Friday, December 30, 2016

Best Jazz Selections for 2016

My selections for best jazz releases of 2016 are limited to an EP and a reissue. Other releases during the year came to my attention but were ruled out for various reasons. It’s possible that I may return to some of the other music purchased during the year and find good things that I had not noticed previously.

Jakob Sorensen, Nomad.  This EP of almost twenty-one minutes, and four songs, is a second release for Jakob Sorensen. His Bagland was released last year. Nomad contains many of the same members, that is, Alex Jonsson on guitar, Mathias Jaeger on piano, Frederik Sakham on bass, and Jakob Sorensen on trumpet. Andreas Skamby now replaces drummer Frej Lesner from Bagland.  Like other examples of Northern European jazz, this recording contains a group dynamic with more emphasis on melody than on featuring the skills of a particular musician. There are instruments that appear prominently in these four songs composed by Jakob Sorensen.  “Eick,” the first song, opens with a haunting piano phrase that is repeated throughout much of the song. Midpoint or so, the guitar figures promptly on one channel while the trumpet appears on the other channel, both of which are accompanied by the phrasing of the piano. “Nomad,” the second song, opens with a strong bass line and features drumming that serves to accent the melody carried by the trumpet. Sorensen’s skill with his trumpet comes across the most in the third song, “Brave Men” and in the fourth song, “The Mountain That Disappeared.” Sorensen’s tone is strong, with no jarring or discordant notes altering the overall experience. Although it is unfortunate that the album isn’t longer, this EP hints at good things to come from Jakob Sorensen and the other members of his band.

Matthew Halsall, On the Go (Special Edition). This remastering of the album On the Go, released originally in 2011, has been expanded with the addition of three other songs, “Only You,” “Singing Everyday,” and “Breathless,” which add twenty-two minutes to the original album. These three additions are similar to the mood created by “Samatha,” a song that distinguishes the original release because of its meditative and melancholic qualities.  “Only You” is a trio effort composed of Gavin Barras’ bass, Adam Fairhall’s piano, and Matthew Halsall’s trumpet. Both “Singing Everyday” and “Breathless” place emphasis on Matthew Halsall’s trumpet, showing his mastery of the instrument, while “Breathless” also offers Fairhall a chance to solo.  Rachel Gladwin’s harp is noticeably absent in these additions to the album; her harp would have fit nicely in “Only You," for example. Even so, this remastering has improved the overall album and makes it more representative of what Matthew Halsall was trying to achieve with his album On the Go, the third release of his after Colour Yes in 2009 and Sending my Love in 2008.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Two Weeks in Autumn 2016

Some of the changes occurring with the season appear in these pictures. These pictures were all taken in the park near where I live. I started taking these pictures at the end of October. The final three were taken in early November. The changes were slow to occur but the transformation, once started, moved quickly.

Thursday, October 06, 2016

Great Plains Renaissance Festival

I was in Wichita recently for the Great Plains Renaissance Festival, which is held for only one weekend during the year. Whereas the Kansas City Renaissance Festival has a permanent facility and is held for seven weekends in September and October, the Great Plains Renaissance Festival uses one of the city parks in Wichita, which limits its duration. It is possible to get much closer to the performers at the Wichita festival. There would have been a bigger crowd in these pictures if the forecast had not been calling for rain.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Pauseland's Palindrome

I recently managed to purchase a used CD of Pauseland’s Palindrome, their second recording, for about $11. The remaining copies at Amazon are going for hundreds of dollars.

Having found much pleasure in the individual recordings of Soren Dahl Jeppesen, Jakob Buchanan, and Christian Vuust, I was very happy to hear about the release of Pauseland’s At the End of the Day, which features these musicians and Klaus Norgaard on bass. That discovery led to my searching through their back catalog and listening to their two previous albums on Spotify.

Using Spotify, however, makes me feel guilty, and I try to purchase whatever I discover and listen to regularly on Spotify. After some research, I discovered that only iTunes offered Palindrome as a download. Not terribly fond of Apple, I have not downloaded iTunes to my current computer. Previously, I discovered that iTunes wants to be the dominant music player on any computer where it has been downloaded and that iTunes makes burning CD’s of the music downloaded from Apple extremely difficult. I am not going to give up Foobar2000 as my music player. Whenever I want to burn a CD, I use Windows Media Player for that sole purpose.

Quite by chance, I discovered this used CD of Palindrome on Amazon in June and have been extremely happy with my purchase. Only recently, I discovered that Amazon has been offering Palindrome as a download since August for those of you who have been deprived of this music. I recommend it wholeheartedly.

Pauseland's debut recording, titled Pauseland, has been available on Amazon as a download since 2006, I believe.

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Sunflowers at Grinter Farms, Part Two

If you use sunflower oil when cooking, eat sunflower seeds, or put out wild bird seed in the winter, you may be using the seeds harvested from these plants. In another ten days or so, these plants will be wilted and nearly ready for harvest.

Sunflowers at Grinter Farms, Part One

For the second year, I managed to get pictures of the sunflowers at Grinter Farms soon after they had opened up. These fields attract so much attention, with some people traveling from as far away as Chicago, that the police had to intervene on Labor Day and close down the access road because of the traffic. I got there on Friday before the bulk of the crowds. Even one of the local news stations ran a story about the photographers that these fields attract. I don't live close enough to return often for pictures of these fields at sunset or sunrise; otherwise, I might have spent more time there.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Savoring Those Zen Moments

I had a zen moment when I was sitting on a bench beside the Missouri River the other day.  I had been running errands and took the time to sit by myself beside the river.  For the fifteen minutes or so that I sat there, there were no diesel locomotives blowing their horns as they passed by just fifty yards away and hauling nearly a hundred hoppers, the empty ones taken north and the ones full of coal taken south.

I had left my phone in the car and had no inclination to check it for text messages or for posts that someone made on Facebook. It was enough to sit there and absorb the moment while studying the trees that weren't killed off during the last flood and while remembering how much shade used to be present before a few of the trees were cut down.  Although it was hot and humid, those things were not unbearable and actually typical for this time of year.

I used to make a habit of walking beside the river on those afternoons that I taught downtown. Regardless of the season, I did some of my best thinking while sitting on a park bench--often thinking of what went well in the class that I had just finished teaching and what I needed to do in class the next time.

I think that there needs to be more zenlike moments in our lives--that is, times when we are able to concentrate with few distractions and without sitting in front of a screen or holding one up to our faces.  Once, when I was waiting outside of a restaurant one summer evening, an elderly man walking by congratulated me for not staring down at a cell phone. All of the seven or eight other people waiting outside were checking their phones for something or other.  My phone was left in the car. (I probably shared that story once before.) It stands to reason that I am not one who plays video games very often.

Is it an age thing? Are those people my age more content to sit quietly and observe the world around us?  I think we have come to appreciate those moments because they can occur infrequently and may not ever come again.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Fort Phil Kearny

One way in which I have learned to appreciate the region that I call home, that is, the Great Plains, has been to study its history.  I had the good fortune of taking a class from Craig Miner, the author of West of Wichita: Settling the High Plains of Kansas, when I was an undergraduate. I later studied with L. G. Moses, author of Wild West Shows and the Images of American Indians, 1883-1933, and whose graduate classes emphasized Native American history when I was at Oklahoma State University. I have also, of course, pursued my own reading into the history of this region, and these histories make up a significant number of the books in my collection.

About ten years ago, the students in my second-semester composition class were researching one of the soldiers buried at Fort Leavenworth National Cemetery. Through my assigning this topic and conducting research as I refined the assignment, I came to learn about such things as the Kidder Massacre, Beecher Island, the engagements with the native tribes outside of Fort Wallace in 1867, the massacre of the Cheyenne at Sappa Creek, and the Grattan Massacre.  All of this research eventually led to the Fetterman Massacre, which occurred outside Fort Phil Kearny in December, 1866.

When my wife and I were in Wyoming recently, we spent part of a morning at Fort Phil Kearny and the site of the Fetterman massacre. The land around Fort Phil Kearny is as pretty as Bob Drury and Tom Clavin describe in their book The Heart of Everything That Is: The Untold Story of Red Cloud, An American Legend.

For those who wish to pursue their own research and who wish to learn more about Red Cloud's war, for example, I have to defer to the excellent books that have been written.

Highs and Lows of Wyoming

When traveling west across Wyoming on I-90, it is distressing to see the amount of environmental destruction around Gillette.  One of the largest strip mines in the US is visible from the highway. The coal used to power the energy plants in and around Kansas City comes from Gillette, for example. Gillette provides about a third of the coal used in the US. Some of the people that my wife and I came into contact with during our trip said that Gillette has been losing population because of the decreased demand for oil.  Hydraulic fracturing is another energy industry around Gillette. Dick Cheney, the vice-president under Bush, Jr., and the former CEO of Halliburton, the company that patented the process, was partly raised in Wyoming.

It was equally distressing when traveling south from Gillette, through Thunder Basin National Grassland, to discover that the Forest Service allows the grassland to be destroyed by the drilling for oil and gas and the extraction of coal. I was expecting to see miles of undisturbed grassland. I had even convinced my wife to alter our route so that we could travel through the grasslands instead of passing through Casper.

Despite these low points, we were fortunate to spend two nights in Buffalo, Wyoming, which is approximately halfway across the state. Our hotel room looked onto the Bighorn Mountains. On our second day in Buffalo, we drove the Cloud Peak Skyway, US 16, from Buffalo to Tensleep. That route offers a lot of mountain scenery--something that makes the trip across Wyoming worthwhile.  It wasn't until we returned home that I discovered that a high school classmate of mine lives outside of Buffalo. My wife and I have since talked about moving to Wyoming, probably somewhere within sight of the Bighorn Mountains.