Saturday, April 29, 2017

End of the world news


The Daily Mail today discusses Graham Hancock's theory that human civilisation is much older than conventionally agreed, but was set back - practically wiped out - by a meteor strike c. 13,000 years ago. It seems that there is now not only mythological and geological*, but also archaeological evidence to support his contention:

The DM writer, Christopher Stevens, says Hancock believes the meteor may have come from the Taurid meteor stream, which the planet is due to pass through again in 2030, potentially disastrously:

"Hidden within that belt, according to astrophysicists, is an unexploded bomb of a planetoid, a superheated rock like an orbiting hand grenade.

"Sealed inside its thin crust is a boiling mass of tar, building up pressure until it detonates. Thousands of white-hot boulders, a mile or more across, will be set spinning through the meteor stream . . . but we cannot say for certain when that will occur.

"Many of these asteroids could be three times the size of the one that hit our planet 65 million years ago, wiping out the dinosaurs.

"If one of those strikes, it could quite literally bring about the end of the world. And we are due to cross the Taurid meteor stream in 13 years, around 2030."

Large hits associated with the Taurids may occur periodically (e.g. the 1908 Tunguska explosion in Siberia), according to this article from the June 1992 edition of Discover magazine:

What's not clear to me at the moment is why 2030 should be a particular date of dread, when we cross the Taurid stream twice a year (I happen to think meteors may be the root of beliefs about fire-breathing dragons.) However, this prediction evokes in me a memory of the 1982 film Koyaanisqatsi, which ends by quoting a prophecy from the Hopi indians of Arizona, USA:

"A container of ashes might one day be thrown from the sky, which could burn the land and boil the oceans."

Both a prophecy, and a memory: the new archaeological research paper referenced in the DM is about a decoding of an 11,000-year-old monument unearthed in Turkey, which appears to describe the strike (2,000 years after the event) and shows the constellations as they were in ancient times.

According the DM, the Ojibwa tribe still has a folk memory of a "Long-Tailed Heavenly Climbing Star which swept out of the sky to scorch the earth. Their myths relate that it left behind ‘a different world." The tribe is now in Canada but previously (18th century) lived in northern US states such as Ohio and like many other peoples may have wandered much more extensively before; not that it matters exactly where they were at the time of impact, since the whole world was affected.

13 years, then.

As Ford Prefect tells the useless B Ark survivors in The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy:

"Well I have got news, I have got news for you. It doesn’t matter a pair feted dingo’s kidneys what you all choose to do from now on. Burn down the forests, anything. It won’t make a scrap of difference. Two-million years you’ve got, and that’s it. At the end of that, your race will be dead, gone, and good-riddance to you. Remember that. Two. Million. Years."

And as the Captain replies:

"Ah. It’s time for another bath. Hmph. Pass me the sponge somebody will you?"

We didn't die out last time, either.


*"...compelling physical evidence, in the form of giant boulders, platinum deposits and tiny diamonds found across North America — the detritus of a colossal impact."

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Sunday Music: The Guitar in Modern Jazz, by Wiggia

Wes Montgomery

The Guitar started out in jazz as a rhythm section instrument. It only really came to the fore as a standalone item when Charlie Christian joined the Benny Goodman sextet and started to use amplification; he can’t really be said to be a founding father of be bop but he was instrumental in the run up to that period.

He came from a musical family and he and his two brothers plus the father busked for a living. He originally wanted to play the tenor sax, but was dissuaded in favour of the trumpet, which he declined.

He had no real influences but was himself influential to most of those early be boppers Gillespie, Davis et al. He ruled the Downbeat and Metronome polls for years after his 1940 debut with Goodman. He unfortunately contracted TB at an early age and it returned later and he died in 1942 aged just 25. Partly because of his age and his relatively short time in the spotlight he never recorded as a leader of his own group, so all his recordings are with others or compilations.

This is “Stompin' at the Savoy”, recorded live at Minton's in ‘41. It gives Christian more room to expand his playing than when within the confines of Goodmans sextet:

Within the jazz context I have no hesitation about naming Wes Montgomery as my favorite guitarist. the first guitar album I purchased was his with his brothers, who were also jazz musicians: The Montgomery Brothers “Groove Yard” - not his first but my first introduction to him. He also played on another of my collection, “Work Song” with Nat Adderley, Cannonball Adderley's cornet-playing brother - a lot of brothers involved here !

Born in 1923 he learnt to play the six string guitar by listening to Charlie Christian records. He never learnt to read music and all his playing was by ear; it was that ability to play Christian note for note that got him noticed by Lionel Hampton whom he joined. These were hard times for him and his family of eight back home and he supplemented his income by working shifts in a factory. His career took off when he was “discovered by Cannonball Adderley in ‘59. His first album on Riverside followed a year later: “Far Wes”. he moved to Verve records in ‘64 and his album with Wynton Kelly “Smokin at the Half Note” along with his earlier “The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery” on Riverside are probably his best work in the jazz genre and arguably the best jazz guitar albums full stop; the latter won the Down Beat poll for best jazz guitar alum six years running from ‘60 - ‘67.

Sadly he was another whose career was cut short by ill health: he died after a heart attack in 1968.

He was summed up rather well by Joe Pass, himself no slouch with the instrument:

“To me there have been just three real innovators on the guitar: Wes Montgomery, Charlie Christian and Django Reinhardt.”

Here is the man with the “bionic” thumb playing Round Midnight in 1965:

And this number I have on some authority was the equivalent of a war anthem for the coloured troops in Vietnam - his own composition, “Bumpin’ on Sunset”:

Joe Pass, here playing “Satin Doll” -

- was of Sicilian descent and started playing at nine and by fourteen was getting work. he moved from Pennsylvania to NY City and soon in his early twenties developed a heroin addiction, spending most of the fifties in prison. After a two and a half year stay in a rehab center he emerged clean; as he said, ” I didn’t play a lot during that time”. During the sixties he worked with many artists and musicians and produced several albums. He also worked as a sideman for Ella Fitzgerald, with whom he did six albums, and many other singers including Frank Sinatra. During much of this period he worked in and around the LA area in films and TV including the Johnny Carson, Merv Griffin and Steve Allen shows.

In 1970 he signed for Norman Granz Pablo records and produced his finest work, the solo album Virtuoso.

Herb Ellis is best known for his many years with the Oscar Peterson Trio so his solo work is slightly less than would expect from such a distinguished guitarist.

This is “Blues for Everyone”:

Charlie Byrd is best known for his Brazilian-based music and bringing jazz samba to the fore with Stan Getz. Jazz Samba was also the name of the album that with Getz introduced bossa nova to the public and was a long running success. Byrd never strayed far from his Latin theme and unlike many contemporaries finger he plucked a classical guitar; he was classically trained and spent some time studying under Andres Segovia in Italy. Here he is playing Antonio Carlos Jobin’s “Corcovado”:

I always enjoyed Byrd; he was a quiet, gentle antidote to the mad world outside.

In honesty my guitar album collection is not large apart from work by those above and I do not like to comment on musicians that I have heard little of, the likes of Grant Green, Jim Hall and George Benson or nothing at all. It is an area of jazz that I have never given proper time to explore, and that applies to most of the more contemporary players of latter years; it’s partly because many are cross-over artists even based mainly on rock and those whom I have heard in that role I prefer to enjoy as rock guitarists. John McLaughlin is in that category: when he plays “jazz” there is really not much difference to his rock work and the music of Pat Matheney for me falls into the same group. Listening blind you could be forgiven for thinking Pink Floyd had released another album, which in itself is not a bad thing, but is it jazz ? I leave you to judge:

Friday, April 21, 2017

Friday Night Is Music Night: Loreena McKennitt, by JD

Canada has produced more than a few singers/songwriters in the field of popular and folk music, the most notable being Kate and Anna McGarrigle. Of the other artists I think only one can match the musical talents of those famous sisters and that one is Loreena McKennitt. Quite possibly nowhere near as famous as she ought to be but over the past thirty years she has quietly created a huge back catalogue of excellent music and has built up a very large and dedicated fan base world wide.

Her music is described on her web site as ‘eclectic Celtic’ absorbing other influences from Eastern Europe and the Middle East.

She is also rather adept at taking the poetry of Yeats, Tennyson and Shakespeare among others and setting their words to music (two examples are included here).

Because of the many styles blended into her recordings she draws on musicians from many genres but there is always a core built around Brian Hughes on guitar, Caroline LaVelle on cello and the excellent Hugh Marsh on violin.

I seem to have gone 'over the top' and posted nine videos but it could have been a lot more, difficult to know what to leave out! Perhaps a part 2 will be necessary.

In the meantime pour yourself a dram or two of uisce beatha ("water of life"), turn up the volume and relax into a reverie of glorious music.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The Turkish referendum: implications for democracy and world peace

According to a Dutch news site, 71% of expatriate Turks living in the Netherlands voted in favour of Erdogan's power grab - that is, 71% of the merely one-third of those who chose to take part in the referendum:

Similarly, in Germany 61% of votes favoured Erdogan, but the "high" turnout was only 48.7%:

Yet in Switzerland, 62% said no:

- possibly reflecting the better wealth and education of those who settled there.

Would the results have been much different if all Turks in Europe had been made to vote?

Or are the significant factors:

(a) who is allowed to come into the country,
(b) why they chose to come and
(c) what efforts the host country has made both to welcome the immigrant and to insist on integration into the political and social culture of the country?

My recent EU dystopia (envisioning what might have happened had PM Blair taken us into the Eurozone, as he wished) imagined not only the defeat of the British Army in Ukraine as a result of EU empire-building, but the rise of a Turkish President who exploits the idiotic free-movement openness of the EU to blackmail it into sending him his UK-based opponents so he can eliminate them.

In the same piece, I also looked at the role of Turkey as a NATO counterweight to perceived Russian expansionism, and the possible diplomatic reorientation of the Greeks as they continue to suffer from the economic imbalances within the EU.

Maybe not such a fantasy. Are the attractive yet dangerously naive "Alle Menschen werden Brüder" ideals of the EU to be used against it, judo-like, by a strongman who has ambitions for the Middle East?

What are the conditions for, the limits to, democracy?