Saturday, December 10, 2011

Christmas parade: weird, normal

South Street may not be 5th Avenue, but there are buildings tall enough for loft-perched children to peek out of windows and throw high-value candy to the minions below. Sweet Stripes are worth scrabbling for.

See photos of the 2012 parade.

After standing for two hours, before and during the parade, I faced a self-propelled porta-pottie meandering down Park Central East — inaccessible — with feelings of helpless desperation.

Willard High School band uniforms are the coolest in the Ozarks, with their black, gray and white scheme. If early 1990s hip-hopsters had been paying attention, they would have chosen Willard Tigers gear over Oakland Raiders or Chicago White Sox.

I still don't know how to respond to this.

Mr. Claus turned away as he passed, but Mrs. Claus looked our way.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Lilly Bee & the Johnson Three, then Speakeasy

Speakeasy is absolutely the best for hard-driving rhythms. Saturday night at Patton Alley, the band was an endless defibrillator. It's true that they aren't subtle, but sometimes that's not what I'm looking for. The last time I heard the band, it was opening for JJ Grey at the Gillioz in August. They were playing a lot of deliberate noise in that performance. Saturday night, it was all groove.

Cheers for Lilly Bee and The Johnson Three for their debut gig, opening for Speakeasy. LBJ3 featured all-original songs, created collectively by group, that sounded like unfamiliar but great B-sides from Motown and other 60s-70s repositories. I like the way Melissa Henderson remained relatively calm while belting out these tunes. The sound was a little muddy, somewhat restricting our appreciation of her voice. Dan Maple's use of electric piano, making it sound much like a distorted guitar, reminded me of Keith Jarrett's work in Miles Davis' electric bands that made Live Evil and Live at Fillmore East — squiggly, smeary sounds. That was probably the only time Jarrett ever played electric piano, and the last time he ever did anything someone else told him to do.

Plus two smudgy cellphone photos ...

Shawn Eckels
Melissa Henderson

Monday, November 14, 2011

Cheers for Bella Donna

I really enjoy Bella Donna's agreeable blend of personalities and musical forces. The first set Saturday evening at Patton Alley Pub showed the band working as a BAND —
  • Mike Williamson's steadying influence on bass and in person.
  • Matt Guinn's jaunty early-jazz rhythms on guitar.
  • Drummer B.J. Lowrance's ability to hold back and work within the dynamics of the group. His restraint becomes apparent between tunes, when he idly taps the tom or snare and generates a surprising blast that's louder than anything he's played, yet really not all that loud. One of these nights he'll truly cut loose and leave the place a shambles.
  • Liz Carney's quirky vocal delays, darts and slants.
One of the highlights was "Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans," with an elegant solo by Williamson switching to cornet(?) and using a Harmon mute. The melancholy feel of the tune really came through the mute.

"How Could You," a tune I heard countless times when I visited one of the band's recording sessions, seems to have evolved yet again since then.

With Guinn's Django-like rhythmic drive, the band steered "Autumn Leaves" and "Summertime" toward early-jazz swing. Interesting how old-timey forms continue to reach new ears, but accompanied by different attitudes. Fifteen years ago, amid the craze for all things retro, acts like Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and the Squirrel Nut Zippers created caricatures of these styles. Nowadays, Bella Donna and others use the same music simply as worthwhile source material to integrate into a group sound.

Sadly, all this music was lost on many members of the audience. Shrieks, shouts and loud conversation competed with the band. I know I'm out of step here, but the distractions seemed uncalled for given the quality of the music — especially because there was another part of the pub where enjoyably noisy conversation could take place. I think this response illustrates the growing popular impulse to treat music as a commodity — similar to muted lighting, heating or air conditioning and beer as necessary elements of a night out. Or, on a personal level, the layering of music into other realms of experience (running, reading, working, killing time) through iPods and such, in which songs are automated into similar themes suitable for various activities and not recognized as distinctive works of art. I'm just suggesting that the art aspect needs more attention.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

MOJO rocks the Brew Pub

Missouri Jazz Orchestra (MOJO): "You 'N' Me"

Missouri Jazz Orchestra (MOJO) | Myspace Music Videos

Had a chance to hear the Missouri Jazz Orchestra on Friday night upstairs at the Springfield Brewing Company. It's a good room, sonically, to hear jazz, and it was exciting to experience the massive harmonies and interlocking parts stretched out across the sections.

The video embedded above is from the MOJO Facebook page. I think it shows a performance from the band's standing gig at Marty's Sports Bar on Campbell near Walnut Lawn. Note the guy in the funky shorts walking into the shot at the 0:25 mark and making a return trip at about 1:55. The sound is really good, though.

In any case, I am finding more jazz bands and more opportunities to hear jazz throughout the city, and I'm not the only one who's enjoying this trend. The Brew Pub was packed Friday night, and the applause was loud.

Footnote: Congratulations to whomever claimed the MOJO monicker for the band. There are many jazz bands that incorporate mojo into their names, but I'm surprised no Missouri unit has claimed the acronym. 

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Damani Phillips' jazz + strings concept

Damani Phillips, a saxophonist and assistant professor of music at Grinnell College, my alma mater, has made an album titled The String Theory, with the same instrumentation as the Crescent Double Quartet — jazz combo plus string quartet.

The String Theory features Phillips, mostly on alto, while the strings provide support and layering textures for his formidable improvisations on arrangements of classical and jazz pieces. The CDQ integrates the strings into original compositions, and the string players occasionally improvise. Both ensembles are fueled by the rhythmic drive of jazz.

The piece embedded above is Phillip's arrangement of Bizet's "Habanera" from Carmen. "Pavane," another selection from The String Theory, has an arresting section for strings. Listen to it at the "Listen" section of Phillips' website.

At this blog, I have been fixated on the Crescent Double Quartet. It's intriguing to find another group with the same distinctive format.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Crescent Double Quartet: Radio Mundial

The Crescent Double Quartet’s website describes the band’s debut album, Radio Mundial, as “a trip around the world in 13 tracks" — but that's just the beginning.

This initiative is not only about the album concept but also the group’s unique “double quartet” instrumentation: a jazz rhythm section fronted by saxophonist and group leader Aart van Bergen, plus a string quartet. This exciting hybrid accentuates each strain.

The globetrotting concept may help new listeners focus on the album, tune by tune, and the mock-radio-DJ interludes in various languages are amusing. The concept also reflects the international makeup of the group:

Saxophones: Aart van Bergen (Netherlands)
Piano: Kaan Biyikoglu (Turkey)
Bass: Sandor Kem (Hungary)
Drums: Remco Menting (Netherlands)
1st Violin: Anastasija Zvirbule (Latvia)
2nd Violin: Anne Bakker (Netherlands)
Viola: Yanna Pelser (Netherlands)
Cello: Eduard Ninot (Spain)

Maybe the most important consequence of the mundial concept was to stimulate variety in the writing. Each piece is distinct, and the album takes full advantage of all the resources in the double quartet. As I wrote back in April and also in July, whatever else the CDQ embraces, the music always works as jazz.

“Belly Dance” (video embedded above), a wild story in little chapters, proceeds from shrill Middle Eastern spikes to jumpy syncopation that weirdly suggests three-minute big band recordings such Ellington’s “Harlem Air Shaft” or Jimmie Lunceford’s “Stratosphere” — mainly in structure and feel, of course.

In contrast, behold the gorgeous violin and soprano interplay on "Sahara."

Pianist Kaan Bıyıkoğlu brings a strong rhythmic attitude to “La Mortalidad (Banda)” and elsewhere.

“Daedalus” and “Vaarwel” display the varied sonorities of the strings. It’s hard to give credit to the string players due to the overlapping ranges of the instruments and the fact that there are two violinists. Are album notes available?

“La Révélation de Angoulême,” with van Bergen’s elegant tenor solo and a wash of strings, revels in waltz time. I can hear Charles Lloyd tearing through this music with gale force, and that would be fun, but so is this approach that savors the time and the pleasing harmonies.

“Tikal” was one of the earlier released tunes. I still think the break in the middle, with strings creating a little chaos, is something to develop as part of the regular vocabulary of the group.

“Carte Blanche, Part 2” also contains a bit of collective improvisation. The piano with bowed and plucked strings creates exciting textures, which sadly dissipate after just 100 seconds. More, please!

In any case, there’s a lot going on in “Radio Mundial” — great listening throughout.

Voice of America’s Diaa Bekheet has written two blog posts about van Bergen and the CDQ:

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Red wines for the 99 percent set

Recently I wrote about dirt-cheap white wines for the end of summer. Now I am looking into ultra-cheap red wines for the approaching cool seasons.

While evaluating $3 Oak Leaf red wines from Walmart, I had a weird experience.

First, I opened bottles of three varieties, sampled, and hated all of them. Tasting notes:

Shiraz: No spice, no body. Last year's version had a faintly nutty character that made it borderline drinkable. What happened?

Merlot: More supple, more up-front fruit — but fruit of what?

Cabernet: Like placing one's tongue on both poles of a 1.5 volt battery from a transistor radio when one was 7 years old in 1963.

I was at a loss for a dirt-cheap red wine. The $3 "Two Buck Chuck" Charles Shaw Shiraz from Trader Joe's is a pleasant wine that could easily sell for more. However, I live 200 miles from the nearest Trader Joe's; I assumed that my quest was doomed.

Now for the weird part: 

After sampling half a glass of each Walmart variety, I sealed the bottles with my trusty Vacu Vin pump and stoppers. A week later, I tried the Merlot again, and I actually liked it. I confidently identified the fruit as Merlot. I tried the Cab, and it was smoother — no more electric aspect, and a bit of body. The Shiraz had reclaimed its hint of nuttiness.

I had let these wines "breathe" in the Vacu Vin vacuum, and they responded. How? Why? There are no easy answers, only a mild feeling of delight.

I count myself among the 99 percenters in our society of ever-mounting challenges. As such, I must rely on dirt-cheap wines 99 percent of the time, and, apparently, Walmart has provided once again.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Tom Harrell's "The Time of the Sun"

Tom Harrell is an unusual artist in the world of jazz: A leader of a long-standing quintet who produces new albums frequently and regularly (four in the past five years) in a consistent style and dependably high quality — and the music sounds fresh each time.

"The Time of the Sun," released in late spring, begins with awe-inspiring shimmers produced by the magnetic field surrounding the sun and recorded by scientists at Stanford University. After the other-worldly opening, an ominous drumbeat powers an anthem that suggests — the sun rising and marching slowly, relentlessly across the sky? an ancient army on parade through a conquered city? Harrell delivers a solo with a series of rising, surging runs that maintain the disconcerting vibe while at the same time undercutting it with the thrill of his own trumpet majesty.

All the other tunes are also great — similar to those on previous albums, but original and sparking fresh excitement. "The Open Door" is an intricate ballad. "River Samba" burns will breezy intensity.

Wayne Escoffery has a high-energy solo on "Ridin" and a Wayne-ishly abstracted take on "Estuary." I hope Escoffery keeps playing in Harrell's group as he branches out with his own projects. He's one to watch.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Big Missouri reds duel to a draw

A couple who are longtime friends invited us for dinner. Each couple brought a Norton to the table to pair with a Korean-inspired beef dish that was mildly spicy (tangy, not hot). They offered a bottle of 2008 Norton from Cooper's Oak in Boonville, Mo. Ours actually was a Cynthiana, a 2006 from the esteemed Heinrich Grohe of Heinrichshaus Winery near St. James, Mo. We were hoping for a great paring, and we got it.

The two guys started with a blind tasting. I thought it would be easy because of the differences in the wine's ages and Cooper Oak's emphasis on oak aging. However, both of us failed to identify the wines. Once the identities were revealed, we kept tasting in hope of understanding the differences. I thought I detected a little more spice in the Heinrichshaus, a little more smoke in the Cooper Oak. Later in the meal, I got a refill but did not from which bottle. So, I had another chance to identify the wine.

"It's Heinrich's," I said.

"No, it's the Cooper's Oak," my friend said.

That provoked another round of comparative sipping, which yielded no further knowledge. We agreed that we had two fine representatives from the state's Norton/Cynthiana complex, and that was that.

Out of this confusion, one thing is clear: the Cooper's Oak held its own with one of the most revered winemakers in the state. During our recent visit to Boonville, I heard one or two critical voices asserting that Cooper's Oak is all about the oak, not about the wine. I have always thought that this winery used oak carefully, and the dinner of dueling wines confirms my belief.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Notes on the Springfield Jazz Festival

The quantity and quality of local musicians impressed me. By carrying the music into the community on Friday evening and Sunday afternoon, these players built out the festival beyond the typical concert venue, which was one of the goals for the second year of the event. I am still learning new names of people who play jazz, and looking for the names of others I’ve heard but not met.

Who were the people playing at Canvas Art Gallery on Friday evening? They played many different styles of jazz with a distinctive trombone-tenor front line.

Who was the impeccably stylish trumpet player who jammed outside Trolley’s and later outdoors at 319 W. Walnut St.? Speaking of 319, who was pouring complimentary beer there? Thanks to both.

Two people whose names I know really stood out, Austin Farnam (saxes) and Chris Vanderpool (trombone). They made the most of the weekend, playing at three venues each, and maybe more. Definitely among my local favorites.

John Strickler’s trio engaged in lively interplay as if they were the reincarnation of the Bill Evans trio but with the pianist swapped out in favor of the guitarist.

MSU Jazz Symposium — loved the shifts of time and rhythm.

Saturday night’s concert:
  • I knew about Conrad Herwig, but I did not know a trombone can generate a continuous slur entirely consisting of music between the notes.
  • The MOJO Band was superb in its articulation of rhythmic chatter behind Herwig on “Lonnie’s Lament.”
  • I saw Dick Oatts as a member of the saxophone section of the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra at the Village Vanguard in 1998. Until Saturday night, I did not know he is capable of going absolutely berserk.
  • Randy Brecker played for a shorter period of time than Oatts and Herwig but managed to convey as much or more.
  • I agree with the choices for winners in the trumpet competition, by I also really enjoyed the Harmon-muted performance by Christopher Lawrence of his piece, “Mr. Weirdo.”
Check out photos from the festival in previous posts:

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Springfield Jazz Festival: Quantum Groove

This is the first of five posts from the Saturday afternoon (9/24) outdoor venue. I've posted photos and some IDs. I'll write more later and fill in the names as I acquire them. 

The second annual jazz festival is the first of its kind in Springfield, an event with numerous venues over two days, relying mostly on local artists with worthy skills and creativity.

Scenes from the performance by Quantum Groove:

Cole Gurley, Chris Vanderpool, Ryan Boone, Sam Clanton, Jeremy Miller.

Cole Gurley
Dennis Groves speaking to Grady Butler
Paul Rose
Ryan Boone

Springfield Jazz Festival: Missouri State University Jazz Symposium

Springfield Jazz festival: Linda Sala and the Jazz Project

From left: Joe Sala, Rick Salvador,  Linda Sala, Larry Pittman, Mark Brueggemann 
Linda Sala
Mark Brueggemann

Springfield Jazz Festival: New Hope Intl. Ministries Jazz Ensemble

Friday, September 16, 2011

Dirt-cheap white wines

In a recent post, I reminded everyone that summer was not over yet, and the days were still hot even though the temperature was being expressed in just two digits. Therefore, I wrote, we should still consider Missouri white wines as an enjoyable pairing with the weather.

This week, temps have tanked, and it’s looking more like pre-autumn. This is the stage when I am making the transition from whites to reds, but I’m not all the way there yet. If you feel the same way, you still may be in the market for white wine just to tide you over into the cooler months when red wine rules. If so, you may want to hedge your temporary investment in whites. To that end, I have put together some notes for the cheapest whites available that remain borderline palatable.

I will set the floor for dirt-cheap quality above the boxed Franzia and Vendange offerings, which have more to do with chemical engineering than with grapes. I will set the ceiling at $3 a bottle.

Within these parameters, I see a simple grouping of borderline palatable wines: the Charles Shaw selections at Trader Joe’s and Walmart’s portfolio of Oak Leaf wines. Most supermarket chains have their own dirt-cheap lines, but why complicate matters?

Oak Leaf

Pinot grigio: Does not suggest the variety printed on its label. It’s nondescript in classic jug fashion. However, it has a strongly fruit/floral nondescription that makes it borderline palatable. People who like pinot grigio appreciate its typically understated floral and gently acidic notes that make a balanced, sophisticated light wine. If you go for the Oak Leaf, spit out all thoughts of those nuances.

Sauvignon blanc: Clearly recognizable as a sauvignon blanc, but the tasting notes are purely grapefruit juice. This citrus-only effect — no minerals, no grass — may disappoint those who appreciate this variety, but what can you expect for $2.77?

Chardonnay: Austere, bone dry, and possibly recognizable as a chard. Without revealing the label, we shared this wine with an old friend who has high standards for wine. Weirdly, she did not reject it out of hand — far from it. Her response was, “There’s something there,” but she couldn’t say what it was. She kept drinking it, though.

Charles Shaw

Sauvignon blanc: Like the Oak Leaf, this one registers definitely as a sauvignon blanc. It delivers zesty citrus but in a more balanced manner, which is what you’d expect from a California version of this variety. If you slapped a trendily silly label on the bottle (Zappa Napa, Piney Winey?), you could charge $22, and people would love it. Instead, it’s a dirt-cheap bargain of substantial quality.

Other Charles Shaw whites: Sorry, I have not tried any others. The sauvignon blanc was a gift from a friend who frequently travels to a city with a Trader Joe’s outlet. Even so, I recommend the all the Shaws. Everything from Trader Joe’s is good, right?

Monday, September 12, 2011

A great weekend to be in Boonville

In a fortuitous coincidence, we planned a visit to Boonville, Mo., on the same weekend (Sept. 10-11) as the Second Annual Katy Bridge Wine Walk.

The event was sponsored by the Save the Katy Bridge Coalition. Plans for the bridge are to convert it to pedestrian use as part of the Katy Trail, the trans-Missouri pathway for recreation and tourism.

The event was a smart integration of commerce, tourism, arts, wine and a good cause that promised to raise awareness of all involved.

Wine notes

Baltimore Bend: Owner Sarah Schmidt set up on two deep-freeze units at Imhoff’s Hometown Appliance. The 2006 Cynthiana stood out for its rich, smooth character derived from 18 months of aging in toasted oak barrels and an additional 18 months to two years in the bottle. Schmidt described a specific approach to oak aging: “We try to balance the wine with the barrel,” she said. It’s a matter of being aware of each barrel’s charring and testing the wine frequently, she said.

Traver Home Winery: Samplers mobbed owners Jim and Bobbi Traver of Willow Springs as they poured their wines at a table in the back of A. Baker Floral. Their Eleven Point White — 70 percent Vidal, 30 percent Vignoles — had citrus notes with a little extra body from the Vignoles influence.

Cooper’s Oak Winery: The hometown winery, whose name indicates its approach to wine, has first-rate Chambourcin, Merlot, Zinfandel, Norton and various red blends that benefit from oak aging. Some of the white wines that spent time in barrels did not respond as well. Most satisfying were the Norton and the Cab-Merlot blend named Toasted Oak.

Adam Puchta: Try the Traminette.

Wenwood Farm Winery: Country Estate White is dry, clean and crisp.

Peaceful Bend: A spicy Norton grabbed my attention.

Les Bourgeois Winery: Solay, a blend that’s apparently a trade secret, is a refreshing white.

Wine news

Watch for the imminent opening of Bushwhacker Bend Winery in Glasgow, Mo. Owners were on hand at Family Shoe Store to spread the word.

Participating local businesses

Hotel Frederick

Imhoff's Hometown Appliance

A. Baker Floral

Zuzak Wonder Store

Citizens Bank & Trust

Gordon Jewelers

Family Shoe Store

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Heat extends season for Missouri white wines

There's still three more weeks of summer and 100 still pops up occasionally in the forecast. So, there's still plenty of time and opportunity to pour white wine from Missouri. Here are some suggestions, in no particular order, from a great year of winery hopping.

Summit Lake Lewis & Clark: It's a dry, sophisticated blend of Vidal, Chardonel and Vignoles.

Native Stone Louis & Clark's Sweet Discovery: The explorer team covered a lot of ground, so it's no surprise that they'd leave inspiration for multiple wines in their path. Don't be fooled by the mention of "sweet" on the label. Yes, there's a little sugar, but it's mainly to balance the delicate floral notes.

Three Squirrels Acorn White: A crisp, dry blend of Chardonel and Vidal.

7C's Round Up White:
A blend of Vignoles and Traminette with a touch of sweetness. The winery's tasting notes mention floral and crisp, but I tasted a citrus effect with a more substantial mouth feel.

Whispering Oaks Catawba: The smoothest Catawba you will find anywhere.

Heinrichhaus Traminette: The best Traminette in Missouri.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Back to the Oldfield Opry

My most-read blog post, as well as my most-viewed YouTube video, is based on my visit to the Oldfield Opry in March 2010. I am heading back to the Oldfield Opry on Saturday evening for a story for the News-Leader. If any of you who have consumed my media about this place (along with those who haven't) happen to see this post, please let me know what you'd like to see from this story in the making. I will happily review and thoughts you may have. I'm told there will be a pre-show of some people playing old-time music, with the regular show following. That's all I know so far. At this point, I will simply hear what I shall hear.

Most social media gurus and "thought leaders" would say that I have been foolish to avoid this subject after discovering its huge popularity, and they're probably right. But avoid no more — Oldfield Opry, ho!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Oovvda Winery: Intense fruit flavors

The winery's mural illustrates its Scandinavian theme.

A return visit to Oovvda, just north of Springfield, after several years reveals vast improvements that demonstrate the winery’s growth and also indicate a greater readiness on my part to enjoy the fruit wines in which the business specializes.

Brian and Fran Overboe make a gentle apple wine that looks like white wine and can be substituted for it with light salads and meals.

Fran Overboe behind the tasting bar.
For the other fruit wines, you need a different mindset. Forget about grape wines and focus on the intense flavor of each fruit wine, a flavor that usually comes into tighter focus with a little additional sweetness (Oovvda offers most of its fruit wines in semi-dry and sweet — but never excessively sweet). I found enjoyment in a slower rate of consumption and smaller overall quantity.

I liked the red raspberry semi-dry because it maintained the hint of tart that you taste when you pluck a berry off a bush and munch.

Blackberry and Blueberry seemed to work well at either level of sweetness. The sweet option for cherry veered toward pie filling, though.

Oovvda’s red plum wine, offered only as semi-dry, would be more drinkable with Asian foods than the heavily sweetened plumb wine that Asian restaurants typically serve.

For a yet-more-concentrated, super-intense experience, try the dessert wines. And don't forget the tomato, offered dry only.

Oovvda also offers two grape wines, Chambourcin and Norton. Both are presented with the force of their varietal flavors brought forward and smoothed out just a little in a manner similar to the way they make fruit wines.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

JJ Grey and Mofro — Whoa!

JJ Grey and Mofro: Further testament to the utter stupidity
of taking cell-phone photos at a concert.

JJ Grey and Mofro's sweeping performance at the Gillioz last night really blew me away. I expected the emotional intensity, but I was surprised at his congenial, generous stage presence — surprised only because many of his tunes are kinda scary. 

I especially loved the treatment of "Georgia Warhorse," delivered with earth-shattering profundity of unison base-guitar and bass-drum thuds. In contrast, the gleefully jaunty "Air" (We've been walking on air, y'all) beats all forms of therapy and pharmacology for mood elevation.

And the entire Mofro unit is great — horn players even showed their free-jazz chops on the last encore tune. 

As a hard-core jazz listener, I have sheltered myself from most rock music, and therefore had never heard Speakeasy until last night. Loved the speed and the noise — not enough to leave jazz behind, of course.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Vines showing a little heat stress; any thoughts?

Like everything else, my vines have been suffering in this summer's three-figure heat. The leaves on top of the vines are turning brown, some of the grapes have shriveled (above), and a few have fallen off their clusters.

I understand that in the face of weather stress, vines concentrate their resources to support the grapes. So, when I see the grapes deteriorating, I wonder whether this shriveling has to do with the heat or some other problem. Further, all the experts within my earshot say NEVER water the grapes because that will dilute the sugars and, at this time of year, risk the grapes splitting due to sudden excess water.

Any thoughts? Please use the comment feature.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Filtering Missouri wines through social media

Wine enthusiasts who may read this post will not need marketing messages to accept and enjoy Missouri wines. But you may be interested in knowing who is doing this work and how she does it. If so, please amble over to and read an interview with Danene Beedle, marketing director of the Missouri Wine and Grape Board.

Here's a quote that's not in the interview:

“Our current message is Our country’s first wine country. Augusta, Mo., was the first AVA (American Viticulture Area) that was awarded back in 1980, even before Napa was awarded a viticulture area. We’re very proud of that. We’re very proud of our rich history. We have beautiful countryside. We have great wines, great wineries — several award-winning ones. So right now our messaging is to get people out, see the beautiful state of Missouri, and take advantage of all the delicious wines that we have.” 

— Danene Beedle

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Bonus wine find

Last week, I cleaned out the closet in the room I use as an office. For several years, the closet had assumed the function of an out-of-site, out-of-mind receptacle for life debris. When I pulled out most of the contents and threw away half the mess, I found, at the bottom of the heap, a case of long-forgotten peach wine I made two years ago. 

I have made several batches of peach over the years. I make an off-dry peach, unlike the typical approach to fruit wine, which is to attain a sweet fruit-juice effect with aggressive sweetening. My peach tastes like a white table wine, if the wine were made of peaches instead of grapes. That's probably why I have not found anyone who likes it: they expect a dessert wine. That's not a bad thing, though. The treasure I extracted from my closet thereby becomes a wonderful bonus for ME! Perfect timing for summer quaffing.

To close, I offer you a short code from Technorati as part of the process of registering this blog with the indexing behemoth: GRB43NWMVPHQ

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Fighting Japanese beetles

In mid-June, Japanese beetles arrived and began munching the leaves of our eight St. Vincent plants in the back yard. By the end of the month, the damage started to exceed our ability to contain the pests by killing them one by one between our thumbs and forefingers. So, we put up the shroud again (above). I think we encased a few bugs within the shroud, because the damage seemed to have worsened slightly when I inspected it this week. But, overall, the damage is minimal, and the presence of the beetles in the neighborhood seems less menacing this year.

I'd  like to hear from anyone who has a Japanese beetle report. Worse? Not so bad? About the same?

See my report on last year's shroud escapade.

Crescent Double Quartet goes global, stays focal

Tikal (Aart van Bergen) - Crescent Double Quartet by CrescentDQ

The Netherlands-based jazz ensemble celebrates the globalization of music with new tunes recently posted at the group’s website. From the Sahara Desert to the Mayan jungles, the group that combines jazz- and string-quartet instrumentation draws inspiration for Radio Mundial, an album in progress.

The Crescent Double Quartet’s website pushes the global theme, and the strings may suggest a jazz-classical hybrid sound. But if you took away the descriptions and the stereotypes, you are left with jazz: a signature group sound, strong rhythm section, compelling soloists. The music always swings, and none of the pieces feel like they were extracted from an exotic culture just for the sake of novelty. The strings set the tone for the group, and the integrity of the group sound prevails.

It’s easy to get swept away by the strings’ sumptuous undercurrent of harmonies. The sound is addictive, like dark chocolate. The group’s leader, Aart van Bergen, often adds his soprano saxophone to the harmonic blend for yet another layer of richness. The strings usually don’t engage in counterpoint, but when they do, they demonstrate that they ought to do more. In the embedded piece, "Tikal," note the abrasive blast at the 3:05 mark — and the weirdly graceful way they extricate themselves from it.

Four tunes from Radio Mundial are available now for streaming or embedding, as well as purchasing. The group will launch the full CD on October 23 with a performance at De Badcuyp Centrum voor Muziek in Amsterdam. Book your passage now!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Japanese beetles have arrived

I found a half-dozen of these criminals on my vines today. I had planned to take a picture of one of them, nut my impulse to crush it between my thumb and index finger intervened. I suppose I'll have to cover my vines once again to shield them from ruin. I feel that the shiny blackguards have arrived later than they did last year. Has anyone else seen them? If so, please report.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

New title reflects what this blog is all about

Ed Said has given way to The Wine-Jazz Nexus, a title that properly reflects what this endeavor has become. The Twitter companion to this site is @WineJazzNexus.

Meanwhile, (along with @EdPeaco on Twitter) has arrived to represent my freelance writing practice.

Alex Trebek disses Catawba wine

On Tuesday evening, Jeopardy presented an answer, the question for which was What is Catawba? The reference was to both the Native American tribe and the wine. As I recall, none of the competitors buzzed on this one. Alex Trebek gave a little explanation along with the correct response, and he ended with his opinion of the wine: "A very harsh wine," he said.

That assessment, of course, is false. The evidence of appealing Catawba can be found Whispering Oaks, Meramec Vineyards, and many other Missouri wineries. With that remark, Trebek's credibility as a wine analyst seems have been jeopardized ...

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Stone Hill Vidal

I bought a bottle of Stone Hill Vidal for $6 or $7. I've always liked this wine for its slightly fruity, slightly citrus effects, which are perfect for hot weather. However, after tasting many Vidals during our mid-Missouri wine tour, I realize that Stone Hill has subdued its Vidal in a bath of biochemistry that smooths it out into something like a California Sauvignon Blanc. In contrast, a real Missouri Vidal is slightly odd, a little too fruity, and more citrus than the polite sipper would want to tolerate. I'm not complaining; I'll eagerly go back for more. But it's not a real Missouri Vidal.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Joplin tornado cleanup

Work crew
Matt, an Americorps leader

The young Americorps leaders told us to move debris from front yards and heap it into separate piles at the curb: lumber, timber and metal. To assure the integrity of insurance assessments, they told us not to disturb any debris that was touching a dwelling or a slab. A FEMA-certified volunteer told me that one reason for the yard-clearing work was to keep debris from being thrown into the air again “if we had another blow.” Another reason offered by an Americorps person was to clear the way for bulldozers that would be coming in next. So, the operation was proceeding in little increments over many stages.
Moving from one house to the next, I often felt overwhelmed by the massive clutter of splinters, limbs, crumpled metal and soggy, pulpy shingles and plywood. But, after just 15-30 minutes or so of work by a half-dozen people, the lawn became reasonably clear.

In another chore, we cleared an alleyway in similar fashion. Shortly thereafter, a pickup drove down the alley — the passage made possible by us and whoever came before us to move whatever else was there. The fruits of our labor were always immediately apparent.

Anyone who has a day to donate may show up at Missouri Southern State University around 8-9 a.m., fill out paperwork, and be assigned to work. Heavy work gloves and shoes are essential. Food and water are provided by countless volunteers. Chainsaws and chainsaw skills are badly needed.

A typical debris scene, with St. John's Hospital in the background.

Friday, May 20, 2011

The best Norton ever

We stopped for tasting and lunch at Native Stone Winery, about 10 miles northwest of Jefferson City. Cara and Larry Stauffer maintain a concise menu of wines, including some wines that aren’t theirs to fill gaps in the taste range. Their Norton stood out, carrying forth the theme of our mid-Missouri wine tour.

I ordered a glass of Estate Bottled Norton for lunch and sat down at a table in the restaurant. The wine came as I studied the menu for something to go with it.

Feeling a little sluggish, I pushed my chair away from the table and slumped into the seat, staring blankly toward the glass of Norton. My nose was about 36 inches from the glass. In the still air of the nearly empty room, a comforting aroma reached me, steadily mounting in intensity. For a moment, in my relaxed state, I thought I might have been reliving the tasting experience of minutes earlier. The aroma felt as strong as if I had swirled Norton in a glass, stuck my nose in it, and sucked the essence into my nostrils, face, head, and depths of my viscera. Clearly, it was the glass of wine three feet from my nose, the one at which I was staring — releasing millions of molecules of Norton aggressively populating my space, overwhelming my olfactory capacity with the benevolent force of a sizzling steak or a freshly baked pie.

I have written recently about the need to create Nortons that attain a median between the extreme foxy-spicy characteristics of the untamed grape and, at the other pole, a wine oaked so mellow that the distinctive Norton-ness is lost. Native Stone Estate achieves this goal and exceeds it with the largest nose I’ve ever experienced.

For these reasons, I consider Native Stone Estate Bottled Norton the best Norton ever.

Have I sampled all the other Nortons in the state? No, though I have tried many.

Am I qualified to make this judgment? Of course not.

So, why am I going out on this limb? Because somebody has to.

If you think I’m wrong, I’m sure you’ll let me know.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Sunday Funday! at Summit Lake

From many viewpoints, you can't see much of the highway, if any,
but you can hear it. And yet, so what? It's a winery. Just go there.

Sundays at Summit Lake Winery, just two miles across the river from Jefferson City, are known as Sunday Funday! On the Sunday of our visit, the day was living up to its designation. The restaurant was packed, and the staff was swamped, but one friendly woman, whose name I neglected to write down, paused to pour for us.

Buy one appetizer on Sunday Funday! and get a second one at half price, the winery’s website says. Even better reasons exist for a stop — the Norton, for starters. It was typically astonishing, living up to expectations set on our central Missouri tour of top-notch wineries. Maybe I had become jaded with this embarrassment of riches; in any case, I was Nortoned out. I went for two lighter reds: St. Martin, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Chambourcin; and Ideal With Friends, a semi-dry St. Vincent that will be perfect for a summer evening.

The winery is on a bluff overlooking U.S. 54. You can hear the roar of the trucks and sport utilities barreling down the highway. Still, it’s a great resource for the Jeff City area. I wish we had a winery on a bluff overlooking Springfield — a winery that had Sunday Fundays!, that dispensed a richly complex Norton and a pleasant summer red. How about that hill southeast of town where the KWTO sign used to be? Perfectly situated for the view and the traffic roar. Just add Norton.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Cooper’s Oak Winery: Elegant aging

Among the oaked reds, Tasting Room Manager Jennifer Ukutegbe poured a distinctive Vignoles:
“It has a big, bold start, and then it just kinda, almost disappears.”

Cooper’s Oak Winery is a spin-off of A&K Cooperage, based in Higbee, Mo. The winery has a retail outlet on a prominent corner of Main Street in Boonville, Mo. The winery uses the company’s French and American oak barrels to age its red wines, and it’s clear that the coopers and the vintners know what they’re doing. Like a jazz piano trio supporting the singer, the oak underscores the wine and never tries to become the main event. The hospitality at Cooper’s Oak was first-rate. The gracious tasting room manager, Jennifer Ukutegbe, created a warm, friendly vibe on a cold and wet afternoon as she led us through the lengthy menu of wines (the more the merrier …). I was skeptical of a winery named for barrel making. My only similar experience is with Independent Stave in Lebanon, Mo., which highlights wines that have been suffocated in the company’s oak barrels. A few tastes at Cooper’s Oak relieved my concerns. Highlights: 
  • An earthy Merlot with a taste-of-Missouri finish. We couldn’t nail down the “Missouri effect,” but it made a strong impression. The grapes are from vines in Sturgeon, Mo.
  • Missouri-California grape combinations: 
  • Barrel Boy Blend (half-and-half Syrah and Merlot).
  • Triple Oak Bliss, which refers to the number of wines in the blend (Missouri Norton and California Merlot and Cab).
  • Toasted Oak (50-50 Cab and Merlot). I chose this one because it seemed to achieve the best effect of oak as a mellowing yet enriching agent.
  • Teal Lake Sweet Vignoles: One of many white selections, this one didn’t feel as sweet as its name suggests, due to its clean finish. Our host described it this way: “It has a big, bold start, and then it just kinda, almost disappears.” 

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Les Bourgeois: Great views, great wine

The restaurant at Les Bourgeois overlooks the Missouri River.
Les Bourgeois Vineyards markets a wide selection of affordable wines in wine shops and supermarkets across the state. The winery at Rocheport on the Missouri River also makes many premium wines that don’t typically show up in stores. Visiting the winery is a great way to sample these wines by the taste or the glass, especially if they’re beyond your price range.

We tasted a 2008 Chardonnel followed by a Winemaker’s Select of the same vintage, which was decidedly livelier.

We tried the 2007 Premium Claret, a Norton that I’ve seen in shops, then we tasted the Reserve version, which went over really well, though I thought it had too much oak.

Over the years, Missouri winemakers have gradually refined Nortons so that everybody seems to have a good one to offer. The challenge has always been how to tame the foxy-spicy characteristics of the grape. Two decades ago, winemakers didn’t know how to do that, other than to doom the wine to an endless oak soak. The result was vintage after vintage of bizarre, widely despised wines. Over the past 10 years, this problem has disappeared as winemakers have applied more sophisticated chemistry and mellower oak to the process. Now I see a new challenge emerging: Nortons now are nearly as smooth as Cabs, but they are losing the distinctive Norton qualities. The goal should be to achieve a median between bizarre and ordinary. Les Bourgeois achieves this goal, as do many other wineries.

Monday, May 16, 2011

More shameless promotion for an old friend

Rashida Clendening, AKA Audio Angel, and I worked together for a short time many years ago at a newspaper. It was a place of semi-dysfunction that seemed very funny to both of us. Since then, she has used her voice in artistic and professional ways in San Francisco. Now she is trying to finance her first album using Kickstarter. The audio clip above shows off the expressive yet understated quality of her voice but does not necessarily reflect the music she plans to record. I don’t really know what she’s planning, other than what I have gathered in the promotional video below. I have pledged a modest sum to support her effort, and I am sharing information about her project at Kickstarter. If you want to pledge, do so soon …

Sunday, May 15, 2011

No Grey Bear exists except as a winery, but for how long?

"People seek out wineries. We're a target market," says Marschall Fansler.

In a recent winery tour through central Missouri, we stopped at Grey Bear Winery in Stover, owned by David and Marschall Fansler.

Marschall said her husband, who studied viticulture and oenology at University of California at Davis, makes wine with a consumer-friendly goal: “soft and drinkable now.”

Their location in well off the main highways of U.S. 65 and U.S. 54 in Morgan County does not bother them, she said. "People seek out wineries. We're a target market."

The highlight of the tasting was Smoke Mountain, a Norton with a touch of Cabernet. It flashed the typical Norton spiciness that was slightly softened, perhaps due to the Cabernet.

The Fanslers moved the winery David started in 1993, Rocky Hill, from Montrose, Colo., to Stover, Mo., in 2003 and opened Grey Bear in 2005. They were looking for a more business-friendly environment for expansion, according to the Grey Bear website. There’s no such thing as a gray bear, Marschall acknowledged; the color in the winery’s name is just for fun. But the bear part of the name refers to the powerful force the animal represents in Navajo myth, she said.

The Fanslers still buy some grapes from Western regions and have just about run out of reserves from the Rocky Hill operation. On the four acres at Grey Bear, they grow Marechal Foch, Vignoles, Chambourcin, Concord, Seyval, and a Cabernet-native root stock hybrid.

Due to David’s recent health problems, the Fanslers want to sell the winery and retire. In addition to the vines and equipment, the property includes a residence and a winery-brewery-restaurant building in a distinctive round design, shown below. The structure consists of 20 panels each eight feet long, their website says. The structure is designed to withstand hurricane force winds, but the effect is to create a large open interior space.

Interested? Call the Fanslers at 573-377-4269 or