Saturday, May 19, 2007

Jazz at Arturo's Restaurant

With a bustling crowd chowing down pizza 7 nights a week, the jazz at Arturo's often fades to the background. But if you choose to listen, you're in for a treat, as we discovered last night.

With the elegant Kayo tickling the ivories in the 6-8 pm slot (joined by a 3-man band), the joint was grooving to her bubbling renditions of Jobim's Wave and others. But what a treat when guest vocalist--and TRP poet!--Peter Carlaftes stood in and delivered a melancholic version of You are Too Beautiful. His smooth stylings caused diners to pause mid-slice and pay attention. Not that we're biased, but--boy!--was he fantastic.

Soon after, during Kayo's break--another special treat! Visiting San Francisco friends Jean and John Mazzei took over the stage and brought the house down with an inside-out rendition of Centerpiece. Jean's vocals wove in and out of the piece's center, sounding more relaxed, round and laid back than ever, with a new rhythmic edge. John's keyboard frenzy expanded the edges of the standard's lines, with "How's he gonna come back from there?" outside entanglements that brought new beauty to the tune. Wrapping up their short set with Bye, Bye Blackbird, the Mazzei's again launched in new directions, taking their ballad-like intro into a bouncing groove that highlighted both their strengths.

Following another set by Kayo, the music continued with a season-themed set by the piano player whose name--alas!--I cannot remember!!! And he's really great!! He tripped on The Autumn Leaves, an homage to cool weather yesterday, and--by request!--spun out a hearty take on Clifford Brown's Joy Spring.

Note to the piano players: the applause--at least from me!--was not in response to the Yankees' game on the TV just left of you. It was the music! It was the music! It was the music!

Monday, May 14, 2007

Poetry Group Review: Wordsworth

Yesterday, Poetry Group 1 studied the romantic musings of Wordsworth. Always interesting, PG1 focuses on a different poet weekly, generally meeting on Fridays at 4 in a wide variety of locations. Yesterday juxtaposed the delicious Vietnamese food of Mekong Delta (6th Ave. & King Street) with the literary icon. Between bites of shrimp papaya salad and salt and pepper calamari, we took turns reading Wordsworth aloud and musing on his prowess.

The struggle to find beauty in the grim, grim world has always been tough. Wordsworth masters it as no one before or since, without denying the reality of death, ghosts, pain, sorrow, horror, etc. He was no naive optimist, but seemed to force himself to find beautiful things to reflect upon in the lonely times.

Here's one of his most famous works:


I WANDERED lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed--and gazed--but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

Thursday is Poetry Group 2, and the poet is 20th century Manhattanite and modern romantic Frank O'Hara.

Friday, it's back to PG1 with an in-depth look at Wordsworth's laudanum-addicted buddy Sam Coleridge. We'll be reading "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" in a rowboat in Central Park.

Til then, I'm off to dance with the daffodils!

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Happy Mother's Day

In honor of Mother's Day I listen to The Mothers of Invention. "Plastic People. Oh, Baby--now you're such a drag!"

Frank Zappa--here's to you, wherever your remains be. The ultimate Mother.

The used "Absolutely Free" record I got just a couple weeks ago had a clipping of a Down Beat interview with Zappa in it, talking about his disgust with the whole music industry (you don't get that kind of extra with downloads!).

Zappa: All those mediocre groups reap a huge profit, because people really like what they do. The more mediocre your music is, the more accessible it is to a larger number of people in the United States. That's where the market is. You're not selling to a bunch of jazz aesthetes in Europe. You're selling to Americans, who really hate music and love entertainment, so the closer your product is to mindless entertainment material, escapist material, the better off you're going to be. People will dump a lot of money into a bunch of young pretty boys who are ready to make music of limited artistic merit so long as they can sell a lot of it.

DB: What about your gestures of contempt toward your audience?

Zappa: I don't think the typical rock fan is smart enough to know he's been dumped on, so it doesn't make any difference...Those kids wouldn't know music if it cam up and bit 'em on the ass. Especially in terms of a live concert where the main element is visual. Kids go to see their favorite acts, not to hear them . . . We work on the premise that nobody really hears what we do anyway, so it doesn't make any difference if we play a place that's got ugly acoustics. The best responses we get from an audience are when we do our worst material.

TRP poet guru Peter had a funny experience with FZ and the Mothers. In 1975, after scalping tickets in Central Park for a show at Wollman Rink (summer, no ice--they used to have concerts there), the intrepid Peter took a seat on a nearby hill to watch the show for free. "About a half-hour into the concert, some guy screamed out, "Play Louie, Louie!" Zappa and entourage complied, and played Louie, Louie for 20 minutes and walked off stage. The crowd cheered and demanded an encore. The band came back. The same guy screamed out, "Play Louie, Louie!" The band did it again, for another 20 minutes. What a show.

Has much changed? Not sure, but while browsing myspace for Greek-affiliated people I came across three very cool sites from Athens artists, including 2 dub musicians (Direct Connection and Frequency Freak and visual artist George Tzannes. I don't know any of these guys, but I really like the stuff they do and their attitude. Check them out.

Saturday, May 12, 2007


Today's exciting event was Perryphernalia! the annual block garage sale on Perry Street between W. 4th St. and Bleecker. Unlike so many other street fairs in NYC, this one does not offer The World's Softest Socks, 600-Thread Count Sheets, or any the other "professional" vendor items. It's just folks from the 'hood, settin' up card tables and sellin' art 'n' stuff.

The stuff ranges from homemade jewelry to basement junk including old clothes (one lady had 52 black cocktail dresses!), strange knickknacks (a ceramic ladybug that shoots light out of its body!) to semi-antique odds and ends (a 1930s era box full of travel hangers!).

The best part about it--besides finding that espresso cup and saucer set I've been wanting for-evah--is that it gives you a chance to see your neighbors--without dogs! I hardly recognized them! Seems every other person living in this neighborhood has one of those cute tiny dogs you see in the pet store window that cost $3500 or more. It may sound expensive, but "expensive" is relative: around here, it's probably less than a month's rent--for a studio apartment!

Prices were much more reasonable at the Perryphernalia. It doesn't end until 5: I'm definitely going back a few more times today. See you there.

Monday, May 7, 2007

The Mighty Pacific

Much as I love the Atlantic ocean, there's something really special about that Paciic. It's just different. More cliffs, maybe. Or maybe it's just the foliage that runs from the desert of Southern California to the water's edge. Palm trees, cactus, cliff-covering succulents, natural grasses, all leading down to the tide pools at the water's edge.

It makes you consider of a wider range of possibilities, just looking at all the variety.

Of course, it also makes me realize that maybe I need to spend more time this summer exploring the Atlantic.

Jersey Shore, anyone? The Hamptons? I'm ready anytime.

Photos: Laguna Beach, May 4, 2007

From the Cradle to the Grave: Costco

This past weekend's trip to SoCal offered many insights, none of which was more enlightening than finding out that Costco—that mega-giant big box store of big stores—offers many huge things for sale, from giant packages of Pampers, ultra wide-screen tvs, excessively large slabs of meat and cheese. But—did you know?—they also sell caskets! True. Photos don't lie, as this image, caught by our dutiful Three Rooms Press spy, reveals. Who cares if Paris Hilton is going to jail? Get me one of them caskets. The only question we have is: Do they come in extra large sizes? Not to be weight-phobic, but many of those Costco shoppers look as if they don't necessarily share the 2 lb. bags of potato chips they score for discout prices. It's nice to know that from the cradle to the grave, Costco's got you covered.

Friday, May 4, 2007

I love airports!

My plane is late and I couldn't be happier! I'm at a airport, one of the last meccas of real human-to-human communication. Everywhere around me, people are talking to each other--not to their cell phones (at least not all of them, or rather, not all the time). Not to themselves. I'm one of the few even typing on my computer. And to think I'm at San Francisco airport--gateway to Silicon Valley!

Sure I have things I should be doing. So does everyone else here. We rub shoulders with fellow travelers and talk about the smallest things. One lady just asked her fellow conventioneer travelers, "Do you throw your magazines away after you read them, or do you keep them?" And about that convention--wish I was there: "Last night I laughed my butt off! And did you know, laughing is the best calorie burner of them all?"

At the airport bar, I sidle into a bloody mary and chat with people in the Airport Way. Where are you going? Where are you from? and occasionally What is your name?

That's further than you usually get at the local coffee shop, where you can people watch all you want, but rarely get as intimate in communication as talking to someone actually there (local being, in this case, New York City, a quaint village on the East Coast of the United States of America).

Right now, as far as I'm concerned--let the plane circle the airport a few thousand more times. What can I do? When you're stuck, you're stuck, and--at least in this case--at the airport--it's a refreshing experience.

Naturally, I may not feel the same if I have to spend the night.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

What's So Funny? by Donald E. Westlake

Sunday afternoon, while idly flipping through the Times' Book Review section I glanced at a half page color ad and froze. What's So Funny?, Donald Westlake's new Dortmunder book was out. My hands started shaking. I checked the ad three times to make sure it was true, then threw the paper on the floor, slammed on my shoes, grabbed my pocketbook and ran out the door straight to Partners & Crime, Greenwich Village's great mystery bookstore on Greenwich Avenue at Charles Street. "Please have it!" I mumbled all the way there. "I don't want to give my hard-earned money to Barnes & Noble. I support the independents, come hell or high water--as long as they have what I need."

I needed Dortmunder. Badly. Call it a bigtime addiction.

For the unwise uninitiated, the foolish few, or the naive nuts out there, Westlake's Dortmunder series is an ongoing riot featuring the pessimistic professional thief, John Dortmunder and his gang of bumbling burglars including Andy Kelp (former owner of Kelp's Keys, who doesn't need or use a key to get into any door); Tiny (a behemoth, the size of a walking wall), and Stan Murch (a professional driver, who knows the quickest route between two points anywhere in the New York City's five boroughs).

Most of the action takes place in Manhattan, and in the case of What's So Funny?, all the irritants of the "new" versus "old" cultures come to the fore, in ways so bizarre--yet true--you wish you had written it yourself.

For instance: Murch comes up with a plan to steal the gold dome that's sitting in a fenced off yard in Brooklyn. The dome is supposed to be installed on top of a new mosque, but the installation is being help up by lack of proper permits. Dortmunder--even before hearing the plan--dismisses it, only because it's in Brooklyn. Murch growls, "That's the trouble with all you guys . . . you're all Manhattancentric."

Meanwhile, poor Dortmunder is set up by a retired cop to pull an impossible heist--or face 15 years in prison for a former crime. His first instinct is to move to Chicago. Reading his mind, the ex-cop warns, "Police departments around America . . . are getting better and better at cooporation, what with the Internet and all. Everybody helps everybody, and nobody can disappear." Being a crook just ain't what it used to be; but Dortmunder--albeit grudgingly--doesn't give up.

The resulting mayhem is an hilarious roller coaster ride, with some of Westlake's best writing ever. They say writing comedy is tougher than any other form of writing. But when it's done right--as in this case--it's a breeze to read and rewarding to boot. They call this a "caper," which is technically accurate. But don't underestimate the echo of cultural commentary that Dortmunder, like Vonnegut, slips in to reduce the answer to the title's question, "What's So Funny?" to "This book. Wish the world was more like it."

Westlake (surprisingly) does have his own website: which is well worth a visit. But why waste time? Turn off your computer, and pick up a copy of What's So Funny? from your favorite independent bookseller.