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Thursday, November 28, 2019

Island Paradise

This year's Thanksgiving menu returns us to the realm of Caribbean cuisine, with some fanciful additions and alterations. The menu is below; a retrospective of menus past is here.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Underneath the Mistletoe

I’VE JUST HEARD an incredibly wonderful, enjoyable Christmas album, and if you’re as weary as I am of the shopping-mall treacle that annually assaults our ears, you’ll want to hear it, too. Be warned: it’s built around a dynamic big band playing new arrangements that hearken back to the classic decades of such bands. It’s the brainchild of guitarist Glenn Crytzer, a young virtuoso steeped in those traditions, and he ices the already lavish cake with original holiday numbers that are better than anything else that has tried to muscle into the repertory lately.

“Underneath the Mistletoe” is a 20-track collection placing those eleven originals alongside some unusual but brilliant choices of companion, all arranged by Crytzer for his 24-piece band. We get a good taste of what’s to come as a lively version of “Over the River and through the Wood” kicks off the disc, showcasing a tight five-man sax section, but it’s the second cut, Crytzer’s title song, that welcomes the eight-piece string section and gives the truest feel of the unique, swinging feel of the disc.

To say that it seems as if Gordon Jenkins just walked into the room is to pay Crytzer a high compliment. He really shows off his arranging skills here, with a deft integration of those strings (great pizzicato moment!) amidst the brass and reeds – and Hannah Gill puts over the witty lyrics with a sly smile and warmth in her voice.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Soul on Display

From the Theatrical Vault Dept.: Here’s one of the couple of dozen pieces I wrote for the the short-lived The Alt, a mis-managed magazine that struggled to become an alt-weekly, filling the void left by Metroland’s collapse. And it’s nice to re-visit the terrific theatrical experience that gave rise to this review.


“THIS IS A TRIUMPH of post-modern meta-theater,” declares the character Kieron Barry, not to be confused with the playwright Kieron Barry although it’s understandable if you do. To which Danielle, his director (within the play, that is; not the director of the play), replies, “Are you sure it’s not just a fuck-and-tell?”

Jason Guy and Bonita Jackson
Under discussion are, or is, “The Official Adventures of Kieron and Jade,” the world premiere of which took place at Catskill’s Bridge Street Theatre, and which brings back to the area the work of a playwright previously acclaimed for “Tomorrow in the Battle.”

Love relationships were scrutinized in that dark, dramatic piece; here a dark, dramatic break-up becomes the stuff of comedy as Kieron Barry (the character) seeks meaning in the abrupt departure of Jade, his girlfriend of three years, a fate similarly suffered by the playwright.

It sounds confusing. It is. It has to be. There’s no keener crisis of rejection in one’s life, and I mean knife-edge keen. And there’s usually deception involved, as when Kieron self-destructively draws a blade across his forearm, producing stripes of blood – only to be admonished by Danielle that stage blood will emerge more easily if he moves the knife this way.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Master of Your Domain

From the Tech Vault Dept.: Here’s another outdated tech piece from my distant past, written for Metroland in 2000, and only fleetingly applicable to today’s internet requirements. Metroland’s website has since gone away, and it looks as if all those “cc” domains have also perished. But I still get a kick out of the time-travel aspect of this piece.


A SERIES OF LOCAL ADS exhorts us to grab these new domain names so that we can enjoy the same kind of resale profit garnered by the folks who sold “” for $7.5 million. “Dot-CC,” it is argued, will have the same impact as “dot-com,” now that there aren’t any appealing dot-com names left.

I haven’t rushed out to register anything; I’m afraid I missed the boat once and for all a few years ago, when in the course of writing an article about domain names I passed up lots of available goodies and merely got hold of And nobody’s been beating a path to my door to buy it from me.

As opposed to Jimmy Guterman, who runs a Massachusetts-based consultancy called the Vineyard Group. He registered the name five years ago, “on a lark,” as he recently wrote in the Internet newsletter The Standard, “much as someone orders a vanity license plate.” A few is-it-for-sale queries straggled in during the ensuing years, but he noted that in 1999 the queries started pouring in weekly. He writes, “I know to ignore the ones with text in all upper case, as well as the ones that misspell ‘vineyard’ or, in some cases, ‘com.’”

Friday, November 15, 2019

Rage On

THERE’S A PLAINTIVE QUALITY to the Florence Reece song “Which Side Are You On?” that’s also touched with purpose – which isn’t surprising, considering the song’s very clear origin. Reece wrote the lyrics in 1931 after a night in which a group of gun thugs terrorized her and her children as they searched (unsuccessfully) for her union-organizer husband. She drew the melody from her memory of a song that probably was an old “Cruel War”-type ballad titled ”Jack Munro,” which used, for its refrain, the melody of a song titled “Lay the Lily Low,” which may be a Baptist hymn.

All of which is to say that by the time Frederic Rzewski got hold of the tune, it already had been through many changes. It has endured these many decades because the lyric poses a direct and meaningful question, while the stepwise nature of its accompanying refrain has an engagingly hypnotic effect. Rzewski created a set of variations for solo piano as part of his four-song “North American Ballads” collection, and this is the kick-off to composer-pianist Conrad Tao’s new album “American Rage.”

The audacious title of Tao’s recital is well chosen. The U.S.A. is a country founded on dissatisfaction, and, for each successive generation, the vaunted pursuit of happiness has called forth conflict. But, as Paul Robeson observed, “The artist must take sides,” and our history of musical polemics has landed some of those artists in tetchy situations.

Monday, November 11, 2019

The Upright Ape

THERE’S A FEELING OF LUSH LAWNS and expensive orthodonture. Inside the house hang abstract art, a motif that carries onto the floor. Books abound, piled on and around the sparse furnishings. Money and culture are reflected in the appearance of the two couples inhabiting the space; as we quickly learn, they are there to discuss the injury inflicted by the young son of one couple upon the young son of the other.

Sky Seals, Jennifer Cody, Josie DiVincenzo
Photo by Genevieve Fridley
Yasmina Reza’s play “God of Carnage” opened on Broadway in 2009, three years after its premiere in Switzerland and a year after the Christopher Hampton translation was first performed in London. It has gone on to become a regional theater favorite, something I found puzzling because of what struck me as the lackluster quality of the Broadway production I saw. Perhaps I was inured: I grew up with the kind of middle-class combat that energizes this script, and, at least in the few productions I’ve seen, I thought the actors’ hearts weren’t in it.

But I’ve been holding out hope, and that hope now has been more than satisfied. The production at Redhouse Arts Center in Syracuse is a fully committed, take-no-prisoners exploration of the tension imposed by middle-class expectations, and the horrible release that may await only a couple of rum-shots away.

Friday, November 08, 2019

The Telling Takes Us Home

From the Vault Dept.: Lena Spencer died October 23, 1989, nearly thirty years after founding Saratoga’s Caffè Lena, and Utah Phillips (whom I also wrote about here) was among the many performers who’d been nurtured there who made a special tribute trip to perform in her honor. Here’s my Schenectady Gazette review of the event.


UTAH PHILLIPS MADE A SPECIAL TRIP to town to play a pair of concerts at Caffè Lena last weekend. Friday night he told the first of his sold-out houses a thing or two about the late Lena Spencer and her long-running coffeehouse, paying the sort of level-headed tribute that needs paying when people are soggy with grief.

Utah Phillips at Caffè Lena in an earlier day
“I have no patience with death,” he said. “Death pisses me off.”

Then he launched into his familiar opening song, “Railroading on the Great Divide,” between stanzas of which he recalled the first time, 20 years ago, that he walked up the stairs to the second-floor hall, back when he was first putting together a career on the folksong circuit.

Phillips is unique among such performers in that he harkens to traditions of two or three generations ago but keeps them very much alive in his songs and stories. He has a thousand stories about travelling the rods – hitching rides on freights – and the company of hoboes and tramps. He’s a card-carrying member of the International Workers of the World who can sing you the songs of that movement (“The Wobblies liked to use the old hymn tunes ‘cause they were pretty and wrote new words for them so they made more sense.”)

Monday, November 04, 2019

All Fired Up

Guest Blogger Dept.: Mark Twain’s keen sense of mankind accommodated a semblance of good behavior, but a flurry of books offering detailed rules of etiquette proved to be too much for him, and he undertook to write a parody of them. He never finished the project, but here’s a significant excerpt.


At a Fire

Form of Tender of Rescue from Strange Young Gentleman to Strange Young Lady at a Fire.

Although through the fiat of a cruel fate, I have been debarred the gracious privilege of your acquaintance, permit me, Miss [here insert name if known], the inestimable honor of offering you the aid of a true and loyal arm against the fiery doom which now o’ershadows you with its crimson wing [this form to be memorized, and practiced in private].

Should she accept, the young gentleman would offer his arm – bowing, and observing “Permit me” – and so escort her to the fire escape and deposit her in it (being careful, if she have no clothes but her night dress, not to seem to notice the irregularity). No form of leave-taking is permissible, further than a formal bow, accompanied by a barely perceptible smile of deferential gratitude for the favor which the young lady has accorded – this smile to be completed at the moment the fire escape starts to slide down, then the features to be recomposed instantly.

A compulsory introduction at a fire is not binding upon the young lady. The young gentleman cannot require recognition at her hands when he next meets her, but must leave her unembarrassed to decide for herself whether she will continue the acquaintanceship or ignore it.

Friday, November 01, 2019

Sowing the Show of Shows

From the Video Vault Dept.: It’s been gratifying to see that the birth of the DVD inspired many an actual treasure to be released on that format right off the bat – including classic vintage television programs. I’d discovered Sid Caesar’s classic TV sketches thanks to occasional re-runs long before I first saw him perform in person, in Neil Simon’s “Last of the Red Hot Lovers” during the early 1970s at Danbury, Connecticut’s Candlewood Theater. He performed at Proctor’s Theatre in Schenectady in 1988, and my review of that show is here – but here’s a brief piece I wrote welcoming a best-of collection of his 1950s TV sketches.


OLD, OLD TELEVISION would seem to be a poor source for a new DVD, but the technology results both in a clearer picture than a VHS release and the ability to subject the source to computer-based editing, which has been skillfully used throughout this release.

It’s a three-disc set of material from various Sid Caesar television ventures in the 1950s, including “Your Show of Shows,” enhanced with recently-filmed interviews that collect comments from Caesar and his illustrious stable of writers and actors – including Woody Allen, Mel Brooks, Neil Simon, Carl Reiner and Larry Gelbart.

The core of each disc, of course, is a set of sketches. These were brilliant when they aired a half-century ago; compared to what passes for comedy today, they’re transcendent. As a solo performer, Caesar was unmatched, and the 1949 “Five Dollar Date” ranks as one of the most breathtaking acting jobs you’ll ever see. Working with his ensemble, he had impeccable timing and a good sense of what would be not just funny but also surprising. Teamed with Nanette Fabray in “The Fur Coat,” his role as aggrieved husband laid the foundation for Jackie Gleason and all subsequent sitcom spouses.