Friday, September 28, 2012

Dexter Gordon's legacy

Dexter Gordon's wife has been maintaining his legacy through lectures and appearances. Her work reminds me of Sue Mingus's efforts on behalf of her husband, although Sue presides over multiple ensembles and actually arranges pieces for the big band, even though she has no formal music knowledge.

Maxine Gordon has dedicated her husband's archival work to the Library of Congress. She is also writing his biography, according to an article on All About Jazz from earlier this year.

I was pleased that Dexter received recognition through his acting in movies in the 1980s, but his acting also made me sad, as it showed the weakening of his presence as compared to the vigor and energy he once projected.

Pairing Missouri wines with Missouri jazz

More than a year ago, I renamed this blog the Wine-Jazz Nexus, which is a mouthful but well suited to my defiantly awkward approach to routine matters.

The blog has been fun, buut has not lived up to its name. Yes, there's wine, and there's jazz — but where's the nexus?

One answer would be to pair wine with various jazz listening experiences.

I've actually seen that done in Downbeat a couple of times, both involving the Umbria Jazz Festival. An esteemed restaurant owner in the region provided wine at  performances. His pairing principle was more narrative than taste. For example, a wine that was not respected when first created but gained respect over time would be paired with a musician who "paid his dues" — and so forth.

I can't find the article at the moment, but I found the results disappointing. The guy served a Riesling at a Cecil Taylor concert. Really, now: Does the music of Cecil Taylor in any way suggest Riesling?

I can do better. Let's pair Missouri wines with jazz musicians associated with Missouri.

Charlie Parker: The protean founder of modern jazz made music with furious harmonies and rhythms, complex yet enjoyable, though with an edge. These characteristics have an obvious shared aesthetic with one — and only one — Missouri wine, the biggest, the most complex: Norton.

If you're listening to a crazy live version of Moose the Mooche — 

— you might try the seriously spicy Lindwedel Norton. If you're listening to the Massey Hall concert (aka the greatest jazz concert ever), spring for one of the premium Nortons from Stone Hill or Les Bourgeois. For Charlie Parker with Strings, try Burnt Barn Red, a semisweet blend of Norton and Chambourcin from Tyler Ridge.

Count Basie, 30's band: The jaunty head arrangements and the spare, jabbing piano style suggests a white wine that's fun to drink but has good acids: Vidal

Count Basie, 50's-70's band: The mature, composer-driven music suggests a white wine with sophistication and less of an edge: Chardonel.

That's enough for now.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Lewsi Winery: uncompromising yet friendly

In recent weeks I have had a chance to spend some time with Lewsi wines by Ken and Patty Lewis. Lewsi Winery, which they named by transposing the last two letters of their name, just for fun, is located about 15 miles west from Branson on Missouri 76, then left on Missouri Y and right on Long Bend Road.

Ken takes an approach to winemaking that you don't see very often: uncompromising. Or at least more or less uncompromising. He sticks to his policy of no sweetening, just getting what the grapes give him — but he presents his point of view, and his wines, in a friendly way.

A good example of his approach is Virgin Bluff Red, a blend of Chambourcin and catawba that tastes like a semisweet wine but actually is bone dry. I wrote about this wine a few months ago, but I have since tasted others.

Virgin Bluff White (Elvira): Until recently, I had neither tasted nor heard of this grape, but it's a triumph of mid-American winemaking with a nonstandard variety. Juicy with mellow citrus. 

Moonsong Blush (catawba): Most catawba is sweetened to some extent, but if you've ever wondered how a dry catawba might taste, this is it. I don't like heavily sweetened catawba, but a little sugar takes the edge off this grape's acidity. Confession: I have stirred a micro-dash of generic Splenda into each glass of Moonsong Blush I drink, with really satisfying results. 
Reeds Spring Red (Chambourcin): The incredible nose and spice of this grape is fully realized. I've tasted Chambourcins (including my own) that soften that spiciness, but Ken embraces it. I ate a piece of Lindt chili dark chocolate with this wine. The muted heat of the chocolate lingered along with the spice of the wine, creating a pleasant accommodation.

Ozark Velvet (Frontenac):
This Frontenac reminds me of unoaked Norton, but softer. It's weird to realize that this wine probably has been made without tweaking or sweetening, yet the result is rich and soft — nothing unruly here. This result must be the true flavor profile of the grape. What other way would Ken make it?

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Do Good festival: Black Bonnet Ballyhoo

Strange/amusing moment from their set: The band was performing their scary storytelling song, "Fortnight," in which the forces of good and evil team up to bring a murderer to justice. The line, "Gabriel knocks on Lucifer's door ... " introduces the unusual crime-fighting alliance. Moments after Jen Kean delivered that line, an officer in a squad car next to the stage sounded his siren to get the attention of a motorist who had blundered into the square. I'm not sure anyone else noticed, but it was a well-timed sound effect, and it made me laugh.

Jen Kean
Kera Newman
Alisha Schroeder
Abbie Benton

Do Good festival: Lowdown Fancy

Photos of The Lowdown Fancy from the Do Good festival, 9/22. From left: Bo Brown, Aaron Holmes, Steve Ames (also below), Josh Randolph and Mike Henderson.

Bo Brown rocking out on his new guitar (above and below).

Friday, September 21, 2012

Jaco Pastorius

I've seen many more than one tribute today for Jaco Pastorius on the 25th anniversary of his death, and I've paused to grasp how much I appreciate his innovations on the bass, if mainly through all the bassists he's influenced.

I stopped listening to Weather Report around the time he joined the group. Then I started to rehabilitate those Mysterious Travelers when Richard Bruton showed me copied videos of performances with Jaco. He was an astonishing force, another horn in the band, florid in style, as a foil to the often terse and cryptic Shorter. 

For more than 10 years, I have owned "Weather Report: Live and Unreleased," with great Jaco presence throughout. It's the only Weather Report album I ever go to anymore.

"Portrait of Tracy" has the most astonishing shredding mixed with spontaneous composing of bits you could extract to make additional tunes. 

But the track that stays in my mind is "River People," with two implacable lines playing out side by side, Jaco's bassline and Shorter's mini-melody arguing with each other by reiterating what they already said. The tune pops into my head more often than I have realized until now.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Birds take heavier toll on grapes than drought

For most of the summer, we did a solid job of keeping birds away from the grapes by draping the vines with row cover. However, the storms of the last few weeks caused damage that we did not repair quickly and thoroughly enough, and birds consumed about 20 percent of the crop. 

Of course, we are talking about roughly 22 pounds munched down to 18. And the 18 pounds were 4 more than last year's harvest.

We have been using the Shroud of St. Vincent for three years now. This year, tattered areas gave birds openings. This photo I think shows the remnants (right foreground) of a cluster of grapes that went down several cardinals' abysmal gullets:

This cluster (below) was damaged by heat and drought stress, which took hold in July but didn't cause all that much damage.

The bigger issue about this "urban vineyard" experiment is that it has not yielded as much as I expected when we started in 2006. We have eight plants, but just two yield in large enough amounts that they have to be thinned, and two others manage to produce scattered sparse clusters. The rest are non-performers. It's odd to realize that all this effort is devoted to what amounts to half a case of wine — good wine, actually. So the experiment is not exactly disappointing, but it is definitely strange.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Doug Talley’s total Wayne immersion

Doug Talley, from his online press materials
One of my summer music highlights was a trip to Kansas City to hear saxophonist Doug Talley’s program of Wayne Shorter’s Blue Note tunes. I’d heard it three summers ago, and ever since, I’d been craving another visit to the Wayne spa.

Before the first hearing, I remember feeling skeptical about the prospect of this repertory concept, and I was also intrigued. But after the first few tunes, the total immersion in the glorious melodies and mysterious structures created a soothing state of enlightenment. And the band was great, with all players confronting the music on their own terms.

This time, the quintet played at the American Jazz Museum’s Blue Room, probably the most prestigious venue in the city for serious listening. Talley’s group includes Joe Parisi (trumpet), Wayne Hawkins (piano), Tim Brewer (bass) and Keith Kavanaugh (drums).

It was a weird experience, appreciating the master’s body of work and the musicians’ individual talents all at once. Shorter loomed as the sixth man on stage.

Talley said he’s learned a great deal not only from Shorter’s composing but also the way he interprets his work.

“When he plays his own music, I like the way he renders the melodies,” he said. “It took me a long time to enjoy his soloing on some tunes. It didn’t reach me at the time. I’d wonder, why is he doing that? Then I’d start playing the tune and I’d realize, he’s doing that because the tune asks that.”

Talley said Shorter is an acquired taste, and his songs are not easy to play.

“A lot of his tunes, you can’t just play some bebop line and expect to survive,” he said. “Typically, the melodies are simple, and the underlying chords are not. It’s almost like a puzzle, though I’m sure that’s not the way he would describe it.”

The simple elegance of the melodic lines creates an enjoyable entry point for the audience.

Talley said he was in high school when he first encountered Shorter’s music, during the Weather Report era. He listened backward to the Blue Note classics and the work with Art Blakey before that. Talley and his friends owned a few of the Blue Notes.

“We couldn’t figure out what he was doing or anything like that. It was way too complex for us at the time,” he said. The songs must be heard over time until they become a part of you, he said.
Joe Parisi, from

Talley’s group is usually a quartet, with Parisi frequently joining in. In addition to the Shorter program, the quartet plays non-themed performances.

The quartet, which formed in 1995, has composed and performed music for silent movies, including Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Lodger” and three Chaplin works.

Since 1984, Talley has worked as a music teacher in the Shawnee Mission School District, on the Kansas side of the K.C. metro area. His career has spanned all grade levels, currently grades 8-12.

The quartet, from left: Wayne Hawkins (piano), Tim Brewer (bass), Doug Talley (saxophones), Keith Kavanaugh (drums/cymbals). Photo from Talley's online press materials.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Evidence that the shroud works

The row cover I've been using to protect the grapes against birds and Japanese beetles continues to do its job without harming the fruit. The flimsy but effective fabric comes from the Dewitt Co. in Sikeston, Mo. It keeps the birds from harvesting grapes before I can, as these photos show.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Harvest time at Tyler Ridge; winemaking begins

Kathy and Mike Dennis, with Maggie.

Mike Dennis (left) and I discuss the harvest over the Chambourcin grapes I purchased and the Dennis' St. Bernard Maggie.
It's the second year of buying grapes from Tyler Ridge Vineyard Winery. Having bottled last year's wine from Tyler Ridge grapes only last month, we're tasting the possibilities of what this year's vintage might become. 

I realize many of these pictures below look the same as previous years' harvest photos. But it's always a hopeful time of anticipating the results of what's being created in the moment — so here they are.

Back home, the clusters go into the destemmer-crusher, and crushed grapes emerge.
Checking for spiders.
One thing is new: Mike Dennis urged me to add sulfite to the must and wait 24 hours before beginning primary fermentation. This step apparently kills volunteer yeast and prepares the must for the preferred yeast.This technique is new to me, but I tried it, and we'll see what happens …