Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Facts matter

From Adam Gopnik's Angels and Ages: A Short Book about Darwin, Lincoln, and Modern Life:
Induction and argument are the probity of liberal thought. Facts matter, logic counts, describing the stamen of the orchid exactly is worth six volumes on the metaphysics of being.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Anthony Lane is a genius

A writer who can cogently bring together the Eurovision Song Contest and the Thirty Years War, who can felicitously employ “the synchronized rattle of sabres” and “an elderly Cretan slapping an octopus against the side of a wharf” while comparing a Celine Dion outfit to “a naval officer trying to mate with a lampshade” belongs to a higher order of being. It's even tastier if you ever watched the contest, as I did growing up in Portugal in the early days of the contest. Read the whole thing, you won't regret it. It requires a subscription to the New Yorker, one of the very few print periodicals that deserves your support. Just this jewel is worth way more than the price of admission, so all of a year of Jane Mayer, Atul Gawande, Ian Frazier, Hendrik Hertzberg, George Packer, just to name a few, will come in better than free.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Vijay Iyer’s Life in Music: “Striving is the Back Story…”

Vijay Iyer’s Life in Music: “Striving is the Back Story…”: "Vijay Iyer brings rare stuff to jazz piano, starting with a Brahmin Indian name and heritage, and a Yale degree in physics. Gujarati stick dances and Bhajan devotional songs from Northern India are in his blood, well mixed by now with the pop sounds of a boyhood in Rochester, New York: Prince and James Brown, then Miles and Monk. He brings also — to his Birdland debut this Spring, and to his new CD, Historicity — bassist Stephan Crump and the drum prodigy Marcus Gilmore, who just happens to be the grandson of the last living drum giant of the Forties, the eternally experimental Roy Haynes. But the sum of Vijay Iyer’s gifts is more exciting than any of the parts. He brings to improvisational music, most of all, the aura of an art starting fresh, just beginning — not looking back, much less winding down.
I just tried to share this item from Reader but I didn't get quite the effect I expected. The item was shared only to my followers, it was stripped of a URL in the comment text, and I can't find how to post-edit it. I guess the default for more privacy is better than the alternatives, but I'd like a centralized place to edit and tweak access control for all items I post from any Google property (Blogger, Reader, Buzz). I hope it happens.
Now for the item. This was one of the best Chris Lydon interviews in a long while, the music snippets were wonderful, and it made me look forward even more to Iyer's trio visit to this Fall's SF Jazz Festival.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Lazy Saturday

Sleeping late, working out, enjoying a long lunch, finishing reading Parisians. Which has many engaging parts, including the Juliette Gréco-Miles Davis romance as a screenplay, true and fake assassination attempts on de Gaulle and Mitterrand in the style of police reports, May 68 as a pompous academic paper with a twist and an edge, and the grandiose modernization of Paris under Pompidou and Chirac expressed in a language that parallels the drawings of Tardi or Bilal.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Juliette and Miles

I'm reading Graham Robb's Parisians, thanks to Chris Lydon's podcast interview with Robb. One of its chapters, in the form of a screenplay, is about Juliette Gréco, the end of the war, St. Germain, existentialists, and her affair with Miles Davis. Searching for more information, I just found a poignant interview with Gréco about her remembrance of Miles on the occasion of what would have been his 80th birthday if he had lived that long.

I'd heard of people like Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir when I was 14 or 15, through my sister who was a student, but I couldn't ever have imagined that one day I'd be close to them. Sartre said to Miles, "Why don't you and Juliette get married?" Miles said, "Because I love her too much to make her unhappy." It wasn't a matter of him being unfaithful or behaving like a Don Juan; it was simply a question of colour. If he'd taken me back to America with him, I would have been called names.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Dave Holland Quintet

The Dave Holland Quintet (in its "default" configuration of Chris Potter sax, Robin Eubanks trombone, Dave Holland Bass, Steve Nelson vibraphone, and Nate Smith drums) is playing this weekend at Yoshi's in Oakland. Alex and I and early (very nice) dinner before the Friday 8pm set, and then got a gift of the 10pm set because the room wasn't fully booked (same happened last time we were there for Joe Lovano). The first set was tight well constructed, with a couple of new compositions, but a bit "cold." More like one of the quintet's recordings than a live set. But on the second set, they seemed more relaxed, enjoying themselves, and letting go with mesmerizing bouts of improvisation. They all contributed great passages. While my favorite players of the evening were overall Potter and (as always) Nelson, a genius of rhythmic surprise, Eubanks led the widest ranging improvisations of the evening around his composition Full Circle from the Critical Mass recording that launched this lineup.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010


Over the Memorial Day weekend, I joined a guided ASI group trip to ski on Mount Shasta. On Sunday, two separate groups formed with the two ASI guides. Two of us, with the lead guide, had the goal of attempting to summit Shasta and ski down from as high as possible. Because of avalanche danger from the recent snow, we ended up camping at Horse Camp (7800 ft) rather than at Hidden Valley (over 10k). The good news on that is that Horse Camp has composting toilets, so we avoided the indignities of poop bags. The bad news is that the climb from Horse Camp is almost 6400 ft vertical, a tall order on a single push. We left at 1:30am under a beautiful late full moon, no headlamps needed. We skinned all the way past Helen Lake to 11500 ft, where skinning became too inefficient for the steepening slope. We were making very good time. We switched then to boot crampons, following the very well defined bootpack that the many climbers overnighting at Helen Lake on a great holiday weekend had created. The dawning day was glorious: cool, some cloud, great visibility, low to moderate winds. As we climbed towards the Red Banks, I started to feel a bit strange, nothing big or obvious, just different. We kept going still at a reasonable pace, but as we cleared the Red Banks and moved up to Short Hill, I was having a weird feeling around my stomach and chest, although my legs were fine and my breath steady. I managed Short Hill and then Misery Hill, at a somewhat slower pace, still carrying skis. We left the skis at the top of Misery Hill, and after talking with the guide, we agreed that we'd walk the summit plateau to the bottom of the summit cone, and if I wasn't feeling better, I should just rest there in the warm sun while the guide and the other client would to the last 190 ft to the cone summit, as the guide was concerned that I'd lose my remaining strength and then not be able to ski down safely. That's what happened. I sat against a rock, dozing, taking a few pictures, enjoying the warmth, while they got up and down in less than half an hour. It was a bit of a struggle to walk back to the top of Misery Hill and gear up for skiing down, but surprisingly, I felt better as soon as we started skiing and losing elevation. There was wonderful recrystalized winter windpack on the east side of Misery Hill, away from the rocky windblown ridge that everyone walks up. We crossed to the other side at the bottom of Misery Hill, and took another pitch, more variable in snow surface but still good skiing, down to the top of Red Banks. Feeling better again. Dropped through a slot in Red Banks (nothing as fancy as the Trinity Chutes, which appeared to be rime-encrusted) through variable, crusty snow, but then opened up into exceptional spring snow, sun-softened new snow on top of a firm base, especially on the very long pitch below the Trinity Chutes. We skied high speed turns until our legs screamed, and then we skied high speed turns again. And again. All the way back to camp, with softer and softer conditions, but never mashed potatoes. Back to camp in less then 11 hours and over 6000 ft of amazing skiing for May 30th. And I was feeling perfect, not really tired, as if more normal oxygen had totally rebooted my body. We hung out around camp until an early dinner, and I slept beautifully from 8pm to 6am.

It was totally worth it. Both the guide and the other client on the climb did exactly what was needed at every point. A bit of a bummer that I passed summit bragging rights, but it was way better to rest and ski down well, than any of the scary alternatives. Later, my companions told me about some weird things I said on the summit plateau that I totally did not remember. I didn't have the classic altitude sickness symptoms (headaches, shallow breath), but apparently I complained of blurred vision -- which I don't remember -- and they said my speech was a bit messed up. I guess I learned something about my body's response to being above 13k. Whether this is a constant of my constitution or was the result of a relatively fast ascent from sea level to high elevation, I won't know until the next time.