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by Sean Murphy

10 Sep 2009

You don’t have to be a jazz fan to appreciate that picture. But it helps.

Most people have never heard of Joe Maneri, so not too many folks are mourning the August 24 passing of this great musician. In addition to being a beloved teacher and father of jazz violinist Mat Maneri, he is rightly considered a pioneering figure in music. His inclusion of Turkish and Klezmer music into a more free jazz (think Ornette Coleman playing with one of Sun Ra’s bands covering traditional European music at a Greek orthodox wedding and you begin to get the picture) helped liberate and expand the possibilities of jazz improvisation. Like Coleman and Sun Ra, Maneri was an astute and original composer: his work is not immediately accessible, but patient ears quickly identify a very consistent logic and style.

Anyone who has seen the excellent American Splendor (a film celebrating the life of curmudgeonly comic book artist Harvey Pekar) has heard Maneri: his impossibly cool ”Paniots Nine” accompanies the opening credits. Pekar allegedly insisted that Maneri’s music be used, and this stands to reason as Pekar (himself a jazz critic) championed a largely obscure Maneri back in the ’90s. Indeed, it was John Zorn who helped release Paniots Nine (the title of the first track is also the title of the album), which makes all the sense in the world considering Zorn effectively took up Maneri’s baton in the ’80s and began cleverly integrating traditional Jewish music into his own compositions. It’s fair to say that Maneri, though lamentably overlooked for entirely too long, was the first major composer to actively bring those disparate elements and influences into free (but still swinging) jazz.

by Eleanore Catolico

10 Sep 2009

Interpolators of literature always try to figure out how we, as readers, glean the book in our hands. Arguments between the likes of Harold Bloom and the New Critics in the ‘50s, whose polemics on whether the book should be read and analyzed for what it is—or taking into account external sources, such as the author’s life—still divide academics today. Then there’s the recluse Thomas Pynchon.

So far, what we have derived about the man on our own terms has been kept to a minimum. Pynchon is painted as a cult literary icon, perpetuated by his classic cache of post modernist literature that inspires fear in the heart and tires the brain, most notably the archetypal Gravity’s Rainbow. To this day, Pynchon maintains a badass status. Pynchon’s relentless protection of his private life gives him more street cred and elevates the mythology surrounding him. Whether this is an emblematic projection, a dogma many writers quietly circumscribe to, or me just being a troglodyte of the media, Pynchon inherits the lineage of writer as vocation, not as celebrity. But when Pynchon himself gives us a small window into his brilliant mind, we must take whatever we can get. In this case, it’s his iPod tracklist.

Released just last August, Pynchon’s new novel Inherent Vice is a comical distillation of the crime fiction genre. The profile of our hero speaks for itself: Name: Larry (Doc) Sportello. Occupation:  Detective and lover of the gonge. Mission:  Investigate the whereabouts of ex-girlfriend’s boyfriend, a prominent land developer. As the action unfolds, Sportello’s case takes detours into the post apocalyptic noir of Pynchon’s familial pedigree. Set against the backdrop of L.A. at the end of the ‘60s, Inherent Vice makes you feel the heat of a strange kind of Americana slowly dying.

Music plays a vital role in coloring the atmospherics of this novel. The plethora of musical allusions span the gamut, from legendary prog rockers the Doors, to obscure surf music from the likes of the Bonzo Dog Band, to the Grand Dame of the Broadway Stage, Ethel Merman. Pynchon compiled the comprehensive soundtrack himself for Amazon.com, with over 20 eclectic tracks all referenced in Inherent Vice.

These songs are by no means a substitute to secrets revealed, or a tell all interview Oprah style, but it does feed, however sparingly, an army of Pynchonphiles who have been hungry for decades. Here’s a partial track listing of the songs in Inherent Vice, the full list can be found on Inherent Vice‘s page on Amazon, a promo trailer for Inherent Vice narrated by Pynchon, and a video of Ethel Merman’s “There’s No Business Like Show Business”:

by L.B. Jeffries

10 Sep 2009

From EVE Online

From EVE Online

There have been two absolutely amazing MMO stories coming down the blog pipeline and both deserve mentioning.

The first is Jim Rossignol’s four part series over at Rock, Paper, Shotgun about his five year experiences with EVE Online. It chronicles the formation of a small raiding corporation called The State and their wanderings across the massive universe of EVE. If you’re unfamiliar with the game, it’s a startlingly open game where players form enormous corporations and alliances. Resources must be mined, transported, and developed at player created stations. The need to ferry supplies and control markets, all controlled by players, make his stories of pirating and raiding groups fascinating both as a social experiment and purely because of how complex these online games are becoming. Fondly remembering a long conflict with another corporation Rossignol writes, “The few months in which we fought, toe to toe, is something I’d love to be able to recreate or recapture, but I know it’s lost. A singularity in the history of gaming. It was so valuable: a time when the kind of game I’d always dreamed of had come to pass: carving out our niche in a living universe, protecting the weak, working as a team to make money and bring down enemies.”

From Ultima Online

From Ultima Online

The second is a collection of musings by a former GameMater or GM of the now defunct Ultima Online. The game was one of the first graphically depicted MMO games and drew heavily on MUDs and previous Ultima games for its design. What made it unique was what a hostile and wild place the game became when contrasted to modern MMO’s. If someone unprepared stepped outside of town, thugs would descend on them immediately. The game was ridiculously unbalanced as well, allowing for master players to basically dominate the scene. Being a GM in such a culture, which resembled Hobbes’s state of nature more than a civil online game, allowed one called Backslash to collect a long list of stories. So many that he’s posted three essays so far with hopefully more to come. You can check the first post out here. He comments, “As an ex-professional deus ex machina, I have a brain full of these stories that bubble up unbidden in my memory from time to time. I thought you might enjoy if I shared a few of the more interesting stories I took part in.”

You can’t make stuff like this up.

by AJ Ramirez

10 Sep 2009

For the longest time, I thought “Oh Sheila” was a Prince song. It wasn’t until sometime in the mid-‘90s that I discovered that it was actually by a group called Ready for the World, an ensemble that consisted of multiple people who emphatically weren’t Mr. Unpronounceable Symbol. Regardless of who actually made it, I always loved the song to death. Even when I forsook R&B and rap in the late ‘90s to delve into the rock genre, I would get unreasonably excited whenever this song aired on the “old school oldies” radio station my mom liked to tune to in the car.

Ready for the World was one of a slew of workmanlike yet indistinguishable mid-level R&B hitmakers that swarmed American radio in the mid-1980s. The six-piece from Flint, Michigan notched several hits on the Billboard R&B Charts, but I dare you to even name a single band member.  There of the band’s singles reached the Billboard Top 40: the aforementioned 1985 number one hit “Oh Sheila”, the oddly Mute Records-esque follow-up single “Digital Display”, and the 1986 slow jam “Love You Down”. But only “Oh Sheila” has the infectious energy and unstoppable hooks to warrant repeated listens. And you can bet like hell I’ve listened to this song constantly ever since finally I bought it on iTunes a few months back.

by Eleanore Catolico

10 Sep 2009

Mica Levi’s Jewellry has garnered accolades because of its beautifully constructed bizarreness, a synecdoche of pop atonality.Yesterday, the 21-year-old Levi, performing under the stage name Micachu, released the video for “Turn Me Well”. Ethereal and hypnotic, “Turn Me Well” spellbinds one into sonic reverie: the jagged rip of a chainsaw becomes a clutter of clanks and grimy fuzz becomes a twinkle of a triangle. Yet these incongruous panoply of sounds are made sensible under Levi’s voice, a reverberating chant of disillusionment and just being fed up. With allusions to the mendacity and haplessness of the seasons, “Turn Me Well” makes you feel a desire strung out way too long, left totally derailed. Verses like, “Get to me and turn me well, I’m a tired soul,” get embedded into your consciousness. At a little under three minutes, “Turn Me Well” is a gorgeously sculpted vignette of music, moodily psychedelic, but no less revelatory.

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