LapDog

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Starstruck

Last night was the closing performance of Lincoln Center Out of Doors, a free series of music and dance and other free performance on the Lincoln Center grounds. The series had been trying to present Chick Corea for some time, the announcer said, and last night they finally had him and his Elektric Band.

In high school, I loved Chick Corea and the Elektric Band. See, Chick played for Miles, then formed Return to Forever, and has otherwise always been on the forefront of fusion jazz, while keeping his toes in acoustic jazz (with Michael Brecker, with the Akoustic Band, with Origins, among others) and classical music (most notably in my CD collection, a number of string quartet pieces for John Patitucci). I’m no longer the fusion fan I used to be, and would have rather seen Chick in another musical setting, but he’s Chick. And it was free.

He played two sets, separated by the announcement that usually he’d have a fifteen minute intermission, so pretend we were getting a cup of coffee or something. The first 45 minutes included three songs from earlier albums, my favorite of which was the third, “C.T.A.” The last 75 minutes came from Chick’s new album, a “tone-poem” based on his favorite L. Ron Hubbard novel (yes, Chick’s a devoted Scientologist).

Complaints first: the band is treble-heavy. Except when Chick is playing a piano, rather than a keyboard, the music feels like it could tip over on the slightest curve. The acoustics of the piano fix the problem with a tone that fills up the mid-level and bass harmonics. Unfortunately, Chick only played the piano on a couple songs, including the last two of the night, which also happened to be two of the group’s strongest. And I don’t like Eric Marienthal. The only thing that keeps him from being smooth jazz is the fact that he’s playing with Chick; his fingers fly, but his tone, his attack, his slides, his vibrato all suggest Dave Koz and Kenny G.

That said, I love Frank Gambale. He reminds me of John Scofield, a steady distortion and runs that would make your most devoted metalhead blush, only using harmonics he (the metalhead) couldn’t even imagine. He’s even better on acoustic. I remember the (uninitiated’s) shock at hearing Clapton play acoustic, knowing soloing on acoustic’s harder than on electric. Clapton doesn’t hold a candle to Gambale. And the bass player (who replaced Patitucci a couple months ago, apparently) can slap as well as anyone I’ve heard.

The second half made me think. President Spencer W. Kimball, both citing others who came before and explaining his vision of the potential of Mormon art, said that Mormonism had yet to create its artistic masterpieces. “For years I have been waiting for someone to do justice in recording in song and story and painting and sculpture the story of the Restoration,” he said. And I think his lament still holds—in spite of the recent outpouring of movies, music, even writing, artists have yet to live up to the grandeur of the Restoration (with a couple notable exceptions—Minerva Teichart leaps to mind, and nobody else). The problem, especially with the literature, film, and music? Excessive didacticism and insufficient artistic ability.

Chick, however, presented an amazing tribute to Scientology (true, he was competing with Travolta’s Battlefield Earth). I don’t think To the Stars will be immortal; in 50 years Chick will be remembered, but not for his Elektric Band material. Still, the music succeeds. And I think it succeeds because it’s an evocation; it’s metaphorical. It doesn’t try to tell me or teach me that Hubbard was right, it just tries to paint a picture of the characters of his book.

What am I arguing, then? That the great and memorable Mormon evocation of the Book of Mormon story, of Nauvoo and Jackson County Missouri, of the exodus west, will be jazz (or other lyricless music). Will be dance (also a metaphorical, rather than a didactic, art form) (meaning that it tends to fail when it tries to be didactic, not that it never tries). Will be non-representational art (imagine what Mark Rothko might have done with the Martyrdom). It will function like the Spirit, evoking and suggesting, rather than telling its audience what to think.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Women's Beach Volleyball

Maybe the most amazing thing I’ve seen in these Olympics was Australia’s Natalie Cook (and, of course, teammate Nicole Sanderson) beat Holly McPeak and Elaine Youngs in game two of the bronze medal game for women’s beach volleyball. If you didn’t see it, Cook dove, right arm extended, for a dig in mid-game 2. Only she’s got a torn rotator cuff, taped up and ready for reconstructive surgery. She had to call a medical time out, and was thereafter almost unable to raise her right arm over her head—she even ended the match serving underhand. And still the Australians won game 2. I’m proud of the Americans and the first U.S. medal ever in beach volleyball, but I’m stunned at Cook’s pain threshold.

Speaking of women’s volleyball, did you notice that the station-which-must-not-be-named (why not? See below and my post that Blogger ate before it posted which would have complained about the poor coverage and child-audience-precluding lateness of the broadcasts) started showing game 1 on the gold medal round at 13-8 U.S., and game 2 at 9-7? This is the GOLD MEDAL ROUND of women’s beach volleyball and the U.S. team is in it! Would you start coverage of the 100 m only after the athletes had completed the first 43 meters? Or the vault only after the gymnast’s hands had left the vault?

Discuss.

I Still Like Food

The Fireman Hospitality Group is really good—I signed up for their “Birthday Club,” and now every August and March we get a coupon in the mail good for a free entrée (of up to $35 in value) at any of their five restaurants in New York. I’d eaten at the Redeye Grill a couple times, and it was a really good seafood place. So yesterday, armed with our coupon, Jamie and I decided to celebrate her birthday at one of their restaurants.

Because the Redeye Grill is mostly seafood, because Jamie wasn’t in the mood for seafood, and because it was her birthday, we decided to try the Trattoria Dell’Arte (which, it turns out, is right next door to the Redeye). Jamie wanted a sidewalk seat, which I was hesitant about on Seventh Avenue and 57th. It turns out that 57th is just far enough north that you don’t have the vestiges of Times Square traffic. Plus the restaurant encircles its outdoor seating with tall planters, creating a definitive wall (and the bus that was parked on the side of the street for most of our meal also helped lower what noise level there may have been). Still, I could see Central Park from where I was sitting, and Jamie could see the other patrons. And Carnegie Hall was right across the street.

The wait staff was spectacular. Our waiter gave us suggestions, checked up on us, but allowed us to eat in peace. And the food was wonderful: it’s an Italian place, and I didn’t want to waste my purchase on a non-pasta dish, but decided on the Filetto di Tonno—tuna on an artichoke-lentil salad. The presentation alone almost kept me from eating, but the taste was even better than the presentation. I asked for medium, but it came out done. It’s been a long time since I’ve had fully-cooked tuna, and I’m not sure which I like better. This tuna was crusted in something spicy, it flaked, and it was delicious. And the salad—grilled carrot slices, lentils, artichoke hearts, some funky vinaigrette; nothing to complain about there.

When Jamie saw my tuna next to her Spaghettoni Gricia, she was disappointed. She needn’t have been—her spaghetti came in a roasted red pepper puree. She ate every bite of her dinner, except for the two or three that I stole. The next recipe we need to get (after lime-rosemary sorbet) is this roasted red pepper puree.

We debated over whether to get dessert there or have me make it while Jamie was at a dance rehearsal. And then the waiter brought the dessert tray to our table. You can’t say no to a dessert tray. I had the chocolate cheesecake with Oreo crust and Jamie had the lemon crème brulée tart. Only when the waiter left, she told me I’d taken what she wanted. I told her I’d trade, because she’d actually taken what I kind of wanted, but when the desserts came, she traded back again. We were worried, after the chocolate ganache disappointment (admittedly, a minor disappointment), that the crème brulée wouldn’t seem so hot, but it was amazingly refreshing and good. And my cheesecake was rich—maybe a little too rich given how much I’d eaten, but delicious nonetheless. Both were topped with cream and raspberries. I ate until the point where one more bite would make me throw up. Jamie ate her whole dessert (again, excepting the two bites I stole from her).

And then, to top off a near-perfect dinner, Trattoria Dell’Arte applied the birthday certificate to my (far more expensive) entrée, no "of equal or lesser value" there.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Gymnastics judging...Start value 8.9

Have you been watching the men's gymnastics competition in the Olympics? The athletes are amazing, the skills both complex and simply beautiful, and the judging...Beyond comprehension. The first sign of this was on the first day of competition, when several Americans were informed that their some of their skills had been devalued by the head judge on the high bar competition. These were skills that they had used in the world championship just last year. It is not as if the community was seeing a new skill and hence had no notice as to what it should be scored at! But instead of establishing the value a year beforehand, as apparently is standard, the head high bar judge declared the skills to be less valuable...The day before competition. I guess that was our first sign.
Next was the ensuing scandal associated with the men's all around competition. Apparently the parallel bar routine of the bronze metal winning Korean athlete was scored out of the wrong start value. The Korean Olympic committee contends that he should have won the gold in place of Paul Hamm.
However, the final, and perhaps most telling piece was the High bar judging in the event final last night. For the first few routines the commentators were disagreeing with the scoring as usual. But then the Russian Nemav, four time olympic gold medalist went. He did beautifully, didn't quite stick the landing, but overall it was great. But the judges put him in last. Not just in last, way in last! Two judges in particular, the Canadian and some Asian judge, gave him about 9.6. This was so obviously too low that the crowd reacted in protest. They were yelling and booing, and probably being the loudest crowd ever at a gymnastics meet. It must have gone on for five minutes at least. Then the person over judging came over to the high bar judges, called the two lowest scores aside and had a talk with them. After another few minutes new scores were posted, Nemav still would not win a metal, but at least the crowd showed him that they new more than the judges. This didn't stop the uproar (which lasted a full 10 minutes) and Paul Hamm, they gymnast to go next, had to go and ask Nemav, who seems like a really honorable guy, and speaks English quite well, to quiet the crowd down. He got up, waved to the crowd, and tried to quiet them, lowering his hands. It really didn't work though. The crowd only quieted to cheer Paul's release moves once he started his routine. Paul ended in second, his twin brother Morgan in forth, and Nemav in fifth.

The judges very likely took last in the event. I only gave them a start value of 8.9 out of 10, but I am pretty sure that they earned a few deductions along the way. I hope the ten minute crowd uproar will do more than change two of Nemav's high bar score, and go on to help do something about the quality of gymnastic judging. The athletes deserve something more after years of dedicated practice than to have their outcome hinge on the perhaps randomly wrong, or perhaps prejudiced scoring of a bunch of obviously fallible old men...

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Mona Lisa Smile

I tend to read literary fiction. Apparently, I value a well-crafted sentence over (any) plot. But I’d really prefer both, so the fact that Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code is not artistically written and that its plot is derivative and predictable did little to impress me.

The story centers around a two-millennia conspiracy by the Vatican to suppress the Sacred Feminine and crush any suggestion of goddess-cult in the early Church. Except that Mr. Brown plots his chapters like a made-for-TV movie--every time someone begins to reveal something surprising, he cuts to a new chapter, new subplot, and makes his readers wait (plus he likes to use line breaks where none is warranted by passage of time or place) for the shocking conclusion. Except that the revelations aren’t anything new or not commonly known (potential spoiler ahead--I’ll tell you in bold when it’s safe to read again): some believe that Mary Magdalene was Jesus’ wife; the Knights Templar were a mysterious organization; Sangreal means both Holy Grail and Royal Blood (his native French speaker didn’t know this, for goodness’ sake!).

Spoiler over; you can safely read again. As with any mystery/thriller, there are plot twists. Only none were surprising (okay, the end was surprising, but only because of its utterly lame banality). But the whole book is derivative and inferior to its forebears. For contemporary Medieval conspiracies, read Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum. He deals with Knights Templar, etc., too, offering a more plausible explanation of their history and their current status. For following environmental clues in what may be a giant conspiracy or just the fact that everything is interrelated, see Thomas Pynchon (The Crying of Lot 49 is fairly coherent; I read V., too, and didn’t get a thing from it). If you want an accessible, funny (okay, Mr. Brown wasn’t at all trying to be funny, but oh well) book about 2000-year-old Vatican conspiracies, check out Tom Robbins’ Another Roadside Attraction (actually, don’t--I don’t remember its being any good, although it sure was funny).

So as fiction, The Da Vinci Code’s not very good. How about as history? I don’t pretend to be a great connoisseur of Catholic history, but he sure ascribes a lot of power to them. Somehow, it’s the Vatican that took the feminine out of not only Christianity, but Judaism and Islam as well (sarcasm doesn’t come across well on the computer screen, so if it was unclear, I don’t buy it). It strikes me that he makes the same mistake as Richard S. Van Wagoner in Mormon Polygamy (in which book Van Wagoner gave a very good history of polygamy in the 19th Century Mormon church, but then found it as the sole motivation behind virtually every organizational and doctrinal development made during that time: he’s found something interesting and conflated it with motivation. I tend to believe that organizational and personal motivation is more complex than one factor; I have no doubt that the Catholic church didn’t particularly like the Marian cults, but I don’t think that the suppression of the feminine was the reason for the Inquisition.

Monday, August 16, 2004

The Olympics

I like to support the Olympics. They are an opportunity to foster world unity, patriotism, interest in sport, peace, love, and harmony, etc. But the Olympics aren't causing any sort of positive feelings to grow in me. In contrast, I find myself, again, growing both upset and bitter. Why you ask? The NBC coverage. When I began to see the commercials promoting the Olympics before they started this year I thought that NBC had learned from the fiasco that was their broadcast of Sydney. I thought they had because they had begun to advertise that they would be covering events on 5 different NBC affiliated networks. I think that they have learned...A little. They, however, have not figured out that one of the most basic problems that they did have last time around was that they never showed events live. With the internet and availability of all kinds of information at our fingertips, I wonder how they can think that we will be patient enough to wait until "prime time". Why, when I turned my TV on during breakfast this morning were they not showing some sport? Why does their coverage (which starts at some unknown time during the day) stop for two hours between 6 and 8 each night? They really think that we need to see (and will watch) their news casts? Instead of competing with the other news stations by airing...News, why don't they compete by showing more sports? I'm sure that every one would be able to survive for 2 weeks without their nightly broadcasts.

Also, why don't they finish the coverage of one event before going on to another. Its not as though they are breaking from one exciting event to cover another for a bit that is going on live! Its not like the US open in Tennis. These are events that finished hours ago! We aren't going to miss one bit of Swimming if we finish the Bike road race first instead of coming and going 4 different times!

Finally, I would really like them to post a schedule of exactly what events will be shown and when. They have many hours to figure this out, after all, what with the delay from live! I really think that this is not too much to ask!

Given that this is unlikely to happen, I have a suggestion. Instead of allowing television stations to compete to have the rights to show the entire Olympics, we should instead have them compete for event coverage. You know, NBC could get the gymnastics, ABC swimming, and OLN the Bike events and Archery. That way we could have control of the flipping between events ourselves, and since all the cable stations would get in on the action too, every event would be covered! Meanwhile, instead of getting the airbrushed version of things, we would get the chance to watch our favorite events in detail, and perhaps see some teams besides the USA and perhaps even some of the obscure events that we do not compete in, becoming a bit more internationally savvy!

Well, it is an idea... :)

Thursday, August 05, 2004

I Like Food

I dreamed last night about food. Which makes sense, really—at the end of our dinner, the Gramercy Tavern gave us each a cupcake-sized coffee cake to take home for breakfast, the fifth of five surprise servings in our dinner. But I’m already ahead of myself.

I’ve wanted to eat again at the Gramercy Tavern for the last year; I remembered it serving not-too-large portions that filled me up perfectly, portions (in my experience) unmatched in quality. I’d forgotten the amazing limeade, though. But I’m still ahead of myself.

Jamie and I were a little nervous—we’d never eaten together at a really nice (read: expensive) restaurant. Would the staff be able to see through us? Would we faux pas our way through dinner? Unfounded fears, as it turned out—the staff was unfailingly and unflinchingly polite, no snootiness or faux pretension. But they were good—new silverware after every course; when Jamie needed to find the restrooms, she was led, not pointed; Jamie’s water was poured from the left hand, after which the pitcher switched to the right to pour mine (we were sitting at adjacent sides of a corner table); not one person’s face lost its smile (Jamie: “Do you think they get sick of smiling?”).

The interior is dark, but not too dark, a classy look without too much adornment (although behind me was a framed pencil sketch of Bugs Bunny, signed with a name I don’t recognize). The tables are well-spaced, and the restaurant’s wood-burning stove lends a warm, sweet smell to the room.

But all of the above is secondary—tertiary, even—to the food. Jamie ordered a limeade, I a lemonade. That the limeade was better in no way impugns the lemonade—both were strong without being distasteful, sweet but not treacley. Had I wanted treacley, though, we were also brought a glass sugar water. Then came the first of the five surprises: something (duck, maybe?) on a thin garlicky toast, with a mint leaf on top. Jamie melted. Then a small homemade pasta with walnut and peas—the sweetest, crunchiest peas I’ve ever tasted. The appetizers were superb—mine a tuna tartare with lemon vinaigrette and tomatoes that sweetly melted, Jamie’s the roasted sweetbreads with bacon, onions, & c.

For dinner, I had the monkfish, Jamie the roasted sirloin of beef. (Actually, if I keep telling you what was on everything, I’ll just be repeating the menu. So take a look at the menu here.) The monkfish was tender, melting in my mouth, but the sirloin also melted, done medium, with plenty of pink but no blood.

After the sour cream-raspberry sorbet palate-cleanser, it was on to dessert. Jamie had the milk chocolate ganache tart, with which she was disappointed (here, “disappointed” meaning she wasn’t blown away to the degree she expected). It turns out to be, essentially, a chocolate molten cake, and I make chocolate molten cakes about twice a month, using bittersweet rather than milk chocolate. Had she not been accustomed to the richer chocolate, though, she would have found it amazing.

I, on the other hand, had the cannoli filled with crème fraîche, with raspberries, lime sorbet, and crystallized rosemary. It was sour, powerful, and unexpected. And now I have to see if I can make a powerful lime sorbet flavored with rosemary. I tasted the combination the whole way home. It was the surprise Jamie’s dessert would have been if we didn’t do molten chocolate cake on such a regular basis (although in the interest of full disclosure, crème brulée has been more common of late than molten chocolate cake—they’re more alike than you might think). Then the after-dinner bite-sized surprises (a soft gumdrop-y mango candy and a white chocolate tartlet), and this morning’s breakfast. And then on to the dreams and breakfast, and now, the taste of the coffee cake lingering in my mouth, I have finally finished this year's Gramercy Tavern trip.

At 5:15 pm yesterday, Jamie couldn’t understand how a restaurant could be worth what we were about to pay; at 8:00, neither of us could imagine eating anywhere else. Unfortunately, our anniversary only comes once a year so, unless somebody wants to fund us, we have to figure out quickly how to return to the real world of food.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Without Twitting, or Hitting in the Teeth

I read the first two-thirds of Adam Nicolson’s God’s Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible on the M5 going to and from my NY Bar prep course, and the last third over the course of the last two days, after several weeks’ break. While it goes without saying that I remember the last portion best (when I reentered the book, I reentered at the wrong bookmark, and didn’t recognize for three or four pages that I’d already read what I was reading), the bus portions made the biggest impression on me, perhaps because they were ultimately unsatisfying.

Mr. Nicolson, in the end, says very little about the process of translation. Rather, he tries to paint, broadly and specifically, the milieu from which the KJV emerged, from James’ installation on the throne to the Gunpowder Plot and the expulsion and arrest of various separatists. Shakespeare is (necessarily) mentioned, though briefly, and we learn about the personal lives of a few of the more prominent Translators. That so little is said about the translation appears to be because nobody thought to write contemporaneously about the process.

Most valuable, I found, were the section where we read King James’ directions to the translators, a list of rules for them to follow (i.e., “6. Noe marginal notes att all to be affixed, but only for ye explanation of ye Hebrew or Greeke Words, which cannot without some circumlocution soe breifly and fitly be expressed in ye Text” [sic]), and the notes one Translator took in the final committee meeting, as twelve Translators listened to, and made suggestions about, the finished product (someone suggested that James 1:5’s “and upbraideth not” should become “without twitting, or hitting in the teeth,” which, apparently, was vetoed).

KJV is the basis of English literature, its sonorities rising above any version previously or subsequently produced. Mr. Nicolson insists that it could not be translated today, because today we don’t have the faith that the Jacobeans had or, at least, we have nobody who can, without hypocrisy, straddle the divide between true belief and living practically in the world. In this I think he’s wrong, although he is correct that today’s translations, while perhaps more accurate, fail to understand that the poetry is not extraneous to the message, that form and function are inextricable linked. But I better understood him at the end, where he confesses that he is neither atheist nor churchgoer, because he cannot find the Bible’s beauty in church service; Mr. Nicolson wants High Church ceremony the liberal Western Christianity no longer has (ceremony that the Puritans decried in the Jacobean Anglican church as “papist” and unbiblical)—he wants to experience the Jacobean Translators, preaching the language they wrote.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Hanging Art

So, since yesterday I have been trying to come up with something to review, or even just something to share. Having been completely bereft of ideas, I have decided to go with hanging art. It perhaps doesn't sound all that exciting, really like nothing more than pounding in a nail and then putting the picture up and standing back to make sure that it is straight. But after purchasing some art, and making Chris hang it due to my complete indecision ( it really was too small for the space) I have been tortured by it for months... Finally, after watching a few designing shows on TV (not changing spaces by the way) I figured out what was wrong, it was hung much too high! Apparently hanging art to high is an epidemic. Yes, according to the TV experts, most art is hung much too high! Their advice? Figure out where you would naturally hang the art, and then lower it by six inches. (A different expert said something about chest high for a 5 foot 10 inch man). Anyhow, after contemplating for days, I decided to do something about it and lowered my art. suprisingly I am feeling much better about it. (although I might have gone with more like eight inches...)

Now I am just waiting for the episode about exactly how to do a mismatched photo wall with different pictures and frames in different heights etc and make it look stunning...

Monday, August 02, 2004

That Was the Vista

The Bad Plus made a name for itself—or, at least, engaged a broader fan base—by playing covers of pop tunes. Not that jazz musicians haven’t always done this, but, by my reckoning, the results have been less-than-stellar since, say, Coltrane and “My Favorite Things.” Until now. The Bad Plus covers Nirvana, Blondie, the Pixies, Black Sabbath. And so, when I saw them at the River to River Festival 2004, the audience included a drunk frat boy who danced (read: headbanged) the whole time; a young couple with their two-year-old; the bearded jam-band fan; some serious jazz fans; several people who probably couldn’t tell Miles from Dizzy from the lead singer/trumpeter from Cake.

Which made it that much more impressive that The Bad Plus played one lone cover, a Pixies tune I’m not familiar with (probably "Velouria," given that that's the Pixies tune on their newest album). No “Smells Like Teen Spirit”; no “Iron Man.”

The Bad Plus are consummate performers. David King (drums) pulled out a red ball with a bell, drummed on a metal dog bowl, and would hit his splash cymbal and freeze, stick on the cymbal, cymbal standing still. Reid Anderson (bass) danced with his bass the whole time. And Ethan Iverson (piano) . . . . What to say about Mr. Iverson? He was the musical director for the Mark Morris Dance Group for several years. He bounces up and down as he plays, using all 88 keys, and using all 88 keys well.

The stage was on Pier 16 of the South Street Seaport, a gorgeous setting on a beautiful night. A boat bounced behind the music, moored behind the stage. Another two boats were tied up. The audience sat on the pier and listened, and the threatened rain never appeared.

And the music. Mssrs. King, Anderson, and Iverson are virtuosos. In the best tradition of free jazz, they all go separate directions at the same time, then suddenly are all together as the volume drops or the piece hits. The composition isn’t a traditional jazz AABA, no verse, chorus, verse structure. Rather, they seem to be always playing the melody, except that suddenly they aren’t. It’s hard, though, to say what is and is not improvised. There’s no significant swing to their playing, but it is still unmistakably jazz. But with a rock sensibility—the bass is miked as loud as the drums and the piano, meaning, when the bass part is the most relevant, the audience doesn’t have to strain to hear it, but can sit back and enjoy.

The songs themselves run together in my mind. The three by Mr. King were my favorite, better by far than the nearly-recognizable strains of a rock song I'm familiar with. His songs generally starting with a drum solo that resolved itself into a funky beat before the other two came in. Jamie isn’t sure she’d like their music qua music, but she loved their live performance. And I agree: if jazz wants to save itself, it has to leave the reverential museum halls and return to its aggressive, populist, performance roots.

Welcome. Bem-vindo. Bienvenido.

I tried to do this once before, and released two issues of Cow Dung before it became obvious that contributions would be few and far between, and I started law school, effectively ending my free time and my magazine. But this time it will be different--blogs are more immediate, and require much less work from me. So join us periodically as we post reviews, analytic articles, and anything else that will go from our heads to our fingers. And tell us what you think!