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Thursday, November 30, 2006

A new live music calendar emerges

Posted By on 11.30.06 at 09:06 PM

Tushar Samant, the webmaster for the Umbrella Music organization, has just launched a new live music calendar for the jazz, experimental, and improvised music communities. The calendar attempts to fill the large void left by Malachi Ritscher’s Chicago Rash Audio Potential (which itself was a replacement for Seth Tisue’s Chicago Now list). It doesn’t have a name yet, and the current URL is temporary, but it’s good to see someone stepping up to advocate music that has too few reliable supporters.

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Bossa n' Roses: here to help you sell spendy shoes

Posted By on 11.30.06 at 09:03 PM


Sometimes I wonder if some of the PR agents out there—mostly the ones lurking in the shadowy realm of the novelty compilations—might be psychic. I'd just struggled through half a review of Malajube's decent set last night at a Fader party when a press release about the Bossa n' Roses comp landed in my in-box with an angelic beep. One 30 second clip of "November Rain" later, I was thinking, "This is much easier."

Bossa n' Roses is part of a bossa nova tribute series that includes one album of Bob Marley songs and two of Stones songs, with album art designed by or for the crotch enthusiast. According to the press release, the comps are supposed to be, "cool, intelligent, modern and a little bit ironic!" If this string of blandly buzzy adjectives appeals to you, you are probably either the owner of an expensive Wicker Park boutique, have opened or are considering opening a tapas lounge, or you are an insufferable dick who does things like throw dinner parties just so you can show off your new ice-cube trays. If you are any of these things, please order Bossa n' Roses right now: its combination of Casio-strength synthstruments, kittenish whisper-singing, and "cool, intelligent, modern" irony is totally your jam. Play it as background music while people shop for overpriced shoes/dog outfits/baby-sized AC/DC shirts. Buy extra copies to give to your friends at your next party, because when you put it on they will so be in your face all, "Dude, what is this?"

Did you know that Bossa n' Roses is number nine on Spain's iTunes album chart? And what comes from Spain? That's right: tapas bars. Do the math.

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Speaking of kimchi . . .

Posted By on 11.30.06 at 01:42 PM


For the second year in a row, my ladyfriend's mom sent back a gigantic jar of homemade kimchi after Thanksgiving. Last year she sent the regular cut cabbage variety (tongbaechu) which she ever so lightly sweetens with asian pear (another excellent use for this most versatile of fruits, one that the Pear Lady declared "fancy.") This year I'm in possession of about six year's worth of whole-radish kimchi, aka chongak kimchi, aka "bachelor's kimchi," named for the long strand of greenery left dangling at tip of the white stubby radish. It's meant to resemble the the unshorn locks of young unchained Korean men of yore. I really like this bit of shrubbery, which is saturated with peppery juice, but the radish itself is still very fresh and slightly but nicely bitter. Personally, I like my kimchi on the funky side and I've been told this stuff needs a good three more weeks in the fridge before it's at its prime. Unlike Martha I can't give the recipe because the chef is strangely mercurial about her methods, but if anyone's really interested (and willing to come get it), I'll donate a small jar in the spirit of paying it forward, and reducing the the aggressive aroma dominating my fridge. First come. . .

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Set your sarcasm detectors

Posted By on 11.30.06 at 12:36 PM

Is this bumper sticker (which apparently still has to be imported from the U.K.) sarcastic or not? Does it depend on the gross weight of the vehicle to which it's attached? (Thanks, Treehugger.)

And here's a glimpse of the world where sarcasm can go entirely undetected: "The November 15 edition of 'The Colbert Report' on Comedy Central offered more proof of comedian Stephen Colbert's ineffective charade at pretending to be a conservative." (Hat tip to Pharyngula, where commenters indulge in a discussion of whether there has been an intentionally funny conservative since Evelyn Waugh. Your thoughts?)

And finally, just for fairness and balance, here's an unbelievably ignorant comment from the liberal side by David Shenk, author of The Immortal Game, published in the Toronto Star and republished at 3 Quarks Daily:

"Q. Do you ever fantasize about teaching chess to some religious fundamentalists?

"A. What a great question. I should actually try to do this some time—just spend time studying how someone who thinks in this fundamentalist way most of the time is also a chess player, because I really see it as a contradiction."

Here I wish he was being saracastic! Having played tournament chess for decades, I can assure Mr. Shenk that strong chess players can hold every imaginable kind of preposterous opinion without damaging their game at all.  George Orwell still rules—he had to make this same point about Ezra Pound, who spoke for fascism and wrote great poetry. Deal with it, folks.

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Posted By on 11.30.06 at 11:19 AM

This story in today’s New York Times discusses a new music-critics poll hosted by the New York blog Idolator, a music-oriented spinoff of Gawker. The project, overseen by one-time Reader contributor Michaelangelo Matos, is seeking the opinions (i.e., top-ten lists) from some 1,200 music journalists. The new poll, Jackin’ Pop, was conceived as a challenge to Village Voice’s Pazz & Jop Poll, which lost much of its credibility this fall, when the paper dismissed longtime critic and poll “poobah” Robert Christgau. Idolator tried to enlist Christgau to run the show, but he declined—although he will contribute his list and comments to the new poll, as well as the old Voice poll, which will continue under the direction of the paper's current music editor, Rob Harvilla.

I understand the impulse to create a new forum now that the Voice looks so stupid and clueless. But I don’t see a mass exodus of the old guard from Pazz & Jop happening anytime soon, especially when Christgau says he’s still going to contribute. Now we have two competing critics polls, but isn’t one enough? Most of us get some kind of begrudging kick from compiling these lists—Reader music writers will be submitting their top-fives soon—but the Internet has made the whole enterprise feel like overkill. What was good, even noble, about the Voice poll was that it aimed for a critical consensus, even if the consensus was sometimes mediocre. The zillion lists that will pop up on the Web over the next month or two (and I’ll surely produce a top-40 list for this blog) start to look like a comprehensive catalog of every album released the previous year, which makes the utility of lists questionable. And it looks like those lists are only going to keep propagating more lists.

Being that the Idolator is a Web-only publication, I suspect that some veteran critics won’t be involved in Jackin' Pop—more out of laziness that anything else—and I'll bet that if it does take root it will skew more toward younger bands; I doubt the new Yusuf album will turn up anywhere. My ego will probably guarantee my participation, if only to make sure Olivia Block gets represented, but I still yearn for the days when too much information was just that, not the current mental detonation every new Web page threatens to create.

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Scientists' double standard

Posted By on 11.30.06 at 08:13 AM

"I don't believe in life after death," Natalie Angier wrote in the American Scholar two years ago, "but I'd like to believe in life before death. I'd like to think that one of these days we'll leave superstition and delusional thinking and Jerry Falwell behind. Scientists would like that, too. But for now, they like their grants even more."

Angier's eloquent plaint is getting a second life on the Web thanks to Edge magazine.  Her prize examples revealing how scientists malign some superstitions more than others were drawn from two installments of Cornell University's "Ask an Astronomer" online feature.

On religion: "Modern science leaves plenty of room for the existence of God and that there are plenty of places where people who do believe in God can fit their beliefs in the scientific framework without creating any contradictions."

On astrology: "Astronomers do not believe in astrology. It is considered to be a ludicrous scam. There is no evidence that it works, and plenty of evidence to the contrary. There is also no mechanism by which distant planets could possibly influence personalities."

Logically, of course, it's equally possible to find hidey-holes in the currently known universe for astrology, suitably interpreted. But the stars haven't been aligned to get those believers' hands on NSF funding.


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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Charlie's Big Announcement

Posted By on 11.29.06 at 07:35 PM


Grieving fans of the late Lo-Cal Locale might be excited to know that a new restaurant is moving in to punch their yogurt cards. Charlie Trotter today announced plans for his first new restaurant in Chicago since he opened his namesake spot in 1987 and fundamentally changed the restaurant scene in this town. He did open the takeout Trotter's To Go on Fullerton in 2000, but this time the idea is much grander: Trotter will be responsible for all food and beverage operations at the Elysian Hotel, the planned luxury hotel and residence set to open in 2008 at 11 E. Walton.

The Elysian is a monster: 60 retro stories occuping the entire trapezoid bounded by Walton and Delaware, State and Rush. Designed by Lucien Lagrange, of the teeteringly ginormous Park Tower at Water Tower, among other buildings, it is already loaded with the kind of intent and marketing that makes it seem funny we still talk about the 80s as the decade of excess. Their website teases: "Coco Chanel. Frank Sinatra. The Duchess of Windsor. At one time, all of them resided in world-famous hotels. And now that life can be yours." I always thought there was something tatty as well as glamorous about globe-trotting old mooches like Wallis who lived in hotels, meself, but I understand the appeal. The Elysian will have, in addition to approximately 150 hotel and condo units, what looks like a mansard-roof hat, a four-story spa, and a "European auto courtyard."

Trotter has had high-profile expansions in the works in the past, but for one reason or another they haven't panned out. Most recently (and publicly) he cancelled plans to open a seafood restaurant in the Time-Warner Center in New York and in 2003 he pulled out as anchor tenant at Paul Allen's Hospital complex in London. (He did open C at the One & Only Palmilla resort in Los Cabos, Mexico, in 2004.) However, as Crain's points out, this development is slightly different. In addition to being in town, Trotter is aligning himself tightly with a hotel, as Rick Tramanto and Gale Gand of Tru have recently done with the Westin North Shore in Wheeling. And founding partner and CEO of the Elysian's development company, David Pisor, is no stranger to the fine food world.  His aunt is Alice Waters, of Berkeley's Chez Panisse, and his father founded an artisanal bread company in Traverse City, Michigan.

The food will supposedly be much the same as found on Armitage, at least in the one Elysian restaurant that will be open for dinner only; there'll also be a more traditional hotel dining room open all day. But the across-the-board plan is not for "a stamped-out, high-end experience," says Charlie, "but something that is really personal and has a genuineness about it."

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The Wood Brothers really are brothers

Posted By on 11.29.06 at 07:19 PM

Chris Wood, the bass player in Medeski, Martin & Wood, takes a simple approach when he gets together with his guitar-playing, singing brother, Oliver, in the Wood Brothers. They hadn’t played together for years, but not so long ago Oliver discovered that Chris had a National Steel guitar, one of the most beautiful looking (and sounding) instruments ever made. I guess they started this band so that he could play it.    

Earlier this year the Wood Brothers released Ways Not To Lose on Blue Note Records, and frankly, it’s hard to imagine the label would've put it out if MMW—who themselves play in Chicago with guitarist John Scofield at the Vic on December 9—hadn’t already released records on Blue Note. It’s not really bad, but calling it slight is a compliment. Oliver plays simple, low-key slide patterns over his brother’s nicely woody lines and sings in a relaxed, almost catatonic warble. The music, which kind of reminds me of early Little Feat without the depth, is hushed blues-rock, with a damper on the rock part of the equation. They perform tomorrow night, Thursday, November 30, at Schubas.

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'Fest for free

Posted By on 11.29.06 at 05:56 PM


I just got clued in to a free Rhymefest thing happening tomorrow (Thursday, November 30) in Chicago. He's playing some sort of Courvoisier-sponsored party down at Dragonfly, 832 W. Randolph, and it looks like if you show up by 9:30 you can hit up the open bar. This will be something like the kajillionth free Rhymefest show in Chicago in the past two years, but given his dedication to not sleepwalking through any show, big or small—a rare quality in MCs these days—it should be worth getting down to. The first time I saw Rhymefest was a launch party for the Puma store at Four, where he rapped from the stairs to the second level and went on a tear about something to do with Kanye being responsible for him not being able to pay his gas bill. As a concert it was a mess, but as a shock of frenetic weirdness intruding on the sedate open-bar scene, it was gold.

In other non-sucky hip-hop concert news, Keith Murray is off the bill of the December 6 Redman/Raekwon show at House of Blues. He's being replaced by Ghostface, which could make it the most bananafied rap concert of the year. Check out the videos on Raekwon's MySpace page to get a taste of the insanity I'm expecting him to bring. 

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Village Voice poll moves to IndieWire

Posted By on 11.29.06 at 01:58 PM

An excellent story in The Reeler, which covers "New York City cinema, from the art house to the red carpet," details how the reorganization of the Village Voice has affected the paper’s film criticism. To quote writer S.T. VanAirsdale, "The interim replacement for fired section editor Dennis Lim . . . lasted only two days before giving his notice, the budget [amounts] to just a third of its size prior to last winter’s merger with the New Times chain, the popular year-end critics’ poll [has] been cancelled, a number of respected freelance critics and feature writers . . . have disappeared from [the Voice's] pages and its de-emphasis on local independent and repertory releases may end up alienating some of its advertisers."

Losing the Voice’s year-end poll was particularly tough for film lovers across the country because it focuses on alternative newspapers, which are more inclined to cover independent and foreign films. By organizing these disparate voices into a single chorus, the Voice poll provided a valuable counterweight to the ten-best lists of the nation’s dailies, which tend to favor big-studio releases. It’s hard to believe that David Cronenberg's harsh A History of Violence would have picked up any Oscar nominations this year if it hadn’t topped the Voice poll in 2005. In addition, the contributors’ comments, collected and edited by Lim, could always be counted on for some of the liveliest and most provocative film writing of the year.

Now word arrives that Lim and critic Anthony Kaufman will be continuing the poll on the Web site IndieWire, with the same rules, categories, and opportunity for critics to sound off. Ballots are due by December 15, and Lim hopes to post the results before the holidays.

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