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Monday, January 29, 2018

A Tangled Web

From the Smut Vault Dept.: Back in the glory days of the internet’s infancy, I wrote a computer-information column for a magazine called D-Cup, the thrust of which needs no explanation. Under the moniker “Dr. Barry Tetons,” I guided the lusty wayfarer to where the red lights shone on the information highway. This was my debut piece, from late 1995. Unlike my readers, it couldn’t be more dated. (Here's another such piece, and another.)


YOU’VE HEARD ABOUT THE INTERNET. You may even know that its most passionate users are also passionate about a free exchange of ideas. What you may not know is that large-breasted, beautiful women are among those ideas, and just in case you don’t get the idea, you can get the picture – a full color, let’s-leave-nothing-to-the-imagination picture, that is.

Let me be your guide. I’ve been working with computers for a decade, and if there’s smut to be seen on the screen, I’ve seen it. I’ve taught computer beginners in classrooms but that’s far too polite and forces me to leave out the good parts. The good parts I’m going to help you find every month as we explore together.

All you need is a good computer, the right software, and a little know-how. Let’s talk first about your hardware. I’ll show you mine: it’s an IBM clone, based on a 486 processing chip. It’s got 8 megabytes of memory, and a good color monitor. That’s the basic stuff to run Microsoft Windows, and the easiest way for us peeping Toms to find our thrills is to look through Windows. You can find a system like this for well under a thousand bucks.

Friday, January 26, 2018

What You Pay For

From the Back of the Fridge Dept.: Back when I was reviewing restaurants for Albany’s Metroland magazine, we enacted a policy whereby we didn’t bother with the chain eateries. My long-ago visit to a brand-new Olive Garden, reviewed below, was one of the reasons. (But they showed up in a more recent piece about food-delivery innovations.)


We showed up on a Saturday afternoon at quarter to five. The parking lot was packed; people waited on benches, at the bar and in a straggly line that stretched to the door. We had an event to get to and couldn’t wait. We returned at 10:30, a half hour before dinner service stops. The place was still pretty full but – except for us – it was by now exhaling customers.

The Olive Garden, which arrived in late November, is clearly a hit. And why shouldn’t it be? Under the guise of offering Italian fare, it serves the same kind of bland but over-salted cuisine that too much of America microwaves at home in the pursuit of dinner.

In other words, don’t look for fine dining here. Don’t even look for the kind of cooking that makes your neighborhood Italian eatery special. It’s assembly-line stuff. Some of it is amusingly non-Italian, like the “Italian Scallion,” a mass of fried onion pieces. Then there are items with Italian roots given an Olive Garden conversion into bar food, like the fried ravioli and mozzarella wedges that join stuffed mushrooms and fried zucchini in the Italian Sampler.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Great Vibes

From the Vault Dept.: I treasured the six-record set of Lionel Hampton’s small-group recordings that was issued in the waning days of the LP era, so it was a thrill to see these sides (and more) get the Mosaic Records treatment in the deluxe five-CD set that I reviewed below. But Mosaic licenses limited-issue releases of these sets, and the 5,000 copies of the Hampton set have long since sold out.


VIBRAPHONIST LIONEL HAMPTON became a sudden star in 1936 when Benny Goodman featured him in a quartet. Soon after that, Victor Records invited Hampton to record a small-group session under his own name, so Hampton brought a bunch of Goodman bandmembers into the studio and laid down four memorable tracks. A phenomenon was born.

It was hot, joyous and relatively short-lived. Twenty-three sessions over the next four years yielded about four tunes apiece. In terms of jazz interest, some are more successful than others, but even the most negligible of them are still entertaining. And the peaks are impressive indeed.

Much of the material was collected late in the LP days, but only sporadic CD issues have seen light of day. Mosaic Records’s new five-CD set collects the totality of those Hampton session, and with that company’s trademark thoroughness presents superior transfers of the original material along with all known alternate takes.

Personnel also were drawn from the bands of Duke Ellington, Stuff Smith, Count Basie and others, which benefitted from having players already accustomed to working together. Sessions in April 1937, for example, featured Ellington sideman Johnny Hodges, whose “On the Sunny Side of the Street” became a hit and has endured as a classic.

Friday, January 19, 2018

A Paradise of Borodin

From the Classical Vault Dept.: Speaking of Borodin, I found an eleven-year-old review I wrote of the Albany Symphony in which that composer’s “Polovetsian Dances” were featured – and I resisted pointing out that said dances supplied the tune for the song “Stranger in Paradise.” Despite weakening in this wise, I shall continue to resist where it matters.


“A NIGHT IN OLD RUSSIA” almost certainly means a night with dsypeptic old Tchaikovsky – which can be a tuneful but melancholy visit. In his Symphony No. 4 and “1812 Overture,” however, the composer leaned, if not toward happiness, at least to states of exuberant excess.

Alexander Borodin
As performed by the Albany Symphony Orchestra last Saturday at Albany’s Palace Theatre, these warhorses sounded dynamic and fresh, and had the added bonus of a chorus in the “1812,” showcasing the distinguished sound of Albany Pro Musica.

It’s an excellent idea, combining the city’s premiere orchestra and chorus, and this time the result gave us the distinctive sound of Russian song, a flavor that pervades instrumental music of the period, but flowers to life when the human voice is included.

The first half gave us orchestra alone, beginning with the Tchaikovsky symphony. Completed in 1878, it’s a big, brassy, sometimes capricious work that nevertheless inspired the NY Post reviewer, at its 1890 U.S. premiere, to term it “one of the most ... semi-barbaric compositions ever heard in this city.”

Today it’s a work in danger of being overplayed, but ASO music director David Alan Miller made the most of its “barbarism” even as he satisfied the work’s more tender aspects. Like any good symphonic work, the piece is a journey, heralded by what the composer termed the call of Fate, realized in the brass section’s dotted-note anthem.

Monday, January 15, 2018

The Amateur Photograph

Guest Blogger Dept.: Let's revisit the poetry of P.G. Wodehouse, with an piece from 1901 that reminds us how little has changed.


P.G. Wodehouse
The eye is the eye of a forger,
The brow is the brow of a thief,
        The mouth and the nose
        Alike disclose
A wickedness past belief.

‘Tis a visage that proves its owner
A man of the basest stamp,
        I haven't a doubt
        That he rides about
At nights without a lamp,

Or travels without a ticket,
Or visits music halls;
        His expression shows
        That he often goes
To Covent Garden balls.

And – but what is that you are saying?
Ah, horror! Can it be
        That this shocking disgrace,
        With its Hooligan face,
Is an excellent likeness of me!

-- P.G. Wodehouse, Fun Magazine, 2 March 1901

Friday, January 12, 2018

Russian to the Finish

From the Vault Dept.: Having seen this ensemble perform in Troy, NY – and, as you’ll read below, having been very impressed – I was pleased to be asked a few months later to write liner notes for their Dorian recording of Borodin string quartets, which you can read here.


THE TONE OF A STRING QUARTET CONCERT is set by the opening notes. Whatever the mood or dynamics of the first piece, you’ll get a sense of the ensemble’s surety. The beginning of Beethoven’s Quartet No. 4 has a passage in which the first and second violins are in unison, an octave apart; shortly after that, there’s a sequence of call and response. Those were enough to tell us that this group had matters like intonation and vibrato and dynamics nailed. There would be no technical problems. This was a group in complete control.

Recording the St. Petersburg Quartet in Troy, NY
6 June 2001 | Photo by B. A. Nilsson
Beethoven’s Quartet No. 4 is in C minor, the key of the fifth symphony and the Pathétique sonata, and it shares a sense of defiance well articulated by the musicians. It’s also got early examples of Beethovenian quirkiness, as in the second movement, a scherzo that takes the place of something slow. It’s witty and gentle, and packs a nice joke toward the movement’s end when the cello fails to enter when you’d expect it. The third movement minuet moves us into an insistent, gypsy-like finale with lots of bounce, all of it giving the group plenty of easily bested challenges.

Their interpretation packed a lot more variety than I’m used to hearing from, say, the Guarneri or Alban Berg Quartets; some of the phrases were crafted with a little hesitation here and there, which actually proved refreshing to my ears.

Monday, January 08, 2018

The Q is Capital

From the Smoker Dept.: The reason I no longer get out to barbecue joints these days is because I’ve got my own smoker going in the backyard often enough to keep me contented. But I’m delighted to see that Capital Q, reviewed below a decade ago, is still going strong. All that seems to have changed is the pricing.


THE BARBECUE REVOLUTION CONTINUES. We of the innocent northeast grew up believing that barbecue was a verb, an activity that took place over a grill fired by fluid-impregnated charcoal briquets (developed by Henry Ford as a byproduct of Model T production). Alongside the endless parade of burgers and wieners appeared chicken parts, slathered in sweet sauces, and ribs of pork or beef. With the proper know-how, you can grill chicken and ribs into excellent meatstuffs. But it’s not, applying the word as a noun now, barbecue.

Photo by B. A. Nilsson
Sample the pulled pork at Capital Q Smokehouse for a taste of the real thing. This is meat as tender as it can get, yanked off the pork shoulder (in butcher’s parlance, the butt), served with or without some manner of sauce. Its tenderness comes from many lingering hours over not-too-hot woodsmoke, enough time to require day-in-advance preparation. When your local barbecue joint confesses that it’s out of this or that meat, it’s another sign that they’re making the real thing.

Such was not a problem the day we visited Capital Q Smokehouse, the little eatery in the Ontario St. space once occupied by Emil Meister’s Market. There were ribs, there was brisket, there was pulled pork. And there was a parade of tasty side dishes to round out the meal, all of it fulfilling a dream of chef-owner Sean Custer.

Friday, January 05, 2018

Sparkling Solutions

From the Wine Cellar Dept.: I attended and wrote about the Albany American Wine Festival for several years – here’s one such account – and for its 1998 edition (one of the last), I interviewed Joy Sterling, part of the family that owns and operates Iron Horse, a winery in California’s Sonoma Valley. (Here’s a piece about a visit to the winery in 1989.)


THERE ARE MANY GOOD REASONS for sampling wine at an event like the Desmond’s Twelfth Annual Albany American Wine Festival, which takes place in two weeks. We’ve recently learned that wine is good for the heart and good for the eyes. We’ve long known that it’s good for the sense of well-being. Nothing sets off good food better than good wine. In short, it adds sparkle to life.

Joy Sterling
But add a little sparkle to the wine and you’ve got the makings of a celebration. Champagne is the beverage of the best parties, whether you’re celebrating a wedding with many, an anniversary with another, or the turn of the year with half the world. With the turn of the millennium approaching, champagne consumption is expected to soar. But, in the opinion of Iron Horse Winery’s Joy Sterling, “There won’t be enough.”

She’s talking about the good stuff, vintage wine made from a single year’s harvest and fermented the old-fashioned way, as opposed to cheap plonk that’s more or less carbonated. “Anybody who’s buying non-vintage French champagne is making a mistake,” she says, “when you can buy vintage California sparkling wine for the same price. Being a particular vintage makes a difference – it affects how long the wine is aged on the yeast, and results in a richer, creamier, smoother finish.”

Monday, January 01, 2018

Another Orbit

NEARLY A HALF-CENTURY AGO, I celebrated the turn of the year (and a turn of the decade) with a trio of friends and a pair of boxes of pizza, which I lazily left in those boxes when I put them into the oven to reheat. We were at the home of one of those friends, and his parents had thoughtfully repaired to an upstairs room before the clock struck twelve.

Did they smell the smoldering cardboard? We didn’t. It wasn’t until I fetched the pies that I saw the blackened containers dropping ash on top of the pepperoni and cheese. Did that stop us from consuming the stuff? It didn’t.

In fact, it seemed like an appropriate way to kiss off the ’60s, which we, in our mid-teens, barely had the chance to enjoy. We’d do better in the ‘70s, when (at least) we’d all get laid.

Those New Year’s celebrations would continue to accumulate, of course, in a variety of forms for me. One of them found me stuck in a snowdrift with a friend whose antique Imperial met its match in some snowy Connecticut back roads. I spent many of them in restaurants as a waiter or chef, pouring champagne or banging on kitchen pots as the calendar flipped. That was work under battle conditions, and you bonded closely with your fellows.