Sunday, August 20, 2017

NYC Day 64: Move On. Nothing To See Here, Folks.

A second day in this week, although I did head out to my local supermarket to stock up on grocery items to see me through the next week or so of breakfasts and the occasional evening meal in. Today's expenses are entirely grocery shopping related. Since I need to write about something, I have included my shopping list below. I will almost certainly supplement this shopping expedition with a few other items during the week when my current supply of olives, eggs, and avocados run out.

The most unusual and unexpected item on this list for me is the SPAM. I have a vague recollection of having bought Spam only once before in my life, and I don't think I liked it much at all. So why buy it now? I don't rightly know. It was one of those spur of the moment purchases, and I thought it might be interesting to see whether fried up slices of the stuff with eggs might actually be okay. Oh, c'mon. Where's your sense of adventure? Besides, it's 'Hickory Smoke Flavored' so it can't be all bad, can it? Can it? [No pun intended]

From Wikipedia we learn:
Spam (stylized SPAM) is a brand of canned cooked meat made by Hormel Foods Corporation. It was first introduced in 1937 and gained popularity worldwide after its use during World War II. By 2003, Spam was sold in 41 countries on six continents and trademarked in over 100 countries (except in the Middle East and North Africa). In 2007, the seven billionth can of Spam was sold.
And further:
Hormel claims that the meaning of the name "is known by only a small circle of former Hormel Foods executives", but popular beliefs are that the name is an abbreviation of "spiced ham", "spare meat", or "shoulders of pork and ham". Another popular explanation is that Spam is an acronym standing for "Specially Processed American Meat" or "Specially Processed Army Meat".
The difficulty of delivering fresh meat to the front during World War II saw Spam become a ubiquitous part of the U.S. soldier's diet. It became variously referred to as "ham that didn't pass its physical", "meatloaf without basic training", and "Special Army Meat". Over 150 million pounds of Spam were purchased by the military before the war's end.
Okay. That's more than enough information about SPAM.

Today's shopping list 
Friday 18, August | Expenses $47.53 ($59.95)

Any questions, comments or suggestions? How about complaints or compliments? Let me know via the comments box below.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

NYC Days 61-63: In Which I 'Hit The Wall' and Sleep In Late

Click images to view full-sized
New York: Day 61
Tuesday 15, August | Expenses $00.00
After my late night out at the Bitter End (see previous post), and not getting to bed until well after 2:00AM, I spent today indoors, taking it easy. That's it. 'Nuff said.

Above: Images from the Ettore Sottsass exhibition.
New York: Day 62
Wednesday 16, August | Expenses $49.00 ($61.75)
I seem to be sleeping in more and more these days. Today was no exception, but I went out during the afternoon to the Met Breuer for the first time in several weeks. There is a new exhibition currently underway there, Ettore Sottsass: Design Radical.
A seminal figure in 20th-century design, the Italian architect and designer Ettore Sottsass (1917–2007) created a vast body of work, the result of an exceptionally productive career that spanned more than six decades. This exhibition reevaluates Sottsass's career in a presentation of key works in a range of media—including architectural drawings, interiors, furniture, machines, ceramics, glass, jewelry, textiles and pattern, painting, and photography. The exhibition presents Sottsass's work in dialogue with ancient and contemporaneous objects that inspired him, as well as his influence on designers working today. These juxtapositions offer new insight into his designs, situating him within a broader design discourse that reveals him as a true design radical.
Ettore Sottsass: Design Radical
Now through October 8, 2017

The Body Politic: Video from The Met Collection presents four works created between 1995 and 2016: David Hammons's Phat Free (1995), Arthur Jafa's Love Is the Message, the Message Is Death (2016), Steve McQueen's Five Easy Pieces (1995), and Mika Rottenberg's NoNoseKnows (2015). Alternately provocative, poignant, and absurdist, all of them explore the relationships among power, performance, and moving images. Here, the role of the camera is paramount. Besides a mediating agent and a framing device, the camera also serves as a witness, representing acts of injustice as well as moments of rebellion.
The Body Politic: Video from The Met Collection
Now through September 3, 2017

From the Breuer, I took first an M3 and then a M55 bus down to the Housing Works Bookstore Cafe (at 126 Crosby Stree, Manhattant), where I succumbed to purchasing two more books: Teju Cole's Open City, and a management book called Everything I Know About Business I Learned From The Grateful Dead, by Barry Barnes.

From there I headed off to the Angelika Film Center (at 18 West Houston Street, Manhattan) to see Sofia Coppola's latest film, The Beguiled.

New York: Day 63
Thursday 17, August | Expenses $31.72 ($40.10)
I slept through until 9:30 this morning, and got up thinking I could still do with a few hours sleep. This week has been a slow one for me, and I realize finally that I have 'hit the wall', as long distance runners might say. I am even finding it hard to work up the enthusiasm to write these blog posts. This 'hitting the wall' thing happened to me at around the same point last year, when for a brief time I thought, That's it. I'm over New York City. I could happily leave and never come back.

Of course, by the time I did leave New York, I was already looking forward to my next visit -- little thinking that it would be this year. Now here I am, not exactly over the city, but once again feeling worn out and ready to take a week off from all activities and events. Needless to say, I won't, but I will take it easy this week, and then try and ramp up my energy levels for the final three weeks of my stay.

Today, I returned once again to MoMA, and focused my attention of Pablo Picasso, and an artist I know nothing about Giorgio De Chirico (not that I know anything to speak of about Picasso).

Pablo Picasso: Night Fishing at Antibes, 1939
Picasso, as most people are aware, made his name as a cubist painter, in which his subjects are pulled apart and put together again in fractured, angular pieces. Most art galleries crave these types of paintings and sculptures by Picasso, but few seem to care about his early artistic career when his paintings were executed in a far more traditional style.

Pablo Picasso's Three Women at the Spring, 1921.
The Musee de l'Orangerie in Paris has quite a number of these early works on show, and when I saw them I was surprised by how conventional they were. And how good. But why should I have been surprised? The only reason I can offer is that few people get the chance to see these early works, because the major museums and galleries prefer the cubist Picasso to the conventional one. MoMA is no different to other institutions, but at least the room showing a large number of his works does have a few early pieces that reveal this other side of the artist.

Above (and detail below), Giorgio de Chirico's The Enigma Of A Day, 1914.
Giorgio De Chirico (1888-1978) is described as an Italian, born in Greece, and seems to have been one of the early surrealists. Judging by the works on show at MoMA, he also seems to have had a ''thing' for trains and placing small, isolated figures within huge, towering landscapes.

Above Giorgio de Chirico's Gare Montparnasse (The Melancholy of Departure), 1914.

I capped off my afternoon at MoMA by attending their screening of Steven Spielberg's 2002 adaptation of a Philip K. Dick short story, Minority Report. The film starred Tom Cruise, Colin Farrell, the great Max Von Sydow, and the wonderful Samantha Morton.

Late afternoon view of nearby buildings from MoMA 
Any questions, comments or suggestions? How about complaints or compliments? Let me know via the comments box below.

Can I go back to bed now?

Friday, August 18, 2017

NYC Day 60: In Which I Party to The Bitter End (Almost)

The Bitter End is a survivor. The venue has been the nurturing ground for hundreds of the most successful rock, folk, blues, jazz, and comedy acts of the past 50-plus years - ever since it was established in 1961. Many other famous New York clubs have come and gone during this period, but the Bitter End just keeps on keeping on - and long may it continue to do so.

When I was planning this current visit to New York, I thought I would be hanging out at the venue two or three nights a week, but as it happens, there has been so much else going on that I have hardly visited the place. With this, my sixtieth day in the city, it was time to set things right and test my resilience for my first real late night out.

The venue hosts an average of five or six acts each night, and on any visit you might see young soloists working on their music and stagecraft, or professional bands with years of experience in full flight. Also, with it being a Monday, I knew I would be in for a late night because every Monday night sees the saxophonist Richie Cannata pulling together some of the best musicians you are likely to see and hear anywhere for the Monday Night Jam. But before we get to that amazing session, there were a number of other acts to check out.

Bess Greenberg
Kicking off performances for the night was Bess Greenberg, a singer-songwriter and visual artist from Binghamton, New York. Bess has a strong, mature, resonant voice, and a bunch of songs that while interesting and engaging enough, never quite lift out of the ordinary into the extraordinary. Bess plays guitar, which she pretty much strummed throughout all her songs. This eventually became monotonous, especially when on several songs, she strummed her way through 8-bars of what I assume will eventually turn into an instrumental break in which a good lead guitarist (should she find one), will add some variety to her plain rhythm guitar style. She said she was missing her bass player during this gig, but I suspect that even with the addition of bass guitar, the songs would not have taken off as I would have liked them to do.

Julia Gargano
These issues were not a problem for the second act of the night, Julia Gargano and her three-piece band. Her songs were melodic, varied in pace, had shades of dark and light, and ranged from slow ballads to all-out rockers. Julia played acoustic guitar and piano during her set, and she knows how to fingerpick her way through a song, as well as belt out tunes on piano. Julia was joined on stage for some of her songs by a fine female backup singer. However, this young woman has not yet worked out what she should be doing with herself while she waits for her vocal parts to come around during Julia's songs. Once she has learned to do this, and to relax and enjoy being on stage more, she will fit well into the full line-up.

I first saw Bator-Or Kalo bring her exciting brand of rock and blues to the All Star Jam that takes place each Sunday fortnight at the Bitter End, on one of my visits to the venue in 2012. I became a fan there and then, and I have been happy to follow her development as a singer, songwriter, and as a rock and blues guitarist since that first encounter. In 2012, Bat-Or, an Israeli who moved to America in 2004, didn't have her own band, but since making the move from New York City to Oklahoma City, Bat-Or has been joined by Mike Alexander on drums, and Mack McKinney on bass guitar, and the trio now perform under the name KALO.

While Elfin-like and slight in stature, there is nothing slight about the music that Bat-Or writes and plays. In the five years since I first saw her perform, Bat-Or's guitar playing has become tighter and more exciting than ever to listen to. She has also become a more dynamic performer on stage. It is a place on which she clearly feels very comfortable.

Having seen the great slide guitar player Bonnie Raitt closing out the 2017 season of the Lincoln Center Out Of Doors program the previous evening, I can emphatically state that there are not enough women in rock music! Or playing Blues music for that matter. And Bat-Or and her bandmates are definitely a welcome addition to the thin ranks of past and present female rockers in those genres.

Rabbit's Foot
With the first three acts of the night being led by female performers, it was a surprise to see what I thought might turn out to be a New Directions type group take to the stage. However, I was delighted to see that the all male ensemble, Rabbit's Foot, were anything but another 'boy band'.

This five-piece out of Fairfield, Connecticut, play original Funk, Blues, and Soul music with a passion and expertise that belies their youth (although having said that, with regard to their apparent youth, when you are fast approaching your 69th year as I am, anyone under thirty-five will always be seen as young! But I digress).

The band is ably led by Spencer Bebon on vocals, and has a brilliant lead guitar player in Jad Qaddourah, with Will Corona on bass guitar, Seth Henriquez on keyboard and piano, and Les Gilman on drums. This group has the potential for big things. With the right support and management they may even achieve great things. The songs are upbeat, dynamic, and catchy. The interactions on stage between Spencer, Jad, Will and Seth showed they were all having a great time, and enjoying playing together.

Unfortunately, the same can not be said for the drummer Les Gilman. While I have no issue with his ability to play the drums and lay down a steady beat for the others to work by, the expression on Gilman's face ranged from bored to disinterested. Occasionally a half smile would pass over his mouth, but he never seemed to be a real part of the group. His interactions with the other four were minimal, and he never at any stage seemed to relax and get right into the spirit of the night.

I mentioned this to Spencer later during the evening, and he said that it was just Les Gilman's personality. That may well be so, but his demeanor simply did not fit in with either the music or with the dynamic performances of his bandmates. They may be happy with his drumming, but they should not be happy with his onstage persona. The vibe is not right. It may seem like a small thing, but it only takes one small thing to stop a band from reaching its full potential, and I sincerely believe that Les Gilman is the weak link in the Rabbit's Foot chain.

Richie Cannata's Monday Night Jam 
And so to the final act of the night. And what a final act it was. Richie Cannata has been leading these Jam sessions for almost 30 years! And no, that is not a typo. According to the events Facebook page, he began in the late-80s at a venue called the China Club, followed by moves to numerous other city venues before finding a home at the Bitter End.

To say, as I did at the start of this post that he has put together "some of the best musicians you are likely to see and hear anywhere" is one of the great understatements. The jam night kicks off with an extend version of the song, Driven To Tears, co-written by Gordon Sumner and Sting. Each musician (and by my count there were nine of them, including the singer), is given time to shine on their chosen instrument, and by gawd do they ever glow! By the time everyone has had their moment in the spotlight, visitors have been treated to an amazing thirty-minutes or so of ear splitting improvisations that make the price of the modest $10 admission seem like the bargain of the year, which it probably is.

Again, from the Facebook page we learn that the core group consists of Benny Harrison (keys/vocals), Frosty Lawson (Flugelhorn/vocals), Jim Moran (guitar/vocals), George Panos (bass), Kevin Bregande (drums), and of course, the host with the most, Richie Cannata on saxophone. The only other musician whose name I did note during the night was the percussionist Julio Fernandez, who celebrated his 70th birthday that night.

Julio, we were told, played percussion on stage at Woodstock with Jimi Hendrix! At 70 he is tall and wiry, incredibly energetic, and he can pound out rhythms on a pair of conga's in an age defying display that left everyone in no doubt that they were in the presence of an  extraordinary musician.

More Information
Bess Greenberg... 
Julia Gargano... 
Rabbit's Foot... 
Richie Cannata's Monday Night Jam... 

Monday 14, August | Expenses $77.25 ($107.85)

Any questions, comments or suggestions? How about complaints or compliments? Let me know via the comments box below.

An aging poster on the wall of the venue.

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