Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: Shonen Knife – Super Group

To twist an already twisted album title even further, every Shonen Knife has a blog who loves them. Seriously – how can you not love Shonen Knife? Since 1980 the all-girl Japanese band’s blissfully catchy lo-fi punk-pop has been a fixture of college radio playlists and party mixes around the world. They even toured with that annoying, doomed grunge band who started the fad, and blew that band off the stage night after night. This new album, just out on Good Charamel, finds the band as fun as ever. Say what you want about their wobbly tempos (on this record, they’re actually pretty good), the fact that after all these years, nobody in the band has been able to master the English language, or that guitarist/bandleader Naoko’s chops have always been just barely sufficient to play what she writes. But she’s a walking encyclopedia of rock. There doesn’t seem to be a style she can’t lovingly appropriate and make her own, especially when she’s making fun of it. Punk pop, janglerock, psychedelia, metal, country, you name it, she puts her own devious spin on it. This new edition of the band features Naoko and drummer Etsuko joined by touring bassist Ritsuko who is now a full-fledged member of this Super Group.

As usual, the lyrics aren’t the easiest to understand, with characteristically Satie-esque song titles and even stranger subject matter. The title track is a characteristically sunny punk-pop number, Ritsuko nicking a familiar Bruce Foxton bassline – they’re all excited because their favorite band’s coming to town! The second cut has a garage punk feel: the Slug in the title has escaped his plastic bag. “Oh my goodness!” A Sabbath parody, the third track isn’t as laugh-out-loud funny as the classic Buddha’s Face (from the Brand New Knife album), but it’s still great. What’s most striking is how sincere and smart Naoko’s solo is – until she decides to make it hilarious.

Deer Biscuits aren’t something you step on – they’re what you feed to the deer at the park. This one’s a country song, but through the prism of the Beatles (think Act Naturally), stiff and completely tongue-in-cheek – it is impossible to hear this song and keep a straight face. Other songs return to the garage rock vibe, evoke the Smiths and then revisit the band’s trademark punk-pop. And their cover of Jet by Wings beats the original hands-down, right down to Naoko’s perfect replication of Jimmy McCullough’s silly solo. When the band sings “I thought the major was a lady suffer-a-gette,” it’s obvious that they don’t know what that means any more than the guy who wrote it. The best cut on the album is actually the bonus track at the end, Evil Birds, a strikingly bracing, eerie psych-pop number. The whole thing is a party in a box, and a great present for someone who thinks they know a lot about music – they’ll know more after they hear this.

Upcoming New York dates are at Santos Party House on Oct 16 and Brooklyn Bowl on Nov 17. Here’s the rest of the tour schedule:

10.17.2009 –

Cornell University

Ithaca, NY

10.18.2009 –

Horseshoe Tavern

Toronto, ON

10.19.2009 –

Magic Stick

Detroit, MI

10.20.2009 –

Bottom Lounge

Chicago, IL

10.21.2009 –

First Avenue & 7th St Entry

Minneapolis, MN

10.23.2009 –

The Badlander

Missoula, MT

10.24.2009 –

Tractor Tavern

Seattle, WA

10.25.2009 –

Biltmore Cabaret

Vancouver, BC

10.26.2009 –

The Nightlight

Bellingham, WA

10.27.2009 –

Doug Fir Lounge

Portland, OR

10.29.2009 –

Rickshaw Stop

San Francisco, CA

10.30.2009 –

Blank Club

San Jose, CA

10.31.2009 –

The Cellar Door

Visalia, CA

11.01.2009 –

Uptown

Oakland, CA

11.02.2009 –

Echo

Los Angeles, CA

11.03.2009 –

Casbah

San Diego, CA

11.04.2009 –

Plush

Tucson, AZ

11.06.2009 –

Sam’s Burger Joint

San Antonio, TX

11.07.2009 –

Fun Fun Fun Festival

Austin, TX

11.08.2009 –

Numbers Nightclub

Houston, TX

11.10.2009 –

Spanish Moon

Baton Rouge, LA

11.11.2009 –

Hi Tone

Memphis, TN

11.12.2009 –

The E.A.R.L.

Atlanta, GA

11.13.2009 –

Plaza Bowl

Richmond, VA

11.14.2009 –

Maxwells

Hoboken, NJ

11.15.2009 –

Great Scotts

Allston, MA

11.16.2009 – 8:00 pm

Johnny Brenda’s, 21+

Philadelphia, PA

buy tickets

11.17.2009 –

Brooklyn Bowl

Brooklyn, NY

11.18.2009 –

Mohawk Place

Buffalo, NY

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September 7, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, Reviews, Science | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Concert Review: Thomas Piercy, Claudine Hickman and Pablo Aslan Play Piazzolla at Caffe Vivaldi, NYC 5/23/09

It didn’t matter that there was no bandoneon in the band: the trio of clarinetist/arranger Thomas Piercy, pianist Claudine Hickman and upright bassist Pablo Aslan managed to silence the sold-out room (no easy task!) with a practically telepathic, emotionally rich program of both familiar and more obscure compositions by the legendary Argentinian composer, along with meticulous yet spirited performances of two pieces by French jazz composer/pianist Claude Bolling. Playing mostly with a strikingly clear tone, Piercy expertly worked the nooks and crannies of the songs’ innumerable permutations, only going full throttle when the piece demanded it (and one did). With a bright yet haunting precision, Hickman was every bit his equal and Aslan, who’s only been taking classic tango to new and exciting places for about two decades with his group Avantango, alternated between stately majesty, dark ambience and fiery verve, frequently using a bow.

The first two numbers, Tango del Diablo and Milonga del Angel were a study in contrast. Piercy’s arrangement of the ominous Tango Seis found him playing the original’s violin line with a jaunty effervescence, pulling back when the piece wound its way into eerie flamencoisms. The long, catchy suite Le Grand Tango could have been made showy or done with a sentimental feel but was neither, the trio content to let its sense of longing speak for itself right up to the end where Piercy finally cut loose with a visceral intensity.

The two Claude Bolling numbers gave the group a chance to relax and play more expansively. The first, Allegre was a showcase both for Hickman’s vivid, Brubeck-esque melodicism, contrasting with Piercy’s Bach-inflected precision. The second, Romantique bookended a brisk excursion pulsing along on Aslan’s jaunty basslines with two segments imbued with plaintive, Romantic beauty. They wrapped up the program with an exquisite take of the classic Soledad, Piercy’s clarinet soaring to the heights with unaffectedly raw anguish right before the end, and closed with the vastly more optimistic, insistent Michelangelo ’70. Piazzolla, ever the innovator, would no doubt have approved. Watch this space for future performances.

May 24, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, Reviews, Science | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Problem of Peer Review

So in recent weeks, I’ve quoted some linked articles in Alexander Cockburn’s ongoing tirade against the global warming hypothesis. Today, I finally waded through the source material of this tirade – an ongoing ‘debate’ between Monbiot and Cockburn hosted by Znet after Cockburn’s first column appeared in the Nation several months back. Bracketing any dispute I may have with Cockburn on the ‘global warming’ issue, after reading the exchanges, I can now completely understand why his columns took the direction that they did – and I have completely lost all respect for Monbiot. Let’s start at the beginning.

Let me begin this response with an admission of incompetence. I am not qualified to comment on the scientific claims made in Alexander Cockburn’s article. But nor is Cockburn qualified to make them.

George, you are a journalist who writes almost exclusively on environmentalism and environmental science. If you are not ‘qualified to comment’, you should seek another field. But this point is just the opening volley of a gross appeal to ‘experts’, to people who seem more qualified to offer their opinions simply because they have letters after their names and their writings have been ‘peer reviewed’

When a non-scientist attempts to dispute the findings of an entire body of science, a good deal of humility and a great deal of research is required. Otherwise he puts himself in the position of the 9/11 truthers.

Right, so when someone appeals to the work of scientists who disagree with the prevailing paradigm, they are immediately to be deemed conspiracy theorists who believe that no plane hit the Pentagon. Great. Got that point.

Cockburn’s article cannot be taken seriously until we have seen his list of references, and affirmed that the key claims he makes have already been published in peer-reviewed scientific journals. This would not mean they are correct, though it does mean that they are worth discussing.

And we reach the point – the only science ‘worth discussing’ is that which appears in peer-reviewed journals. Before I dissect this, I would like to backtrack to one more statement made in this foray by Monbiot:

If you want to believe that HIV does not cause AIDs, you can find a professor of medicine who supports that view.

Well, given your high appraisal of peer review, I ‘d like to see the peer-reviewed article in which 1. HIV has been isolated, 2. HIV has been shown to be present in vivo in blood and fluid, 3. HIV is shown to have a clear pathogenesis resulting in AIDS, and 4. That the non-specific antibody tests for HIV actually predict an AIDS diagnosis in the absence of other factors which could result in an AIDS diagnosis. Don’t put yourself out George, Kary Mullis has been asking the HIV royalty for this ‘peer reviewed’ article for about 15 years, neither Gallo nor Montaigne have coughed it up. And for your information, some 2,500 scientists, doctors & academics have concluded from a review of the literature that HIV does not cause AIDS. There are several Nobel laureates, there are a vast array of people formerly working in the field, there are a vast array of some the most prominent scientists currently alive on that list.

Why are their opinions not worthy of grants George?

Peer Review.

I have long had issues with the ‘peer review’ system. We now seem to accept it unquestionably as the only way to vet knowledge. It wasn’t always such. And it serves a far more nefarious purpose than one would imagine. David Noble has written a great article on the history of peer review that should be a both a revelation and reiteration for anyone following science in the ensuing decades.

Led by New Deal senator Harley Kilgore they put forth a plan for a postwar National Science Foundation that emphasized lay control over science and political accountability. It was to be headed by a presidentially appointed director advised by a board whose members would include citizens representing consumers, labor, and small businesses as well as large corporations and scientists. The agency would let contracts to firms and universities on an equitable basis and would retain public ownership of all patents. Kilgore envisioned the new agency as a democratic means to socially responsive science.

This democratic proposal alarmed Bush and his elite academic and corporate colleagues who formulated a counter proposal, for National Research Foundation (later, also called the National Science Foundation). Central to this plan was an agency that guaranteed professional rather than lay control over science, was insulated from political accountability, and gave its director discretion over the awarding of patent ownership. In essence, the Bush agency was designed to guarantee public support for scientists – and, indirectly, for the corporations they served as well – without public control, a regime of science run by scientists and paid for by the taxpayer.

And

In 1950 a compromise version of the Bush bill was passed and signed by Truman, now once again under (cold)wartime exigencies. The new agency included a presidentially-appointed director but a board composed only of scientists committed to continuing the comfortable patterns established by the OSRD during the war. As a bulwark against democratic oversight and lay involvement in the awarding of scientific contracts and grants, the agency adopted a new mechanism of exclusion: “peer review.” Only peers – fellow privileged professionals, whatever their unacknowledged ties to commercial enterprise – could be involved in deciding upon the merits and agenda of science.

Hence the origin of ‘peer review’ – a political attempt to keep ‘science’ under the control of government and the corporate interests they serve. Keep that in mind the next time you ask for ‘peer reviewed sources’.

But this gets to the crux of the matter. What has this legislative dictum wrought? Precisely what we have today – a world in which the status quo is reaffirmed by grant after grant, and those doing real science, those questioning, those debating, those doing whatever they can to cobble together research that contradicts the ‘right’ ideas, are completely excluded from the ‘scientific world’. They are cranks, quacks and snake oil salesman. It doesn’t matter if they’ve won Nobel Prizes or are recognized in other ways as some of the greatest scientists of all time. They’re still heretics in the face of ‘peer review’, because their ideas don’t serve political ends. 

June 28, 2007 Posted by | Politics, Public Health, Science | 2 Comments