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  • Archive for June, 2011

    SETIstars Infographic

    2011 - 06.26

    So recently I was contacted by the SETI team regarding a sequel to the infographic I had produced a couple months back.  As many of you may know already, they’re trying a new way of keeping the Allen Telescope Array running: crowdsourcing.  There’s a new website over at SETIstars.org where anyone can go and give funds specifically for the restarting of the ATA. It’s a savvy move in the age of kickstarter, microloans, and grassroots funding.  And it’s pretty awesome to think that, well, if the people who should be paying for this won’t pay for it, fine, we’ll do it ourselves!

    I hope the venture is a big success.  It’d be reaffirming to see the citizenship of planet Earth as forward-thinking enough to collectively grok the profound implications that discovery of other intelligences would have.  It would be invigorating to know that we realize this meaningfully enough that we, as single individuals, would band together to sustain this important work.

    In the large scope of things, it’s not all that expensive either.  Just for perspective: the 1st infographic so far has seen over 40,000 views (just the flickr version, nevermind the ones I cannot track).  See the bottom of this new infographic to see how much 40,000 people would need to spend apiece to keep the ATA in action…

    There is a slightly-higher quality version available at flickr, as well as a whopping 11,749 pixels-long monstrosity of this new graphic combined with the original.  Anyone is welcome to use or repost this to their heart’s content.  All I request is a link.  And that you can chip in at least a fiver to SETIstars! Anyone can swing that.

    Also, I got a lot more creative with the background this time around.  Check out the remnants of Kepler’s supernova, comet NEAT, and the Andromeda galaxy!

    Special thanks to Phil Plait, Jill Tarter, & John Girard.

    Lastly, if you’re really into this sort of thing check out some other space-musings on the site

    Kepler Space Telescope Exoplanets visualized (great video comparing sizes and orbits) – video

    “oh, by the way” (a reminder of just how large the universe really is)

    Putting Things In Perspective: NEAT!

    When I’m Feeling Down, These Are Some Things That Bring Me Back Up (a roundup of inspiring projects)

    the microcosmologist frontpage

    Concert Review: Soulive at Bear Creek

    2011 - 06.19

    When I first heard from my friend Cei Cei that Soulive was making a Beatles cover album, I was overwhelmingly excited, but maybe just a bit apprehensive too.  Soulive and the Beatles!  Jeez, combining two things THAT awesome, could it work?  Would it be like a space station and a particle physics experiment; two incredible things that utterly blow your mind when put together?  Or would it be like chocolate and pizza; two of the tastiest things out there, which are just… a desecration when combined.

    The album came out, I got it, and to my surprise it was somewhere inbetween these extremes.  I was fascinated by it, but I just didn’t find myself delighting in it.  Hmmm.  I gave it a few listens and came to the conclusion which should have been immediately obvious: I need to see this happen in person.

    Explaining the appeal of the Beatles/Soulive mashup is a bit like trying to explain the excitement of a formula one race to someone who’s only seen photographs–you need to see it in motion to understand what’s so cool about it.  This was a fact in my brain, a piece of knowledge that I had, but did not understand, did not GROK, until I saw Krazno light up those solos on the stage right in front of me.

    There’s something about Soulive which seems to be impossible to capture in a recording studio, the same way that a brilliant sunset from an airplane window looks ho-hum in the photo you took.  Both musical performance-wise and listener perception-wise, there is a wide gulf between sitting on the couch and thumbing through the liner notes while a funked-out “Come Together” bounces your speaker cones around, versus watching Krazno give you his oh-face in the midst of bending notes in a solo while the keyboard bass is so loud you feel it in your chest and the crowd of funk-addicts around you throws up their hands in exaltation when the top of “She’s So Heavy” comes down on you all like a sledgehammer.  That kind of revelrie, that kind of music-gasm just can’t be captured on tape, the same way you can’t catch the smell of a crisp autumn afternoon in a jar.

    I’ll cut straight to the chase and say that the Soulive performance was the highlight of Bear Creek 2010 for me.  I later recovered the tapes online and listened back to confirm; was it really as mind-blowing as I remember it being?!  Answer: Yes.  (and maybe no for a few lesser tunes).  I’ve seen Soulive five or six times, with various supplimental musicians and they never cease to please, but this show was a treat.  Maybe the boys felt they needed to step up the game for the festival crowd, or maybe they were just having fun that night.  Either way, they played with a ferocity that put a smile on my face and a fire under my feet.

    During the daytime at the Spirit of Suanee park in Florida, it was perfectly warm and pleasant during the day, but dropped down to positively frigid at night.  When the guys came out to play, they were all wearing gloves!  Alan Evans kicked off the show by launching straight into a loud and energetic drumbeat.  All three of them took off the gloves, literally and figuratively, and proceeded to change the way I looked at their latest album.  You could see their breath in the cold, and the way Neil Evans was backlit by the red stage lighting, it looked like the man was breathing fire!

    I can’t say it’s *the best* show I’ve ever seen them play–that honor goes to 2005 at the House of Blues in Chicago back when they had their horn section with them.  THAT show was one of the all-time best-ever shows I will see in my lifetime though, so it’s a bit unfair to compare these.  But I will say that Krazno in particular, completely burned that stage to the ground at Bear Creek.  I’ve always thought highly of his technical prowess as a soloist, but that night he busted out more chops than a karate tournament.  Face=melted.

    What draws me to him so much is the way he couples up the frenetic, cerebral phrases of a heady jazz guitarist with the slow-and-deliberate language of a blues guitarist.  These come at you in a continuous train of alternating content that picks you up and whirls you around violently, then gently coos in your ear.  Listening to him solo is the auditory equivalent of that carnival ride called “The Zipper”–sometimes you’re moving straight forward with no butterflies in your stomach at all.  Then all of a sudden your face is slammed into the mat in front of you and you cartwheel five times in rapid succession with the force of several G’s.  And you never know when it’s about to hit you.

    It’s this that really made the performance, combined with these familiar Beatles anthems that you’ve known your whole life.  See this clip of “Something”, a small section of which I captured on video, as seen below:


    We got to see the man ply his craft several times at Bear Creek, in a wide variety of settings: Soulive, Lettuce, Lettuce again, Chapter 7 (his solo act), and even late night in a lo-fi jam session underneath the Bear Creek guesthouse.  Most of the time he spent onstage was as a backup man, only steppin up occasionally for the quick solo burst.  The Chapter 7 show was a joy, although I often wished he would stretch a bit longer.  Seeing as it’s his band, I guess Eric prefers it short and sweet.  And those two things he was.  Having seen him many times in the past, it’s a pleasure to state I think he’s at the top of his game.

    Seeing Soulive tear through those Beatles tunes with vigor and visible emotion breathed a whole new life into the Rubber Soulive record for me.  I now regret not buying it on LP when I saw it at the merch booth.  Maybe it is simply the recollection of how much fun it was to watch the performers up close and to get that energy off the crowd around you, but I unquestionably have a whole new appreciation for the Beatles covers.  This album has transcended the league of chocolate pizza to carve itself a niche in the higher eschlons of funk albums, both 1.as a novelty tribute album, and also 2. as work of its own merit, which I now appreciate more having seen it unfold with my own eyes.

    Doesn’t it make you hungry?

    2011 - 06.18

    Ah, the classic Weber.  So simple, but so tasty.

    Album Art Feature: Cosmic Turnaround

    2011 - 06.14

    Unfortunately this album sounds like Jimi in his teenage years, jamming in the garage.  Not the greatest listening.  But the album cover knocks my socks off!

    Primo Vino Art: Monsters, Monsters ATTACK!

    2011 - 06.12

    On the menu tonight, a sweet Riesling from down under in south Australia.  Oh so smooth and when chilled, a lovely companion for a hot Texas summer grillout.  Tasty!  Brought to you by “some young punks” who have a very hip website.  And some killer artwork on this bottle.  Great job, you punks.  Should make for a nice evening









    The back of the bottle shows some samples of the art from their other wines, as you can see on their site.  Some pretty sultry stuff!  I’ll have to look for those next time I’m in the store! ;D



















    Album Art Feature: BLAM.

    2011 - 06.10

    The first track is kinda cool, but it’s kind of a lame LP.  Although if you can handle some cheese, there are a few interesting moments.  But damn, if that isn’t a sweet jacket.

    Found on NASA’s flickr feed: the Kepler Spacecraft Launch.

    2011 - 06.08

    Isn’t it gorgeous?  What a stunner of a picture capturing this rocket launch, and just think of what it’s carrying!  The Kepler Telescope that brought us the discovery of over 1200 exoplanets.

    source: NASA flickr feed

    Vinyl review: “Ten Years On” by The New Mastersounds

    2011 - 06.04

    Where do I start with this album?  This review will probably be as much of a broad testament to my affinity for the band and recollections of concert snippets as much as a treatment of the album itself.

    Like any act that has retained my interest over an extended number of years and releases, the Mastersounds are perpetually expanding into a different direction.  Not genre-bustingly or radically, like an artist such as Beck does with each successive disc–but in their own way NMS has probed off into opposing directions while remaining within the contemporary funk vein.  Not just “rooted” in funk like so many bands who are jacks-of-all-trades-but-masters-of-none, but actually remaining IN contemporary funk, as in, this entire album, track-by-track is nothing but funk.

    The second or third time I had seen the Mastersounds I was at the Double Door club in Chicago with my good friend Vincent.  Several songs into their set, the band dropped down into a minimal groove, with Simon Allen settling into a 4-on-the-floor disco beat while the energy simmered on low heat.  Just as the lighting guy engaged the ‘tripped-out’ function, Vincent turned around with a big smile on his face and shouted “They do THIS?!”

    Ten Years on is a bit like that for me.  I remember the first time I heard the tune “The Road to Fuji Rock” was at a live performance, and after the show my buddy Bill asked me what the highlight was.  I answered ‘their new tune that sounded like a Greyboy thing’–and he knew which one I was talking about.  Ten Years On has a number of tracks that are quintessential Mastersounds style (San Frantico, Make Me Proud, Chocolate Chip) but a solid chunk of the album sounds like the band convoluting itself with another favorite act of mine, the Greyboy Allstars.

    What I mean by that is that raw, ripping vintage sound of “102%” has been largely traded in for mellower timbres here, allowing us to check out an equally soulful and virtuosic version of the band in a more relaxed atmosphere.  The compressors and the reverb have been dialed back a couple notches and thus we have an album that could be an ideal soundtrack for a leisurely drive around town on the weekend, or companion to a cold beer at 6pm on a Friday evening with no real plans for the night.  Simultaneously, it remains dance-able with plenty of get-up-n-go.  It’s that rare two-headed monster, like Thievery Corporation’s “Outernational Sound”.

    “Soulshine” is the first hint of where things are going–Simon lays down those skins with bravado while Roberts sports his new, more relaxed approach.  Pete’s bass playing jumps up high for some dashes of clever groove punctuation while remaining rocksteady down low, intertwined transparently with most of Roberts parts as he is for the majority of the time.  From here the association gets more obvious: “Flimsy”, with Joe on the Piano (as opposed to B3 or rhodes) with the whistles and the Nawlins-flavored drumming is overtly reminiscent of “Quantico, VA”.  The aforementioned ‘Fuji Rock’ calls to mind the same type of calm but persistently driving energy of “Happy Friends” from Greyboy’s classic album, A Town Called Earth.  But don’t take that to mean that Ten Years is a knock off of the so-called left-coast boogaloo, or even a consistent tribute–aside from the assertively characteristic NMS flavor on San Frantico and company as previously mentioned, there’s a whole other slew of colored-gels through which to see the band.

    That disco-beat flavor which caught Vincent off guard is in here on “Cielo”, with Roberts working his signature style backed by Tatton with a tapestry of buzzing synthesizers and what sounds like a bit of ring-modulator.  Call it electric-funk disco.  It’s only a small stretch to say NMS dishes out a bit of Sound Tribe Sector 9’s territory on this one.  I’d definitely like to hear more of whatever spawned this composition.

    The following cut “Ooom” features guest avant-sax master Skerik in a decidedly mellow idiom.  Typically I associate this guy with crazy freakouts and wildness-for-the-sake-of-wildness, but instead the Mastersounds have him playing minimal lines with overdubbed harmonies and a slow, deliberate solo, as if each phrase had been obsessively contemplated in advance.  It’s like the got him into the studio and said “okay, now you’re the man and everything… buuuuuuut we-need-you-to-be-more-like-Rob-Lowe-on-102.”  This is a Skerik I could come to love.  His airy, thoughtful delivery is a stark counterpoint to the raucous squawking, and shows his talent sans the avant-insanity, which I can live without.  A gem.

    “Dusty Groove” is a tribute to the Chicago record store which was the first outlet to carry their albums in the USA; a fact I learned through the band’s charmingly extensive between-song banter at one of their shows.  And speaking of those shows, this is one cut that slices hard and thick when thumping out of a live PA.  Roberts glides deftly through those blues-scale riffs and comps with aplomb heavy as anywhere in the catalog.  We also get a delightful taste of Tatton’s funky “ON” setting as Allen lays into his ride.  This is the Joe Tatton I love.  The first time I ever saw the Mastersounds, outdoors at Wicker Park Fest in Chicago, his keys blew me away.  A riff in his solo on their cover of “Six Underground” was my phone ringtone for over a year.

    Since then, I’ve gone back and forth about Tatton on those keys, at times complaining about his demeanor as detached and bored during the live shows, an attitude mirrored with accordingly lazy playing.  Sometimes I feel like Joe is content to simply phone-it-in on those off-nights, of which I have seen a couple.  I was bemoaning this wooden delivery in their first performance at the Bear Creek music festival last year and my friend Bill was having none of it.  In the latter performance at the same festival Tatton was the opposite beast entirely; making lots of eye contact, and getting very tenacious with his riffs.  A few bars before the conclusion of “San Frantico” he slipped in a cascading jab in the space Roberts’ melody left open, so dense and tricky that Bill and I literally both raised one eyebrow high and looked at one another for a split second with the identical expression, speechless really, before looking back to watch the ending, dumbfounded.  It was a priceless moment.  The guy’s clearly got it, at least when he wants to dish it out.  I wish he would display such ambition more often.

    That much said, previous Mastersounds albums have been, for me at least, utterly dominated by the genius of Eddie Roberts guitar playing; his tone, his mastering techniques, his clean articulation and his tasty comping.  If any one man leads the pack in today’s school of contemporary funk guitarists, it’s Eddie Roberts.  Eric Krazno may be a better soloist, and Elgin Park may have the perfect guitar tone (I think it’s that big, curly telephone-style cable he uses to connect to the amp) and Sergio Rios of Orgone may have his own unique thing going, but Eddie Roberts is the only guy who’s got it ALL: The best rhythm playing you could ask for, masterful use of gear for a signature tone, great solos, a pitch-perfect producer, and a goofy, endearing stage presence to boot.  Roberts does on the guitar what George Porter does on the bass–steals the show, even when you’re not supposed to be paying attention to him!

    Given my admiration of Roberts, Ten Years On may be the first NMS album where I’ve felt equally captivated by the creativity of what’s going on in the keyboard parts.  I refer to 102% often, as the prior high-water mark for the band, and it is.  Update: (corrections/additions after chatting with Simon!) On 102% and prior albums, keys were performed by Bob Birch, an avid collector of Hammond equipment.  A good chunk of Plug & Play was vocal-oriented, which didn’t give a lot of room for the kind of instrumental exploration and long-windedness (which is why I sign up for this stuff) like you’ll find on Ten Years.  So thusly, this is Tatton’s first outing with the group where he really get space and license to stretch things out and paint with the full palette of keys.

    A few extra noteworthy details on those keys: Plug & Play was recorded with a Nord Electro, which does sound surprisingly good, as I return to that album for another listen.  That Nord is really quite the excellent keyboard, for what it is.  Not a full B3, but admirably close!  On Ten Years, a variety of B3/leslie combinations were used.  I must say, the tone of the organ sounds great on this disc, to my ears.  The presence of the other keyboard types in here (piano/synths/& a good scoop o’ Rhodes) makes the Ten Years landscape more sonically diverse and gives the able Tatton more voices with which to tell a captivating tale.  (Only thing we’re missing is some clav.)

    A question I’m sure someone reading this has, is how does the vinyl copy sound compared to the CD?  Indeed on the back of the record jacket, it says “Vinyl mastering by Pete Norman at Finyl Tweek.”  Comparing my CD copy I bought a while back with this new vinyl version, the LP sounds brighter, more articulate.  Particularly with the organ, I hear more subtle details of the B3 attack on each note. Now, it may be that what I’m describing here is simply the timbrel characteristics of my turntable.  But for what it’s worth, that’s the difference I hear when doing A/B comparisons between the two masterings, on headphones and a great set of loudspeakers.  For those so inclined, check out a spectral analysis comparison of the first 2 bars of Fuji Rock below.  These graphs show the frequencies present in those 2 bars; not as informative as an actual Frequency Response chart, but it gives you an idea of the difference.  Note the smoother curve on the vinyl version, both down low at 150Hz and again up at about 15kHz.  Click to see it full size if you want to probe deeper.

    I’m happy to see Tatton out front with bombastic solos, playing more keyboard types with a tweaked-up B3 tone.  As much as I adore the all-out assault of full-on Eddie Roberts, it’s a joy to see him kick his feet up and take it nice’n’easy here.  Allen and Shand are as locked-in as ever; so effectively that most of the time I find myself considering the “groove” instead of the bass playing or the drumming.  With Ten Years On, it sounds like the band has hit it’s stride–confident and well-worn with a tightness that belies years of musical camaraderie.  They come out sounding like they’ve got nothing to prove (as indeed they have already proven it!) but they are anything but finished saying something.  Instead, the musical conversation has matured into an exposition of both greater nuance and wider stylistic breadth.  For a band Ten Years into their career, it’s inspiring to see them produce a record like this: expanding into new territory while still retaining the original appeal, writing funk that could be equally appropriate for chillin on the couch with a good brew or sweatin on the dusty dance floor of a music festival in Florida.  While I look forward to seeing what direction the boys take next, intuition tells me this LP will remain my favorite album from my favorite band, for a good stretch of time to come.