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Late October Music

Jordan | Cram it in Your Ear | Tuesday, October 31st, 2006

Seasonal change, I find, always inspires me to listen more closely to music.

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After seeing the Steve Reich gig last week I’ve been listening to him quite a great deal. I bought this CD to flesh out my collection a little bit. “Music For A Large Ensemble” just kinda picks up where “Music For 18 Instruments” leaves off. I think “18″ is a better example of music beaming down to you from outer space. But “Large Ensemble” has moments of escalating beauty that, seriously, leave me short of breath. There is a very sparing use of rising brass soaring over the phasing percussion rhythms and pulsing woodwinds that, I shit you not, might be the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard. I had to stop walking and grab a parking meter on East Broadway just last night while listening on headphones and, no, I’m not usually so dramatic in public.

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Most fans list “Harvest” or “Everyone Knows This is Nowhere” as Neil Young’s best, but “Ragged Glory” will always be my favorite. Perhaps, I admit, this may simply be because it came out when I was a junior in high school and the songs mean something to me. . .but you listen to “Days That Used To Be” and tell me that Neil’s voice isn’t fraught with an intolerable sadness. “Love and Only Love” and “Love To Burn” both clock in over ten minutes and feature guitar solos that seem to never end, each with a rage and pain and beauty that seem incongruous to the simple lyrics straight ahead rockin’ song structure. The drumbeat on “Over and Over” is just. . .if I may get right down to it. . .so awesome I can’t handle it. “Ragged Glory” has been on frequent rotation for me for sixteen straight years and may very well be one of the most influential albums of my life.

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Gustav Mahler would have written awesome movie music. The Titan Symphony (Symphony #1) opens in a swirly, atmospheric, almost frightening rising pattern. It just builds from there and by the time we get to the deathly, funereal “Frere Jacques” I’m hiding under the covers.

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There was a long time I just kinda wrote Ornette Coleman off. “The Shape of Jazz To Come” is probably his least nustso atonal avant-garde collection. . .and it’s about as far as I’m willing to travel with him. The legendary dirge “Lonely Woman” is incredibly evocative but some of the other tunes, after you listen to them a few times, actually have a zippy and playful quality to them. I dare say: some of this music is fun.

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Muse, on the other hand, is all good fun. Imagine if Radiohead and Dream Theater had a love child. And it was produced by whoever produced Queen. It’d sound like Muse’s “Black Holes and Revelations,” a splendid album that I thank for reminding me that I should once in a while check in and see what’s new that the kids are listening to.

Darkon (2006), Andrew Neel & Luke Meyer, A-

Jordan | Jordan Hoffman's Movie Journal | Tuesday, October 31st, 2006

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Glory to the Warriors of Darkon!! A joyous gem of a documentary detailing the lives, in and out of character, of an all consuming role-playing game. Who knew that each weekend, the parks of rural Baltimore were transformed into Tolkein-esque battlefields of good and evil? Who knew that the kid serving your latte at Starbucks was actually an Orc or an Elf or a Paladin? And (this is the real shocker) who knew just how well-adjusted these people are. They take their game-playing seriously, but everyone knows it is just a game. And everyone is just having a fucking blast of a good time. And, like, really changing their lives for the better because of their fantasy world. While the audience chuckles during the opening reel (’cause styrophome swords and plastic skull helmets are funny!) it soon hits you — why is this any less cool than a group that gets together to play basketball? As my grandmother used to say: go do anything, so long as you get some fresh air. (Watch the trailer. Will be in theaters soon.)

CSA: The Confederate States of America (2004), Kevin Willmott, B

Jordan | Jordan Hoffman's Movie Journal | Sunday, October 29th, 2006

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If you are willing to suspend disbelief (the Confederacy wanted to secede, not take over) and if you like alternative-history fiction, you will greatly admire this piece. The bulk of the film is a Ken Burns-esque BBC doc on the history of the CSA from the War of Northern Aggression to today, with commercials sprinkled in. The ads, mostly for racist products, turn out all to be real items that were available as late as the 1980s (“Coon’s Chicken” and the like.) A pretty scary film; government fear mongering is the same whether its commies, terrorists or abolitionists. Good job on a low low budget, too.

Shortbus (2006), John Cameron Mitchell, C-

Jordan | Jordan Hoffman's Movie Journal | Sunday, October 29th, 2006

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“Shortbus” isn’t a total disaster. Let’s set that straight. (For one thing, the making of this film led to the release of Jonathan Caouette’s Tarnation.) John Cameron Mitchell writes some very clever dialogue and the first half of this movie really sings. The first half is a fine enough indie character film that does get good mileage out of its “frank sex” gimmick. These scenes are touching (Sophia watching the brunette have an orgasm) and, at times, very humorous (“Rotate!”) It’s around the midway point – when the In The Realm of the Senses egg is introduced, when things just collapse. There is nothing pushing the story forward, the blank characters haven’t the depth to hold the film on their own (sorry, but the woman playing Sophia is a terrible actress) and bon mots and fucking isn’t enough to keep me interested. (Obviously, I expect more from movies than I do from real life.) By the time we got to Jamie and the Dominatrix in the closet — a very moving and tender scene — it was too little, too late. By the faux-Nashville ending I was dumbfounded. What is the message here? This is hardly a film to promote free love! Everyone engaging in this lifestyle is miserable! Are Sophia and her husband going to get a divorce? They seem happy, but she’s a little frigid. Is that a reason to leave someone? The husband’s a nice guy. I think. And is James no longer suicidal because he let a stranger give it to him up the rear? Is that really the message of the film? I’m sure it isn’t, but it sure seems that way, and if it is, why isn’t the gay version of the ADL calling for John Cameron Mitchell’s head??? I dunno. . .I’m guessing JCM & co were just hoping people would just go gaga over the chutzpah of the production and not think about these things. When I saw Hedwig and the Angry Inch I thought, “great music, a few funny scenes, disappointing story.” “Shortbus” has daring sex scenes instead of great songs.

Kurt Vonnegut’s Hocus Pocus

Jordan | Cram it in Your Ear | Sunday, October 29th, 2006

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No one quite does no plot quite like Vonnegut. A blackly funny little book about the absolutely miserable experience of human existence, this’d be a depressing read if it wasn’t just so fucking funny. Set in “2001″ (written in 1990) and the US has outsourced itself into a blakanized prison state run by an inbred (and dyslexic) ruling class that’s proud, dammit, proud to be living in the greatest country in the world! Vonnegut’s prose is more bizarre than usual (the scribblings of a condemned man on toilet paper, backs of envelopes, etc) and each individual thought is visually fragmented. And there’s this running gag of following up most thoughts with a summation and exclamation point as if advertising copy. (It’s fun to read!) I haven’t read one of K.V.’s books in a while – he still is a hoot.

Philos Adelphos

Jordan | Tales Of Hoffman | Friday, October 27th, 2006

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Going out of town this weekend. Let me know if anything happens.

Woe: Be Gone!

Jordan | No News Is Good News | Thursday, October 26th, 2006

Garrison Keillor writes about America’s greatest enemy, the Bush Adminstration, and its greatest accomplice: a populace caught somewhere between blind trust and apathy.

The Little Death (2006), Morgan K. Nichols, B+

Jordan | Jordan Hoffman's Movie Journal | Wednesday, October 25th, 2006

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A droll indie comedy that’s part “In A Lonely Place” and part “Mullholand Drive.” Very entertaining.

Qui Sont Vous?

Jordan | E-motions | Tuesday, October 24th, 2006

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When Dr. Faustus set up my new blog he also showed me how I could track certain statistics about it. One of these new facilities is the ability to see where readers are coming from geographically. And, being the faux Francophile that I am, I’m delighted that there’s someone from Paris who, I think, checks in here every day. In the years and years that I’ve been blogging I’ve always kinda acted as if I was just writing to a brick wall — or to just the handfull of friends who I know check in. But to you: my French friend: please drop me a line and tell me a little about yourself. I’m kinda curious. (To the people who check in from other less-French places, you are free to remain anonymous for now.)

The Fortune Teller at HERE

Jordan | Tales Of Hoffman | Monday, October 23rd, 2006

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Ann and I had a blast tonight seeing The Fortune Teller, a wonderfully macabre puppet show with some very funny jokes and wonderful sets and props. The show was created by a Mr. Erik Sanko with original (taped) music by Danny Elfman and voice over narration (taped) by Gavin Friday. You’ve got til the end of the month to catch it. It’s in the basement, so a small stage. . .maybe check if tickets are available. It was a full house tonight — actually, I spotted and spoke to David Harrington of Kronos Quartet in front of the men’s room. Odd, as I’d just seen him performing for an audience of three thousand two nights earlier.

The Doomsday Machine, TOS 2

Jordan | The Star Trek Project | Monday, October 23rd, 2006

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A rock solid adventure episode. I like this one because it is the first time (I think) we go to the interior of another Star Fleet vessel (the near-destroyed Constellation) and this really “opens up” the Trek Universe for me. There’s shooting, yelling, a race against the clock and the Enterprise taken over by a Captain Queeg-esque superior officer and there’s nothing Mr. Spock can do about it. The internet tells me that this ranked as James Doohan’s favorite episode and I can see why. Scotty saves the day, like, six times is rapid-fire succession. Hats off to Scotty! I was reminded what an entertaining character he was here. . .and how awesome it would be to have a guy like Scotty workin’ for ya full time in real life. He also has a lot of smart-alecky remarks. It’s funny, between Scotty and McCoy, it seems like everyone is always mouthing off to the Captain whenever he gives an order. Even Spock, in his passive-agressive science robot way, seems unable to face authority without a little verbal zetz. I don’t think real naval Captains would put up with that.

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Eat Here Get Gas

Jordan | Tales Of Hoffman | Sunday, October 22nd, 2006

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Ann had never been to the Carnegie Deli. I haven’t been since college. I expected the quality to be awful (the Ben Ash across the street is the worst restaurant on Earth) but, I must say, despite the absurd prices, it ain’t bad. And, to be fair, it isn’t *that* expensive when you consider that you are eating in one of New York’s most famous restaurants. Ann and I split a hot pastrami sandwich, one potato knish, she had a chocolate egg cream and I had a Cel-Ray. With tip (and including the fascist $3 “sharing fee”) — $35 bucks. The food was filling, the people next to us were chatty and entertaining (we were there fairly late. . .I wouldn’t want to be there when things are in full swing) and we had enough time to giggle at the photos on the wall. (In a nutshell: Jews, local news anchors, Clinton.)

It was shortly thereafter that the problems hit.

Like Hiroshima, Ann was hit first. And like Nagasaki, I came second, with equal devastation. Searing, awful gas pains. Comical gas pains. And, like, on the way home! There we are on the N train, hunched over in agony. . .and racing as best we could to get back to the apartment, leaning on parking meters every few blocks just to catch our breath. Like a gentleman I allowed the lovely Ms. Farrell first dibs on our W.C. I nearly passed out from sphincter pressure while waiting.

I can’t say I’m in a rush to return to the Carnegie.

(Besides, everyone knows that Sarge’s is the best deli in New York. Followed by Cafe Edison, Ben’s, Artie’s, Bloom’s or even Katz’.)

(Steve Reich & Musicians + Kronos Quartet + Pat Metheny) / Carnegie Hall = Gig Of A Lifetime

Jordan | Tales Of Hoffman | Sunday, October 22nd, 2006

There are 2,804 seats at Carnegie Hall and each one was filled with an awestruck, reverent music geek with glasses and bed head. Or at least that was how it felt.

In celebration of Steve Reich’s 70th birthday three of his most famous pieces were performed.

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Pat Metheny, who has managed to look exactly the same since 1977, performed “Electric Counterpoint” with echoes and tape loops of himself. It was only 15 minutes, but it was pretty damned impressive.

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The Kronos Quartet came up next to perform Different Trains, which was the first Reich piece I ever heard. If you’ve never heard it, the string quartet mirrors the melodic lines of recorded speech. Reich, an American Jew who took a lot of trains in the early 40s, interviewed people associated with those train rides from his youth as well as holocaust survivors his age. The sentence fragments are repeated in syncopation with train noises and the rhythms of the quartet. Trust me, it’s breathtaking.

Up third was the star of the show: Steve Reich and Musicians performing Music for 18 Musicians.

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Like a shmuck, I didn’t bring my camera — as seeing this piece done live (as it is rarely done) is a visual treat as well. It’s kinda like seeing 18 workers at Wonka’s factory — rushing about from their marimbas to xylophones, furiously knocking away at their tools, trading places with others, all in their own little world but all in (supercharged) speed with one another. I don’t know how they can keep it up for 60 minutes without their arms getting very tired. The above photo is similar (but I only count 13) – and instead of longhairs, they today all look like lit professors.

When the piece ended, there was a stunned silence that seemed to last an eternity before anyone wanted to break the spell and applaud. It was either a flabbergasted reverence or no one knew if the piece was over. Not sure. Either way, the bass clarinets, cello, violin and 900 clangling, banging pieces of tonal percussion had close to 3,000 people hardcore deep in the zone. I was worried for a moment that I was going to fall to a case of Stendahl Syndrome, I got a little dizzy & sweaty. It was just at that time when it appeared that the 18 musicians (blazing at lightspeed through shifting polyrhythmic patterns) kinda lost their way too. . .just for a tenth of a second, and the lead vibraphonist had to click his sticks together to keep everyone in time. That’s synchronicity has got to mean something.

In all: unbefuckinglievable

The Violet Fire at BAM Next Wave

Jordan | Tales Of Hoffman | Saturday, October 21st, 2006

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The life of Nikola Tesla in avant-minamalist multimedia operatic form — what could possibly go wrong? Well, there were five in our party: one walked out, one flat-out cried “terrible” and three of us kinda shrugged our shoulders. The music by Jon Gibson was, often, pretty good. I’d say it was good 65% of the time, and even reached the point of kick-ass once or twice. (There were some moments where I wanted to ram chopsticks through my ears, though.) The main problem was that I was kinda psyched to see a story about Nikola Tesla. Tesla’s story is a pretty cool one (I know what little I know about him from an unproduced screenplay I once read ten years ago by a dude named Jeffrey Stanley), but the plot of Violet Fire was 100% opaque. Like I said, five of us, all with college degrees, and none of us could understand what the hell was going on.

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It was fun to be outside the theater and sing-out in a low, loud voice “One Hundred Thousand Volllllllllllts!” and have people smile. I can’t say I hated Violet Fire, but I’m not recommending it to anyone.

For that matter, I can’t really recommend the Brooklyn Academy of Music anymore. I haven’t been there in a while, but, apparantly this summer, they made an executive decision to change the upstairs bar/cafe into an obnoxious and pricey restaurant. This means there really is no place to sit and have a shmooze and a cup of coffee before the show. This upstairs cafe, often with live jazz bands, used to be one of the best things about BAM. Now ya gotta walk at least a few minutes to the closest bar, an Irish pub (Mulligans? Mullins? Mull-something?) but the vague alterna-rock (The Verve, Kid Rock) is loud and the plasma TVs are many.

A pox on you new snootified BAM cafe!

The Hired Hand (1971), Peter Fonda, D

Jordan | Jordan Hoffman's Movie Journal | Thursday, October 19th, 2006

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If Eric Rohmer directed a Western, it’d be something like this. A wandering adventurer tries to come home to the family he abandoned. And while Vilmos Zsigmond’s photography is indeed gorgeous, those on the imdb who claim this should be up there with Days of Heaven are forgetting one thing: Terrence Malick’s film had depth, humor, characters you actually cared about. Peter Fonda’s performance here is just transcendently bad. It makes me realize what a genius Victor Nunez is for actually getting some life out of him in “Ulee’s Gold.” The dissolves, freeze frames and Native American flutes on the sound track, well, one would be willing to overlook them as trappings of the time if the movie was any good. But it is not. It is just plain bad.

Don’t Call Me, I’ll Call You

Jordan | E-motions | Wednesday, October 18th, 2006

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My cell phone bills are too freaking high. Seriously. Please, please, please call me at home. Nearly every one of my friends calls me on the cell first, and many times I am at home. Try me there first. Or text me. Those are free. Or if you are calling me from YOUR Verizon phone, ’cause that’s free, too. But cell-to-cell calls sound like crap. So just call me at home please. Thank you.

Winning The Race: Beyond the Black Crisis in America

Jordan | Cram it in Your Ear | Wednesday, October 18th, 2006

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John McWhorter’s controversial book is nothing if not fascinating. Hard to pin down on the political map (let’s just call him centrist) McWhorter feels that the number one thing keeping African-Americans down in this country is a condition known as Therapeutic Alienation — a holdout from the Civil Rights era. In a nutshell, McWhorter argues that blaming Whitey achieves nothing and (perhaps even more controversial) there isn’t even much to blame him for. Whitey’s worst crime of late (and he’s got the stats, graphs and charts to prove it) are the liberal post-Great Society programs that seemed like a good idea at the time, but may in fact be an example of the cure being worse than the disease. Basically, this is a very well written, thought out, funny-at-times, 400 page arguement against affirmative action. And, yes, McWhorter is black.

Les Is More

Jordan | Tales Of Hoffman | Tuesday, October 17th, 2006

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He’s 92 years old and has arthritis, but the dude still has chops. After close to fifteen years of saying I was going to see Les Paul one of these days, I finally went and saw Les Paul. He zipped through some Gershwin, Cole Porter and “The Tennesee Waltz” and was the butt of a viagra joke. He even dedicated a song to Ann & me (“The Man I Love”) as it was Ann’s birthday and she’d just received a very fancy gift.

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