Wednesday, January 25, 2012

My liquid link to Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson worked for half a century trying to grow an American grape that would make a wine to rival those of Europe. He failed.

According to Todd Kliman, author of The Wild Vine, it was the only thing that Jefferson failed at. However, his quest lived on in the lives of like-minded, Enlightenment-driven, self-made scientists who trusted that they would understand the order of natural things by their own powers of inquiry.

Daniel Norton, a young contemporary of Jefferson and fellow Virginian, developed the grape that bears his name. It fell in and out of favor through the decades and, just within the past 10-15 years, Missourians got it right, according to me.

[I can't comprehend how Poeschel and Scherer's Norton made such as splash in Vienna in 1873. Was Norton better back then? Europe's wines worse?]

As recently as the mid-90s, my friend and mentor, Bill Toben (God rest his soul), said the quest for a palatable Norton was fruitless. It would always have that "foxy" taste. Somehow, the Missouri Nortons of the past decade have defied Bill's judgment. If anyone knows how it was done, please tell me.

My 11-liter jug of Norton, made of grapes grown by Michael Dennis of Tyler Ridge Vineyards, represents one of the stray shoots from the original vine of inquiry that began with Jefferson's failure. I'm really pleased to see this connection, thanks to Kliman's book.

Of course, my contribution is minimal. Dennis did all the work. I merely added yeast and followed sanitary and anti-oxidation procedures. So far, so good.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The urban vineyard in winter

The mild winter makes me want to skip forward to pruning time in the urban vineyard. That time is really not all that far away, maybe a month, and slight bumps suggesting buds are already scattered along the sticks of the vines.

The first vintage (2010) from these St. Vincent could use a 1 percent shot of sugar and should be ready to drink. The 2011 is also coming along.

Last year, I acquired Norton and Chambourcin grapes from Michael and Sandy Dennis of Tyler Ridge Vineyard and Winery in northern Greene County. The Norton already has that rich fruit and spice character.

Norton is that variety that growers, seeking a truly American wine grape, have been developing for nearly 200 years. It's story is documented in the absorbing book, The Wild Vine, by Todd Kliman.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

David Binney

I have been enjoying "Barefooted Town" by David Binney (above). It combines straightforward jazz with a suggestion of the math-oriented music of the past 10-15 years. His approach to repetition is always welcome — the repeated bits are integrated with new bits, so that the repeated bits seem pleasant, not overbearing.

I remember the bombastic group Lost Tribe (below) for which his searing alto was the signature sound. He's come a long way since then, but the strident, uncompromising tone remains even in "Barefooted Town," a relatively restrained album.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Children baptized in music

Over the weekend, I saw three little children enjoying live music maybe for the first time. 

Sunday afternoon at Copper Run Distillery, a young father brought his (2-year-old?) son into the tasting room as a packed house of listeners was applauding and cheering for a song performed by Cindy Woolf and Mark Bilyeu. The boy clapped his hands. They stayed only a few minutes, but throughout that time, the boy's eyes were gigantically wide open, and he struggled against his father's grasp as he walked out of sight of the band.
Friday night at Springfield Brewing Co., a girl, about 3 years old, bounded up the stairs ahead of her mother and curled around to confront the Johnny Strickler Trio. She immediately began jumping up and down. The she shuffled sideways across the floor, keeping in step with the 4-4 triplet pulse that the band was into at the moment. She shuffled kind of like a shortshop moving to his left to scoop up a grounder, then back to the right. After a couple of shuffles, she'd look back to her mother to see if it was OK to keep going. Mom did not indicate no, so the kid kept dancing. Finally, Mom hoisted her on her hip, and they went off to a table.

Also at the BrewCo, a father seemingly baptized his infant son in the sound of the band. Dad picked up the kid, holding him at the waist, and held out his son over Karnell Robin son's drums, anointing the boy with percussion. Then he stepped over to Kyth Trantham and immersed the boy in the bass. The son absorbed the vibrations with a serious look. Then Dad finished the rite in the same manner with Strickler. The musicians were totally blasé about the whole procedure, but I hope the little guy manages to internalize the experience.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Lilly Bee & The Johnson Three update

Lilly Bee & The Johnson Three, a collective group that played its first gig about six weeks ago, will be sounding off in several places early in the new year.

First, group members will be interviewed and will perform in this Sunday's (1/8) Local Live program by TAGSGF. The interview/live music portion is from 8-9 p.m. on KBFL 99.9 FM/1060 AM. You can watch live on and podcast the shows there or on iTunes, Brett Johnston of TAGSGF said.

In the near future, the band plans to perform two local gigs in the span of less than a week. I am working on a story for The News-Leader about these performances.

In addition to the great grooves, the band stands out as a collective in which all members have a hand in making creative decisions. The band's original songs are generated as a group effort.

Here's what I wrote about the band in my post from late November, with edits to accurately reflect the collective nature of the group:

Cheers for Lilly Bee & 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.