated reports of this type of reaction. Just remember – if you don’t stop drinking, it won’t happen.

Thank you, Jack, for your words of wisdom.