Wednesday, June 26, 2002


by Wayne Robins

The blood pressure was too high, the medication wasn't working, so my doctor and I decided on a few days in the hospital last week to straighten things out. Since it wasn't an emergency and no surgery was involved, I packed as if going on a trip, spending more time pondering the CD's I would pack with my Walkman than any other item.

I didn't want anything too stressful. Haunted as I've been by the recent opening of a very old wound, I needed to avoid not only current heavy music, but many of my favorites that would resonate with stressful memory. (I've been listening to Laura Nyro's Columbia Legacy reissues recently, and favorite songs like "Lucky" and "Lu," from "Eli and the Thirteenth Confession" are so redolent with the memory of a joy that always remained just out of reach that hearing these songs now can reduce me to uncontrolled sobbing.

Yet I've never been a new age person, never been able to listen to music whose only goals are "pretty" and "innocuous." I packed up a bunch of things in the CD kit: Guy Clark's "Boats to Build" (Elektra) has been my profound companion through difficult times, and a Van Morrison like "Too Long in Exile" had a wide enough palette of moods to make the trip.

But I've been on a Brazilian jag lately, and Brazilian music is what I listened to almost every time I put on the headphones while in Lenox Hill. It helps that I don't know much about Brazilian music, so I can't intellectualize it. It has few emotional connotations, and occupies very little disc space on my brain's memory chip.

The duet CD "Vince & Bola," on the Fantasy label by Vince Guaraldi and Bola Sete, got the most headplay. It's a wonderful set piano and guitar interplay augmented by Fred Marshall on the first five tracks and drummer Jerry Granelli on 6 through 12. The disc is a compendium of two earlier Fantasy discs, recorded in 1963 and 1966, respectively. Material is all over the map, from "Black Orpheus Suite" to Horace Silver's "Moon Rays" to Lennon-McCartney's "I'm A Loser" to Hank Mancini's "The Days of Wine and Roses." But nothing shakes the context, the comfort and accomplishment level of the musicians.

Though many of the records Creed Taylor produced for his CTI label in the 1970s came to define all that was wrong with fusion (dissonance between artist and material, between material and arrangement), Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Stone Flower" (recently reissued by Sony Legacy is a significant exception. I don't have the credits handy, but its both lush and lean, an intelligent, dreamy soundtrack for active meditation.

The third disc upon which I relied wasn't quite a Brazilian disc, though the newly released "Sounds from the Verve Hi-Fi," astutely cherry-picked from the Verve catalog by deejays Eric Hilton and Rob Garza of the Thievery Corporation, features plenty of gems, familiar and obscure. Stan Getz and Luiz Bonfa set the mood with "Menina Flor," and there are goodies by Sergio Mendes & Brasil '66, undergoing a renaissance as their savory stuff stands up in ways that the music of their contemporaries, Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, does not. Astrud Gilberto's "Light My Fire" is, counterintuitively, a paradigm of cool, while cuts by Elis Regina and Walter Wanderley were new to me. A couple of real smart oddities from the brilliant Cal Tjader catalog only reinforced my admiration. To top everything off, there's a non-Brazilian track by Chico Hamilton called "For Mods Only" that Steely Dan obsessives will immediately note provides the chordal foundation for "Kid Charlegmagne" in much the way Horace Silver's "Song for My Father" inspires "Rikki Don't Lose That Number."

Thanks to Daniella Thompson
for her e-mails that may have subconsciously started my Brazilian journey. And though the green team didn't look as sharp in beating Turkey today as they might have, I'm looking for the Copa Mundial to belong to Brazil (over Germany) when Sunday morning's coming down.

(c) copyright 2002 Wayne Robins all rights reserved. Comments?

Monday, June 24, 2002

by Wayne Robins

Sunday I was all pumped up to see "Undercover Brother," and the set up was solid: Both "U.B." and the G-rated animated "Spirit" were playing at 11 AM at our local multiplex. So I'd dig "U.B.", and my all-girl backup group, the Waynettes featuring Mom, would see "Spirit." I was wearing my hand painted pastel colored James Brown t-shirt, though the chance of me fitting into any of my flare pants or bell bottoms from the era are nil to none.

I bought my ticket, and the ticket taker teased me. "I think 'Undercover Brother' is more like an HBO show than a real movie," she says. (For context, it should be pointed out she was a smart, attractive black woman in her late teens or early 20's). "But that was my time!," I said. "I flew with P-Funk during the 'Mothership Connection' tour!"

"Yeah, well," she says, an apparent variation of "whatever..." So I strut into theater four, an imaginary Afro covering the bald spot on the top of my head, and the theater is completely empty. And on the screen is "Lilo and Stitch," itself a bizarre pop culture artifact, a Disney animated 'toon feature starring the music of...Elvis Presley. I'd see this with the kids, but the disconnect at the moment was too much.

I ran screaming...I mean, strutted cooly--to the customer service desk, and explained my problem. See, they were expecting an overflow from the 10:40 AM "Lilo" in theater three, so they also played it in theater four, preempting "Undercover Brother." And they couldn't reconfigure the computer projectors. Anyway, I was welcome to see another movie and get a refund afterwards. The only other thing playing at that starting time was "Bad Company," a Jerry Bruckheimer/Joel Schumaker sit-bomb about a CIA plot to save the world by buying a nuclear device from some Yugo-Russian bad guys that also happens to be a vehicle for a double dose of...Chris Rock, whose twin brother was separated at birth and became an international multimillionaire businessman who does favors for the Agency but who gets killed, so his other identical twin, a ticket-scalping, chess-hustling street guy gets to maybe save the world...Anthony Hopkins, as the CIA agent who has to train the stand-in, never looked so unhappy picking up a paycheck. The only smiles came at the end, when the theater manager not only refunded my ticket price, but that of the Waynettes as well. They loved "Spirit," by the way.

(c) copyright 2002 Wayne Robins. All rights reserved. Comments?

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