Thursday, November 27, 2014

TV, Music – Tis the Season, Charlie Brown

It’s that time of year again – the period from late October through late December where we go through Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, complete with pumpkin picking and trick-or-treating, Butterball and football, and decked halls and snowfalls. In terms of entertainment, we have costumes, parades, and the Rockettes, along with numerous television specials and holiday music releases. However, nothing captures the pop culture spirit of the season like the Charlie Brown TV specials. Good old Chuck, Linus and Lucy, Snoopy, and the rest of the Peanuts gang epitomize the holidays like no one else.
If you don’t have the time (or the stomach) to watch all the holiday programming that will be overwhelming the airwaves over the next couple of months, your best bets are the Charlie Brown specials, including It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown; A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving; and A Charlie Brown Christmas. These are all available on DVD, but there’s something magical about watching them on network television during the season.
In terms of holiday music, you can’t do better than the soundtracks to the Charlie Brown specials. As enjoyable as holiday releases by major and independent artists can be, they don’t compare to the beauty and innocence of the scores for the Peanuts specials. There are several albums that cover the music of the Peanuts shows, but I really recommend the actual soundtracks to the programs composed and performed by Vince Gauraldi. Like the shows, his timeless Charlie Brown recordings exude the peace, contentment, and happiness of the holidays.
--Raj Manoharan

Sunday, November 23, 2014

CD Review – Kaleidoscope, by Lisa Hilton

This girl's got groove!

Lisa Hilton proves once again why she's one of the most preeminent pianists working in contemporary jazz.

Her confident mastery of the genre both in terms of composition and performance allows her to bend it to her will with ease, as she does on her uppity take of “When I Fall in Love” and her classical/jazz mash-up “Bach/Basie/Bird Boogie/Blues Bop.”

Hilton's elegant and tasteful piano playing gets world-class accompaniment by the likes of Larry Grenadier on bass, Marcus Gilmore on drums, and J.D. Allen on saxophone, a powerhouse lineup that rivals anything on the jazz scene today.

This is a delightful, engaging album that pays proper tribute to a great tradition while filtering it through new and exciting lenses.

--Raj Manoharan

Sunday, November 16, 2014

CD Review – Tapestries of Time, by Ann Sweeten

As can be expected, Ann Sweeten delivers the goods on her latest piano music release.

This album features eleven original compositions penned by the pianist and showcasing her songwriting skill and performance artistry. Sweeten has crafted pieces that draw the listener in with their lyrical beauty, and her playing brings them to luxurious life.
Joining Sweeten on this outing are Eugene Friesen on cello, Akane Setiawan on English horn and oboe, Andrew Eng on violin, Richard Sebring on French horn, producer Will Ackerman on acoustic guitar, Noah Wilding on vocals, and Jeff Oster on flugelhorn.
This is another outstanding addition to Sweeten's excellent catalog of work.
--Raj Manoharan

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Music – Remembering Michael Nesmith Live at bergenPAC One Year Later

One year ago tonight, I saw Michael Nesmith live for the first time, something I thought would never happen. The evening was a truly memorable one, one that is still fresh in my memory and one that I won’t soon forget. The following are links to my reviews of the show and the subsequent live CD.

--Raj Manoharan

Sunday, November 9, 2014

CD Review – Sojourn, by Jim Gabriel

Although this is the debut album by pianist Jim Gabriel, it sounds like the flawless work of a venerable, veteran recording artist.

The CD features eleven tracks of exquisite piano music that really do take you on an inward journey of peaceful reflection and tranquil meditation. This is due to Gabriel's brilliantly subtle compositions and his seemingly effortless and masterfully understated performances.

Gabriel's beautiful handiwork is further embellished with flourishes of producer Will Ackerman's percussion, Charlie Bisharat's violin, Eugene Friesen's cello, Tony Levin's bass, and Jeff Pearce's Chapman Stick.

From beginning to end, this is a musical excursion well worth undertaking.

--Raj Manoharan

Sunday, October 19, 2014

TV – Starsky & Hutch Ride Again on Family Net

The 1970s TV cop duo is cleaning the boob tube (or LCD, LED, or plasma set) of crime at 7:00 p.m. Sundays on Family Net (check your local listings for additional weekday showings), and it’s quite the “trip” down memory lane.

The funky second-season theme by Tom Scott is both catchy and cheeky and complements the hilarious opening credits much better than Lalo Schifrin’s grim, downbeat, first-season theme. And hilarious the opening credits are, because, although the show is called Starsky & Hutch, the guy who plays Starsky (Paul Michael Glaser) and drives the flashy red and white-striped Ford Gran Torino is the second actor listed. David Soul (Hutch) gets top billing, and over a freeze frame of him yelling and flailing his arms maniacally.

Antonio Fargas, who plays nightclub-owning street informant Huggy Bear, gets special standout billing (“and Antonio Fargas as Huggy Bear”). But then, all of a sudden, the credits list Bernie Hamilton (the irascible but lovable Captain Dobey). That’s it – just Bernie Hamilton. It’s like the credits are saying, “…and Antonio Fargas as Huggy Bear – oh, by the way, Bernie Hamilton.”

There’s more to the show than just the hilarious opening credits and wacky main theme, and certainly much more than the insipid, shallow, and unworthy big-screen Starsky & Hutch parody starring Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson. Stiller and Wilson may be funny (not really), but they’re no David Soul and Paul Michael Glaser. Soul and Glaser are solid actors with great screen chemistry, and Glaser is a better and more accomplished film and television director.

Even if you’re not into TV cop shows or don’t particularly care for Starsky & Hutch, at least just check out the opening credits and main theme of the current rotation of episodes on Family Net. It’s one of the more entertaining highlights of classic 1970s television.

--Raj Manoharan

TV – William Shatner Weekends Double “Bill”: Double the Bill, Double the Thrill

If you’re as much of a Shatfan as I am, then you’ll be thrilled to know that you can watch William Shatner every weekend in all his scenery-chewing and over-the-top gut-busting glory in two different decades in two different uniforms in two different hairstyles (or hairpieces?).
First up, catch Shatner in his first iteration of Captain Kirk in the original 1960s Star Trek television series, which airs Saturdays at 9:00 p.m. on Me TV (Memorable Entertainment Television). Nothing beats Shatner hamming philosophic about the quandaries of mankind’s place in the universe, all the while sporting a ‘60s-style “straight-laced” coiffure (Was it real or was it a hairpiece? Find out at Shatner’s partners in pop cultural perpetuity include Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, and George Takei.
Shatner’s heyday (shortly before he became a self-parodying, perpetually wealth-generating cottage industry unto himself) came in the 1980s, when—at the same time he was reprising his role as James T. Kirk in the Star Trek movies—he pounded the pavement and cleaned the streets of slimy scum as the titular no-nonsense police sergeant in T.J. Hooker, airing Sundays at 6:00 p.m. on Family Net (check your local listings for additional weekday showings).
Shatner as a uniformed police officer is about as high-concept as you can get, making this the best cop show of all time. Shatner often gets touted for his peerless hood jumping, but he was quite adept behind the wheel as well. He could drift (brake-skidding the car on fast turns) with the best of them, even when it wasn't necessary. And who could forget that Shatastic ‘80s perm? (Again—real or fake? Check out The series also stars the adorably smug Adrian Zmed, a very fresh-faced Heather Locklear, and Shatner’s fellow aging pretty boy James Darren.
So don’t forget to enjoy William Shatner in two of his most memorable TV roles. Tune in every weekend, same Shat time, same Shat channel! (Actually, that's two different times on two different channels.)
--Raj Manoharan