Sunday, September 25, 2011

CD Review – Eclectic Eve, by Christopher Lapina

For his new album, keyboardist Christopher Lapina has imagined a woman’s life journey for which he has provided the soundtrack. And like a true motion picture score, the music ranges through a variety of cinematic moods, from high drama to subtle emotion to inner reflection. One track is even composed solely of percussion, as an actual soundtrack might include.

Even without the story, the music stands on its own. Although Lapina serves as the primary composer and plays piano and synthesizer, he lays the foundation for rather than dominates the proceedings. As a result, the other musicians get a chance to shine, giving the impression of a full instrumental band instead of a solo act with accompaniment.

Reflecting the character progression in Lapina’s story, the music also embodies various styles and genres, including jazz, new age, and fusion. Standout tracks include “Highland Return,” “My Darling Esmerelda,” and my personal favorite, “Lucy Turns Eclectic,” which is sort of an all-out jazz doo-wop, for lack of a better term. I’d love to hear a whole album just in the style of “Lucy Turns Eclectic.”

Whether you want to hear an interesting soundtrack to an interesting story or just want to listen to some fine contemporary jazz-new age instrumental fusion, this CD fits the bill perfectly.

--Raj Manoharan

Sunday, September 18, 2011

CD Review – Surrender, by Jeff Oster

I’m not a trumpet guy, but I like good music regardless of the instrument, and this album had my ears entranced from the first track to the last.

Like me, most people might be put off by a trumpet album because the instrument is usually associated with the very exclusive, traditional jazz playing of Dizzy Gillespie and Wynton Marsalis.

However, Jeff Oster is more in tune with the cool fusion of trumpet icons Miles Davis and Herb Alpert, the latter of whom is paid tribute to on the standout track, “Essence of Herb.”

Oster lays his trumpet, flugelhorn, and synthesizer tones over hip-hop and techno backbeats programmed by co-composer and sound designer Bryan Carrigan. The result is an intoxicating blend of jazz, new age, and urban styles.

The album also features subliminal vocals by Oster that give the music a shadowy edge, with some brightness provided in the form of more prominent vocals from Diane Arkenstone.

What makes Oster’s playing, and ultimately his music, accessible is that rather than blow off as many notes as possible per second, as is the case with standard jazz trumpet playing, he coaxes and conjures, much like a snake charmer. Oster uses his horns in service of the melodies and themes rather than showboating, giving the music more depth and scale.

With trippy numbers like “All That Matters,” “Você Quer Dançar,” “Nikki’s Dream,” “Essence of Herb,” and “Beautiful Silence,” Surrender is as near-perfect as an album can get.

My only major complaint – at just over three minutes, “Essence of Herb” is too short!

--Raj Manoharan

Monday, September 5, 2011

TV – Classic Rerun Roundup

If you’re tired of the same old programming that passes for fresh, contemporary television and would rather spend some time with old friends like Aunt Esther, Buffalo Butt, Monroe Ficus, Cosmic Cow, and NO MA’AM, you’re in luck. TV Land’s and Antenna TV’s evening lineups are devoted to some of the funniest classic sitcoms from the 1970s through the 2000s.

TV Land runs Sanford and Son, All in the Family, and Everybody Loves Raymond, along with occasional episodes of original sitcoms Hot in Cleveland and Happily Divorced.

Antenna TV’s schedule includes Sanford and Son, Good Times, Maude, All in the Family, and Married with Children, with the addition of Too Close for Comfort/The Ted Knight Show on weekends.

Whoa, Bundy! And Die-No-Mite!

--Raj Manoharan

TV – Starsky & Hutch Ride Again on RTV

UPDATE: Okay, so the main theme by Mark Snow (T.J. Hooker, The X-Files) for the third season currently running on RTV is not as catchy as Tom Scott’s funky second-season theme and doesn’t mesh well with the slightly revamped, still hilarious opening credits (with new freeze frames for Paul Michael Glaser and Bernie Hamilton, the latter of whom looks cool this time speaking into a squad car CB radio on location). But the show is just as entertaining to watch, with a solid cast and a nice balance of action, comedy, and drama. And hang in there, true believers, because Tom Scott’s “Gotcha” theme apparently returns for the fourth and final season. Even though it was only used in two nonconsecutive seasons, it is considered the official Starsky & Hutch theme (just do a search of ringtones if you don’t believe me).

ORIGINAL POST: The 1970s TV cop duo is cleaning the boob tube (or LCD or plasma set) of crime at 8:00 p.m. weeknights on RTV (Retro Television Network), 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 RTV. It’s one of the more entertaining highlights of classic 1970s television.

--Raj Manoharan

CD Review – Journey Around the Sun: A Mayan Odyssey, by Bill Wren and Frank Ralls

Just in time for the end of the world comes the second collaboration from composers Bill Wren and Frank Ralls, inspired by the ancient Mayan prophecy regarding 2012.

Judging by the sunny disposition of the music on this sophomore disc, it’s clear that the duo subscribes to the positive view of the legendary prognostication, that of hope-filled change for the better, a promising transition, rather than doom and destruction.

As with their debut CD, Wren and Ralls have created an upbeat collection of bright, poppy melodies layered with rich instrumentation and brought to life by virtuosic performances. The musicianship is of very high caliber. Each instrumentalist is at the peak of his or her powers, beautifully complementing each other without overshadowing each other and yet maintaining his or her unique talents. All of this comes together seamlessly under the creative and technical guidance of Wren and Ralls.

One of the highlights of the album is the evocative and poignant “Mayan Moonlight,” with its soulful violin melody draped by single-strummed, widely spaced velvet guitar chords.

Mayan prophecy or not, this album is worth your time if you enjoy slick jazz-rock fusion.

--Raj Manoharan

CD Review – Crystal Keys: Songs to Awaken & Heal, by Lia Scallon

The latest album by Lia Scallon is supposed to channel the crystal keys to the bodies, hearts, and minds of listeners. I don’t know anything about crystals or their healing powers, but I do know that the music on this CD is captivating and soothing and provides a therapeutic experience in itself.

Each of the tracks is named for a particular type of crystal. I don’t know the significance of a specific melody or sound or vocal accompaniment by Scallon to a given crystal. That’s a matter best left to crystal experts and enthusiasts, who no doubt will understand and appreciate what Scallon has offered up here.

However, the important thing underlying all of this is the music, and in this respect Scallon’s undertaking is accessible to all, crystal aficionado or not. The background music is created with keyboards, synthesizers, didgeridoo, and other modern and traditional instruments and stands on its own. Scallon’s hypnotic, otherworldly vocals add an extra, ethereal dimension to the music that both transforms and transports the listener. Also, rather than actual lyrics, Scallon’s vocals are more like sounds and utterances, intonated in a soft-spoken timbre that comforts and reassures, setting the mind at ease.

So even if crystals are not your thing or you know nothing about them, but you’re looking for a relaxing mental getaway and like tranquil instrumental music and exotic vocals, you can’t go wrong by this album.

--Raj Manoharan