Review: Hanz Araki: Foreign Shore

imageSometimes, no matter how talented, well-trained, or capable the artist, something just doesn’t click. Picasso came up with a lot of really meh paintings, and I won’t mention how many times I’ve started a new book by a first-rank writer only to put it down through sheer ennui. That probably explains Lars Nilsson’s reaction to Hanz Araki’s Foreign Shore.

Hanz Araki has a mother of Irish descent and a father from Japan. His father is a master of traditional Japanese music, and for many years Hanz was his apprentice. But sometime in the late 1980s his love for Scottish and Irish music won over his roots and Hanz started his career as a singer and flute player specializing in Celtic music. This is his eleventh appearance on record, and if I have got it right, his fourth solo effort. He has toured all over America, played at big festivals and won prizes for his music. So he is a musician and singer to be taken seriously.

Got that? This is no fly-by-night character we’re talking about here. But check out Lars’ review to find out why he was less than ecstatic about this album.

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Winter Solstice Thoughts (A Pub Tale)

In just a couple of days the Wheel will turn once again — strange to think of it that way, because the Wheel is always turning, but we only notice when it passes certain points. Such as the Winter Solstice, which is cause for celebration the world over, whether you call it Christmas, Yule, Hannukah, Pancha Ganapati, or Soyal.

As might be expected, since it’s one of those times of the year that are very special — the night we begin looking for the return of the Sun (or Son, depending on your tradition), the day when the days start getting longer, although we can’t see it yet — it’s likely to be — well, let’s call it an “interesting” time here at the Estate.

It’s also a time for musing on the whichness of what, and for visitations by those who may or may not be benign. See this account by an anonymous author of one such Solstice at the Green Man Pub, if you want an example.

Review: Katherine Harbour: Thorn Jack

imageI have fairly strong opinions on modern-day retellings of time-honored folk tales and the like: I’m OK, for example, with a staging of Wagner’s Ring in evening dress in front of a hydroelectric power plant, or Hamlet in practice clothes — it’s a little outre, but it doesn’t monkey with the story. That’s the key thing: the story works, as evidenced by the fact that it’s been around forever and it’s still popular enough that people want to use it again. And again. So don’t mess with it.

So, that said, we have another retelling of the old folk tale of Tam Lim, this one Katherine Harbour’s Thorn Jack. Chief Librarian Iain Nicholas Mackenzie takes a look at this one, and it seems to pass muster — and with Iain, if it doesn’t, we know about it in short order.

But to find out the gory details hmm . . . are there gory details? Well, you’ll just have to read Iain’s review to find out.

From the Letters Bag: Jew’s Harps

From: Cornelis Jan van Dam
Subject: Jews Harps

Hallo Ms / Mrs Milner,

I’ve just been reading your review of the Tapani Varis Jews Harp CD on the Green Man Review webpage. Usually, I don’t react on reviews because everybody is entitled on his own opinion, but you wrote things that really offended me.

First of all, I play the Jew’s harp myself (along with bagpipes, recorders, flutes and whistles, and other ancient wind instruments I get my hands on) and I believe you don’t understand anything at all about the Jew’s harp and the sound it can produce. You wrote it is very limited in emotional range and sounds not human. I suggest that you listen to real virtuosos on the Jew’s harp like Anon Egeland (also a virtuoso Hardanger Fiddler), Bjorgulv Straume (he also makes wonderful Jew’s harps), Svein Westad, or Hallgrim Berg and Eric Roine. They are all from Norway and have a connection with nature and mother earth. Or better yet listen to the Yakutian Shaman Spiridon Shishigin (probebly you wouldn’t understand it at all).

If you don’t open yourself to it and you don’t have a strong connection with your ancestors that lived in harmony with nature (or the people that still try to live like that in our time: Indians, Eskimos, Aboriginals etc.), you will not understand “the singing of the Jew’s harp,” because it sure as hell can sing and produce as much emotion as you can handle.

The wooden Jew’s harp goes back to the Stone Age and the metal Jew’s harp is traced back to the Iron Age. Originally it was played by Shamans who used it for trance and meditation. So if Tapani Varis combines it with traditional Scandinavian Folk, it is easy for someone who doesn’t understand it to mistake it with New Age Music (where you think they got their ideas?), but it is more like “Ancient World Folk” music.

Maybe you should buy a Jew’s harp yourself and start playing. Then you will also understand that you don’t stop playing for “air,” you breathe while you play and after a few years of practice you will know what “virtuoso” means on the Jew’s harp. Tapani Varis is good but he’s not a virtuoso, just listen to the guys I mentioned before. I understand that you have an interest in Folk from the British isles; then you also should listen to Jew’s harpers like John Wright (British but lives in Paris) and Phons Bakx from Holland (has 2 CDs with a lot of Anglo/Celtic tunes).

What I mean is don’t judge a book if you don’t understand the contents. It’s O.K. with me if you don’t like the Jew’s harp, but don’t bring it down because you don’t understand it.

Kind regards,
Cornelis Jan van Dam
Rotterdam, The Netherlands

Sound Bites: Late 2014 Edition – Jazz

I enjoy jazz music any time of year, but truth be told I seem to draw the most comfort from it when the days grow short and the nights longer and colder. The blues at the heart of jazz seems to fit so well with the days and nights of autumn, when we’re all required to reckon with the cyclic nature of time and the certainty of mortality. At the same time, the spirit of exploration that typifies its improvisatory nature points toward the continual renewal of life, or at least a reason to keep going, if only to find out what’s around the next bend in the road. So with that, here’s some of the new (and new to me) jazz I’ve been listening to lately.

Review: Paul Harding, Kim Hutchins, Charlotte Orr, and Christopher Pitts (editors): The World’s Best Street Food

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Or, “Lonely Planet Does Food.” That’s what this one is, and Reynard gives us a good look at it — and he should know. (We also serve food in the Pub, of course.)

I’ve seen a lot of Europe, the Middle-east, and the now disorganized polities of the former USSR, some as a busker in younger days, lately accompany my wife Ingrid, the Estate Buyer, on her travels on behalf of the Estate.

So I’ve eaten a lot of street food which has only violently disagreed with me once. and I freely admit that might have been the arrack, an alcoholic beverage distilled from the hearts of palm trees, that had drunk copiously the night before in the Hill District of Sri Lanka, (Ingrid was ill as well) so I can’t say it was the curried chicken in a banana wrapper that did it.

So check out Reynard’s review to see what’s good where.

Review: Christopher Priest: The Islanders

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Cat Eldridge starts off his review of Christopher Priest’s The Islanders by noting an important fact:

First thing to note is that this is not a novel. It’s more like notes that travelers put together on exotic (to them, not people who live there) locales they visited. Think of it as akin to something the publishers of Lonely Planet or Rough Guide have published for decades now.

Except, you know how we rely on the correspondents for Lonely Planet and Rough Guides to be accurate about what they’re describing? Well, you can forget about that for this particular travelogue. What does that mean? Read Cat’s review — if you really want to know.

Literary Musings: Neil Gaiman’s Day of Dead

Sometime ago, Gaiman was asked to write a script for the Babylon 5 series. As I assume you’re familiar with both the series and the author, I’ll not waste your time telling you about either, but instead will talk about this superb tale.

Neil has had a fascination with the dead — be it The Graveyard Game or the Death character in the Sandman series, to name but two instances of him playing with death as a motif. So it wasn’t surprising that his script for this series decided to tackle the idea of the Mexican Day of The Dead.

The script takes that idea and gives the viewer (or a reader as the script was released by Dreamhaven Books) the story of the Bakari, an alien race who look more than a little dead themselves, purchase a section of Babylon 5 for their every two hundred year festival of The Dead. And it turns out the night will see the long dead come back to haunt the living. (There’s also a stunt casting with Penn & Teller as well-known comedians. I’m not thrilled with that bit of the script.) Most are less than thrilled by these visitors, but all come to accept what happened that night.

It’s a well-known written script that translated well into a Babylon 5 episode, so go read our review. So go see it — you can download off iTunes and I assume other sources, legal and not so legal. And do find a copy of the script afterwards as you’ll find it quite interesting.

Review: Rob Young: Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain’s Visionary Music

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Reynard has taken time off from inventorying the potables in the Pub to give us a look at Rob Young’s Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain’s Visionary Music. Just so you know what to expect, he says:

Electric Eden is a massive tome at close to seven hundred pages that tells the story of how such electrified folk bands as Fairport Convention, Pentangle, Jethro Tull, and Steeleye Span rediscovered the rich material that could be found in Britain’s folk music traction. (Though the book and critics use the phrase ‘English folk music tradition’, but that’s not quite right, as many of these groups delved into the Scottish folk music tradition as well. And despite the recent rejection of independence by Scotland, it is is very much a separate tradition. And nation.)

At 700 pages, there’s got to be a lot of information in here, but go ahead and take a look at Reynard’s review to get a clear idea of what you’re in for.

Live Action: Cahalen Morrison & Country Hammer: Live in Portland

Cahalen Morrison has had a prolific year. He and Eli West put out their second album of Appalachian stringband music, I’ll Swing My Hammer With Both My Hands, and his band Country Hammer put out a top-notch debut album, The Flower of Muscle Shoals. I’ve missed Cahalen & Eli at a few shows around the Northwest this year, including Pickathon, but I finally caught up with Country Hammer the other night at a country bar in Portland. I found out that The Landmark Saloon is a fine little country music venue and Country Hammer is a great little country band. You can read my full review here.