Monday, December 30, 2013

Buffalo and Flint Hills

I managed to tour a buffalo ranch on the Flint Hills during the summer. It was a particularly hot and hazy day, and the buffalo sought out a hill where the wind cooled their bodies.

The rancher was happy to announce that his ranch, unlike the one next to his, had its own source of water. He also disclosed that he uses chemicals to kill unwanted trees and weeds, perhaps not realizing that the chemical spray he uses will eventually end up in the water that he uses for his buffalo.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Jazz Selections for 2013

My favorite jazz selections for 2013 appear below in no particular order. This year is one in which I have supported the independent artist. Five of these selections can be found on Bandcamp. These selections also represent a range of locations--the Pacific Northwest, Canada, Brooklyn, Germany, Denmark, Finland, and Iceland, proving how jazz remains international and how the Internet has made it easier to appreciate music from other parts of the world.

Soren Dahl Jeppesen, Pipe Dreams

Soren Dahl Jeppesen on his third recording has expanded his quartet into a quintet with the addition of Simon Toldam on piano. The piano is an essential ingredient of the opening track, “Insomnia,” as it serves as a counterbalance to the opening strains of the guitar and helps to establish the melody, which is repeated at various times during the song. Backed by Klaus Norgaard on bass and Jakob Hoyer on drums, Soren Dahl Jeppesen, accompanied by Oskar Gudjonsson on saxophone, has created an excellent addition to his Red Sky and Route One.

Nashaz, Nashaz

Initially started as a Kickstarter project in 2012, this debut album combines Arabic music with jazz. Brian Prunka on oud, Kenny Warren on trumpet, and Nathan Herrera on saxophone, flute, and bass clarinet make up the front line of this sextet, which is backed by a strong rhythm section, composed of Apostolos Sideris on bass, Vin Scialla, on riq, and George Mel on percussion. “Khartoum" features a call and response between the oud and the trumpet, with the trumpet establishing the melody, which is repeated by the oud, before the oud plays with the melody, extending and embellishing it, which leads to an exchange occurring between the trumpet and the oud. A strong debut recording, this album foretells good things to come.

Tunnel Six, Alive

This second full-length release by Tunnel Six exhibits considerable growth in the two years since their previous recording. The arrangements reveal how skilled the sextet has become at working together. Creating these complex arrangements in a live setting over a period of three days shows the quality of musicianship and how these musicians have evolved into a unified whole.

Jakob Bro, December Song (Loveland Records)

Jakob Bro’s December Song is one of the triptych of recordings featuring Lee Konitz and Bill Frisell, with Balladeering (2009) and Time (2011) making up the remaining panels. Presumably out of respect for Paul Motion, who appeared on Balladeering and died in 2011, this recording continues to be without a drummer and now features Craig Taborn on piano. Thomas Morgan fills the bass chair, having been present on Time as well. Often melancholic, this album requires time to fully appreciate the contributions of each musician. It’s perfect for a quiet morning, afternoon, or evening.

Sunna Gunnlaug, Distilled (Sunny Sky)

This second recording by Gunnlaugs’ trio differs from Long Pair Bond in that it is more of a collaborative effort, with more attention given to Thorgrimur Jonsson on bass and Scott McLemore on drums. McLemore opens “Momento,” “Gallop,” and “The New Now” while Jonsson opens “24H Trip” and “Things You Should Know,” for example. It’s another excellent example of jazz from Iceland.

Alexi Tuomarila Trio, Seven Hills (Edition)

This second recording by the Alexi Tuomarila trio, with Mats Eilertsen on bass and Olavi Louhivuori on drums, and with Andre Fernandes on guitar on two of the nine selections, was recorded in 2011 and not released until this year. The writing on Seven Hills reveals more complexity than what is found on Constellation (2006), the initial recording by the trio. “Seven Hills,” “Cyan,” “Jibeinia,” “Skuld,” and “Miss” are particularly strong and noteworthy.

Julia Hulsman Quartet, In Full View (ECM)

Julia Hulsman has expanded her trio, composed of Marc Muellbauer on bass and Heinrich Kobberling, into a quartet with the addition of Tom Arthurs on trumpet and flugelhorn. “Quicksilver,” “Gleim,” “Forever Old,” “The Water,” “Dedication,” “Snow, Melting,” and “Nana” are particularly strong.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Hay Bales in August

Recent pictures from one of my favorite hayfields appear below. The people who own this field waited until the last week of cooler weather to make this cutting. These bales are drying now in temperatures of 95 degrees, which are the hottest temperatures we have seen all summer in this area. Other nearby fields have been cut twice; this particular field seems to have been the last one cut.

These bales contain the strong earthy scent of grass left to dry in the sun. My wife says she can imagine the appeal that hay bales once had for couples looking for a place to swive under the new moon.

Friday, August 02, 2013

In Lieu of My Father, There Is YouTube

YouTube is often thought of as a source of entertainment. I admit that I sometimes watch some of the cat videos and the ones of raccoons begging for scraps. It can prove difficult tearing myself away because there is always one more video worth watching. I have discovered that YouTube works best as a resource. It is the place to turn to when wanting to know how to replace an optical drive in a desktop or how to speed up a computer by increasing the amount of ram or by using ReadyBoost. More recently, I have discovered that YouTube offers instructional videos on cleaning the lint out of a dryer or replacing the water inlet valve on a washing machine. I would be dependent on the repair people in my area if it weren’t for YouTube. Fortunately, I have been able to save some money by doing it myself. It seems at times that I am channeling my father who would be so happy to see me make repairs around the house if he were still alive. He was always an advocate of doing repairs himself even when it took an entire weekend. Near the end of his life, he was attempting to make repairs to his watch or his laptop even though he couldn’t always remember the order in which things came apart. I know that I could use his help with the upkeep of a house. There are still so many things that I don’t know.

Friday, July 05, 2013


I am adding some of the pictures I took of a local fireworks display for the 4th of July. Some of the images seem to resemble dandelion blossoms, a dancer, or trees buffeted by the wind.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Charles Lloyd on YouTube

One of my favorite Charles Lloyd songs is only available on YouTube. While there are older versions of "Sombrero Sam" available on record from when Charles Lloyd was flourishing in the late 1960's, one has to turn to YouTube for an extended and more contemporary version of the song. I am waiting for the day when Charles Lloyd releases on CD one of his concerts featuring this song; until that time I have to find comfort in the video appearing below. There is a fourteen second glitch at the beginning, by the way, between 13 and 27 seconds into the video.

Sunday, June 09, 2013

Identifying and Investigating a Local Problem

My students have been investigating local problems for their proposal assignment. The assignment asks that they describe a problem with which they have experience. It should be a problem that concerns others as well. Once the student has described the problem, using sources to fully illustrate the nature of the problem, the student has to come up with one or more solutions to the problem and has to convince the audience that his/her solutions are viable ones and ones requiring more attention.

My students, unfortunately, often choose an issue that is currently receiving attention in the news, such as gun control, and instead of making that issue relate to them personally, they resort to generalizations about the problem and what can be done to solve it.

There are problems that occur locally, some of which are worthy of exploration. One of the local parks, for example, doesn’t offer a place to sit down. If the city were to offer one or two benches or even a couple of picnic tables, it would provide a place to relax and enjoy the park on a sunny afternoon. Another local park located on a hillside only offers a single picnic table, which is located down a hill near a copse of trees, when it would be so much more enjoyable if there were a park bench overlooking the view. No one in city government seems to think of these things as being valuable additions.

Another potential problem requires more detail.

In the past whenever I encountered books in one of the recycling bins located at one of the city recycling sites, I retrieved as many as possible and dropped them off at the local library. Some people seem to have no qualms about recycling books—both cloth and paper. Just recently, I discovered a bible and religious novels about the end times. Although they aren’t books that interest me, I figured that someone might find value in them, so I grabbed what I could find, probably about fifteen or twenty, and dropped them off at the local library. The library has a sale twice a year and uses the money collected to buy more books. By the third day of the sale, it’s possible to get a bag full of books for only a few dollars.

Ironically, a few months ago, when I was dropping off newspapers to be recycled in one of the recycling bins outside of the library, I discovered that the library had put some of its cast off books in the recycling bin. While it’s true that I have no definitive proof that the library dropped off those books, I suspect because of the bin’s proximity to the library and because the bin also contained old newspapers from major cities elsewhere in the country that the library had dropped off its waste to be recycled. From what I remember, there were about ten books in the recycling bin, including one by Morgan Spurlock and one preparing potential firefighters for the firefighting certification exam. I tried to reach Spurlock’s book but didn’t have anything in the trunk of my car that could nudge the book closer to me. An umbrella didn’t help.

I haven’t been back to this particular recycling bin to see whether any more books have been discarded. It’s possible that these books may have been ones leftover from the recent library sale. I have tried encouraging my students to find out whether the library discards books and what alternatives exist to discarding books, such as providing a rack of free books for patrons. Even if these books remain on hand for a few months, there is a chance that someone at some point may take one or two books home. The local college is often looking for free books for those students in the remedial reading classes. Since the high school students in the area are often seeking volunteer opportunities to supplement their college and scholarship applications, the library could offer these high school students an opportunity to benefit their community by organizing and distributing the books that don’t sell at the library sale.

Another option is selling these leftover books on Amazon. A cloth copy of Spurlock’s book is currently selling for one cent at Amazon. When combined with the money that Amazon provides for shipping, it is possible to ship at a cheaper rate and earn a little bit of money as a result. If enough books are sold on Amazon, the chance of making money exists. Once again, the high school students looking to volunteer could be responsible for packaging and mailing out books to customers.

Either of these options is an alternative to simply recycling books. No one in my classes has yet decided to explore this topic.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Magnolia Blossoms Up Close

My annual posting of magnolia blossoms appears below. Over two days, I took more than two hundred pictures and then culled through them to post these twelve. This year the blossoms have had to fight high winds, sudden changes in temperature, and thunderstorms.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Alaturka (Turkish Jazz)

I had the good fortune of hearing live jazz in January for the Jazz Winterlude series at Johnson County Community College in Overland Park. Once I heard that Alaturka would be playing Turkish jazz, I made the point of freeing my calendar and convincing my family to join me. Alaturka has released one album. The current members of Alaturka, composed of Beau Bledsoe on oud, Rich Wheeler on tenor saxophone, Jeff Harshbarger on bass, and Brandon Draper on percussion, have an album coming out sometime in the near future.

They were only scheduled to play for an hour but managed to expand their set a little more because of audience demand and the open time slot immediately afterwards. Rich Wheeler opened the set with the equivalent of the muezzin's call to prayer on his saxophone before the rhythm section joined him. It was particularly interesting to hear how the band adapted Ottoman melodies.

Beau Bledsoe in an interview online says that he sees himself and Brandon Draper representing the Turkish element while Rich Wheeler and Jeff Harshbarger represent the jazz element. My wife was particularly impressed with the rhythmic talents of Brandon Draper who manages to play four or five percussive instruments at the same time, using a drum kit that he designed himself.

Beau Bledsoe is able to support himself exclusively by playing for four or five different ensembles, like so many other musicians in bigger cities. In fact, Jeff Harshbarger, Brandon Draper, and Rich Wheeler are all involved in other projects. We are lucky that their talents come together when Alaturka performs. I am looking forward to their upcoming album.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

A Slow Embrace of Technology

When I reached middle age (my 40's, that is) without having a computer or a cell phone, I didn’t think of myself as a Luddite but simply someone slow to embrace new technology. One of my professors gave me a lesson in using WordStar in 1986 when I first entered graduate school to work on my MA. At that time, the computers in use by the English department had two 5.25 inch slots, one for the program disk and one for the disk containing one’s documents. All through graduate school, I continued to draft my essays in longhand first and then type up the final copy on my typewriter. Fortunately, my wife in 1989 helped me put my Master’s thesis on the computer so that it would be easier to make corrections. It took a few frustrating incidents before I mastered the use of the Insert key; something so simple could prevent me from losing text when making an addition or a correction.

By 1993, at the age of forty-two, I had my own computer, a 386, although it essentially was only good for WordStar, which by that time required the downloading of information from three or four 5.25 diskettes. Not having the Internet in my home office made it easier to devote attention to my writing. Taking my comprehensive exams for the PhD required that I learn to use Microsoft Word. Even so, I didn’t finally stop using WordStar until 1999 when my new computer at that time wouldn’t take the 5.25 diskettes containing the software for WordStar. Out of necessity, I had to become comfortable with Microsoft Word.

Despite this slow embrace of technology, I have learned much more about computers and word processing software. After getting tired of giving my money to computer repair people for minor upgrades and virus removal, I resolved about eight years to learn much more about computers and computer repair.

Accepting technology into my life hasn’t included a cell phone until more recently, however. I didn’t get my first cell phone until about 2001 when my wife insisted that I get one in case of an emergency during the lengthy commute to where I was teaching at the time.

About twenty-two years ago, when we briefly sold water treatment systems during a semester we didn’t get a teaching assignment, my wife and I used to admire the guy who had a phone in his car because it allowed him to get his assignments much quicker and to get directions when he couldn’t find the house where he was scheduled to make his sales pitch. We were forced to return to an area convenience store and to use the pay phone as we arranged our next appointment. Our time selling water treatment systems didn’t last. We sold two units but only got paid for one because the other buyer refused to disclose his regular income when the company wanted the buyer to sign a contract and to set up monthly payments. That $800 earned in commission, while not enough compensation for the time that we had invested in our training, helped to ease our poverty for a little while. The remainder of that semester was spent working temporary employment. We ended up moving to the Kansas City area during the following summer.

That Motorola 120C, my first cell phone, remained in use even after four or five years. I had no reason to update since I seldom used it and actually prefer not to use a phone because of my phone phobia, aka telephobia. I don’t know when I would have updated if Tracfone had not informed me that they would no longer service that phone in my area and sent me a replacement Nokia 1100 free of charge. Once again, that phone lasted several years until I replaced it with a Samsung T105G, which made it easier to send text messages even though it, too, didn’t have all of the features of a regular keyboard and made long messages difficult because of its inflexibility.

When we stopped paying for a landline last year, my wife bought a LG 500G as the house phone. After growing familiar with that phone from texting during those occasions when my wife drove, I discovered that it was possible to get my own LG 500G for $10. I can now say that I am much happier with my phone and use it frequently for texting when away from the house. I don’t think I have made an actual phone call in the month that I have been using this phone, however. This phone can be used as a mp3 player if one doesn’t mind using earbuds. It also offers a digital camera of something like 1.3 megapixels. These additional features may seem like bonuses although one has to consider the quality of the camera and the sonic capability of its single speaker. Nonetheless, I now more often make an effort to grab my phone when leaving the house instead of misplacing it and letting it go missing for days on end.

Having become more comfortable with a cell phone, I still don’t foresee a day when I will start acting like my relatives. While visiting them on Thanksgiving, and while trying to ignore the football game that was blaring from the television, I often glanced around the room and saw three or four of my relatives looking down at the screens of their iphones—either to play a game, to organize their pictures, or to send someone else one of their pictures. No one was talking. I hope I never will become that obsessed with technology.