Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Books & Reading

During the week of Thanksgiving, I overheard one of the clerks at Barnes & Noble say that he had read fifty-seven books so far during the year.  That number is an impressive one.  If that person had not read another book during the remaining weeks of the year, he would have read more than one book per week. 

I have had students who enroll in my writing classes who dislike reading and who claim not to have read a book since high school.  Some students complain about the amount of reading required in my online classes.  Another student even said that my written lectures contain too many words that he/she is forced to look up.  What I need to do is start keeping a record of those students who claim not to like reading so as to determine whether the students finish the course.

My students would benefit more if it were required that the students read a scholarly book during the semester, that is, a work of nonfiction containing notes and a bibliography.  Learning to introduce their sources and to evaluate them would not be such an alien concept if they had seen how other writers use sources.  It would help, too, if students could see how writers use quotes and, in most cases, avoid dropping them into paragraphs without an explanation.  Usually, the students entering my classes have only read fiction if they read at all.  Their experience with nonfiction has probably been limited to their textbooks.

At two of the institutions where I taught, the students enrolled in English 102, the equivalent of a second-semester writing course, were required to read a work of fiction.  One institution emphasized literature and had the students writing about each genre—fiction (novel and short fiction), poetry, and drama.  Another institution used this required novel as the foundation for the essays written during the semester.  One essay emphasized the social elements found in the novel, for example; another essay emphasized the author’s biography and those biographical elements found in the novel.  At both of these institutions, I chose the work of Willa Cather, My Antonia at one institution and O Pioneers! at the other one.  It was during a time when I was very much concerned with place, having adopted the Great Plains as my home after having known a peripatetic existence as a Navy brat.  My Antonia, of course, is so much more than a novel about place because of its emphasis on marriage and male-female relations.

If I had the opportunity to choose a book for my classes now, I would probably choose Capt. Charles Moore’s Plastic Ocean: How a Sea Captain's Chance Discovery Launched a Determined Quest to Save the Oceans.  On the surface, the book emphasizes Capt. Moore’s discovery of the gyre of plastic waste found in the Pacific Ocean.  It is also a book that emphasizes Capt. Moore’s growth as a writer.  Not having finished college and not having a science background, he set about learning to write for a peer-edited journal with the help of associates.  After conducting a survey of scholarship and after polishing his writing, he eventually had the first article he wrote accepted for publication.  These are the kinds of things that my students need to know about writing for an educated audience, that is, learning how to write takes time and that any one work cannot be completed quickly but requires draft after draft. 

Capt. Moore’s concluding chapter of the book is particularly enlightening because he describes how we humans are exposed to the chemicals found in plastic—e.g., phthalates and bisphenol-A—and how these plastics may affect our health.  This book, and the last chapter in particular, fits with the thematic nature of my current classes because some of my students are writing about plastic, using articles found in library databases.

Judging from the books that I have recorded at LibraryThing, I have read something like sixteen or seventeen books this year.  That does not count the books that I may have bought in previous years and only started reading recently.  I may have read two books a month during 2014.  I will have to keep a closer record of my reading during the coming year.  I have been reading two books recently.  One is a biography of a ghost town in the Kansas Flint Hills during the 19th century; it is written by Joseph V. Hickey, an anthropologist, and titled Ghost Settlement on the Prairie: A Biography of Thurman, Kansas.  I also just recently finished reading Wallace Stegner’s Recapitulation, which is mostly an interior monologue as Bruce Mason returns to Salt Lake City after a forty-five year absence.  As he attends a funeral for a relative, he comes to terms with his past during a period of twenty-four hours. Both books have sat on my shelf for a good number of years.  I read Stegner’s The Big Rock Candy Mountain about twenty-four years ago.  Recapitulation features the characters from that previous novel.  I am certainly not asking anyone to model their reading after my own.  What’s important is that I read regularly and that this reading serve as an inspiration for my own students to explore their interests and to challenge their minds by reading non-fiction occasionally.  

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Jazz Favorites for 2014

My jazz selections for 2014 appear below.  This year has been one in which I have primarily supported independent musicians, that is, those musicians who choose to make their music available on Bandcamp.  I am sure that there are many more albums deserving of attention and released by the major labels.  These recordings are the ones that caught my ear in 2014. 

Erik Friedlander, Nighthawks Cellist Erik Friedlander created the songs that make up this recording after Hurricane Sandy had knocked out the electricity in New York, and he uses the work of Edward Hopper to emphasize our relationship with the night in an urban environment, that is, an environment characterized indoors by nostalgia and melancholy and outside by hustles and lonely encounters with strangers.  Friedlander is joined by Doug Wamble on guitar, Trevor Dunn on bass, and Michael Sarin on drums.  Friedlander and Wamble had previously explored together an excellent interpretation of Miles Davis’ ballad "Blue in Green."  Nighthawks is an example of an independent musician exploring the metaphors inherent in other art forms. 

Asa Trio, Craning (Sunny Sky Records) This second recording of the Asa Trio contains all original material, with Agnar Mar Magnusson (organ), Andres Thor (guitar), and Scott McLemore (drums) each contributing several songs.  The trio soars on this recording.  Known for his percussion work on Sunna Gunnlaugs’ albums and on his quintet recording, Remote Location, Scott McLemore makes his own unique contribution to Craning and sheds his “quietest drummer” label.  Listen to McLemore’s drumming on “On Pluto.”  All of the songs are worth one’s attention.  Listen to the interplay between organ and guitar on “Something to Make You Change Your Mind” or the emphasis on guitar on “Green Door.” 
Andres Thor, Nordic Quartet (Nordic Notes) Andres Thor has altered the makeup of his quartet for this second album as a leader.  For this album, he has recruited three members from Scandinavia, that is, Anders Lonne Gronseth (Norway) on saxophone, Andreas Dreier (Denmark) on bass, and Erik Nylander (Sweden) on drums, and recorded the album in Norway as well.  Anders Lonne Gronseth is most impressive on the ballad “Komodo.”  Andres Thor’s guitar explores the sonic reaches of a melody on “Squiek.”  Although I quibble with the addition of a drum machine, I think the album as a whole is quite impressive and deserving of attention.

Christian Vuust, Urban Hymn (Aero Music)  Christian Vuust, a Danish saxophonist, is joined on this recording by three Americans—Aaron Parks on piano, Ben Street on bass, and Jeff Ballard on drums.  This recording was made in New York after Christian Vuust had immersed himself in the milieu of the urban environment and created nine new songs from this experience.  These songs are characterized by Vuust’s long melodic lines on saxophone.  Though understated, this recording reveals its gems with repeated listenings.  Jeff Ballard makes his presence most known on “Biking the Big Apple” while Aaron Parks solos on many occasions in these songs.
Bebe/Buchanan/Tagel Featuring Helge Andreas Norbakken & Julian Arguelles, Gone 
Playing compositions written by Jakob Buchanan (fugelhorn and trumpet), Kasper Tagel (bass), and Soren Bebe (piano), this Danish quintet also features the work of Julian Arguelles on saxophone and Helge Andreas Norbakken on drums.  Buchanan and Arguelles make up the frontline of this quintet and are backed by a particularly strong rhythm section.  Each musician, nonetheless, gets the chance to solo, but the emphasis is placed on melody instead of a series of solos within any one song.  We are enriched by the funding provided to jazz musicians in Northern Europe, and it is unfortunate that this album has not seen wider coverage outside of Bandcamp except for a review at AllAboutJazz.

Tord Gustavsen Quartet, Extended Circle (ECM) Tord Gustavsen has probably created his best album yet with this quartet. Tore Brunborg appears on about half of the album, making a significant contribution to “Eg Veit I Himmerik Ei Borg,” “Staying There,” “Entrance (Variation),” “Devotion,” “The Embrace,” and “Glow.”  Perhaps Tord Gustavsen will keep this quartet together for at least another album.

Hess/AC/Hess, Spacelab (Gateway Music) Nikolaj Hess on piano is joined by Anders Christensen on bass and Mikkel Hess on drums in this selection of music suitable for late night listening.  This recording highlights the contribution of each instrument although the piano clearly remains the lead instrument.  “Jamil,” “Super 8,” “Altona,” “Sunday Grace,” and “Lu Bird” are particularly memorable.

Trio Johannes Groene, Chasse-Croise  This debut recording of Johannes Groene on saxophone and clarinet and leading a trio composed of Christian Proteau on bass and Claude Lavergne on drums contains some excellent work, with two tracks in particular, “La Grasse Matinee” and “Rostrot,” containing examples of where this trio might go in upcoming recordings.  At other times, such as “Generations,” Johannes Groene plays with a phrase before he takes it apart, exploring where it might lead, while accompanied by this strong and impressive rhythm section.

Kvartett, Vekk This EP of approximately twenty-seven minutes marks the official debut of this quartet that was created in 2013 and is led by the Belgian saxophonist Erik Bogaerts.  It also features the Belgians Lionel Beuvens on drums and Axel Gilain on bass and the Finn Alexi Tuomarila on piano, all of whom are leaders of their own groups.  Of particular note is the bass intro on “Vekk” and the interaction between saxophone and piano on “Masar.”  Let’s hope that we hear from this quartet again in the near future.

Jakob Lind Lauritsen, Shadowing (Gateway Music)  While only a twenty-minute EP, this recording deserves attention because it shows how the traditional piano trio can be expanded with the addition of electronics or what Jakob Lind Lauritsen refers to as “audio art.”  Jakob Lind Lauritsen also plays bass and is joined by Nicolai Majland on piano and Morten Haesum on drums.  As I mentioned in a brief review, the electronics used here serve as an additional instrument.  This EP serves as a snapshot of what we can expect in the future from this trio.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Giving Thanks

I want to thank Peter Bacon at Jazz Breakfast and Dave Sumner at Bird Is the Worm for including the Red Moon Cafe on their blogrolls. That attention is much appreciated. I plan on devoting more of my posts to jazz reviews, albeit impressionistic ones, in the coming year.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

In Place of a Christmas Tree

Because artificial Christmas trees are made with PVC plastic and because real Christmas trees are sprayed with pesticides, neither of which we wanted to bring inside our home, my wife and I decided to forgo purchasing a Christmas tree and to decorate our mantle this year. Finding an organic Christmas tree might have been an option if we could have found one and if we could have afforded one once we located it. We think that the alternative worked out quite well. Saving money on not having a tree is an added plus.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Reflecting on Color & Photography

The picture appearing below was taken recently, before our cold spell spilled down from the Arctic, and appeals to me because of the contrasts in color—that is, the dark branches next to green leaves and the orange in the treetops at the top of the picture. Even though I am color blind, I still appreciate color.

When I was tested for colorblindness in the Air Force, I could only identify nine of the twelve numbers among the pages of colored dots. Now when I sit at one of the portable blood pressure machines at the grocery store, it gives me the option of testing my color vision, and I cannot identify any of the shapes on the five screens of colored dots, some of which make up a martini glass or a palm tree.

The Air Force recruiter, when I enlisted in 1969, assured me that I would be able to work as a photographer. Once I got to Lackland AFB and started boot camp, I discovered that my color blindness prevented me from entering that career field. Stubborn, I refused to sign up for any other career for which my test scores made me eligible. The Air Force soon chose for me and decided that I belonged in what was then called security police. It didn’t matter that I had been developing my own pictures while I was in high school. It was a skill that I had learned from my roommate during my junior year. He was on the yearbook staff, and we often spent our weekends in the photo lab.

The 35mm Voightlander that my Dad had gotten in Germany in 1957 became mine until it was stolen from my barracks room. For some reason, I never bought another camera and missed the opportunity to take pictures of the people and places that I knew during almost two decades of my life. All I have are my memories until it becomes possible to record those mental images that we bring up from a much earlier time in our lives.

Monday, November 03, 2014

End of Season at End of Day

These pictures reflect the end of the season at Red Barn Farm, which is located near Weston, Missouri.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Jakob Lind Lauritsen's Shadowing

For each of the past several years, I have been compiling a list of the best jazz recordings released during that year. One of my selections for 2014 is Jakob Lind Lauritsen’s Shadowing, an EP of six songs that has been released on the Gateway Music label, a label that promotes independent musicians in Denmark. This piano trio is composed of Jakob Lind Lauritsen on bass and audio art, Nicolai Majland on piano, and Morten Haesum on drums.

Consisting of electronic effects, this audio art allows Lauritsen to create a fourth instrument, one which makes a significant contribution in “En Aften,” “Egn Prelude,” and “Egn,” the first three tracks, and in “Time,” the final track.

The predominant mood is melancholic. Even so, the music can be appreciated at all times of day. The nuances are most pronounced when the volume has been turned up.

The contribution of each member is strongest, without the addition of audio art, in “Mild,” the fifth track. Ultimately, this twenty minute EP serves as an excellent introduction to Lauritsen and his trio and reveals the extent to which young jazz musicians in Europe have been experimenting with the piano trio and attempting to expand its possibilities. Let’s hope that the trio decides to release a longer recording in the near future.

Personnel: Jakob Lind Lauritsen, bass and audio art; Nicolai Mailand, piano; Morten Haesum, drums.

Tracks: En Aften (5:19), Egn Prelude (1:15), Egn (4:42), Interlude (0:56), Mild (5:07), Time (2:09).

Thursday, October 30, 2014

That Last Weekend of Color

Last weekend marked the last weekend of color. Fortunately, I managed to get outside for a little while and capture these images. I have discovered that adjusting the shutter speed and the ISO produces better images than the preset landscape setting. I was having problems with the sunlight washing out the color when I was using the landscape setting. For a while, I was getting frustrated with my eight megapixel dSLR, thinking that it had outlived its life after eight years of use. I am happy to discover that I was wrong, and that I am still able to capture the images that appear below.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A Quiet Corner of the World

My corner of the world is a quiet one, where my concerns are things like the changing color in the trees outside of my door. All I can offer is a few moments of peace. One of my regrets is not getting outside often enough to enjoy the changing season. Perhaps, if anything, these pictures can make one see what exists in one's own world.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Weston Bend State Park

One of my favorite places to visit during the autumn is Weston Bend State Park, which overlooks the Missouri River. Once the leaves start falling, the river becomes more visible from the bluffs. These pictures reflect a slight change in the season. As a photographer, I am slowly learning how to use my camera, and these pictures begin to show my using the manual settings on my dSLR. It has taken me eight years to figure out some of the manual settings. Technology often has me stumped.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Early Autumn at Wyandotte County Lake

Autumn seems to be arriving later this year. There is a slight change in the color of the trees in these pictures taken at Wyandotte County Lake.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

That's Why We Call it Work

It has been a long time since I have taught only four sections of writing in a semester. Although I was originally scheduled to teach a fifth section this semester, starting in October, I am relieved to only teach four sections. Before students began withdrawing from my classes, which actually started during the first week of class, I started the semester with seventy-eight students.

I will be ending the year with only having taught twelve sections instead of the fourteen that I have taught in some years. A friend of mine from graduate school says that he typically teaches six or seven sections each semester but has summers off. If my summers were free of teaching, I would be teaching six per semester.

My semester starts a couple of weeks before classes get under way because I have to update my classes for the new semester. The students expect to see not only the syllabus but also the first assignment when they log into an online class for the first time. The degree to which an instructor makes his/her policies and expectations clear in an online class affects how the students respond to the class. Teaching a face-to-face class is somewhat easier because one’s teaching material can be created during the semester, instead of having to produce so much material prior to the start of the semester.

In addition to teaching my subject area, I have to help the students negotiate the technology used in an online class. Although both colleges where I teach were using Angel, they recently decided to adopt another Learning Management System, with one opting for Desire to Learn and the other one choosing Blackboard. I took a course in using Blackboard last spring and one in using Desire to Learn (D2L) last fall. These two learning management systems take time to learn. D2L proved intimating at first. Once I started using it last summer, I quickly adapted and actually prefer it to Blackboard, which I am using for the first time this semester. I sometimes catch myself dreading having to switch from D2L to Blackboard as I work on my classes.

Despite this somewhat easier load this semester, I have no more free time than usual. I currently have twenty-seven essays to grade. I get twenty-six more assignments to grade on Monday, and I have to get the next two writing assignments in two classes revised and available by Monday.

At sixty-three, I am ready to retire if such a thing were possible in this country. I am ready to do something other than grade student writing. Sure, I know that my work is far less strenuous and stressful than other jobs and that I am lucky to work in a field where my health is not endangered. I am thankful for having a job that pays the bills even though I have no job security, no paid vacation, no retirement plan. Like millions of other Americans, I have no prospect of retiring in the near future. We work until we die in this country.

Friday, August 08, 2014

Parkville on a Summer Evening

I am including a few pictures from a recent trip to Parkville, which is south of where I live, and located along the Missouri River. It's primarily known as the location for a private university and a scenic park along the river; otherwise, the town features expensive restaurants, pricey grocery stores, and expensive houses. It reminds me of a town located outside of Hartford, Connecticut--Glastonbury, for example. Some homes in Parkville can be purchased for $100,000, which seems to be the low end; there are many more homes listed for four or five times that amount, with one currently priced at the upper end and going for $1,500,000. Oddly, this highest priced home is located near a major highway. I would prefer more seclusion if I had that kind of money to spend on a house.

Friday, July 04, 2014

Content With the Old and the Worn

When is it necessary to replace something that works fine but that may appear tarnished or worn?

Although I have other watches, I purchased my favorite watch, the one I wear most often, fifteen years ago from a local big-box store. I don’t remember what I paid at the time. It was probably something like $20 or $30. Oddly a few years later, when I took my watch back to this store to have the battery replaced, the clerk at the jewelry counter said that the store doesn’t sell and never sold this item. Although a few other watches made by Wilson, the sports company, are available at eBay, I haven’t ever seen the model that I purchased in 1999 listed on eBay

My sweat from mowing the yard during a number of summers caused this watch to lose much of its finish on one side, so a couple of years ago I took a nail file and rubbed all of the finish off that side. It may not look aesthetically pleasing. Even so, this watch keeps great time and is currently in sync, to the second, with the online clock available at this link. A few years ago, I purchased the mechanism that would allow me to unscrew the back so that I could change the watch battery myself. The current battery has not needed replaced for more than a year now.

My wife worries that the metal exposed below the stainless steel finish may be harmful. We tried to have the metal identified at a jewelry store, but the clerk erroneously thought that the watch only recently has acquired a silver finish from wear.

Despite my wife’s suggestions that I replace my watch, I have opted to hang onto it. There are other watches, and more stylish ones, that may supply the correct time. I could even dig out one of my other watches, but there is no reason to get something else. My watch works fine despite its appearance.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Grief and Music

During a moment of dementia, sometime before his death, my father gave his stereo system and his collection of vinyl records to a relative, leaving my mother without any music. It was something she lamented in my phone calls to her. As a result, I purchased a portable stereo capable of playing CDs from Amazon and had it shipped to her in Northern Ireland. My mother specifically asked for the music of Johnny Mathias. I also added Dave Brubeck’s Time Out; it was the one of the albums that my parents particularly enjoyed when I was younger. Probably, I should have added an album by Stephane Grappelli. One of his albums, perhaps Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagan, Denmark, was something that my mother excitedly wanted to me to hear when I was visiting one year.

One year around Christmas, when I was putting together a package containing such things as cans of pumpkin and boxes of corn bread, two things my mother couldn’t purchase in Northern Ireland, and books by James Patterson, one of her favorite authors, I added two more CDs, Matthew Halsall’s Colour Yes and Nat Birchall’s Akhenaten, two representative CDs of contemporary British jazz. My mother, however, never mentioned playing this music although she did receive the package and thanked me for the pumpkin and cornbread.

Even so, after my mother died in May of this year, at the age of 87, the music I have turned to repeatedly has been Matthew Halsall’s Colour Yes, particularly the tracks “Together” and “I’ve Been Here Before.” These tracks exemplify the sense of grief that I felt and continue to feel.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

A Partly Cloudy Day Along the River

These pictures result from an occasion in which I managed to get away from my online classes for a little while. Photography for me is a combination of light and dark and the capturing of these contrasts in combination with various shapes. I learned to take pictures using black and white and that training shows in my pictures.