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Count Basie at Carnegie Hall
Count Basie at Carnegie Hall
DVD ~ Count Basie
Price: $15.59
59 used & new from $4.27

5.0 out of 5 stars Predictable concert until Sarah takes the stage and sets a torch to the proceedings., April 29, 2014
This review is from: Count Basie at Carnegie Hall (DVD)
As this 1981 concert demonstrates, even before the Count's passing (about 3 years from this date), his charts had become written in granite, equally playable by any assembly of competent musicians (the reason they're still performed by rehearsal bands throughout the country). Tight ensemble execution, careful attention to dynamics, and swing--those were the keys to the Basie sound.

But these elements could easily become predictable and dull. What made one Basie concert stand out from another was the addition of a few extraordinary soloists in the band. In the late '30s and early '50s it was Herschel Evans and Lester Young whose solo work prevented the charts from becoming "grooved," overly programmed, predictable and failsafe. Then it was Buddy Tate in the '40s followed by Frank Foster and Frank Wess in the '50s and finally the indomitable Lockjaw Davis' and the almost equally commanding Jimmy Forrest--all of them "tall tenors"--potentially explosive catalysts even when confronted with formulaic arrangements.

When the band lacked show-stopping tenor giants, the potential void was quickly filled by the toothy grin and irresistibly jubilant trombone of Al Grey (standing alongside Grey, Curtis Fuller's sound was barely audible). Moreover, the Basie rhythm sections became the "gold standard" of swing--from Joe Jones in the '30s and '40s to Sonny Payne in the '50s to equally skilled and charismatic drummers like Butch Miles and Duffy Jackson.

The band on this occasion executes predictably well but, truth be told, is one-dimensional compared to Basie ensembles of the recent and distant past. A few familiar faces are on hand--Sonny Cohn, Marshall Royal, Freddie Green, and former Ellingtonian Booty Wood on trombone. But the driving force in this edition of the Basie band is, for a change, bassist Cleveland Eaton, who lays down a walking four with the confidence and power of a Ray Brown.

But the most noteworthy feature of the concert is the vocalizing, and what a curious mix of vocal "stars"! An energetic Joe Williams, trying hard with his rich baritone (a bit too hard) to summon up his spirited performances of Basie blues hits of 30 years previous; followed by George Benson, an energized bunny mining the same Basie hit songs with his guitar chops and smooth, falsetto style; followed by another energetic tenor, Tony Bennett, who decides to go with a Duke Ellington medley! (The Count appears a bit clueless on a way up-tempo "It Don't Mean a Thing.") A highlight for this viewer was seeing Joe LaBarbara playing drums during the Bennett set. LaBarbara was one of the three vital pieces of the revolutionary final trio of Bill Evans (who was the only other musician on arguably Tony Bennett's two most memorable, truly "classic" recordings).

Finally, the showstopper takes the stage--Sarah demonstrates on this historic occasion that among all of jazz' foremost divas--Ella, Carmen, Billie, even Nancy--her voice is the one that carried the day right up to the very end. No longer does presentation or appearance or contrived energy count for anything. With Sarah it's all about the music and the music only. She hits an occasionally rough note but quickly self-corrects, changing timbre, elocution and pitch to complete a phrase--as musically and expressively as it can be sung. She is on this evening the "First Lady of Song" with ex-Basie drummer Harold Jones serving up the forceful "Art Blakey driving beat" she depended on during her days in the fabled Billy Eckstine band. (The only downside is the absence of Frank Collett, the pianist who would accompany her on her final, almost transcendental and spiritual, performances in the mid-80s, when her sheer strength of will, love of the music, and unstoppable breath-stream would not be denied, for perhaps the last enthralling, consummate concert by a female genius of American popular song and jazz singing: In the City of Lights.

Sarah's "natural" voice dropped by almost an octave over the course of her career, but her range actually increased, due to the "workarounds" she used to sing the double-high Eb of "Send in the Clowns." But the killer number of the concert is yet to come. George Benson comes back on stage and joins a "game" Sarah in a perfectly sung "vocalese" performance of "Moody's Mood for Love" (originally an improvised solo recorded by James Moody in Sweden in 1949). Benson embraces Sarah while radiating love, reverence, and even a bit of spontaneity--and Sarah responds in kind, extemporaneously dueling with Benson's memorized, perfectly executed, version of Moody's celebrated improvisation on "I'm in the Mood for Love." (I can't believe that Moody, who recorded the oft-repeated improvisation while Bird was still in hi prime, once impressed this listener as the "pretender" in a session including him on the same bandstand as Stitt, Ammons and Dexter). Next, a re-energized Joe Williams joins the love fest, and finally Tony Bennett (admittedly trailing Williams and Benson in crowd appeal on this occasion) makes it a foursome of jazz bright lights singing the blues--an inspiration of the moment, extemporaneous and thoroughly "genuine"--made possibly by the only singer capable of igniting and sustaining such a fire--the Divine "One and only" Sassy, Sarah Vaughan.

If you like prolonged climaxes, this finale is guaranteed to satisfy. Tony finally gets a piece of the action, grabbing Sarah for some cool and nifty stepping--but then Joe Williams takes the lead, showing the audience what real swing dancing and the Jitterbug were all about, thanks to a resilient, radiant and reciprocating Sarah. In a recently reissued Monterey concert, Sarah shows how she could duet with Clark Terry and out-mumble him in the "mumbles routine" that he invented Live At The 1971 Monterey Jazz Festival. As a complete, virtuoso, dare-devilishly extemporaneous musician, her only peer was Ella, and on this 1980s occasion Sarah clearly is the "only" one, the foremost Diva of American popular song, representing a zenith in the art of jazz singing. Her singing is of an order unlike any other performer's, eliciting strong emotions and tears of joy at the thought you've just witnessed the best and possibly last of a singer who was simply beyond category ("Jazz"--a term that has gone from the night clubs to the omnipresent ambience streaming from commercial media sources offering up the 24/7 sounds of "contemporary," or "smooth" jazz--is no longer a term worthy of a Sarah or Louis or Duke or Bird or Bill Evans or a Sinatra--all of whom came up when the Great American Songbook was still the good book and when Swing (now disappearing from the language as a word related to music) was truly king! How fortunate some of us were!

No Title Available

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A temporary fix (imitation that flatters the original), April 29, 2014
This adapter will fit most Apple Macbooks from 2012 and later (when Apple introduced the MagSafe2). But you should have no trouble mistaking it for the original. This replacement version (shipped from Hong Kong) is heavier and 33% larger. And you'll probably notice that the adapter itself remains lit even after it's been disconnected from your computer. (Initially, I was alarmed, but that seems to be endemic with all of these clones--take it as a warning to unplug the adapter when not in use.)

I carry one of these strictly for emergency use. If used exclusively, you should expect no more than 3-4 months use of the product (in my experience, even the original Apple adapters don't last beyond a single year). The transformer generates considerable heat, which weakens and eventually shorts out the cord (not reparable). The authentic Apple adapter generates less heat and automatically shuts down when not connected to your computer--which accounts for its extended lifetime (4 times that of this clone).

Kindle Paperwhite, 6" High Resolution Display with Next-Gen Built-in Light, Wi-Fi
Kindle Paperwhite, 6" High Resolution Display with Next-Gen Built-in Light, Wi-Fi

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Finally, a perfect Kindle (but hang on to your Keyboard Kindle), April 26, 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This is my 4th Kindle, and easily the best. In fact, the Kindle Paperwhite is so good it doesn't simply facilitate or enhance reading: it motivates it! Previously, I was constantly looking for a light that would clip securely to the Kindle without obstructing vision; that would cover the entire page and not require continual readjusting; that would be bright enough to afford me sufficient light without disturbing my partner; and that would be available when I needed it. With the Paperwhite the light is a non-factor: the entire screen is perfectly lit, whether in total darkness, dimly lit environments, or bright sunlight. The text greets you with sharp, enticing clarity. Suddenly, I"m more eager to read than ever before.

Two of my previous Kindles had to be jettisoned because of the fragile e-ink screen. As a result of taking Kindle television ads seriously and carrying the tablet in my back pocket, I "blew the screen." Likewise when I placed heavy books on top of a covered Kindle--an irreparably "blown screen." The Paperwhite, using "touch technology" and a screen that's closer to the durability of a notebook computer's screen, promises to be more rugged and longer-lasting (though I'd advise against carrying it in a rear pants pocket or placing heavy objects on it).

The absence of buttons is non-problematic within 10 minutes--simply read the instructions and learn the critical areas: touch (or swipe) RIGHT side to turn a page; touch LEFT to go back; touch TOP of screen for a menu letting you access any book on the Kindle or stored by Amazon in your "cloud." Learn where the exterior ON/OFF button is (bottom edge) and how to use it (a single press to awaken it or put it to sleep, a 7-second press to shut it off completely or to reactivate the tablet.

Only one possible "con": Unlike the Keyboard Kindle, the Paperwhite does NOT have "Text-to-speech" technology. When I'm a "close reader" of classic literature, only the hard-copy book will do: I'm an active participant with the author, composing meaning from words with as much concentration as the author's composing of his text. In fact, I literally "consume" the text, often writing as many words as the author. If the book finally appears "vandalized" and is unreadable to anyone else, that's usually evidence that the words of the text have taken root in my own consciousness as the "active" reader.) But face it: most books aren't Chaucer or Shakespeare or Milton or Faulkner. In fact, few require, or even deserve, such close analysis, and I'm frankly grateful that the Kindle Paperwhite discourages slow, laborious reading of much current popular fiction and non-fictional "reportage"--biography, political viewpoints, self-help guidance, etc.

But much of this "lighter" fare can be understood as easily by "listening" to the text as by putting additional strain on tired eyes. When I'm lying down--on my back or stomach (the only time I'm pain-free)--or walking on a treadmill or driving in my car, I often read a book by "hearing" it. It's in those instances that I go to my most recent Keyboard Kindle and activate the "Text to Speech" feature. It's not the same as an "audio book," so the computer-programmed voice will sound mechanical and unexpressive. Yet it can be surprisingly effective--even preferable to a "wearing," or overly dramatic, narrator of an audio book.

Finally, several tips for SAVING MONEY:

1. Don't overspend on a cover. I have yet to find one that makes reading from a Kindle as convenient and enjoyable as holding this light-weight, compact tablet "naked" in my left hand. Covers are useful protection when you're NOT using the Kindle.

2. Don't overspend on an AC to USB adapter. You can easily charge your Paperwhite from the USB port of a computer or from any of the $5 "generic" adapters sold at Walgreen's and in airports.

3. Don't let ad-aversion cost you an extra $20. The ads are few, non-intrusive, and removed with a single touch.

4. If you don't have a Keyboard Kindle but are attracted to the Text-To-Speech-Feature and/or to books with color photos, take a look at the Kindle Fire HDX7. Admittedly, it's less inviting as a "dedicated reader." Yet for an additional $80 you've got a tablet that's only marginally larger and heavier than a Paperwhite plus the Read-Back feature of the discontinued Keyboard Kindle (and all of the advantages of a computer screen (that is, if you're into mobile technology).

5. Don't be tempted to spend on an extra book telling you how to use the Paperwhite Kindle. The tablet comes with an "on-board," clear and complete 37-page User's Guide. In fact, you can access and read it right on the Amazon page where the Paperwhite is advertised and sold. Or, if you prefer, download it to your computer desktop and print it out (my Canon PIXMA MG3520 BK Wireless Color Photo Printer with Scanner and Copier), currently listed on Amazon for under $60, not only printed it out: it did so wirelessly and on both sides of the sheet!).

Count the current Paperwhite Kindle and the above Canon printer among the true, inarguable values in modern consumer technology. (Unfortunately, the cost of printer ink and of most new Kindle books can severely limit the consumer's use of both devices.)

Frozen (Plus Bonus Features) [HD]
Frozen (Plus Bonus Features) [HD]
Price: $19.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Yes, it can brainwash your child (making this grandfather retire his case), April 14, 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
Idina Menzel gave concerts in Chicago (Ravinia) and Milwaukee (Performing Arts Center), shortly before the appearance of "Frozen." I was given a front-row ticket to the Milwaukee concert and was struck, above all, by the numerous young people (college age and slightly older) who were obviously familiar with practically every sung word, eagerly joining Menzel on stage upon being invited to perform numbers from recent Broadway musicals ("Rent," "Wicked"). As a jazz fan (and musician) I must admit the music wasn't my "bag" (with the exception of "Avenue Q," which knocked me out). To my ears, most popular songs of the past 50 years sounds infinitely inferior to the music of Jerome Kern ("Showboat"), Rodgers and Hammerstein ("Oklahoma"), Gershwin ("Porgy and Bess), Rodgers and Hart ("On Your Toes"), Cole Porter ("Anything Goes"), Bernstein and Sondheim ("West Side Story")--in terms of structural integrity, melodic inventiveness, lyric wit, and range and depth of emotional expression (perhaps the reason these are the songs that constitute the library that has come to be known as "The Great American Songbook").

In any case, my opinions were rendered meaningless by the profound effect this movie had on my 3-year-old grand-daughter. Although I didn't observe much of a response from her at the theater (either during or immediately following the movie), a mere 3 months later she's singing every single note, every word of the score of "Frozen" (I couldn't even tell you the name of the composer-lyricist). Granted, in that time she's had a birthday, but I'm no less impressed. And it's quite apparent that this "blockbuster" out of the Disney studios is having a similar impact on thousands of other children--of all ages.

The tunes from "Frozen" and, for that matter, most other recent musicals, don't lend themselves to jazz improvisation, but neither does much operatic music. Only the passage of time will tell us whether this music will endure like Kern's "All the Things You Are" or Johnny Greene's "Body and Soul" or Harold Arlen's "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" (to name just a few examples of "classic" American tunes that are part of an inarguable "canon" of American popular song). But I'll be far more hesitant about criticizing it. And even if it eventually sinks into the oblivion of so much pop emphemera, a musical like "Frozen" leads in a musical direction that's considerably more professional and sophisticated than the folk, rock and country music (mostly by guitar-playing singer-songwriters) that has dominated American popular music since the 1960s.

Come to think of it, Menzel exhibited a "Broadway voice" that was not all that unlike Ethel Merman's (minus the vibrato--Ethel was the favorite of the early great composers because of her power and elocution, both essential to Broadway shows before the development of the microphone, which was not even a factor in vocal performances until the late 1920s and the emergence of the creative genius who knew to use it-- Bing Crosby). Near the beginning of practically any course that I teach--literature, music, and film--I warn my youthful troops (learning is a risky adventure) that they all possess a bias against anything that is perceived as "old," "past," "before their time" and that one of their greatest challenges will be to surmount their pre-existing bias in favor of the "modern," or "contempotrary" for education (which means "moving out" of restrictive confines) to occur.

Education is more about covering epochs of "time" (in teaching linguistics, I endeavor to go back some 50 million years!) than vast expanses of "space." Traveling--even in outer space--is of great interest and even a potentially transformative experience for some, yet it's extremely limited compared to the traveling in time that is possible only through the study of texts from the past. In other words, they'd better be prepared to read, and have an open mind to, a lot of "dead white guys" (not excluding some black ones, like Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington, both of whom produced music that resonates in consciousness with the creative brilliance of a Shakespeare sonnet or a Homeric epic poem).

Already, as a teacher-student, I've no doubt alienated myself from not only some of those "present-bound" youth that occupy my classroom but from of the narrow-minded and rigid Americans on the far right who have condemned "Frozen" as a propaganda piece supporting modern "liberal" notions such as women who can overcome formidable obstacles and attain the kind of powerful automony we like to see in our great national leaders. We're told that such empowerment of women defies all of the patriarchal examples of the past not to mention the teachings of the Bible and other religious texts. Moreover, we're told that by showing us two women who are capable of loving, above all, each other, "Frozen" is brainwashing our youth into approving of homosexuals if not becoming one!

Who would have "thunk it"!! (I confess these ideas never occurred to me until I bagan reading and hearing reports about the controversy stirred up by this movie, which had initially left me largely indifferent and about $50 poorer). It occurs to me that we can all "learn" from these alarmists as the vert antithesis of a genuine student, with a mind open to learning. Rather than learning how to interpret a "text" (literary, film, musical, etc.) they're "hardened idealogues" who have become all too well practiced in their habitual litmus tests (i.e. "witch hunts"). I encourage them all to take a few classes in "higher learning," for their own good and the communities they attempt to serve.

In the meantime, I'm enjoying my grand-daughter's extended arias-recitatives, lifted from the soundtrack of "Frozen," and being sung with such joyful abandon and power ("mostly" on pitch) that I can feel my house's foundation moving and witness my cats frozen in trepidation as they cling to their preferred perches in the four-story trees (ordered from Amazon). It's enough proof for me to conclude my grand-child (who had just recently conquered "the potty") was, indeed, "liberated," and at the age of 3! Who knows where she'll go from here? I'm simply relieved to know that she won't have limits placed upon her by some perhaps well-intentioned by sadly misinformed hard-liner. If you wish to learn about music, you might do well to talk to and hang out with a musican. If you want to learn about "morality," the last person to consult is a "moralist."

The Long Kiss Goodnight
The Long Kiss Goodnight
DVD ~ Samuel L. Jackson
Price: $4.92
236 used & new from $0.01

3.0 out of 5 stars Take the first 2 words of the title (rather than the movie) seriously,, April 11, 2014
This review is from: The Long Kiss Goodnight (DVD)
How this DVD found its way into my collection frankly befuddles me. Could I have mistakenly ordered it, thinking it was "The Long Goodbye" (by my favorite director, Robert Altman)? Did my wife find it in the $2 bin at Walgreen's and subsequently include it in my Christmas stocking? (Sadly our fireplace now has only two Christmas stockings which, even after 20 years or thereabouts, seems 2 too few. Your kids grow up fast and, before you realize it, don't merely "fly the coop": they're jet-propelled from it.

In any case, when Netflix's Blu-Ray disc of Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris," refused to load in any of three DVD players, I began to search my largely ignored library of DVDs (hard to believe that not only my thousands of LPs and 16mm feature films but CDs and DVDs are becoming obsolete as well). This one looked promising--not too cerebral or cultish or avant-garde to discourage wife and bearing enough resemblance to "Pulp Fiction" (Samuel Jackson) and "Thelma and Louise" (Geena Davis) to satisfy me.

It did (satisfy us) for a while. But after the 11th explosion and the 15th "impossible" escape by either or both actors, my wife and I were ready to call "Uncle" and return to cable TV--in search of something with more substance, like "Pawn Stars" or "Gator Boys." After reading several reviews, I'm convinced that the critics got this movie wrong. Ebert compares it to a "video pinball machine" and faults it on lack of "character development." I say there's nothing wrong with pinball games--as long as they can induce you to keep slipping in nickels (now quarters) until you're flat out. But after slugging this movie pinball machine with 5-6 quarters, you'd either be moving on to a more alluring, exciting machine or looking for the exit.

"The Long Kiss Goodnight" has a title that promises to bring back some of the flavor of those 1940s' "film noir" classics, like "The Big Sleep," replete with femme fatales, sex, mystery, and shooting. This film has none (or merely some) of the above. It's a sheer adventure-action flick. All of Bruce Willis' Die Hard movies and Clint Eastwood's "make my day" scenes thrown into one over-the-top "mega-flop" (the director must have spent at least a thousand dollars per spectator by the time the numbers were tallied for this overweight bomb--seriously!

Geena Davis is cast as a superhuman hero whom Linda Carter's Wonder Woman and Christopher Reed's Superman would be no match for--put together. She's a mother, a knife thrower, a speed ice-skater (rather gangly, but the footage is mercifully short), a weapons and munitions expert, a Houdini-like underwater escapist artist--and many things more. She's an unstoppable, indomitable force, as the director strives to prove in one outrageous stunt after the other, each producing fire and smoke (actually more smoke than fire) and rumbling noise than the previous one. Eventually the viewer becomes numb to it all. The many "fake-out endings" are merely dull and formulaic, making you wish each was the real deal, if only to be released from this Inferno (even reading Dante's version--in Italian!--should strike viewers as more arresting and engaging).

My guess is that the director--Ms. Davis' husband and renowned for his stunts and pyrotechnics in previous films--had in mind the opportunity to produce the most spectacular adventure + superhero film ever made, thereby creating a place for himself and spouse in cinematic history by making his star a woman! (The closest thing to a "romantic or "sexy" scene is a prolonged Caucasian/African-American kiss shared by Davis and a more hesitant and suspicious Jackson--perhaps such a filmed action was considered unique, or even "courageous," back in 1996).

The only image from this film that's apt to linger in memory is the sight of Davis after she's endured every type of explosion and menace known to man (and woman). The blood along with the black and blue marks and, of course, the usual studio make-up for a glamorous, "Amazonian," quasi-superstar finally "blend" into the face of a "harlequin" (or, if you prefer, a "clown"). Then it came together for me: the film is basically a circus comedy! And it's best seen as a "come and go" experience. No need to see it from the beginning or endure it until the end. Any 15 minutes of the film will yield as much entertainment as any other 15 minutes. If you take your kids to this circus (though I probably wouldn't), be sure to give them the real scoop in advance (i.e. that it's only make-believe; the nice lady and man won't get hurt; Geena's innocent 5-year-old daughter will appear to be blown up really isn't). In fact, mommy's precious receives nary a scratch! She's a mere tool, used to create added apprehension ("Oh, the horror of it all"! All the more so if harm comes to Geena's little girl--who happens to have been fathered by, as Geena's character suddenly remembers and feels compelled to blurt out, the film's relentless nemesis, who is still spraying poor (but invincible) Geena with bullets even after every other bad guy has blown to smithereens!). Not to worry. The daughter doesn't "act": her role is to serve an "object of pathos" (like the puppy dog none of us wishes to see harmed). Of course, the audience is a tool as well, no less exploited or aware of the machinations of the plotless plot (early on, we come to sense that with respect to storyline, this is one film where anything resembling a "plot" is simply beside the point.

But we have yet to get to the most clueless, exploited sap of them all: it's Geena's wimpy and obsequious "Mr. Rogers"-type present love interest--who apparently has no idea, either at the beginning of the film or at the end, that his sweet and personable, small-town. grade-school teaching girl-friend and bride-to-be, was once our Government's most qualified and best agent (the film's reference to her role in thwarting a previous attack on the Twin Towers reminds us that had Geena chosen to remain with her old spirited self. it's unlikely we'd have experienced 9/11 or the least bit of trouble from two-bit thugs like Saddam and Osama. Hubby is merely impressed when his bride compulsively takes a kitchen knife from a picnic basket and sticks it dead center in a small target 50 yards away. ("Why'd she do that? I guess that's my girl!) Pity the husband--and all those proponents of marriage as a cure for youthful wanderlust. (Tennyson's Ulysses soon discovers that, after the Trojan war and adventures ranging form Circe to the Cyclops to the Sirens, he simply can't tolerate settling down to a quiet and uneventful life with Penelope. He may be older but he's no less eager to ride the seas--just like the youthful warrior who had left Ithaca to see the Greeks to victory. Why can't the director of this disaster at least assure as that there will be a sequel? I'd love to see a middle-aged actress assert herself like the champion she deserves to be! (Go Hillary!)

Unfortunately, the preferred scenario only makes sense if you believe in the old saying: "You can take the guy. or girl, out of the "wild life," but you can't take the wild life out of the guy or girl." The filmmaker apparently would rather tame Geena assign her to cleaning up the terrorism of the new millennium. As for the final scene--an apparently peaceful closure and suddenly!!!--a shot right out of the "Carrie" playbook! It's been used too often by filmmakers to surprise let alone upset your little companions. (On second thought, I'd be careful about taking an impressionable male child to this movie. He's likely to come out so terrified of women--especially 6-ft. tall, well-built, "foxy" ones like Geena--that not even Dr. Bachmann (yes, Michele's husband) will be able to "cure" him!

Hot Wheels Monster Jam Maximum Destruction Battle Trackset
Hot Wheels Monster Jam Maximum Destruction Battle Trackset
Offered by Bye Stuff
Price: $18.48
13 used & new from $17.95

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great jump-starter for a boy's imagination, April 8, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Call it "socialization" or "genetics"--it doesn't matter. Some toys excite boys more than girls (and, of course, vice versa). This toy, which is aimed at young boys fascinated by the monster truck gatherings advertised on TV, is about destruction yet, ironically, is anything but indestructible. What's lasting is the impression that's left upon a child who has been given this opportunity to get "extra mileage" out of his hot wheels toys. The hot wheels toy vs. the Monster / Nemesis Destructor, and the possibilities of this face-off between the two, is limited only by the child's imagination. Moreover, the child can alter the circumstances of the imagined encounter between the vehicle and the Nemesis. Sometimes, the fun will be the Nemesis's indomitable swatting away of the "presumptuous" Monster Truck; at other times, the greatest satisfaction will lie in evading the crushing, devastating blow of the the Monster-Nemesis.

My son once drove his car into a moving freight train--and survived. Would this toy encourage or discourage such a near-disaster? Probably neither. It's not about violence. It's all about imagination and the central place of "role-playing," which, as Freud understood all too well, is essential to the development of the complete, healthy, adult "self."

As a literature teacher I continually would throw up my hands in despair at my students' inability to read with the comprehension and understanding essential to acquiring knowledge (unfortunately, college instructors primarily focus only on students' ability to write which, in my experience, was by far the lesser of the two challenges facing students). A technique called "Reader Response" requires that students assume the role of Milton's Eve or of his Serpent; of Shakespeare's Othello, or his Iago. For whatever reason--passive TV watching, computer staring, video games that engage nothing more than neuromuscular reflexes--children are no longer exercising the precious faculty of imagination. The pictures I once created while listening to the Lone Ranger on radio, or to Captain Midnight, or to the Green Hornet and Jack Armstrong (the All-American Boy)--all of these imaginative exercises have been replaced by the "special effects" of clever movie-makers and software creators. As a result, teaching "Hamlet" let alone an epic poem written in iambic pentameter ("The Fairie Queen," "Paradise Lost," Wordsworth's "The Prelude" or, my personal favorite, Browning's "The Ring and the Book") is rapidly becoming a lost cause. Even the 19th century novel--especially the Victorian novel of Dickens ("Tale of Two Cities" and "A Christmas Carol" don't count--instead, think "David Copperfield" or "Great Expectations or, perhaps most challenging of all, "Bleak House")--presents students with vocabulary and English syntax that many are unprepared to negotiate. To them it's Old English (linguistically speaking, Chaucer's 14th century"Canterbury Tales" is written in "Middle Enlgish" while Shakespeare's 17th century English is considered "Modern English"). Engagement with challenging texts--which is what 90% of the academic experience is all about--is such a rare phenomenon that some students have all they can handle reading a "Spark Notes'" summary instead of the primary text! (Count me in that company. The "lifeless" details of a summary become meaningless in short order. It's absolutely essential that the reader be able to engage his imagination with the point of view represented by the author's languagez0.

If I had another lifetime and could do it all over again, I would throw out most of the secondary texts, the anthologies, the readers, the "how to write" manuals. Most are written from the glamorized, idealistic, out-of-touch perspective of the author, who introduces, for example, an 18th century poem by John Donne or Andrew Marvell, with a discussion of irony that is so laborious, so completely off the mark, so irrelevant to the experience of, say, a classroom of thirty 18-year-olds,, 6-7 of whom are "hip hoppers," resistant from the start to any language that does not conform to a rigidified vernacular, or "secret code" (sometimes relayed through "texting;" other times through gesture and "finger talk"). Whether or not they should be in college is someone else's decision. My problem is to decide how to "move" them toward academic learning once they're here. Although I would hardly require them to read the arcane semiotics of Roland Barthes or the esoteric jargon of Jaques Lacan, I would draw upon the readership theory of both of the aforementioned French critics, with some additional help from Stanislavky's work that became popular in the late '50s with numerous actors--Brando, James Dean, Julie Harris, etc.--who referred to it as "The Method." In short, the reader-actor must be positioned not to be a reader "of" the text but "in" the text, which is not viewed as the mere "expression" of a single "auteur" but as a boundless arena of free play.

(I realize that I'm going further out into left field with each word, so without further explanation, we might agree upon the playful nature of all three: 1. the game: 2. the language of the game or text; 3. the reader or player--or "actor." The author is no longer of consequence (Barthes' "Death of the Author" is the most famous, concise explanation; Derrida's work effectively demonstrates, at least to some of us, that his seminal theories of "deconstruction" apply with particular energy and force to his own inscriptions). All we're left with is the reader and the primary text--no "text books," no prescriptive guides or musty academic materials. The teacher stays, but only as a "coach" or, better yet, a "playing coach." His task is to "cast" the players in various role-playing dramas that will eventually help "position" the player to be no longer the passive reader "of" the text but an active participant "in" the text. That's what learning at the highest level is all about. And the first (and possibly last) vital step is simply: "role-playing."

Let's move from the text back to the toy. Some parents may regret that this toy is not built to last. My response to that complaint is, quite simply, be grateful that your child was sufficiently engaged by the toy to use it until it was irreparably broken. Long after the toy has been discarded, its effect on the child's imagination will last--possibly until the child is old enough to read Spenser's epic "The Fairie Queen," in which the Red Cross Knight is challenged in each Canto to engage with and conquer a new monster. The victory belongs as much to the reader who is capable of negotiating Spenser's unfaltering "rime royal" stanzas as much as to Spenser's "down but never completely out" hero. The reader may assume the role of the Red Cross Knight, remaining by his side as he encounters, and is knocked senseless by, numerous monsters and challenges until eventually he prevails over the temptations and nemeses that await him throughout the perilous journey. Or he may choose to side with the bad guys in the Red Cross Knight's path, the better to understand the horrific, often nauseating, actions of the Monster of Pride or the numerous disguises and deceptions of "Una" (the "damsel in distress," whose misfortunes require that the Red Cross Knight rescue her--the "real" Una and not the seductive nemesis impersonating Una). (In my reading of many of the world's basic texts, the only character who may not suitable for role-playing is Dante's Satan--who, unlike Milton's fascinating and versatile devil, is neither a character nor a villain but the abstract principle of all that is frozen, immobile, and lifeless (which can't be a "role," since it already describes a few of the students whose occupancy of a desk in my classroom proved the waste of a good seat).

Back to this toy: It's not a durable "epic" like Spenser's immortal poem. It's merely one short chapter in a boy's life. It should be judged not by its construction but its effects upon your child's imagination. Even when I see the difference between my grand-daughters staring blankly (or helplessly) at this year's hit movie, "Frozen," vs. their active engagement with any number of make-believe toys, I'm higher on the value of toys such as this "Hot Wheels vs. the Destructor Adventure." In fact, they have the capacity to dwarf the impact of motion pictures costing upwards of a hundred million dollars. (For the price of the tickets, popcorn, souvenirs, etc., I could have purchased 4 of these "hot-wheels-on-steroids" toys--darn! At least it's never too late to learn.)

Go Pet Club Cat Tree, 50W x 26L x 72H, Beige
Go Pet Club Cat Tree, 50W x 26L x 72H, Beige
Price: $114.57
13 used & new from $69.95

5.0 out of 5 stars Easily worth twice the price (buy direct from Amazon, tighten all parts thoroughly), March 30, 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
Although Amazon Prime is still over a hundred, it's priced lower than what I paid a couple of weeks ago. Previous to this one, my two adult cats enjoyed the one at half the price (Go Pet Club Cat Tree Beige Color). It's a great introductory tree--if you can anchor it to the floor. Soon my cats were toppling the entire structure on a regular basis. The pictured one, however, has a much wider base and is, overall, better balanced and more stable.

As others have mentioned, it's essential to tighten all parts to the max. I regret not applying some extra muscle to the parts assembled by my wife, because the highest platform broke loose on the second day when my heavy black cat jumped up to its surface. I have yet to test the company's responsiveness to a request for another platform. In the meantime, my cats are quite content with two platforms instead of three.

Compared to the less expensive tree, this one has wider platforms with ledges, and my cats obviously take to them more than the smaller, plainer platforms, remaining content to sleep on them or to simply survey the curious humans below for hours at a time. Moreover, I'm finding that the previous, smaller and lower tree still can be used productively, since cats are more than bird-catchers: they enjoy "flying"--from one vertiginous precipice to the next. But expect to hear the sound of periodic thunderous crashes--unless you're able to anchor the bases securely.

Of course, there are parts that go unused, making me wonder if the manufacturer actually tested these cat attractions with real cats. Neither of my cats (one a runt) ever used the lower enclosed part on the earlier model. On the this model, they've ignored both ladders altogether (may as well toss the lower one), and only the higher, smaller enclosure has occasionally seen some occupancy.

I've owned 10 cats (or vice versa), but most were obtained as kittens, which I was able to convince were dogs. In each case, the relationship took priority over cats' more "picturesque posturings." But since I began adopting adult cats from the shelter--animals with ingrained habits and inherited traits--the tree towers have given both the cats and their guardians the greatest gratification.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 3, 2014 7:55 PM PDT

2 used & new from $12.00

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Superior bop and a Ray Brown/Shelly Manne rhythm section (but another Muse recording), March 26, 2014
This review is from: Superbop (Vinyl)
This is another important document of Red Rodney's gradual and dramatic comeback from misfortunes, addictions, imprisonment, family tragedy--followed by a dysfunctional embouchure and then a stroke. Under the circumstances, he plays miraculously. Even without them, he still performs like a killer musician. The reason for the album's obscurity and assured oblivion?

Red occasionally evidences the effects of his physical limitations: though his conceptions are clear, his chops are not always up to the task of "making" the point. As a result, Sam Noto comes off as the more consistent of the two trumpet players--though the "weaker" sound of Red's trumpet makes the frequent exchanges between the pair easy to distinguish (Red is coming from my left speaker).

Since so many of the recordings made for Muse Records have not been reissued, it becomes necessary to exam factors like the audio quality of the label's sessions. The horns lack the "up-close" presence of a Van Gelder recording, which always manages to impart a sense of the "heroic" to horn solos through enhancements such as marginal reverb. More importantly, the "imaging" of the rhythm section on a Muse recording is rarely focused, tending to separate bass and drums when the exact opposite is called for. In order to sense the "time flow," or to "feel" the groove, the listener's ears crave for the tightly synchronized sound of bass and high-hat. (At no point do I hear Shelly's high hat: occasionally the drums disappear altogether.) And when drums are hotter in the mix, the effect is that of a distracting firestorm rather than a supportive rhythmic force. And the feeble, diminished piano (played by Dolo Coker) is so distant (even during solos) that it sounds as though it's in a different room or in the street outside the studio, far away from the bass, which always gets preferential (but not flattering) treatment on a Muse session.

The arrangements and original tunes are first rate--this is anything but a loose jam session format, even though the horns have lots of solo space. Given the audio percularities of Muse sessions, the musicians would have been wise to follow Sonny Rollins' example by placing all of the emphasis on horns and bass. As usual the engineer is "god," his technical expertise beyond reproach, and the same most likely true of any suggestion or guidance from the musicians (Manne must have heard problems in the replays).

The other recourse for musicians would be to hire the engineers who made "Kind of Blue" on Columbia or, better yet, Roy DuNann, who made most of the recordings for Contemporary Records (with which Shelly Manne was intimately familiar).

Why Muse continued to put out these sorts of sessions when they weren't selling or even acquiring a "cult" audience defies logic. The label needed to cut back and conserve its resources until the recording company was up to the level of the musicians. The music on this session is, quite frankly, better than its inferior "representation" by the engineers and equipment. Someone should have known.

Jimmie Noone: Apex Blues
Jimmie Noone: Apex Blues
18 used & new from $11.74

5.0 out of 5 stars After 40 years as an indelible name in consciousness, its bearer comes to life, March 24, 2014
Anyone who's taught a jazz history course or 20 has no doubt heard the name of Jimmie Noone, who is invariably included among a triumvirate of 3 glorious New Orleans clarinetists, all of whom left the Delta City in 1917 (the closing of Storyville by the Secretary of the Navy, the arrival of King Oliver in Chicago, the release of the first jazz recording--"Livery Stable Blues" by the Original Dixieland Jass Band). The other two clarinets receive considerably more attention than Noone, primarily because Johnny Dodds was the clarinetist on Louis' most seminal recordings (including "West End Blues") and Bechet was even more highly regarded than the young Armstrong as a jazz improviser at the time of the first migration of New Orelans' musicians "up the Mississippi."

I mentioned his name and passed him up--until now. Based on the evidence on this recording, you'd be hard pressed to support a claim that the greater fame of the other two clarinetists could have anything to do with superior talent on the part of either. Take a recording like Youmans' "I Know That You Know," on which Noone's fluid finger work in response to his fertile imagination are likely to "blow away" the most committed "modernist." HIs obligatos while improvising with his alto saxophonist partner in the frontline (an unusual combination) are in themselves so flawlessly inventive that they hold as much interest for the listener as his solos. And on slower tunes, like "Apex Blues" and "Sweet Sue," he exhibits his control of timbre, with numerous textures and his continually varying shading of each.

"Sweet Georgia Brown" (not the familiar standard) uses a chord progression that's as complex and challenging as Bird's alternate "Rhythmi" changes or Coltrane's "Giant Steps." Yet Noone navigates the sequence with ease (painfully apparent after the other instruments have had a turn).

Noone studied with the same classical teacher as Buster Bailey and Benny Goodman. His audiences at the Apex Club included Ravel and Carl Sandburg. With the coming of the Swing Era, Noone's New Orleans' pyrotechnical style simply didn't fit in, though by 1943 he had landed work for his band on Orson Welles' weekly radio show. It was during this time that Noone, who was always overweight, suddenly died of a heart attack. He was 43. Welles' subsequently delivered a moving eulogy for his radio audience--"Blues for Jimmie."

Noone had the reputation of being guarded about his talent and of not tolerating a musician who might occasionally upstage him. As a result, the irrepressible genius of the piano, Earl Fatha Hines, who can be heard playing at the level of not only Noone but Louis on these late '20s' recordings, was let go by Noone in favor of Frank Smith. Nevertheless, there's enough Fatha to reward any listener alert to the challenges of playing the piano and Hines' singular ability at meeting each. Also, Noone would add Swing Era star, Charlie Shavers, who had a penchant to be anything but modest when it came to "hot" playing and flashy showmanship. There explosive exchanges are a highlight of the later recordings on this collection.

Once I was able to "retune" my ears to the somewhat distant audio quality of these early 78s' recordings, listening to Jimmy Noone was no less a revelation than hearing the polymath Jimmy Dorsey, whose spellbinding technique made him a hero of players like Johnny Hodges and Charlie Parker. Gunther Schuller says in one of his two definitive books about early jazz that proficient musicians, as a rule, are less impressed by "eccentric" colleagues (e.g. Monk, Ornette) than by "electic" musicians, whose boundless skills enable them to play anything. Although I will continue to "like" Monk and Pee Wee Russell, I think Schuller has a point about the high regard if not envy many of us have toward an Oscar Peterson, an Art Tatum, and an Earl Fatha Hines.

A Family Affair: Live At Joe Segal's Jazz Showcase
A Family Affair: Live At Joe Segal's Jazz Showcase
Price: $8.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Keep it in the family, March 23, 2014
Ira Sullivan has shown over the years that he's capable of holding his own on a bandstand with any other instrumentalist--or instrument. At about the same time as he was being given a national showcase by pianist Billy Taylor (exclusively as a trumpet player!), he was playing tenor sax with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers. I can't think of a single instrument that he's incapable of playing--and at a professional level.

An Ira supporter would have trouble making the case for the polymath musician based on the evidence of this album. It's a pretty loose, overly "comfortable" (and therefore bland), jam session among old friends (including Chicago's legendary jazz promoter, Joe Segal, whose record of bringing first-rate jazz to the Windy City for 65 years should speak for itself (though, given his low profile and comparative lack of kudos, apparently his record of service is not sufficient in itself).

The primary bright spot on this particular recording is the pianist, Dan Trudeau, whose reputation as a younger talent deserving further notice is supported by each of his solo turns. Unfortunately, this is an occasion when the pianist's exclusive attention to the coherence of the rhythm section would have made a greater contribution to the music than his solo work--however inventive or flashy.

I have at least 20 LPs by Red Rodney, Ira Sullivan, and the pair as co-leaders of a quintet. The very best of these recordings--"Red Arrow" (1957)--is almost as perfect as "Kind of Blue." Inexplicably, this essential session has never been reissued under its original title! Besides sparkling solos by Ira on trumpet and tenor sax and the tight execution of ensemble passages, the album features Tommy Flanagan at his flawless best (his fills on the title number are in themselves beyond the reach of most other players) along with quintessential, tastefully played bebop percussion from Philly Joe (side 1) and the more widely distributed pulse of Elvin Jones (side 2). Most of all, the album is memorable testimony to the legendary importance of bassist Oscar Pettiford (more seminal than Mingus to my ears). It understated but vital contribution to "Red Arrow" is the equivalent to Paul Chambers' on "Kind of Blue."

Look for a pristine copy (it's under Red Rodney's name exclusively) on eBay, and digitize it before further playing. Chances are this album will receive a lot of playing time on your turntable and inevitable wear.

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