Jan 15 2012
Know Your ABCs: An Album, a Book, and a Cat
Here’s your new Sunday edition of Know Your ABCs…
Your Album: Tiny Resistors, by Todd Sickafoose
Your Book: Nevermen, by Phil Amara & Guy Davis
Your Cat: Moe Tippy Toes, a farm cat who’s ready to move up to the sofa set.
TINY RESISTORS, an Album by Todd Sickafoose
Bassist Todd Sickfoose, perhaps better known as a mainstay in Ani DiFranco’s band, released one of 2008’s best jazz albums. Tiny Resistors is justifiably regarded as one the finest examples of fusing the modern Indie-Rock sound in a jazz framework. Resplendent with odd meters, drifting melodies, and an eclectic array of instrumentation, Sickafoose has created an epic story-like album perched firmly on the fringes of jazz. And in this instance, the fringes probably ain’t even found on this planet.
Your album personnel: Todd Sickafoose (acoustic & electric bass, piano, Wurlitzer, vibraphone, marimba, bells, celeste, accordion), Shane Endsley (trumpet) Ben Wendel (tenor sax, bassoon), Alan Ferber (trombone), Skerik (baritone sax), Adam Levy (guitar), Mike Gamble (guitar, effects), Allison Miller (drums, percussion), Simon Lott (drums, percussion), Andrew Bird (violin, whistling, loops), and Ani DiFranco (voice & electric ukulele).
Great albums have the effect of removing me from the spot where my feet are touching the ground, of creating a subtle shift in perception whereby everything looks a little bit different, a little more hopeful, a bit more happy, and kinda cool. I’m not talking about an out-of-body experience, but something transcendent about the moments that fall between the album’s first note and its last. It’s why I treasure music and why I spend way more hours than I probably should scouring new releases lists and streaming countless samples in the search for the next uplifting, challenging, and joyful album to include in my life. Tiny Resistors is one of those albums.
Bouncy strings, long high calls of trumpet, sax growls, trombone pronouncements, baritone sax back-alley muggings, forlorn piano lines, and the oddly identifiable whistling of Indie-darling Andrew Bird. Those are just some of the sounds that are added to the mix. It’s a complex soup with plenty of ingredients, but somehow they all work together (an excellent flavor profile, I believe, is how it would be phrased on Top Chef).
But no matter how Sickafoose dissects a melody and rearranges it into his own personal Frankenstein, he also knows how to shape one that’s simple, polish it, and let it shine…
Another aspect of this album I enjoy is how Sickafoose arranges the various instruments, layers them atop one another, hemming them in, and stringing them together. It forces me to engage the album on its own terms, and its depth is why I discover different facets of the album on subsequent listenings. It keeps me coming back to it…
… And it creates a celebratory mood that gets me smiling no matter what kind of day I’ve had. That is, I suppose, a pretty powerful effect to have upon a listener. It is, for me, and it’s why I still trumpet this album years after it came out. Just brilliant.
Released on the Cryptogramophone label. Jazz from the Brooklyn scene.
Download a free album track at AllAboutJazz, courtesy of the artist and label.
Available at Amazon: CD | MP3
NEVERMEN, a Book by Phil Amara & Guy Davis
The scene is The City. It looks very much like New York. The time is Today. Today looks very much like the roaring twenties. There are heroes and villains. They have no powers, per se, but are the result of science and experimental genetic mutation. What we’re given is a mob story, a la The Untouchables, where the main players aren’t the Feds, but mutated skin-grated individuals, a la Neuromancer. For the serious comics fans, it’s Marshall Law set in the world of Sandman Mystery Theatre.
The Nevermen protect The City. They wear the fedoras and trench coats of the times. They’re equipped with a variety of handy technology. Also, it’s tough to kill them. One of their own has gone missing. As they protect The City from extortionists and arsonists and mob bosses and the leader of an undead army, the Nevermen search for clues as to their partner’s disappearance.
Meanwhile, the League of Crows, a society of professional thieves, have stolen the blueprints for the city’s power network. Cadaver, a crime boss who can detach every part of his body and function fully, is making a move on the other mob leaders. Manboulian leads his army of zombies through the city to plunder its riches and its ancient artifacts; he speaks only in poetic form and riddles. A former Neverman, who goes by the name of Murderist, has gone rogue in his search for the missing Neverman, crossing paths with them to the detriment of both. There is a mad scientist building a machine that will destroy time and everything else with it; he misses his son terribly. And then there is the Professor, who lives in a tower high atop a hill that overlooks The City and all its skyscrapers. He watches everything. The Nevermen begin to suspect that he has something to do with their missing partner, the increasing strangeness of crimes being committed, and maybe even their origin. The Professor has a child, an android seven feet tall and not unlike a skeletal angel; he is learning about life and, perhaps, ready to be his own man. All of these elements merge together as the story approaches its conclusion. Also, giant fighting robots and motorcycle chases, which is always pretty cool.
Phil Amara does the scripting. He appears to have worked almost exclusively for Dark Horse Comics titles, mostly on Aliens and Predator titles, and some Star Wars, too. Guy Davis handles the art. He first gained some recognition, when his title Baker Street was nominated for a Harvey Award. Later, he went on to work for Vertigo’s noir mystery title Sandman Mystery Theatre. More recently, he’s worked on the Hellboy spinoff B.P.R.D. Amara succinct deadpan voice matched seamlessly with Davis’s sharp sketch-pad lines and angles. In most comics, it’s easy to point to either the writer or artist as the major contributor to the feel or vibe of the story, but on Nevermen, it looks like a dead tie.
The story begins in black & white, which I typically don’t much care for, but in this instance, it fits the story perfectly, and later on when it moves to color, I found myself missing the old black & white format a bit. But the inking is in dark autumn colors and they enhance the noirish ambiance of the story to a tee. The earliest chapters to the story are very clipped, more like vignettes than actual storyline. I found myself re-reading them several times, certain that I was missing something. However, as the story unfolds, those vignettes become clearer, both in the way that they set the table for the complexities to come, but also in how they frame the style of the story, too. A brilliant effort, and one of those titles that flew under the radar, but deserves much better.
Put out on the Darkhorse Comics imprint. It was collected into a trade.
Available at Amazon: Paperback
MOE TIPPY-TOES, a farm Cat ready for a sofa set
Meet Moe Tippy-Toes. He was one of three siblings, all boys, who were dropped off at the Humane Society from a nearby farm. They were all kittens when they first got here, and feral as hell. They were kept in a tall cat condo (cage), and whenever I got inside it to remove their litter for cleaning or to give them fresh food and water, they’d hiss dramatically at me from the top shelves. Sometimes one of them (usually Moe) would swat at the top of my head and yank my cap off. They were the most ferocious puffs of fur ever seen.
Obviously one of Moe’s parents was a manx, because Moe’s two siblings had no tail, just rumpies; they were adopted pretty quick. Moe has a full tail, domestic short hair, and all black except for tiny blocks of white on his paws. In the time we’ve had him, he’s gone from feral to homebody. He has become the sweetest cat around. Whenever a new cat comes to us, he takes care of them, grooms them, plays with them, and cuddles with them during naps. If an older bigger cat tries bullying a smaller cat, Moe comes to their rescue and chases the bigger cat off. It’s amazing what a love bug he’s become.
He’s fixed, up to date on all his shots, and tested negative for feline leukemia. He knows what a litter box is and how to use it. He’s not a noisy cat; I can’t recall him ever making a racket meowing like mad.
More information on Moe Tippy-Toes is available at the Mercer (KY) Humane Society at (859) 734-9500, mercerhumane.com. If you are unable to adopt, you may sponsor his adoption, or the adoption of any cat, by contacting the office.
Jan 22 2012
Know Your ABCs: An Album, a Book, and a Cat
Here’s your Sunday edition of Know Your ABCs…
Your Album: The Scenic Route, by Kamikaze Ground Crew
Your Book: The Masked Man, a comic series by BC Boyer.
Your Cats: Thomas O’Mally & Marie
THE SCENIC ROUTE, an Album by the Kamikaze Ground Crew
Consisting of Downtown New York musicians who begun their collaboration as a pit band for the Flying Karamazov Brothers, the Kamikaze Ground Crew has an ever-evolving sound that changes with their ever-changing line-up. Able to play jazz and blues with a straight-ahead approach that can quickly veer into avant-garde territory. Active on both the jazz and theater scenes, not to mention collaborations and projects of their own that fall over the genre map. As a collective, they’re fantastic, and individually, they’re a treasure map to all types of other great music.
Your album personnel: Gina Leishman (alto sax, bass clarinet, accordion, ukelele, piano, keyboards, vocals), Doug Wieselman (clarinets, saxophones, guitars, mandolin, penny whistle), Bob Lipton (tuba), Danny Frankel (drums, percussion), Jeff Cressman (trombone, baritone horn, slide whistle), Steven Bernstein (trumpet, piccolo trumpet, cornet, flugelhorn, Tuba), and Peter Apfelbaum (tenor sax, claro-sax, clarinet, recorder). They all chip in for the Bottle Choir part.
The Scenic Route was released in 1990 on the New World Records label. It ain’t an album that sounds the same from beginning to end. There are the joyous shouts of New Orleans jazz, deconstructed assemblages of dustbowl blues, trapeze displays of avant-garde shenanigans, and enigmatic Frankensteins of cabaret, classical, and R&B. There’s something here for everybody, but nobody gets to have it all.
There are moments of heartbreaking beauty…
… where sometimes I feel Miles Davis and sometimes I hear Tom Waits. The impressions, I suppose, are limitless with collectives like Kamikaze Ground Crew, because the shifting sounds and alternating personnel mean a limitless supply of contributing voices and visions.
Sometimes they lean back and shout out the blues…
… drenched with the euphoric joy that seems so contradictory to the place the blues comes from. I can’t get enough of it.
I discovered this album on one of my random browsing trips to Reckless Records (Chicago, IL). If an album or artist isn’t familiar to me, I give it a listen, and sometimes I am stunned by the simple majesty of discovering a moment of creativity that, somehow, never made it onto my radar. I think I purchased The Scenic Route back in 2006 (or thereabout), and I’m still in love with it. I’ve also purchased several other albums my KGC, all wonderful, and continue to collect other recordings. Also, let me reemphasize, the musicians involved with KGC, on this recording and others, have worked on some fantastic projects of their own. Steven Bernstein with his Millenial Territorial Orchestra received some Best of 2011 recognition recently, and Kenny Wollesen (who appears on other KGC albums) has been mentioned glowingly on this site, too. Highly recommended.
Available at Amazon: CD | MP3
THE MASKED MAN, a Book by BC Boyer
The Masked Man is really Dick Carstairs, a private detective, who originally dons his simple blue mask as a way of drumming up some stories for his buddy reporter Barney McCallister (the sidekick). He has no special powers. He uses his fists. He’s a brawler. He keeps a watch over his neighborhood. And he’s shows as not just a man-of-the-street, but a superhero-of-the-street, too; no angelic imagery of a caped crusader standing on rooftops and looking benevolently down over the city. He fights muggers, gangsters, various neighborhood lowlifes, and the occasional odd personality. B.C. Boyer handles both script and art.
By way of comparison, I would describe the Masked Man as Will Eisner’s The Spirit living in a Twin Peaks world.
There are fistfights with mobsters, encounters with inept copycat “superheroes”, a love interest with the mysterious Maggie Brown (who may or may not actually be blind), an undercover cop disguised as a neighborhood weirdo, a newspaper editor who has it in for MM, a wily reporter looking to push Barney out of the way and become MM’s new sidekick, the Architecture Terrorists, and the Rigatoni (a treasure of immense value and unknown identity).
There are stories of what it means to be a hero, of what it means to value friendship, to learn how to trust and hope and strive to be a better person. The stories are of common themes in an exaggerated world. They are stories that wear their heart on their sleeve, but express no amount of preachiness or naivete. These are nuanced tales of good versus evil, with some acknowledgment of the grey areas in between and some thoughtful investigation into the identity of the extremes. There is also some tongue-in-cheek deconstruction of superhero story themes (as was beginning to happen during the 80s & 90s as the comics industry began to explore its own identity).
What appeals to me about the character: I enjoy the minimalist superhero approach, how the Masked Man barely has a disguise and no powers other than his natural physical abilities, his intelligence, and his courage. I like how he fights everyday-type criminals and doesn’t have any arch enemies with trillion dollar ray-guns looking to hold the world hostage or mutant genes that turned them into criminal deities. He could’ve just as easily been me. Or, more to the point, anybody could be a Masked Man. It was that same quality that made me forever a fan of Daredevil during the Frank Miller run, when DD lost his “powers” and Stick had to mentor DD back to health, telling him that the radioactive isotope that blinded him as a child wasn’t the source of his powers, that the “powers” that DD had were in him all along, that they were in everyone. That particular view of power, that everyone possesses the ability to be a superhero like DD or The Masked Man, of bringing the heroes back to our level by saying we’re are all made of the same heroic clay, it makes it so easy to personalize people in masks and secret identities as “just one of us”, while still admiring them and calling them heroes because they achieved a plateau of strength and accomplishment that all of us could attain but few of us actually do. That they direct their achievement for the betterment of society, that’s what makes those like The Masked Man a hero.
The Masked Man was published by Eclipse Comics (RIP). It doesn’t appear to have ever been collected into a trade.
According to Wikipedia, these are the issues that The Masked Man has made an appearance:
* Eclipse Magazine #7 & #8 (November 1982 & January 1983)
* Eclipse Monthly #1 – #10 (August 1983 – July 1984)
* The Masked Man #1 – #12 (December 1984 – April 1988)
This appears to be B.C. Boyer’s singular contribution to the comics medium. He had a brief title called Hilly Rose: Space Reporter, and he contributed some art to other Eclipse titles, but Masked Man seems to be the primary dealio. It’s a hell of an accomplishment.
Available (occasionally) at Amazon: Single Issues
THOMAS O’MALLY & MARIE, two tiny Cats looking for a home.
Meet Thomas O’Mally and Marie. They are brother and sister who were part of a litter discovered on a farm out in the county. The farm owners have been wonderful in getting them scooped up, working with us to get the mother and kittens fixed and all their vaccinations, and trying to find them homes. Out here, cats don’t have much of a life expectancy living wild on farmland… too many natural predators.
Anyways, Thomas and Marie are the only two remaining from the litter who need homes. They are both sweet as pie and playful as one would expect kittens to be. While not finicky with their toys, Thomas seems to be more of a “string guy”, whereas Marie likes a fuzzy toy mouse to attack, then cuddle with. They are both still in that stage where they inexplicably jump straight up into the air, then spin around dizzily chasing after invisible objects. They also sleep like furry little angels and do nothing to hide the big smiles splashed across their faces when a ray of sunlight falls upon them during a nap or when they find a big pair of arms to cuddle them tight.
They are both fixed, up to date with their shots, tested negative for feline leukemia, and they both use their litter boxes just like the big cats do.
More information on Thomas O’Mally and Marie is available at the Mercer (KY) Humane Society at (859) 734-9500, mercerhumane.com. If you are unable to adopt, you may sponsor their adoptions, or the adoption of any cat, by contacting the office.
By davesumner • Know Your ABCs: An Album, a Book & a Cat • 0 • Tags: Best Jazz of the 90s, Cats