Misinterprotato and The Gentle War

8 out of 10: A fine, inventive jazz record

A brilliant Coltrane record is still a brilliant Coltrane record. The music hasn’t changed; what the kids are to listening to has. Jazz used to be the “noise” kids listened to that their parents couldn’t understand. Now jazz is the “noise” that parents listen to that their kids can’t understand.

It’s unlikely then that Misinterprotato, a Brisbane piano, bass and drums trio, are ever going to lock in a place on Triple J’s Hottest 100. Despite a number of their songs featuring nods to modern-day indie rock, The Gentle War is still a jazz album – and refreshingly so. It’s energetic, full of movement and rhythmically inventive, a far cry from the staid version of jazz that befouls the genre’s reputation. What impresses most is the album’s constant play — no drum beat settles without textural fills, no bass pattern remains on repeat, the piano doesn’t just vamp over a chord. Even on the slower numbers, the instruments feed off each other, guide each other.

Wrestle is perhaps the standout, a song that highlights the band’s strengths: a masterly control of dynamics, piano that is both melodically and rhythmically appealing, and Pat Marchisella’s sublime bass, which, just like Mingus’s, is sometimes aggressive, always majestic.

Generally speaking, the album is best when the band works more as an ensemble. Sync and especially Tailgater demonstrate how well Misinterprotato can create so much of interest to the ear, the instruments interweaving rambunctiously across ebbing and flowing passages. Time buttresses the same point from the opposite direction: it’s mostly a solo piano piece that fails to fire without the band’s inventive interplay.

The Gentle War is a fantastic record — a happy change from what the litany of guitar, bass and drum rock trios are offering around the traps, and far more interesting to boot.

Borges’ Spinoza Metered and Rhymed

I am by no means qualified to translate poetry, but reading Borges’ sonnet Spinoza translated into English unrhymed and unmetered disappointed me so much that I thought an attempt at a rhymed and metered English version of the Spanish original wouldn’t offend too gravely. And because Borges admired Shakespeare so much, I supposed translating Spinoza into the classic Shakespearean sonnet form would be the most appropriate option.

Anyway, here’s Richard Howard and César Rennert’s version; here’s Willis Barnstone’s version (which is rhymed, although the meter is all over the place); here’s a literal version; and below is my own version along with the Spanish original:

Spinoza
The Jew’s translucent hands robustly work
The lenses in the late penumbral dark.
The dying evening cold where terrors lurk,
One evening, every evening always stark.
His hands, his space of hyacinth and blue
That pale within the Ghetto’s borderlines
Hardly exist for him the silent Jew
Who dreams a labyrinth’s lucid, clear designs.
He undisturbed by fame — what comes reflected
From dreams within another mirror’s dreams.
Free from a maiden’s timid love confected
And metaphor and myth’s distracting streams.
He works resistant glass: the endless One
He maps, whose shining stars no skies outrun.

Spinoza
Las traslúcidas manos del judío
labran en la penumbra los cristales
y la tarde que muere es miedo y frío.
(Las tardes a las tardes son iguales.)
Las manos y el espacio de jacinto
que palidece en el confín del Ghetto
casi no existen para el hombre quieto
que está soñando un claro laberinto.
No lo turba la fama, ese reflejo
de sueños en el sueño de otro espejo,
ni el temeroso amor de las doncellas.
Libre de la metáfora y del mito
labra un arduo cristal: el infinito
mapa de Aquel que es todas Sus estrellas.

Endless Boogie’s Full House Head

1 out of 10: Rock and roll never sounded so dull

Three major chords on a Gibson gold top still haven’t gotten old. Amped up to eleven, the pummeling sound of rollicking guitars remains a primal joy, the riff still the lynchpin of bonerattling rock-and-roll abandon.

No doubt Endless Boogie, who named themselves after a John Lee Hooker record, frequently intoxicate themselves on rock’s sonic ambrosia. Formed in New York, the foursome have kept stars well away from their eyes and devoted themselves purely to swampy-blues riff construction, completely unconcerned with whatever might be hip and only bothering to grace a stage when invited.

Such devotion, which would ordinarily hold a band in good stead, has  nonetheless come at the expense of considering the listening public and writing anything resembling a song. Full House Head is seventy-seven minutes of aimless riffage and teenage-boy-in-a-bedroom noodling broken up into eight “songs”, the music’s lacklustre repetitiveness inducing boredom rather than hypnotising. Every now and again, the monotony is interrupted by Paul Major’s inconsequential rasping; every now and again, the monotony doesn’t sound so bad in comparison. Hardly anything has changed since their first album of two years ago, and one would think that a band so lacking in ambition will never change their ways.

All in all, Endless Boogie are like the bird that wishes the air away thinking it a hindrance to flying faster and higher, only to discover, tragically, that without air there is no flight. Divorced of any kind of structure, divorced of any kind of build up or tension, Full House Head relentlessly meanders, an album lost on a limitless plain, no heights, no troughs — no nothing really.

The Indo-Europeans: The Undisputed World Champions

The whole world might play soccer (I’m Australian and I prefer soccer to football), but only a tiny portion of nations have ever held the World Cup aloft or even played off for the honour. Of the 202 nations that FIFA have given a world ranking to, only 8 have ever won the World Cup the 19 times the festival of soccer has been held and only 12 have ever made the final.

But here’s what’s really interesting: if we organise nations by language group, only 2 language groups have ever won the World Cup and 4 reached the final.

And even more interesting: if we organise nations by language family, of the 20 or so that exist (some are disputed), only 1, the Indo-European, has ever won the World Cup and only 2 have ever reached the final (those pesky Uralic Hungarians the only thorn in the Indo-European side).

If ever there was proof that language influences sporting ability, we have it here.

Refuting Oneself Elegantly: Plato’s Third Man Argument

In the Parmenides, Plato did what he knew would be done by someone else anyway: he refuted a central plank of his own philosophy, the Theory of Forms. When Aristotle came along to do what Plato had already foreseen and further the refutation, the argument was already old hat. Nevertheless, Aristotle had chosen a far better example to illustrate the point, an example which also lent itself to a snappy title by which the argument is now known: the Third Man argument.

The Third Man argument is a nifty delight that is often confusingly expounded. I reckon I can do better, so here now I explicate either triumphantly or to no avail.

The Simple Part

There’s a single Form for each recognisable object or quality in the real world, all of which are the imprecise and inferior copies of their respective ideal Forms. Thus, we can recognise all real-life rectangles as rectangles, for instance, because we have the Form or essence of rectangles in our heads. So when presented with soccer pitches, books and rulers, we can assign them to the group headed by the ideal rectangle that we have a mental picture of and dub them all rectangles.

The Confusing Part
Soccer pitches, books and rulers are very distinct yet are nevertheless rectangles. If these rectangles are so distinct from each other, the one ideal rectangle must be just as distinct from the variety of rectangles in the real world as the real-world rectangles are all distinct from each other. Thus, how can the one ideal rectangle be of use in categorising all real-world rectangles as rectangles? Alternatively put, if the one ideal rectangle is itself a rectangle that heads the group that includes soccer pitches, books and rulers, how is the ideal rectangle itself recognised as a rectangle let alone as the ideal rectangle?

The ideal rectangle must itself be recognised as an ideal rectangle just as a real-world rectangle is recognised as a real-world rectangle. A real-world rectangle is recognised as a real-world rectangle via the ideal rectangle. Thus, if we want to identify the ideal rectangle as the ideal rectangle, we can do so only via the ideal of the ideal rectangle.

The Easy Part Once You’ve Understood the Confusing Part
Of course, we’ve now got ourselves a reductio ad infinitum or an infinite regress: if the ideal of the ideal rectangle is needed to identify the ideal rectangle, then the ideal of the ideal of the ideal rectangle will be needed to identify the ideal of the ideal rectangle and so on to infinity. And if we’ve got an infinite regress, than the Theory of Forms doesn’t explain much at all.

The Third Man Argument in But Three of its Forms

Substitue man for rectangle in the explanation above and you have Aristotle’s Third Man argument (the first man is the real-world man, the second the ideal man, the third the ideal of the ideal man). Substitute large for rectangle in the explanation above and you have Plato’s own refutation of his Theory of Forms. (Large, though, is a confusing example because it’s so difficult to imagine an ideal of something that is a relative quality. Cold is the absence of heat, so small can be considered the absence of large, nevertheless it’s still difficult to conceive of the ideal of large). Leave rectangle as rectangle in the example above and you have my own somewhat simplified version of the Third Man argument.

On How to Read Shakespeare

Take any text that introduces Shakespeare to the beginner, and ever so shamefully little mention will be made of meter. Instead, time will be spent speaking about themes, about characterisations, about motives. Rather than bringing into relief one of the fundamental tools of Shakespeare’s trade and training the ear to hear, what can be idly “discussed” to and fro for arguable gain are emphasised. Sadly, such a sorry situation is made worse by actors often taking liberties with the meter in performance.

Puck’s epilogue in A Midsummer Night’s Dream is yet another moment of Shakespearean brilliance and a fine example of how Shakespeare employs meter to reinforce meaning (stressed syllables are underlined):

If we shadows have offended
Think but this, and all is mended:
That you have but slumbered here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend.
If you pardon, we will mend.
And, as I am an honest Puck,
If we have unearn-ed luck
Now to ‘scape the serpent’s tongue,
We will make amends ere long;
Else the Puck a liar call.
So, good night unto you all.
Give me your hands, if we be friends,
And Robin shall restore amends.

Puck, the merry prankster, is here speaking not in pentameter, but in the more playful and fun-loving tetrameter. So instead of every line containing five stressed syllables or beats, as Shakespeare usually writes his verse, Puck speaks predominately in four-beat lines of rollicking merry glee.

Shakespeare also sets up a call and response by making Puck’s first two lines end on weak beats that are emphatically answered with the lines that follow, each of which ends on the strong beat and feature one less syllable to accentuate the last word of each line.

Those lines are unevenly syllabled for another reason too. Each line of verse is ordinarily even-numbered in length, so the lines’ seven syllables go hand in hand with the sense that something does indeed need amending, as Puck confesses.

And the pièce de résistance, the thing that makes Shakespeare the king of verse, is the final two lines of the epilogue that turn from seven-syllable lines of trochees (DA-dums) to eight-syllable lines of iambs (da-DUMs). Iambic is the predominant rhythm of English prosody, the natural flow of an Anglophone’s speech, and just as Puck promises to restore amends, he himself reinforces what he says by turning from uneven trochees to well-balanced iambs and speaking in English’s natural rhythm.

In Puck’s epilogue, Shakespeare deftly works the meter to support the text’s meaning, all of which go over the head of the beginning student whose introductory books speak only of grander subjects and ignore the humbler merits of musical meter. Shakespeare is perhaps more for the ear than he is for the insights into human behaviour, and ignoring the ear’s joys is as silly as swallowing whole a blueberry cheesecake without it even brushing past the tongue.

Mike Patton’s Mondo Cane

7.5 out of 10: The music of Italy’s past beautifully recreated and updated even if Patton could do with a bit more sincerity

Mike Patton’s muse leads him down musical byways long left fallen by the wayside. He’s an aural adventurer, as intrepid as Magellan, and on this occasion fateful crosswinds have blown him towards Italy.

Bologna was Patton’s home whilst married to his Italian bride, and, amongst other things, his time there had him speaking Italian fluently and falling in love with what amounts to Italy’s golden oldies from the 50s and 60s. Mondo Cane, a mildly profane Italian saying that means more or less “the world’s gone to the dogs”, is Patton’s paean to these songs. He gathers together a 40-piece orchestra to faultlessly recreate their lush musical backdrops and a 15-strong band to add a more modern and Pattonesque touch to proceedings. And although the band sometimes overdoes the modern and zany, the orchestra is a stunning thrill ride, the violins swelling the melodies of Ore D’Amore and Senza Fine to dizzy heights, and songs such as 20 Km Al Giorno and Deep Down positively swing.

These songs, however, show up Patton’s one overriding weakness: while he’s capable of singing pretty much anything, Patton is an arch-ironist, more at home singing pastiches and experimenting sonically than with any kind of sincere conveying of emotion. In this, he shares company with the likes of Frank Zappa and Ween, encyclopaedic experimenters who never seem to be taking anything at all seriously despite how much they love music. The songs on Mondo Cane, though, are overdramatic and emotional — and they’re meant to be sung that way. L’Uomo Che Non Sapeva Amare translates to “The Man Who Didn’t Know How to Love”, and the way Patton sings, you begin to wonder if it mightn’t be autobiographical.

Nevertheless, the arrangements and orchestrations are so delightful, the melodies so memorable, that Mondo Cane is a triumph. Like Loveage and Peeping Tom, the product of this Mondo Cane project is an album that people who aren’t Patton fanboys can still love, even if the radio dial on these antipodean shores has never before heard the likes of it.

Betty Lavette’s Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook

6 out 10: Professional covers from a professional soul singer

Most every black performer of the 60s and 70s covered a song made famous by someone white at one stage or another, and, with the exception of Nina Simone, most every black performer sounded awkward singing songs that were unsuited to their voices. So many missteps in the past make an album of British rock songs sung by the seasoned soul singer Bettye Lavette seem positively ghastly, but, to her credit, Lavette makes every one of these songs her own.

Lavette had never heard any of the original versions of the songs on Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook before recording them, not even I Wish You Were Here, Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood or Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me. Without years of admiration weighing her down, Lavette has been able to interpret these songs freely, transforming each and every one of these relatively traditional rock songs into prime soul and funk.

Such free turns from the originals are always of interest, but interest soon wanes as one discovers that many of the very elements that made these songs great are lost in the process. On The Beatles’ The Word, there’s no innocent glee; on The Rolling Stones’ Salt of the Earth, there’s no cracked, common-man singing that evokes working-class solidarity. Instead, everything is turned over to the soul-101 treadmill, Lavette’s exceptional rasp nonetheless a genre cliche.

Lavette’s approach does, however, work well on songs that have dated poorly. Shorn of their awful production, Led Zeppelin’s All My Love and George Harrison’s Isn’t It A Pity shimmer more brightly with their freshly-applied soul sheen. Overall, though, while Lavette reconfirms her status as a true soul professional, she fails to make any great impression despite how adeptly she interprets material made in a foreign style.

Nabokov’s Ratings

Everytime I read this, I giggle:

My loathings are simple: stupidity, oppression, crime, cruelty, soft music. My pleasures are the most intense known to man: writing and butterfly hunting.

It’s Nabokov, being droll yet again, and so effective at doing so because of the last item on a list of otherwise humdrum loathings and pleasures.

Duke Ellington on the Whole World Going Oriental

Duke Ellington went rock and began taking on musical influences from around the world on his ridiculously good The Afro-Eurasian Eclipse. Not only is the album a landmark of reinvention, it begins with a startlingly mad and entertaining Duke monologue, one so good I’ve transcribed it for posterity below:

This is really this chinoiserie. Last year, we, about this time, we premiered a new suite titled The Afro-Eurasian Eclipse. And of course the title was inspired by a statement made by a Mr. Marshall McLuhan of the University of Toronto. Mr. McLuhan says that the whole world is going oriental and that no one will be able to retain his or her identity, not even the orientals. And of course, we travel around the world, a lot, and in the last five or six years we too have noticed this thing to be true. So as a result, we have done a sort of a thing, a parallel or something, and we’d like to play a little piece of it for you.

In this particular segment, ladies and gentlemen, we have adjusted our perspective to that of the kangaroo and the didgeridoo. This automatically throws us either down under and/or out back, and from that point of view it’s most improbable that anyone will ever know exactly who is enjoying the shadow of whom.

Harold Ashby has been inducted into the responsibility and the obligation of possibly scraping off a tiny bit of the charisma of his chinoiserie, immediately after our piano player has completed his rikki-tikki.