BOOK’S FOODIE: Hotmaple Smokey Habanero hot sauce (review)

 photo HotMaple_bottle_zps56dc9aa8.jpg While I post a lot of food-related videos and links to recipes in the Book’s Foodie section of, my food reviews are almost non-existent. I definitely want to do more, so when I’m able to, a review will be posted of something of interest.

I’m a huge fan of hot sauces, which is a bit funny since as a kid I used to think one drop of Tabasco was way too hot. Over the years, I have tested my tolerance level, it became a small handful of drops and I’m more than comfortable to using it in the same way people use barbeque sauce or ketchup. Now, I know that there are hundreds, of not thousands, of people online who are true hot sauce and pepper fanatics. I love hot sauce but I am far from a fanatic. I like my sauces hot but not to the point of it being an overwhelming burn. At least not yet, maybe I’ll get there. Consider this being a review from a “casual” fan of hot sauces. I love using hot sauces on Mexican food, along with anything and everything from steaks and chicken to eggs and soup. I often look around online for a hot sauce that I’d like to try, be it on reviews on YouTube to the many websites out there.

I became aware of Hotmaple through a video review by Ted Barrus, the self-proclaimed “Fire Breathing Idiot”, and it was of interest to me since the sauce is from Portland, Oregon. As a resident of the Pacific Northwest and someone who has been wanting to move to Portland long before it was trendy to do so, I like the fact that Portland does have a small but steady hot sauce scene. I’ve tried Secret Aardvark and some curry pastes from Thai And True, and since this has maple in the name, it was sold on me before I visited Hotmaple’s website. A single 5 ounce bottle was reasonably prized, so I decided to give it a shot. I’m glad I did.

First off, is it hot? It’s a habanero sauce which means yes, it is hot. It’s not superhot or burning, but it definitely does what it is meant to do. Upon first taste, I wanted to get the maple flavor and it is very much there but not dominant. You can taste the maple flavor but you also taste the habaneros, and the balance is quite nice. There is also an additional flavor profile to this that I quite like, and it’s the smokiness it has. In fact, the ingredients state it “contains less than 2%” of liquid smoke, which would make sense because I don’t think anyone would enjoy drinking liquid smoke. Nonetheless, with maple, habaneros, and the smoky flavor, you can consume this in a number of ways, and it may be different with each taste. I had read another review where someone suggested it could almost be used in the same way BBQ sauces are used, and I can see myself doing that, just making a burger or a sandwich and just pouring it on like crazy.

Once again, it’s a 5 ounce bottle but this bottle was almost empty after the second day, that’s how much I enjoyed it. Hotmaple also offers the sauce as a three-pack but they also offer something called “The Big Jug”, a healthy-sized container with 64 ounces of this stuff. While I’m someone who likes trying different sauces for variety, I could easily find myself using a half-gallon jug in a month.

On a scale between 1 and 10, I’d give Hotmaple a 7 or 8 in terms of flavor and acceptable heat. If you want something super hot, you may want to try another brand but for a pleasant hot that lingers for awhile, you may like Hotmaple a lot.

(To order a bottle of Hotmaple, look over the ingredients and/or nutritional facts, click to

(NOTE: This review comes unsolicited, I paid for this sauce and wrote this review without compensation.)

REVIEW: My TV viewing experience of the 2012 London Olympics

It’s not a secret: I’m not exactly a sports fan. If I was, this website would be called “This Is Book’s Home Run” or something. However, there is one major sporting event that I go crazy for, and that’s the Olympics. Doesn’t matter if it’s summer of winter, I enjoy both of them. It’s funny because I definitely wasn’t raised in a house or within a family that were aiming for Olympic gold, and as for winter sports? I’m from Hawai’i, if the temperature goes below 70, it’s considered “blue ball” weather and people have to put on their mainland jackets. Yet moving to the mainland made me not only enjoy the cold at times, but winter sports. I was someone who loved watching the intro to ABC’s Wide World Of Sports and looked for “the agony of defeat” part, a Saturday was not a Saturday without seeing that guy eat it.

I think for the longest time, I never saw myself as someone sporty, and definitely not someone who wanted to be athletic. My goal in life was not to be a lazy ass, but I felt at an early age that if I could use my smarts to get me where I need to be in life, I wouldn’t have to get involved in sports, at least competitively. I loved playing sports with friends, be it football, basketball, or baseball, but for an actual team? Forget it. Growing up in Honolulu, I loved to swim and still do when I am able to get to a pool but I love the beach, and I haven’t had a swim at a beach for way too long. In elementary school, we would go to camp every year and I clearly remember playing a game of water polo. I loved the pool, but playing also meant activity, which I wasn’t about. My appreciation for water sports came from my upbringing, being surrounded by water and ocean.

Which brings us to the 2012 Olympics in London, England. When it comes to my Olympics interests, I tend to enjoy watching what I think most other Americans don’t care about. I tend to like the fringe stuff, and I also like to watch all the athletes compete, and not just the Top 5 or “projected winners”. While my experience with archery is limited to the few experiences I had at camp, and with an uncle who hunted and would leave his bow & arrow at our house, I enjoy watching it. Hawaiians also love their volleyball, and I watched a good share of the games that featured Team USA, both men’s and women, but more of the women. I also watched the bronze metal match between Japan and South Korea, that was good.

In 2008, I watched the full Men’s Bicycling race in Beijing, and did so online. The feed came from the BBC and the commentary was great, but also minimal. What I also liked was being able to see the countryside, along with hearing some of the natural sound, which was primarily crowds and the cars and trucks with the camera crews. I wish I had watched the bicycling online as well, but both races were very good. I also liked the mountain biking event, and if anything, it continues to push me to get a real bike so I can do some riding outdoors and explore the world, or at least the world outside my door. My interests in bicycling has existed since my parents bought me my first bike (a blue Schwinn) when I was 9, and after hitting a tree and falling off, I understood the dynamics and did not want to stop riding.

One event that I fell in love with this year is Handball, or “Team Handball”, “Olympic Handball”. It existed before but I know I didn’t spend time watching it or caring. This time, it looked incredible. It’s a game that looks like water polo but without being in a pool. You mix up elements of soccer (football), American football, basketball and… it’s the most perfect hybrid sport I’ve ever seen. Imagine the Trey Parker movie BASEketball, but as a serious attempt in combining the best of many sports worlds, and without the humor. According to Wikipedia, handball is popular around the world, but there’s not too much attention in the United States. With luck, that will change in the last 10 to 20 years, because I’m addicted in watching and I want more.

Most of my viewing was on the weekends, and if I had a chance to watch in the evenings on a weekday, I definitely would. I believe it was the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, but I would not hesitate to watch coverage into the wee hours of the morning, which meant 2 or 3am at times. I’m sure it had more to do with my attraction to Hannah Storm, but that’s another story.

Would I have liked to watch more? Sure. I would have liked to watch more track & field, a bit more swimming, along with the canoeing and kayaking. I would have liked to have watched basketball that were not focused on the USA, and I wished I could have watched more soccer.

  • Which leads us to how it was covered by NBC. With any televised event, one is able to go to social media and comment in real time. In the United States, it was time delayed due to the 5 to 8 hour time different between North America and England (or 11 hours if you factor in Hawai’i and Alaska). This meant that everything would be seen in American homes long after the event was over, although NBC did provide streaming, but there were issues. In order to see live coverage, you had to prove that you were a cable or satellite subscriber by verifying who you were with, but also giving up your e-mail address. The issue was that they didn’t want just anyone to see the games, you had to be with DirecTV, Dish, or whomever in order to enjoy the games. For those who did take on the offer, the feeds were not always there 100% of the time. I read reports on how some games would black out for minutes. I did not take advantage of it, but when I watched a few events online in 2008, I had no problems whatsoever. In fact, I didn’t have to let them know I had Charter, DishTV, or DirecTV, I just clicked to the website, pressed play, and watched, with a minimum amount of technical difficulties.

    In the U.S., the games were spread over a number of NBC-affiliated networks: CNBC, MSN, Bravo (who would cover the tennis matches), NBC Sports, and Telemundo. Unfortunately, I don’t have NBC Sports or Telemundo, and there were a number of events shown that I did not get to see, such as the Handball finals which aired on NBC Sports, or some of the soccer games that Telemundo would run. Despite my Spanish being very limited, I find the Telemundo coverage of soccer much more entertaining and exciting, especially when the hosts get into it and yell out a long “GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOL”.

    Of course there were alternative ways to watch, including going to the London2012 site in England, or the CTV website from Canada, who primarily use the British feeds but do so uninterrupted. There wee also online streams from sources of unknown origin from many countries, so if you wished to watch it with Russian, German, or Mandarin commentary, if it was online, you could view it. Even if you visited a website where you couldn’t watch the feed because you were not in the website’s native country, there were more than enough programs that could be used to watch it successful. As fans wanted to see what they wanted, when they wanted at any given time, people used social media to get it and for the most part they did. Americans suffered through a number of bad choices NBC were doing with their presentation, everything from editing games/events to commentary that was either corny, dumb, or suggestive to the point where some felt it was offensive. It’s 2012, everyone is capable of watching what they want at any given time, but NBC were basically saying “no, we are going to present it to you this way. We have other ways, but this is the way we’re doing it, and we’re not going to change.” When word had it that NBC were removing elements of the opening ceremony, it was obvious that the commentary was not going to be only about the events, winners, and losers, but it lead to the very active #NBCFail hashtag, along with accounts that would post their delayed NBC-related tweets.

    Someone representing NBC had to come out and say that he didn’t know NBC offered something people really wanted to see, due to the backlash from a very vocal group of people. I found myself getting caught up in some of the dialogue, and when things died down, I realized that many of the arguments were valid. In the end, I feel NBC underestimated the public, what and how viewers wanted to see the games. It’s no longer the 90’s, 80’s, or 70’s anymore. In fact, I heard a statistic during the Olympics which said when ABC showed the Olympics in 1976, only ten hours was devoted to airtime. Ten. Most people didn’t have cable yet, and back then there weren’t many cable channels to begin with. You were stuck with ABC, because the other two networks couldn’t show the games, and you’d never see the Olympics on PBS. Now, you can veg out during the day and go back and forth between three to four channels and watch non-stop boxing, fencing, or tennis.

    I think NBC needed to give people better, more, and easier options, because some of the method they had done to insure people watched their games on their terms… it’s outdated. The means to watch the people in the Big Brother house 24/7 is easier to obtain. If I want to watch extras from any specific season of Survivor, I can go to the website and access each one. Hell, it seems like maybe CBS should have been given the coverage, but I know NBC/Universal purchased the rights and will hold onto it until at least 2020. In fact, as I was watching the games and how bad some of the coverage is, I hope that Google and/or Netflix will be able to obtain the rights to show the games in 2022 and beyond. Imagine Netflix doing it where you could have access to every single event, live, or to be able to watch a feed from the country of your choice, which would be in the language of your choice. If you wish to watch something more compacted, you can have that option, or a “highlights” channel. I feel that NBC will have to do a bit of rethinking and reworking the machine for the 2014 Winter Olympics, and I’d like to think that in 18 months or so, it will work to their advantage. One can assume that if Google and Netflix can do it now, imagine what they could do if they obtain TV/video/feed rights in 2022. Or imagine what would happen if NBC collaborated with Netflix and/or Google for 2014? It could be huge.

    What sucked about NBC’s coverage was that there is an NBC Sports, and most of it was not done with the expertise that NBC Sports is known for. It could have been better. Much better. There was a lot to enjoy and a lot was quite good, but the public deserved more.

    The Olympics is something I like because I like the power of competition and strategy, and the fact that people from around the world can gather together for the love of sport and the game, and the human condition. It’s one of the few times where we can see people get along together without too many issues. We fight wars because of the governments, but the Olympics show that with a sense of community and spirit, we don’t have to have those issues with ourselves and one another. I value that because of the way I was raised with a wide range of people, and in a small way, seeing these people, hearing their languages and how they speak, it’s my way of “traveling without leaving your easy chair”. It shows our world is only limited by what we think the world is, but for those who want to explore, leave your world/comfort zone and see people and places, hear new sounds, taste new food. The Olympics does something very few events in this world can do, especially in an official capacity. We live, we compete, we fight, but we do it to make it to the next stage in life. We do it before we reach “the inevitable”

    I loved the importance of music in these ceremonies, and with my love of British music, film, comedy, and arts, it was great to see and hear music so enthusiastic, understanding things have beginnings, middles, and ends. There’s story and structure, concept and themes, and the British have the utmost respect for artists who made music. The idea that one is a failure because their last hit was a flop doesn’t seem to exist, you are who you are because of what you created, or that you simply created or made an effort to. Within music there is unity. There is also sanity and insanity, but the London Olympics showed you could be any, all or nothing, as long as it moves people. While the opening and closing ceremonies didn’t have everything I wanted to see and hear (no Iron Maiden, Motörhead, or The Police? Why?), I feel it worked incredibly well. What I enjoyed about the ceremonies was that it was like a concept album with a distinct beginning, middle and end, a theme that made sense even though NBC felt the need to remove some of it because they didn’t think American audiences would “get it”. I liked the closing ceremony because the theme was done in the form of “morning, noon, and night”, from the ringing of the bell and using The Beatles’ “A Day In The Life” (“woke up, fell out of bed, dragged a comb across my head”) to partying into the evening with Fatboy Slim. The torch going out but the Phoenix rising was a nice touch, but I also liked the songs The Who uses as a trilogy to encourage the youth to keep the world moving. The line about a “teenage wasteland” in “Baba O’Riley” was changed so it wouldn’t be negative or sarcastic. Using the “See Me, Feel Me” segment of “We’re Not Gonna Take It” was a nice touch too, for the concept of Tommy was about “that deaf, dumb and blind” kid who had to deal with physical and mental abuse as a kid, being told to shut up during his childhood. Finally at the end of the song and album, the child speaks by saying “see me, feel me, touch me, heal me” and it fit in with the end ceremony being a celebration of the contributions of British music to the world, with lines that offered a bit of a triple meaning. The song is about an abused kid who feels strong enough to speak and sing again, its use here not only could refer to the celebration of music, but also of the Olympic spirit which will continue with the youth of today and tomorrow:

    Listening to you, I get the music
    Gazing at you, I get the heat
    Following you, I climb the mountains
    I get excitement at your feet

    Right behind you, I see the millions
    On you, I see the glory
    From you, I get opinions
    From you, I get the story

    England was not afraid to share with the world their flaws, it did not want to sweep it under the rug so people can say “ooh, this is a nice place.” The good and the bad was a running theme, but it said “hey, we are a beautiful city and people, but there have been things we’re not too fond of. Let’s see how we got from there to here, and not censor ourselves.”

    Maybe one day, NBC will take the hint.

  • MOVIE REVIEW: Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels Of A Tribe Called Quest (documentary)

    My Polynesian people will understand what I’m about to say: this documentary film about A Tribe Called Quest is hip-hop’s version of Whale Rider.

    If you are a fan of hip-hop music, watch this. If you are a fan of A Tribe Called Quest, tell everyone to see it, bring friends to the theaters. Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels Of A Tribe Called Quest is, in my opinion, what a hip-hop documentary should be. It represents the best in music documentaries, and Michael Rapaport did an excellent job in putting this together, and I’ll tell you why.

    For me, I was someone just out of high school when I knew that Public Enemy‘s It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back would be a life changer. I had been a fan of rap music for nine years before the album dropped, my high school experience was complete shit, and what saved me was being in radio/TV production class and hip-hop. In radio/TV class, I got to be a radio DJ on a station whose format was hard rock/heavy metal. I grew up on hard rock, I’m a certified headbanger, and sadly the only way I could play hip-hop was on April Fool’s Day, as a joke. I did it, and I remember playing the then-new P.E. song “Prophets Of Rage” and getting a barrage of calls telling me “turn off that shit”. I was hooked. Almost a year later, I saw De La Soul‘s “Potholes In My Lawn” video and was immediately hooked, I had to know what it was. March 1989, I bought the 3 Feet High And Rising tape, played it endlessly. I then heard about Jungle Brothers, loved them. Then came A Tribe Called Quest.

    Rap music affected me in a big way, and A Tribe Called Quest were one of those groups that were on the top for me. Solid beats, solid rhymes, solid vibe. It was indeed a Tribe Vibe, and this tribe were the Native Tongues. I’m Hawaiian, so the word “native” is not used lightly. When you are a Native Hawaiian, you are a true Hawaiian, it’s deep, it’s to the bone, in the blood. To be a Native Tongue not only meant speaking a common language, but you were true to the spirit and the source of what you were doing. Some of these things are mentioned in this documentary which covers the origins of the group, what they did as kids as they made their way towards each other, and how through miscommunication and perhaps a few bruised egos tore up what mentally, and socially connected the tribe.

    One of the benefits of this documentary is that it is Q-Tip, Phife, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, and Jarobi without egos. They are themselves, understanding not so much their roles in hip-hop history, but their connections with each other as friends and associates through music. It’s also great to hear comments from Pharrell Williams, Large Professor, Mike D., Mike G., Afrika Baby Bam, Monie Love, and Chris Lighty. speak on how their music and work as a group affected them. Along the way, one can see how the bruised egos turned into open wounds, and in many ways its bittersweet.

    One thing that the movie reveals is something I’ve believed for a long time. There came a time when the music stopped feeling special, or at least that unique quality started to be branded and marketed. While that last statement is never said properly, it seems that what the music industry was becoming had a major factor in the group becoming less of a unit and more as co-workers who at times couldn’t stand each other.

    Beats, Rhymes & Life also hints at the changes of the music, how they’ve become elders, and how their audience has become older too, all while influencing those who truly wish to listen, learn and understand what A Tribe Called Quest were about. Just as they talk about a need for community, I think as a fan I seeked that too, especially in a town that lacked what I was looking for through the music, and perhaps in life. I found good friends, and I will never doubt those friends, but somehow hip-hop became the loudest chain for all of us. As kids, we all wanted to build up fantasies and myths about our favorite groups, to where we were honoring streets like Linden and Farmers without ever setting food in the city these streets are on. What this documentary does is pop the myth, or in truth allow us to see what we’ve always known: these guys have always been regular guys with a deep love for music, they just happened to have the right chemistry at the right time, and that’s what created that magic we heard and ideally shared. Yet as we see these men in their 40’s, and as some of us see ourselves there or getting there, we watch and go “what now? Is this where we all walk into the sunset and say goodbye?”

    We don’t want the good times to end, and yet we are perhaps waiting for that whale to take us deep into the abyss, to places unknown, with our without the community that we defined as being home. This film is very much about Beats, Rhymes & Life, journalists who archived their lives through music and made some of us put on backpacks, or have enough water to get us from here to there. With luck, this documentary will not only entertain those of us who still feel the connection to the Tribe Vibe, but also teach the current and next generation about one of the best hip-hop groups ever, of any and all eras. Also, for a music that is based on communication, don’t allow a breakdown in communication amongst friends break down to where you lose sight of who you are. I also liked the idea that fans should be able to show support to what each of them have done away from ATCQ, and while everyone wants to relive the magic that made them fans in the first place, you’re not less of a fan if you decide to explore elsewhere. Exploring elsewhere is what Tip, Phife, Ali, and Jarobi continue to do on their paths of rhythm, for even though they may be on their own separate journeys, something will always bring them back together, even if it means simply us putting the needle back on the turntable, popping the tape back into the deck, or cuing up the iPod to the playlist of choice.

    TV SHOW REVIEW: “Portlandia” (IFC)

    The buzzword up here in the Pacific Northwest has been the new show in IFC starring Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein called Portlandia, based on the people and things found in and within Portland, Oregon. With an interest in wanting to move to Portland, I was interested to see what it was about.

    From reading a number of articles and blogs, and hearing podcasts in Portland, it seemed people were either afraid of how Portlandia would show Portland, leery of how embarrassing it might make the city and its residents, while others could care less. The hate was strong, especially with excerpts of the show that could be found, but I think it was nothing more than a proud city who did not want to be looked at as or treated like animals in a zoo. Is Portlandia an example of the unique quirks that Portland does have? Yes, but not all of Portland is like that. “The dream of the 90s is alive in Portland” is what the introduction to the show says, so immediately one is meant to look at the characters and see them as what exactly? 30- and 40- somethings who want to fix the errors of what they went through in the last 20 years? People who felt the past was better? Citizens who wish to live life pre-grunge, pre-hip-hop as a corporate entity, pre-gaming revolution, pre-internet, pre-apps, pre-digital, pre-…cum? It may seem like that from the outside, and I say that as an outsider myself, but watching the show and believing these things will only make you ask one question: what the hell is Portland all about?

    For one, Portland is a large metropolitan city with its share of hippies. However, you will also find preppies, hipsters, gangsters, senior citizens, swingers, conservatives, dope fiends, teabaggers, foodies, raw food enthusiasts, and a little bit of everything. You can also find these things in Seattle, San Francisco, Detroit, and every other city Huey Lewis mentioned in the last verse in “The Heart Of Rock’N’Roll”. So why is Portland the hot city of discussion of the moment? I think it’s because it’s a large city whose talent and resources have remained untapped, and the fear is that if the country taps PDX’s ass, it’ll turn into the woman Common rapped about in “I Used To Love H.E.R.”, where she will end up being worn out and torn, but still able to return to the place she calls home. This isn’t to suggest that Portland wants to remain in the past, although shades of the past can be found throughout the city and its various sections. As a record collector, I remember a few years ago when Portland was called “the last untapped vinyl destination”, which comes from young college kids who want to discover a format they didn’t grow up with, and an older generation who found no need to replace a format that they were happy with. Perhaps that’s the perception some people have of the city, the idea that it’s not Miami, it’s not Dallas, it’s not Chicago, it’s not San Francisco. The city of Portland, Oregon is known by name, but very little is known by people outside of the Pacific Northwest, other than how quirky or “weird” it makes itself out to be. Yet within that quirkiness and weird vibes is a sense of wanting to be a Portland resident because the people and the communities feel that the standard of living is very good, even when times are rough, and while I’m only one episode into the show, I think Portlandia is going to show some of the many things that makes Portland worth celebrating, even if some feel it’s unnecessary mockery. Then again, the show was created by Fred Armisen, which obviously means comedy, even if some are not willing to laugh at themselves.

    The show is based around different scenarios and storylines, so that Armisen and Brownstein will portray different characters from scene to scene. One scene may show them being overly conscious about the food they consume, while another scene may have them as employees at a women’s book shop. The one thing that I did like was when they showed Armisen’s character overdosing on living in a digital world, and some may thing Portland and being digital is an oxymoron. Truth of the matter is that Portland has a healthy and diverse blogging community, and has been internet savvy for years. There is also a tech community that looks at some of the innovations being done in Portland and the rest of Oregon, some of which is discussed at Rick Turcozy‘s Silicon Florist website. In a recent issue of Portland Monthly there was an article covering the best doctors in the city, while talking about how Portland could take part in becoming a microcosm of what the country’s health care system should be. The city is known for being a mecca of bicyclists, but it’s also encouraging people to think better and smarter about how they travel in and out of the city, with discussions of a forthcoming transportation safety summit producing a number of pros and cons.

    Of course, you can also celebrate Portland by taking advantage of a pedestrian-friendly city by discovering the many stairs of the city in The Portland Stairs Book. If you’re unshaven and proud, take part or become a spectator in the West Coast Beard & Mustache Championships. If you want someone to fondle your nether regions, there’s a map for that. Portlandia represents all of this and none of this, so why does it matter?

    Let’s be real. The city of Portland, Oregon might seem weird to some, but those people are probably happy with who they are and what they’ve become. Portland is not for them. Those who seek something different and unique may or may not find it in Portland. Truth be told, it can be found anywhere and everywhere. You just have to look, and it just so happens Portland occupies a lot of searchers, even those who are content. Maybe the things they search for seemed varied and different from what you’re looking for, but respect the search. It’s a nerdy city, but that’s a dorky way of saying that this city is well read. I’m a Book, I’m well read, so… Portland seems like a perfect place to be, right? I haven’t lived there yet, but I’d like for it to be a place I will want to call home, and hopefully I will very soon. In the first episode, I see a sense of the people that are there, and it’s not just the characters Armisen and Brownstein portray. Look at the older lady in the library, that’s Portland. Look at the bearded man who has been hiding in the library since 1979 while taking part in a hide & seek contest, that’s Portland.

    Maybe want to discover Portland because it’s seen as an intelligent city that isn’t afraid to play the fool, even though they don’t want anyone to call them fools or being foolish. Maybe Portland simply wants people to not poke fun or criticize, but if you’re going to stare, put on a souvenir T-shirt and participate. I also think that Portland has been overshadowed by Seattle for decades, even when Seattle wasn’t the coffee-drinking, tech-savvy city it is today. Upon moving to Washington State in 1984, I remember when it was possible to drive through downtown Seattle and see small corner stores, hear the breeze, and be able to walk on the street for blocks without being hit. With Seattle being home to a number of fisheries, another distinct I remember about some parts of downtown Seattle was how it smelled like a fishing boat. Growing up in Honolulu, I know the sights, sounds, and smells all too well. The Seattle music scene in 1984 was active but bands showed support for other bands, and some bands probably featured members from other bands, so a group of 12 people might have 5 bands ready to go on tour together in a stinky van. The Kingdome was an ugly beast, but people loved the beauty of the ugliness. In 1987 while on The Joshua Tree tour, U2 didn’t play in Seattle, leaving the defunct magazine The Rocket to ask why a big band like them can play San Francisco one night, drive up the West Coast and completely miss Portland and Seattle by heading to Vancouver, British Columbia in Canada? From that point on, it seemed the music community did everything to strengthen itself within themselves, and in time people discovered the unique qualities of their music.

    Meanwhile, Portland remained the city on the I-5, not really quiet or dormant but ignored by people who were entralled by the big and bright lights of Seattle, the city of dreams in the late 80’s and early 90’s. Which brings to mind what Portlandia suggests: what exactly was the dream of the 90’s? Or is it about going back to a time before the world seemed to collapse in front of our eyes? Is Portland a utopia? Is it a town of music makers, and in the words of Willy Wonka, are Portlanders the dreamers of the dream? By being exposed to the possibility of being overexposed, will the unicorn magic of Portland slowly fade away? If anything, that may be the biggest fear of all, that Portland in the early 10’s will turn into what Seattle became in the 1990’s: overcrowded with Californians looking to change the ways of the city or adapting the city’s qualities and making themselves look like a fool.

    It’s possible that this review has less to do with Portlandia the show and more about the city of Portland and what it represents to an outsider who wants to play in their reindeer games. Nonetheless, love or hate, Portland is there to sample and experience. If the show moves you to pay a visit, they’ll be more than happy to welcome you.

    (Portlandia airs Friday nights at 10:30 Eastern/7:30 Pacific on IFC. While the show is produced by Saturday Night Live‘s Lorne Michaels,the show is based on the video projects Armisen and Brownstein used to do together when Brownstein wasn’t recording/touring with Sleater-Kinney. Consider it a high-budget independent video project, and one that works quite well in the context of what the city represents to its residents.)

    CONCERT REVIEW: Medeski, Martin & Wood, Portland, Oregon, February 26, 2010

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    Medeski, Martin & Wood
    Roseland Theater, Portland, Oregon
    February 26, 2010

    This was a concert I could not pass up. I hadn’t been to a concert in so long, let’s just say it has been years. A number of reasons can lead to a number of excuses which leads to funds and blah blah, unimportant in the grand scheme. I looked to see if one of my favorite bands, Medeski, Martin & Wood, were going on tour any time. I discovered they would be going through the Pacific Northwest, including a stop in Portland, Oregon. I had the opportunity to go, and with a free schedule, I purchased (yes, I bought it) a ticket and I was on my way.

    Before I review the show, a quick story. I’ve seen MMW three times before, all in Seattle: two shows at the Moore Theater, once at the Paramount. At the Moore show on April 1, 1999, they played “No Ke Ano Ahiahi”, and if you hunt down a live recording of the show, you’ll hear a guy yelling out “HANA HOU!” at the end. That would be me. This was also the same time that DJ Logic was sitting in with the group, and would play an opening set. The second show teamed them up with Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe. The third time I saw them was when Skerik would organize local musicians to play within his horn section. Each show was great, and one of the best moments was on The Dropper tour, when Medeski jumped onto his organ and rode it during “We Are Rolling”.

    This show would be the first time I’ve seen MMW in Portland, and the first Portland concert I’ve been to in years (Frankie Goes To Hollywood & Belouis Some on June 22, 1985.) I was staying at a hotel within walking distance of the Roseland Theater, so when I headed out there by walking, I had taken the wrong street and got lost. I ended up walking in a complete circle in downtown Portland, before I recognized a gas station I had passed hours before. I saw the blinking lights of the Roseland marquee, and I was only two blocks away. I reached my destination, sweaty and exhausted, but in time. I was ready. I’ve passed the Roseland many times when I’ve traveled to Portland, but I’ve bought more records and CD’s than anything. After this show, I find myself wanting to explore all of Portland’s concert venues. But anyway, the review.

    I’ve kept up with all of MMW’s output up until the recent Radiolarians albums, and I knew they would be doing a lot of material from those three releases. The thing with MMW is, even if you’re not familiar with their songs, if you love their chemistry and the vibe they feed off to crowds (which at times can be a reaction to what audiences give to them), you’ll love it anyway. The band are all about improvisation, so they may play one song, feel the need to take things to another place, and then come back. At their core is jazz, so they take the freedom of jazz and bring it into their own circle. When Chris Wood plays, whether it’s a Hofner or Fender electric or his stand-up bass, you know he’s going to do some serious damage, and he did throughout the show. Billy Martin always brings his arsenal of drums and percussion, sharing the sounds and spirits of other cultures from Brazil to Africa, then playing his drums in the traditions of Elvin Jones, Tony Williams, and Idris Muhammad. When he wants to add little textures within a complex time signature, everyone in the band knows it and keeps things open. Then of course there’s John Medeski, who will bounce back and forth from a grand piano to a Mellotron to a Hammond B-3, and to his side a Leslie speaker spinning and waiting. He’ll either be a traditionalist and take it to the days of Dixieland, or he’ll get a calling from the almighty Sun Ra and play offnotes, but in the Ra philosophy book there are no wrong notes. Then Medeski will drift into space and take fans on a psychedelic trip to the unknown, as he bends, pounds, and maintains all of this with incredible perception of his surroundings. Sometimes, all of these songs happen in one section of a song.

    These are the things MMW did on this night in Portland, beginning with a first set that was pretty much non-stop for an hour. After an intermission, they came back for a second set and I was catching some familiar songs from The Dropper and Uninvisible. After an hour, they said goodnight but the crowd wasn’t having it. Their encore was a song that had been a staple of their live set for years in the mid to late 90’s, and almost became an inside joke for the band as documented on the many live recordings circulating. But as soon as Medeski played the opening notes to “Bubblehouse”, the crowd knew what they would be in store. At the point of the song where they build up and are on a much faster tempo than at the song’s point of entry, Medeski started bringing the wind in, or at least the sound of a heavy “WHOOOOOOOSHHH” and Martin kept himself locked in a groove as Wood was just jiving to the funk and keeping everything locked. When it came time to slow down and bring the song home with that grungy feel, they did it flawlessly before tinkering with how to end the song, and then… it was over. Incredible show, incredible band.

    A few more things to add. I witnessed the first half of the show at the top level where the bar was. It was a standing room only show, which sucked. Had I known ahead of time, I would’ve bought myself some Chair Pants. However, I got locked into the jazzy funk and danced nonetheless. The only shitty part was that I had to deal with countless people talking. I’m sorry, but when I go to a show, I want to lock myself into the music and nothing more, I zone out. I walked down to the floor on the second half and made myself kick back in the back. I was in a good position to see ladies dance in their carefree ways, and I was loving that. But you also had a bunch of guys doing the same, but hey, everyone was dancing and having a good time. Plus: no one talking on either side of me, I got to concentrate on the music. Plus, I got a much better view of MMW than I did on the upper level. There was also a 2 or 3-year old girl at the show with her mom, and she was dancing too. I’m sure she had earplugs, but what a thing to experience as a little kid.

    If there’s one group I would travel around like a Deadhead to see show after show after show, it would definitely be Medeski, Martin & Wood. But maybe that’s too much of a good thing, maybe it’s best to enjoy a show as much as possible and as you’re going through withdrawals, anticipate the next time they come around. If you can afford to though, by all means, hop on the MMW caravan.

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    SOME STUFFS: The Silent League look for “care” in 2010

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    This league is human, but they’re a noise bunch that happen to be silent. Yeah I know, hurry up with it. They’re called The Silent League, a band founded by Justin Russo when he was sitting in with Mercury Rev on keyboards. Today, The Silent League are as big as the Chicago Transit Authority, with seven members strong, and they’re about to prove how strong they are with the release of the cleverly titled album …but you’ve always been the caretaker, on the cleverly titled label Something In Construction. Their sound mixes up some of the analog synth sounds of the 70’s, mixes it in with the modern music twists and a love for infectious pop, and you’ll be able to sense what they’re trying to come up with. People like Prince, Weezer, Todd Rundgren, and P. Willy Mungmung would be most welcome into their ffurth. People who have been looking for pop music to be properly fingered again will fall in love with the scissors techniques of The Silent League.

    When the album is released, the hard copy will come with a second CD featuring remixes (including the Neon Indian Remix of “Here’s A Star” (7.5mb), instrumentals, and covers of songs by Electric Light Orchestra (one of their primary influences) and Alicia Keys.

    If can’t wait another two months, the album was released a month ago in the UK, and you can purchase it through <a href=""Rough Trade.

    One brand new review @ Okayplayer

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    The villagers known as Black Moth Super Rainbow are about to release a brand new album called Eating Us (Graveface), and if you like their previous work, or want to become a new convert, you’ll want to start here.

    My review of the album is up and running now at Okayplayer. If you missed out on what they did before, my review of the fantastic Dandelion Gum can be found here.

    The album comes out on May 26th, and you can pre-order the standard CD or a special limited edition “hairy version” of it through their official website.

    Two brand new reviews @

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    I have two reviews up and running in the Reviews section at Okayplayer, check them out by clicking to the following links:

    Georgia Anne Muldrow presents Ms. One and The Gang
    Clutchy Hopkins meets Lord Kenjamin-Music Is My Medicine

    Muldrow’s album will be released on May 19th, Hopkins’ album is out now, both can be ordered through CD Universe by clicking the CD icons above.

    The Run-Off Groove #234

    Welcome to The Run-Off Groove #234. I am John Book, welcome.

    This column is about music reviews, along with music-related books, DVD’s, etc. Each review will usually be followed by a graphic, when upon clicking you can make a purchase:
    (for compact disc)
    (for MP3’s)

    The point of this is to make readers aware of some of the good music out there, music I hope to be able to pass along to you. With that said, all MP3’s here are “legal”, which means they are being passed on to you with permission from the artist and/or publicity firm. All of you that are tech savvy should know where to get all the free music anyway, but please make a purchase whenever possible, whether it’s from your favorite store or in many instances from the artist themselves. If your tax return is coming in, get to those bills first and foremost, but with a bit of extra change buy a few albums.

    Also please consider clicking some of the links under the “Music and more” category to the right, which will help keep this website afloat.

    Now, the column.

    Image and video hosting by TinyPic To say that you’ve heard every piece of music John Zorn has ever released or composed would mean that you are an impossibility, unless you have spent your entire life following Zorn and his musical legacy everywhere. The only person who may have heard everything Zorn has made is Zorn himself, and even he may have forgotten a piece or two. If you’ve come across Zorn and his music anytime in the last 30 years, you know how intense it can be, to the point where you feel like you either want to get involved or run out of fear. These are the emotions that writer John Brackett tries to define and demolish in his book John Zorn: Tradition and Transgression (Indiana University Press).

    Brackett’s book is very in-depth in terms of analyzing every twist and turn to Zorn’s creativity, to the point where you may put down the book after a chapter or two, if not after a paragraph. Brackett is an assistant professor of Music at the University of Utah, and therefore what you’re reading is very much a collegiate view of one’s music, which isn’t a bad thing. If you want a casual read, this is definitely not for you. This is very much like enrolling in Zorn 101, and the pace of the book is always at its peak for that is what the music demands and maybe represents. You can either listen to it as a barrage of choreographed noise, or examine it the way rock and jazz critics examine their favorite artists. Yes, Zorn is known for his work in jazz, but he has been accepted in the experimental and avant-garde worlds, even if Brackett challenges the notion. If there is one method to describe what he’s trying to establish, it’s this: Zorn is. Zorn isn’t. He’s both. He’s neither.

    It gets into things more seriously of course, but it is intense as it is difficult to read, and it has nothing to do with Brackett’s writing style. This isn’t something where you will read things such “Zorn is Jewish. Zorn likes to incorporate his upbringing and experiences into his music. This is the music. It is on this album. Zorn likes to bring in other elements, some traditional, some not.” Every little element in Zorn’s pieces is carefully examined and deciphered to where you feel you’ve entered the point of no return, and one becomes more appreciative of Zorn’s work, even if it might not be completely understood. One can say the same thing about Brackett and his book, for while you’re not going to fully embrace the research put into it, it will eventually sink in and become overwhelming. In many ways, just like Zorn’s music.

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    Image and video hosting by TinyPic Keri Hilson has portrayed herself in many ways, or I should say her image has been put out to show Miss Hilson as a number of different things. Some may see her as the cool and confident “around the way girl” who is down for whatever. For others, she may be that sexy, hot fucktoy with the confidence men demand but will never completely get because she is the one in control. She may be promoted in that fashion, and some of it may be true, some of it pure hype. But beyond the hype is the music and for someone who has received a lot of hype, how does In A Perfect World (Interscope) measure up? Quite good, actually.

    Her music, which she had a major hand in writing, flirts with the idea of what she is, tantalizing the listener with what she makes herself out to be so that fans will become devoted believers. In “Turnin’ Me On” (the first single featuring Lil’ Wayne), a song that at times sounds close to Aaliyah‘s “Read Between The Lines”, she tells her man that she’s more than a good shop at the mall and a lady who wants to see the bottles poppin’, she is someone who “gotta be feeling your energy” first and foremost before one dares to know anything more. In other words, she’s a lady, treat her that way. “Set Your Money Up” has her teaming up with Keyshia Cole and Trina and for this one it’s a girl’s night out at the club. The Timbaland-produced “Return The Favor” sounds like both of them entered a game room and never escaped, while NE-YO helps out in “Knock You Down”, only for Kanye West to pick it up and steal it for himself.

    It takes five songs for In A Perfect World to reach its first ballad, the Prince-flavored”Slow Dance”, followed by the seductive “Make Love”. She’s very comfortable in her musical pillow talk, but immediately wants to move and groove in a mid-tempo fashion with “How Does It Feel” and “Alienated”, each of which show her as someone who uses the familiar hooks in today’s R&B to lure people into hearing what she’s really all about. In other words, her sexy lyrics and voice are what brought you to listen, now you have to listen, and what a listen it is.

    As a songwriter, she knows how to write effective hooks and decent verses that at times show a gifted storyteller, or at least someone who is willing to tear out pages from her mental diary and pass it on to you. I hope she continues to establish herself as a songwriter as I have a funny feeling there’s a lot more she wants to share but is waiting for the right time to do so. Her voice is much more polished and developed than Ciara, and along the lines of Keyshia Cole and Mel B. If I have to compare her sultriness and occasional hints of hip-hop attitude to anyone, I would compare her to Monica Payne of The Gyrlz/Terri & Monica fame, as both share those high tones that are able to excite and surprise due to ones own expectations of their vocal capabilities. Hilson goes beyond that, and after hearing and enjoying this album, I can see her going beyond what this album represents and getting into more challenging projects.

    Image and video hosting by TinyPic Because of the circumstances that MF DOOM has shown in the last two years, people have wondered if the fake DOOM’s that have been showing up at his concerts are part of an elaborate scam, or part of what DOOM wants to represent as an artist. Regardless of what the situation is, DOOM said in a recent interview that when it comes to music, he wants you to listen, not to see, so what you see may be not what you want or expect. If you keep it on that premise alone, Born Like This (Lex) is the return of DOOM in the flesh, still with his shiny mask.

    People have been quick to say that DOOM has weakened, that the new album is trash, and I will say this: if you liked DOOM back when he was dropping 12″ singles on Fondle ‘Em, you will like DOOM now as he gets abstract in his tales of thievery, bravado, pride, and even some “Microwave Mayo”. The man is nuts, but anyone who craves a lot of lyrical gems on their nuts will eat this up like crazy, this is pure, insane wit just like mama used to holla at. DOOM finds no need to drive a hook home, not when he has stories to tell. In “Angelz”, his track with Ghostface Killah he talks about getting involved in a major drug deal, only to be confronted by none other than Mr. T, who wants to take part in hanging out with seductive bitches. One almost feels that DOOM became DOOM became who he is when Black Bastards was rejected by Elektra, and what what we’ve been hearing for the last 15 years os resentment and rejection from someone who wants to go out of his way to prove that he has what it takes to do damage. If he can’t do it as himself, he’ll take on a persona in order to execute his performances like, in the words of his old friend MC Serch, like sex endurance.

    What does this have to do with DOOM’s new album? A lot. DOOM raps about things that are so off the wall at first, but take a step back and one begins to see a better developed picture. This is as close as you will ever get to his mic, and either you’re hopping on for the ride or not. Born Like This, at least for now, is the real man behind the mask and his return only means other MC’s better plan on stepping down before being demolished by this supervillain.

    Image and video hosting by TinyPic The He’s Just Not That Into You soundtrack (New Line) puts together 17 songs that were featured in the movie, and that alone could be used for any other review representing a soundtrack. What you want to know is if the songs are good. Truth: they are.

    First off, there are two different soundtrack albums for this: one being the soundtrack of various songs (black cover), the other being the film’s score (white cover). You’ll want the black cover to hear songs by Corinne Bailey Rae (the addictive “I’d Like To”), Tristan Prettyman (“Madly”), and The Ting Tings (“Fruit Machine”). Even Scarlett Johansson (who appears in the film) offers up “Last Goodbye”, and the song will definitely appeal to those who felt her debut album last year was an epic fail, for she is much more spirited here than she was on her tribute to Tom Waits (I felt the album was great, but as I said in my review at Okayplayer, I think too many people expected something different because of how she looks and presents herself to the public.) The original mix of Maroon 5‘s “If I Never See Your Face Again”, sans Rihanna, appears here too.

    The soundtrack is balanced by a number of older tracks, such as Talking Heads‘ “This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)” (one of my favorite TH songs), The Replacements‘ “can’t Hardly Wait”, The Cure‘s “Friday I’m In Love”, and The Black Crowes‘ “By Your Side”, each one meant to represent the different characters in the film. I think fans of the older tracks will definitely welcome the new material, while fans of the current artists will find something of value in listening to the songs of yesteryear. Fans of the film are sure to enjoy hearing these songs as a whole, but even if you never plan on seeing the film, it makes for a soundtrack worth keeping in your collection.

    Image and video hosting by TinyPic If the cover to Melodia (Ivy League/World’s Fair) looks familiar, and you’re wondering “wow John, you’re reviewing an album that came out last year?”, then you’re probably wondering why I am indeed reviewing it.

    The album by The Vines was recorded a year ago, released in Australia but was not released in North America. Melodia finally gets released domestically and they are hoping to get the same success they’ve received around the world. The band are in top form and show all of the qualities they presented before: catchy melodies, good hooks, and an energy that feels powerful and believable. Some feel they should be as abrasive as their older material, while others want them to be more hook-savvy, but do The Vines satisfy? If you love the band, you’ll like them regardless, but if you truly love the band, you probably bought this last year and have been waiting for them to come to your town. I don’t blame you. There are a lot of great songs here, including the tentative/sensitive ballad hit “True As The Night”, the fierce and funky “Braindead”, and the reckless “Jamola” (which I wish went on for another minute or two instead of limiting itself to a mere 59 seconds), and in between you get potential hits, soon-to-be-concert staples, and that gritty pop crunch fans have come to enjoy and appreciate.

    Image and video hosting by TinyPic Pray IV Reign (Diplomat/Sony) is Jim Jones‘ fourth album, and this is definitely his best album to date.

    On the surface, he has a number of special guests on the album, including Juelz Santana, Rawanna, Ron Browz, Oshy, Ryan Leslie, NOE, Ludacris, and Busta Rhymes, but Jones’ style and grace doesn’t allow him to let them overshadow him, not when you’re in top form and going in for the lyrical kill. He plays the mack and pimp roles very well, not afraid to talk about bitches, money, and the price of fame. but he also knows that when you execute yourself as a man of the street, you have to be willing to die for the street, or at least that’s how the story goes. If it’s not the life he lives, it’s definitely the life he has witnessed through others, and no one quite does it the way Jim Jones does, with effort, power, and an incredible sense of humor that at times comes off like dry wit. In other words, he knows he can crack a few jokes and it may take a few listens before you realize you’re supposed to laugh.

    My top picks: “My My My”, “Blow The Bank”, “This Is The Life”, “This Is For My Bitches”, “Girlfriend”, and “Let It Out”.

    Image and video hosting by TinyPic Ali Baba Abnormal has been around for a few years, and with House Of Baba (the first of two “mix tapes”) he sets himself off as the leader of a hip-hop clientele that is hard to break through. Or at least that’s the semi-theme here, creating a concept that makes him out to be the it man, and he does it by delivering some really good songs and beats that are a healthy exchange between MC and producer.

    Worthy stuff for the most part, but the concept (and I use the word loosely) gets a bit thin about half way through but this is a mix tape so maybe it’s not meant to be executed properly. What he does execute are fine songs with lyrics that are worthy, nothing wasteful, and I would like to hear an official album with a bit of diversity in topics.

    Image and video hosting by TinyPic Bipolar are purists of jazz of the highest order, or are they? They could be purists of Western classical music, but these are jazz renditions of classical pieces, so why mention anyone being purists? Beats me, but what you will hear is pure musicianship from the people behind Bipolar, and perhaps this is the disorder in question: riding the thin line between jazz and classical and rather than hold to a preference, they handle both on Euphrates, Me Jane (self-released).

    Jed Feuer (trumpet, flugelhorn), James Windsor-Wells (drums), David Ostrem (double bass), Stephanie Long (saxophones, flute), Craig Swanson (piano), and Robert C. Kelly (drums) work in unison to create a style of music that sometimes goes back to the glory days of Dave Brubeck, or at least that’s how I hear it. The music is played clear and distinctly without friction, and in a song like “Killer Beau (Soir)” you may not realize that it is a classical piece without reading the liner notes (or this review). Their version of Grover Washington Jr.‘s “Just The Two Of Us” has a nice jump that the original lacked, and probably would have done well in this setting if Bill Withers was a jazz vocalist circa 1956 or ’57, and the piano work from Swanson would have made people move and bow down for its majestic touches. Feuer’s arrangement of The Beatles‘ “And I Love You” is as beautiful as any other version released since 1964, and hearing it makes it difficult to believe the song is 45 years old. I like this a lot.

    Image and video hosting by TinyPic Blue Sky 5 + 2 are a group who get into a style of swing jazz perhaps long gone, but it goes back to an era when jazz was king. Five Minutes More (Groove Juice) is their second album, and the band (fronted by Craig Gildner shows that while the music may be considered old and nostalgic, if you have what it takes, you can put yourself in those days of yesterday or more realistically find yourself wanting more of that music played today.

    The album features many standards: “Me, Myself and I, “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love”, and “You’re A Sweetheart”, and what these songs reveal at times are a sense of innocence that we tend to ignore or neglect these days, when companionship meant a stroll through the park and maybe ice cream at the parlor, nothing more. In fact, “Every Young Girl Should Know” establishes the rules between woman and man, and one wonders how much better we as a people would be if we still held on to the values of our grandparents. If you want quality swing with vocals that don’t go beyond its boundaries or capabilities, get this album.

    Image and video hosting by TinyPic Pianist Bob Albanese would be considered a wiz kid in his prime, but he’s no longer a kid or young man, but very much playing in his prime, if One Way/Detour (Zoho) is any indication.

    Albanese is described on the back cover as being “a rhymer, a poetic soul whether he is thinking and talking or composing and playing”. To put it simply, he is good at what he does, and what he does is highly respected by his peers. On this album he performs with a group of musicians who have always played with power and they do so with no remorse: drummer Willard Dyson, bassist Tom Kennedy and legendary saxophonist Ira Sullivan. People love the term “instant classic”, and that definitely applies to an album like this, featuring a number of Albanese originals (including the textural title track, “Friendly Fire” and the appropriately titled “More Friendly Fire”). If there is a fire, it’s the heat between these four gentleman playing in a way that puts everyone on their A-game. It’s serious music where you’re constantly trying to create mental pictures of the music before you realize your strokes are wrong. But wrongs can be turned into rights, and by saying that I mean these guys can do no wrongs even if they tried. Each of them show their individual personalities through their playing, especially the Dyson/Kennedy rhythm section, you hear the ta-da-dat-dat-DAT of Dyson’s drums and then he’ll tighten up with some wicked funk before Kennedy pulls him back into the program. “Morning Nocturne” could easily be interpreted by Pat Metheny, Herbie Hancock, or Shinichi Osawa. There’s not one bad song on here, you want to listen and see if Albanese or any of these musicians are playing live. With luck, they’ll be playing near you soon and you may find yourself wanting to hear extended jaunts of each of the ten tracks featured here.

    (One Way/Detour will be released on April 14th, and can be pre-ordered through CD Universe.)

    Image and video hosting by TinyPic Southern rock has a rich legacy, with a number of older bands still playing across the country and the world, and many new artists getting into it in order to keep the vibe alive. Brothers Of The Southland is a collective of musicians and singers who went on tour to share their love of Southern rock and the South, and this 13-track album (Zoho Roots) will be something fans of classic rock will eat up. “Can’t You See” and “Dreams” (the latter the classic Allman Brothers Band song are both taken to new levels with the help of American Idol runner-up Bo Bice, while Jimmy Hall and Henry Paul trade vocal duties from song to song, handling “Dixie Highway”, “Blue Sunrise”, and “a number of D. Scott Miller originals (Miller produced the album) that gets to the roots of it all to show where it all came from and where it could be leading.

    The South rises once again.

    (Brothers Of The Southland will be released on June 9th, and can be pre-ordered through CD Universe.)

    Image and video hosting by TinyPic The laid back jazz of a trio known as Framework (Jay Epstein on drums, Chris Olson on guitars, and Chris Bates on bass) is the perfect music to listen to on a rainy day like the one I’m experiencing as I’m listening to the music and writing a review of said music. Olson’s guitar is on the George Benson/Pat Martino tip throughout their self-titled CD (GoneJazz), and you don’t need complex arrangements or heavy twists and turns when you are more than capable of playing smoothly, melodically, and thematically without sounding too soft. “Yesterday’s Past” fits the mood of the title extremely well, , and Bates’ bass work almost has the same kind of roundness Roger Waters‘ is known for, where it’s deep but not plodding.

    It is indeed a Framework with these guys, but it’s not robotic or predictable, everything just sounds… proper. Music that is for rainy days like these, or for hot silky nights with a significant other. Bust out the warm jellies, Framework are about to tickle your fancy and then some.

    Image and video hosting by TinyPic Cool jazz, true jazz: many words can be said about a certain sound that moves people in to the music and not allowing them to escape, but jazz covers a lot of ground. The Frank Wess Nonet go back to that time for a bit on their new album, with a title that is more than self-explanatory. One can say that that time in jazz was once in a lifetime, but for Wess and friends, Once Is Not Enough (Labeth Music).

    Most of the songs on this album are Wess originals, and it’s hard to tell considering how well written and arranged they are. When you hear Wess’ arrangement of Billy Strayhorn‘s “Lush Life”, it becomes perfectly clear how genius this guy is. His sax work makes you feel welcome, and when his nonet offer up a big band vibe or allow him to glide with a bit of Duke Ellington or John Coltrane flair, it hits you immediately. Steve Turre‘s trombone work throughout the album stand out, easily ranking alongside his own albums over the years, listen to his solo in “Sara’s Song” for proof. Together, the musicians here (Wess and Turre along with Winard Harper, Frank Greene, Peter Washington, Gerald Clayton, Scott Robinson, Ted Nash, and Terell Stafford) have a little swagger to their step and playing, which shows the confidence in their playing and the fun they have together as creators of this music called jazz. With the exception of the brief “Fly Me To The Moon (In Other Words)” (which is a mere 2 minutes and 48 seconds), all of these songs are well over five minutes in length, with “Lush Life” and “Sara’s Song” being the most demanding, clocking in at 9:39 and 8:22 respectively), and one wishes they could’ve went on another two to three minutes. When he swings, he really gets caught up in it and you don’t want him to stop.

    Image and video hosting by TinyPic It’s hard to believe that any major label would want to drop people with incredible talent, but it seems after one album, Warner Bros. Records gave Leela James a pink slip. She received a lot of attention for her voice, music, and of course her big hair, but the hair was a partial lure to get people to listen. Again, why anyone would drop someone like her is anyone’s guess, but she’s now an indie artist and with her second album she has had to resort to doing cover versions at this early stage in her career.

    She gives each of these songs a nice soulful treatment, especially the jazzified take of The Rolling Stones‘ “Miss You”. Foreigner‘s “I Want To Know What Loves Is” is taken back to church, while Betty Wright “Clean Up Woman” honors the original with respect. The rest of it is respectfully done but I would have preferred more original arrangements as some of them just lack that extra something. I hope the downfall of today’s soul music doesn’t limit her to just a cover artist, for the world needs people like James to carry on the legacy and traditions.

    Image and video hosting by TinyPic Modulok could be described as a dark themed MC, or perhaps that’s the way he presents himself in his words and lyrics, and along with producer Leon Murphy they help make Cities And Years (Takaba) an EP of importance.

    Why important? I think this guy is on to something, and he awaits a mass audience who will appreciate him, and that time should be now. What I hear on this album is someone who has a gift of songwriting, he knows how to transfer stories from head to pen to paper (or computer screen) in a way that feels like a movie, and he does it by allowing Murphy to twist up his stories through different musical sculptures. “Ink Spots” sounds like crunk dressed up in PVC, while “A Certain Time Of The Day” sounds like something he might do with DJ Krush, while “A Certain Time Of The Day” has him sounding like a mixture of Mos Def, Common (think his first two albums), Justin Warfield, and Jesse Dangerously, as he talks about where he’s from, where he’s been, touching on his Guyanese roots and how “people don’t realize how deep that shit is/but it’s real, deeper than the fucking Grand Canyon”. There is an incredible sense of energy in his words, methods of speaking, and the music that tells me he’s hungry for interaction and feedback, and while he not call himself a teacher, I would say he is an educator of sorts, someone who wants to be able to pass on his experiences in an honest way that doesn’t take away any of his integrity or credibility. An EP of importance? I’ll take four a year, please.

    Image and video hosting by TinyPic Radam Schwartz is a madman on the Hammond B-3, and what he’s able to do with the instrument on his album Blues Citizens (Savant) is nothing short of brilliant. Those who have read my reviews of a number of jazz albums will know that I’m a huge fan of the B-3, just love the song and it would be great to learn how to play. When I hear someone tear it up as if there’s no tomorrow, it brings a metaphorical tear to my eye, and it’s heard in tracks like “Dem Philadelphia Organ Blues”, “Hangin’ With Smooth”, and “Pay Up”, the latter a vocal track featuring singer Kice. Schwartz knows how to play rugger blues, jazz, and ballads beautifully, and the little things he adds in songs like “Driftin'” helps give the song a bit more flavor when needed, like sprinkles of bacon salt. What’s also amazing is that not only does Schwartz play the melodies and solos, but he also handles the basslines too, and along with drummer Cecil Brooks III they make one hell of a rhythm section.

    I also love the distinctive sound he produces with the B-3, it’s as if you’re feeling the organ breathe, pant, and moan. He doesn’t use it throughout but when it’s there, you feel it in the gut. I also like Eric Johnson‘s guitar work here, played with class and style the way Wes Montgomery would have liked it. Tight as punani.

    Image and video hosting by TinyPic 3/4’s of these guys look like they’ve been smoking a lot in the last 30 years, so when you got that kind of tar buildup you know it has to result in something wicked. This is the sound of Rufus Huff, which is not the name of any one individual but a band consisting of Chris Hardesty (drums), Jarrod England (vocals, and the young man of the group), Greg Martin (guitarist, known for his work with The Kentucky Headhunters), and Dean Smith who play some of the best hard rock I’ve heard in quite some time. Their self-titled debut album Zoho Roots) shows their brand of rock to be of the Bad Company, Blackfoot, and Electric-era Cult, the kind of hard rock Rick Rubin would be excited to record. Now this isn’t just rock drenched in heavy blues, this is by all means Southern rock with an extra crunch and some type of beef jerky soaked in whiskey. Imagine Soundgarden from the Louder Than Love period playing and singing with an incredible amount of intensity, and you’ll know what “13 Daze” is. “High On Heaven Hill” sounds like what Alice In Chains would be making today if Layne Staley didn’t pass away, and in fact if you want to know how the distinctive Seattle sound got that heavy influence, you can hear the Southern influences in a band like Rufus Huff with that sweaty bottle neck blues that will make you want to shag your ol’ lady for weeks.

    A lot of younger hard rock bands, or bands who claim they play hard rock, are nothing but bullshit artists hoping for a big break and the stupid eggets of the industry deliver crap. Rufus Huff, as they say, is “the truth”, these are guys who truly love the music and make it sound heavier than anything you’ve heard in your life. I hope the folks at Zoho Roots (their label) will think about releasing this on vinyl, as this is “vinyl worthy”, which means it gets my stamp of approval.

    (Rufus Huff’s self-titled debut will be released on April 14th, and is available for pre-order through CD Universe.)

    Image and video hosting by TinyPic The liner notes on the album begin this way:
    We are well aware of the benefits of performing the great jazz standards of the past. Now is the time for new compositions, making them new standards by the mere fact that once they are heard, everyone would want to play them.

    With a mission like that, you can’t lose, and that’s what bassist Steve Haines and his quintet (Thomas Taylor, Rob Smith, David Lown, and Chip Crawford) attempt and succeed with on Stickaboom (Zoho), one of those albums that makes you feel proud to be a jazz fan and enthusiast.

    For this one, Haines lets drummer Taylor play on only two tracks, since Jimmy Cobb wanted to jam with the guys. Together, they create songs that not only sound good, but feel good, especially “Sutak 9-1-1”, “Prospect Park”, and Cobb’s own “Composition 101”. The sax work of Smith and Lown suit the mood of the songs very well, they both seem to describe the landscapes that the songs depict, and when Crawford feels like driving his way into the grooves with his piano work (as he slyly does in the title track), you know they’re all about creating a common musical picture with beautiful colors and tones. If you’re a bassist, you’ll love what the leader of these sessions does, especially with Cobb and the two tracks with Taylor. It’s the type of music you’ll want to hear over and over.

    Stickaboom sounds incredible thanks to engineer Rob Hunter, who mixed and mastered this one. He probably wanted to be able to capture that same sense of space found on many jazz albums of the last 55 years, but still letting the listener know that this is 2009, not 1954. Whether it’s an intense dancer or a rainy day with a loved one, there’s something for everyone here, and enough music to keep you going until they record a new album.

    Image and video hosting by TinyPic Yoshi Wada is an artist not easy to pin down, but for those who know his name and the pieces he has created, he is someone who is of intense value. The reissue of his Earth Horns With Electronic Drone through the Japanese Em label has already been the topic of discussion for fans of drone, and you get that on this album, which is nothing but a drone.

    A drone? That’s it. If you are into experimental, avant-garde, or minimalistic pieces,you will really like what he does here, and sadly this single disc is a 77 minute excerpt of a 2h42m performance. What you get are a number of “Earth horns” created by Wada and played by a number of people, mixed in with electronics. The piece is just one continuous drone, but the joys is hearing how one horn weaves into the other, sometimes playing all at once, other times interacting, all while a drone carries it through. They are playing along with the drone, but not in a jazz way where one is creating a melody around it, but at the same key. The only thing that interrupts the performance are the coughs from the audience (there is also a photo of the crowd for proof.) I can’t tell you if it works or not, but it did work for me. A simple drone can be very meditative and for some quite spiritual, and at 77 minutes it does seem too short.

    Image and video hosting by TinyPic Youth Group released The Night Is Ours (Ivy League/World’s Fair) last year in their native Australia, and after gaining a buzz for their brand of addictive power pop, it is getting a stateside release. Their style of music mixes up the best of U2, Depeche Mode, Coldplay, and some critics have said that Toby Martin‘s voice reminds them of Matthew Sweet.

    It sounds like the band really wants to make music that speaks to and unites their audience, for potential anthems that will carry people to the next decade. Songs like “Two Sides” and “All This Will Pass” can sound like either early 80’s pop or early 90’s British power pop, which if anything helps explains the band’s influences. Their lyrics are not too complex or lazy either, it’s again about making songs that not only move people, but are able to tap into the consciousness of a generation who are looking for something to believe in. I’m not saying Youth Group are this generation’s Ramones, but they are special. Don’t ignore these gents.

  • That’s it for this week’s Run-Off Groove. If you have any new music, DVD’s, books, or hot sauce, please contact me through my MySpace page and I’ll pass along my contact address. In the past I have generally frowned over receiving digital files, but I will accept them on a case by case basis. I still prefer hard copy as I want to hear the quality of the recording (which is important to me), but digital files are fine.
  • I’m also slowly catching up with the barrage of music that came out in the last month, so if you sent something, have patience, they will be reviewed.
  • Thank you, and come back soon for #235.
  • Extra Reviews: Incognito & “Confessions Of A Shopaholic” soundtrack

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    Outside of my column, I am also a contributor to the Reviews section at, and this week I have two reviews that I’d like for you to read. They are reviews of:

    Incognito’s More Tales Remixed
    Confessions of a Shopaholic soundtrack

    Take a look, and if the reviews move you, buy the CD by clicking each individual CD icon above. I would also recommend browsing the Okayplayer Reviews section.