Saturday, May 30, 2009

Way Up On, Way Up On...

Noticed a new bar/restaurant that's opened at 5th Ave & Bergen St in Brooklyn - Cyprus Avenue - replacing a tapas place I never tried. Appears to be Irish-themed (as you might guess from the name) but not in a kitschy pub kind of way. Limited bar menu for now (burgers, meat pies) but supposedly something more extensive is coming. Might have to try it out this weekend.

News for Those in the Know

Paul Kotheimer has a new EP out. For those of you saying "Who?", I will explain in a later, longer post.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Live Jazz in Park Slope - Taylor Ho Bynum / Sonny Fortune

This is a long-delayed review of a couple of shows I caught in Park Slope, Brooklyn earlier this year, Taylor Ho Bynum at the Tea Lounge and Sonny Fortune at the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music. I'm pairing the two shows because of their location, but it does set up some interesting points of comparison/contrast: Bynum young but with a long resume, Fortune a veteran; both flying under the mainstream radar and perhaps best known for their work with jazz legends (Bynum with Cecil Taylor and Anthony Braxton, Fortune in Miles Davis' last pre-hiatus groups of the '70s).

Bynum brought a trio with bassist John Hebert and drummer Gerald Cleaver to Park Slope's favorite venue for old couches and adventurous live music, the Tea Lounge. The three had previously played together in Europe with the Portugese saxophonist Rodrigo Amado. Their work as a trio at the Tea Lounge was relaxed and improvisational, starting out with some long stretches of seemingly free playing and ending up with a few tunes, including Monk's "Nutty" and perhaps one by Braxton (my memory fails). Bynum had a considerable arsenal of horns at his disposal. He's primarily known as a trumpeter or cornetist, but on this night he worked his way through what seemed like the entire extended trumpet/trombone family.

Besides deploying an array of instruments, Bynum also showed a wide range of horn technique, from traditional to extended, even using a felt hat for a soft wah-mute effect. From aggressive, piercing, and noisy (a young woman sitting near me bailed out early in the set, which must be a common occurence in a coffee shop that books avant-garde jazz) to wry and bluesy, THB showed himself to be thoroughly fluent in the "out" end of the jazz horn idiom.

Hebert and Cleaver provided some rhythmic grounding to Bynum's explorations while also demonstrating considerable instrumental facility and imagination. Hebert achieved a variety of effects on bass with volume pedal and occasional bow. (I later saw Hebert do some great work in a very different trio with Fred Hersch.) To describe music as "invigorating" makes it sound too much like a stroll on a windswept seacliff, but it may suffice to say that this set left me with a feeling of hope and curiosity about the future of improvisational music.

Sonny Fortune, on alto, soprano, and flute, led a quartet through two sets of extended, solo-rich performances at the small recital space of the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music. The piano, drums, and bass were all solid, but Fortune was the clear star, with tremendous command and clear, rich tone on all three of his instruments.

The most memorable tunes were two associated with, but not composed by, John Coltrane: "In a Sentimental Mood", with Fortune's playing enough to completely erase, at least while the song lasted, the stigma associated with jazz flute, and Fortune's own tribute composition "Trane and Things". In sound, format, and approach to material, Fortune's quartet operates very much in the mode of the classic Coltrane quartet, and on "Trane and Things" they managed to capture some of the surging, cool fire of Live at Birdland and other early-to-mid sixties Coltrane. The fact that the group can successfully navigate this dangerous territory, inviting unflattering comparisons to one of the all-time great groups, is mostly a tribute to the power and dexterity of the 70 year-old Fortune's playing.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Eaten Lately, NYC (#3 in a Series) - Donut Pub

On my first morning back from vacation, I finally tried a place I'd been wondering about for a long time, The Donut Pub on 14th & 7th in Manhattan. I'd seen it cited as one of NYC's best for donuts, and the name is an attention-grabber (though I wish someone would open a real donut pub, with a liquor license). I'd never been in the neighborhood when I was in the mood for donuts, though, until this morning.

To render a full verdict, I'll need to return for more extensive sampling, but I think I can safely say that Peter Pan's place as my donut gold standard is safe for now. Donut Pub's plain, unglazed old-fashioned was good, but if Peter Pan's is a 100, DP's is about a 75 or 80. Slightly less dense in the middle and slightly less crisp on the outside than PP's old-fashioned, it made for good dunking but just didn't quite reach the pinnacle of fried dough.

I also tried a biscuit, mostly because I was surprised to see it. It was OK, more spongy than crumbly (not a good thing, IMO), but you can't judge a donut place on the quality of a biscuit. Next time I might opt for something glazed, dipped, or filled. The choices in this realm seemed very promising.

Bonus Links

An '07 article on The Donut Pub

The king of NYC donut blogging

A Serious Eats NYC donut round-up with some great pics

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Heard Over The Weekend - Bill Frisell Trio, The Persuasions

I'm leaving town later today (more details when I return after Memorial Day), so I thought I would present my thoughts on live music heard this weekend in a time-savingly terse note format.

Bill Frisell Trio at the Village Vanguard, Friday Early Set

Seen Frisell many times - various musical contexts - first time seeing Trio in a club setting

Frisell Trio - individual personalities/looks - Scherr capable of a hard-swinging walk, dances with bass, eye contact with Frisell, laughing at inside musical jokes - Wollesen loose-limbed, switching out to brushes mid-song for a dynamic downshift, responsive to and responsible for shifts in mood/intensity - Frisell locked in with Scherr, smiling, genial mad scientist in guitar effects lab - at some point during set, imagined Bill Frisell Trio as Muppets - would make great video

Set opened with electronics/improvisation coalescing into blues/jazz motifs

Stephen Foster's "Hard Times" - another in a series of Frisell's "topical" song selections: "Masters of War", "What the World Needs Now...", "A Change is Gonna Come"

Bright, driving, major-key, almost jangly/poppish tune - guitar had Rick 12-string-like sound, strangely reminiscent of early British invasion, but more Herman's Hermits than Beatles - never heard Frisell play anything quite like this - exhilarating

Ended with Monk(?) - "Jackie-ing"? - definitely swinging, boppish, sounded familiar

Frisell deployed his music box trick couple times - winding up a music box, holding it up to guitar, deploying sound as a loop

Trio was loose, inventive - comfort level to experiment but easily locked into grooves and pushed to powerful crescendos - from chaos to order

The Persuasions - Fifth Ave Street Fair (Park Slope)

I found stage after set had started - saw them last year at Winter Garden singing Johnny Cash - sound here not really adequate to hear the full range of what was going on - may have been partially the sound or fact that this was their 2nd set of day, but the aging voices weren't as strong on the higher notes as they once were - still extremely powerful on the low end

Doowop meets deep soul - acapella's bad rep (in my mind, at least) stems from collegiate version, cheesy stuff, overly smooth stuff - Persuasions are as far from that as Glenn Gould is from Liberace, Coltrane's "Favorite Things" from Julie Andrews' - not to say that the Persuasions aren't entertainers as well as artists - Brooklyn natives and still residents

Set included "Chain Gang", "Precious Love", "Duke of Earl", "Sixty Minute Man", "Under the Boardwalk", Temptations medley - "Don't Look Back/Runaway Child, Running Wild/Cloud Nine", "Let It Be" as encore

Do yourself big favor - find Persuasions' version of Jackie Wilson's "To Be Loved" from Chirpin' album - I have draft of essay on this recording - may clean up and post and some point - power of human voice - soulsoulsoul

Closing Notes

To tie it all up, came across copy of Frisell's double History, Mystery at street fair vendor tent after seeing Persuasions - partially recorded live - Frisell's studio work sometimes makes his music seem tame - an impression you don't get live - haven't listened to Hist/Myst enough yet to write about - recommend the live trio record East/West - duo disc with Fred Hersch low-key and lovely - horn-and-Greg Leisz-driven Blues Dream also great, has some of BF's best compositions - want to hear duo with Jim Hall

Interesting - Frisell Trio to play tribute to Live at Massey Hall (the Neil Young concert, not the famous Parker-Gillespie-Powell-Mingus-Roach summit)

Friday, May 15, 2009

Thatsa Nice Lookin' Sandwich

This looks really tasty. I was all geared up to try one this weekend, but then I noticed the place (near the historic intersection of Bleecker & Macdougal) won't be open for another week.

Shopsin's has been adding some Indian items to their menu lately. I can imagine a deliciously Shopsin-ized version of pao bhaji showing up one of these days.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Summer Movies - Quiz Answers

Following up on this post, the promised answers to the summer movie quiz:

1. The Julia Child movie - REAL

2. The dream collaboration of Bobcat (sorry, Bob) Goldwaith & Robin Williams - REAL

3. The Alf movie - UNFORTUNATELY NOT REAL (yet)

4. The new Miyazaki with Betty White and a Jonas Brother - REAL

5. The GI Joe movie - REAL

Thursday, May 7, 2009

"Beautiful in a Dopy Memory" - Fred Hersch Trio at Small's

I was going to write a piece about seeing the Fred Hersch Trio on Tuesday night at Small's, but then I came across a blog post that said everything I wanted to say better than I could. This is jazz vocalist Yuki Yamaguchi, auto-translated from Japanese by Excite:

Loved pianist Fred Hersch to ..listening.. smalls in the evening.
The jet lag is too awful and consideration is faint though it sat when full mesne ….
The piano of Fred was beautiful in a dopy memory.
However, it was too good. (tears)

Except for the jet lag part, I wholeheartedly endorse her sentiments. It really was "too good (tears)".

Fred Kaplan (the world's only jazz and foreign affairs writer?) has a piece that covers Hersch at Small's and manages to make me feel guilty in advance for not seeing more live music this week.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Edible Volcanoes

Enough has probably been said online about the Momofuku Milk Bar, but this is worth a look. I now understand what people mean by the term "food p*rn".

This brings to mind two other volcano-like items from my eating and drinking experience, the cream puff/donut hybrid at Greenpoint's Peter Pan Donuts (visible in the front right of this photo - there's also a chocolate version) and the mighty Thai Stinker cocktail at the Thai Cafe on Delmar Ave. in St. Louis (sort of visible on Page 4 here). The Thai Stinker is basically a fruit and rum bomb served in a ceramic volcano with an active cone of flaming 151 proof rum. Celebrate good times, come on...

Eaten Lately, NYC (#2 in a Series)

Spicy & Tasty - Flushing, Queens

Went with a large group to this much reviewed, blogged, and message-boarded Sichuan restaurant, so I got to try about a dozen dishes. Some of the more memorable were:

- Small (moth ball sized?) rice balls floating in a sweet rice wine broth/liquid. The server actually tried to discourage my fellow diner from ordering this, being afraid we wouldn't like it, but it was good as a dessert.

- Beef tendon in chili oil. Served cold as an appetizer, the tendons were thin, almost clear strips. Chewy and nicely Sichuan spicy. A big portion, far beyond mine or anyone else at the table's appetite for tendon.

- Smoked pork with fresh garlic shoots. This was the highlight for me. The pork was almost bacon-y and perfectly complimented by the vegetables.

All the cold appetizers were very good, including large strips of eggplant is a less-spicy-than-it-looked red sauce. Fried chunks of duck with a side of hoisin-type dipping sauce was good, but I think I would've preferred smoked duck. Maybe next time. I'd also like to get to the bottom of some of the more mysterious menu items, such as "luxurious duck" and "enhanced pork". (I'm sure a Chowhound search would help unravel these enigmas)

I also had a $1 Peking Duck bun from Corner 28 and a Vietnamese iced coffee from Pho Hoang (though not the cripsy duck jaws that they offer as snacks). Both hit the spot. Hoping to try one of the street cart lamb skewers next time.

East 20s Sandwich Triangle - Gramercy/Flatiron District, Manhattan

One night last week, I'd narrowed down my dinner options to three sandwich places in the East 20s in Manhattan: Eisenberg's, Baogette, and DeFonte's. I'd been to Eisenberg's once and had an egg cream (made lightning fast and very tasty) and a pastrami sandwich (not bad, but not particularly memorable). I'd already made two visits to the recently opened Manhattan location of DeFonte's of Brooklyn and had the hot roast beef (huge, delicious, and rare, but not very warm) and the pork hero (huge and delicious). After polishing off the roast beef, one of the DeFonte's employees asked me how I was doing - he seemed both concerned and impressed. I'd only stopped in Baogette for a Vietnamese iced coffee (good - sweet & strong like it should be).

I came up with the solution of hitting Eisenberg's for a vanilla egg cream, doing some shopping I needed to do in the neighborhood, and then making my third trip to DeFonte's (I was thinking eggplant parm). The egg cream part worked out, but I'd forgotten that DeFonte's closes at 8. So, it was Baogette, where I tried the most hyped new bahn mi in town. I haven't tried all the top contenders, but Baogette definitely belongs in the top tier.

Nicky's (which I'm a big fan of) makes a good point of comparison. I prefer Nicky's crusty demi-baguette to the par-baked version (there were clear bags of the half-baked, frozen bread right inside the door) at Baogette, but I'd give Baogette a slight edge on what's inside the bread. The multiple forms of pork and what seemed like a mayo-based sauce combined with the veggies to make some sandwich magic. I stuck with the classic for my first visit, but I'd like to get back to try Baogette's bahn mi variations - especially the curry beef ("Sloppy Bao") and catfish versions.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Strangest Obama Tribute Yet

This link is a few months old, but I just came across it. I could preface it with an explanation, but I would recommend just clicking here and then reading the background info here. Apparently, it really is a tribute, of sorts.

Summer Movies - A Quiz

I read the NY Times guide to summer movies over the weekend. Hard to imagine how some of these projects got green lighted. Just for fun, I'm going to give you five brief summaries of upcoming movies. See if you can figure out which ones are real. Post your guesses in the comments section. The answer will be revealed in a future post.

1. Meryl Streep stars as famous chef Julia Child. Amy Adams co-stars as the woman who made over 500 of Child's recipes and lived to tell about it.

2. Robin Williams stars as a man who forges a suicide note after his son dies in an auto-erotic mishap. The note causes a literary sensation. Bobcat Goldwaith writes and directs.

3. Seth Rogen, Dakota Fanning and Willem Defoe co-star in the film adaptation of the TV show Alf. Alf attempts to return to his home planet of Melmac. Bill Murray and Bea Arthur (in her final film) make cameo appearances.

4. The English language version of Hiyao Miyazaki's (Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke) latest animated film, about a goldfish who wants to become human, features the voices of Tina Fey, Matt Damon, Betty White, and a Jonas Brother.

5. GI Joe becomes a live action movie with a Quaid and a Wayans in leading roles. Third Rock From the Sun's Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Cobra Commander.