Saturday, August 25, 2012

TV – Me TV Remembers William Windom

Me TV just proved once again what an awesome network it is. In honor of prolific television and film actor William Windom, who passed away this week at the age of 88, the channel aired the classic Star Trek episode in which he guest-starred, “The Doomsday Machine.” The episode began and ended with a memorial screen featuring a black-and-white photo of a very young and handsome Windom and including his years of life, 1923 to 2012.

“The Doomsday Machine” will always hold a special place in my heart. It was not the first episode of Star Trek I ever saw (I don’t remember which one was), but it was the very first episode (not just of Star Trek, but of any show) I bought on videotape. I saved $35 from my earnings as a paperboy to buy the videocassette in 1985, back when Star Trek was the first television show to be released in its entirety on home video. Twenty years later, I was able to buy the whole Star Trek television series on DVD for $125, far less than the $2,800 it would have cost to buy the entire series on videotape.

Windom stars in “The Doomsday Machine” as Commodore Matt Decker, who commandeers the Enterprise in a suicide mission to destroy the planet-killing ice cream cone that wrecked his ship and killed his crew. Decker ultimately completes the mission on his own via shuttlecraft. 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture is sort of an unofficial sequel to “The Doomsday Machine,” with Stephen Collins starring as Decker’s son Will, who is personally recommended by Admiral Kirk to become the new captain of the Enterprise before having to relinquish command to the Enterprise-obsessed Kirk in the wake of an intergalactic threat too big for the small screen.

If you love classic television, Me TV should be your first and last stop on the dial. In addition to featuring scores of classic television shows, the network features brilliant commercials touting its various slogans composed entirely of expertly spliced-together clips from all of its shows. This is the ultimate TV channel for the ultimate TV fan.

--Raj Manoharan

Sunday, August 19, 2012

CD Review – Sacred Dreams, by Tron Syversen

Scandinavian keyboardist Tron Syversen presents another tranquil collection of rich, lush orchestrations designed to lull, soothe, and placate.

In addition to his piano and synthesizers, Syversen enlists a full ensemble of musicians to provide sonic support in the form of guitar, English horn, electric violin, cello, and flute. This keeps the music from sounding completely New Age and gives it a slight classical feel.

As always, Syversen is joined by his musical soulmate and co-producer, Elin Lokken, who provides wordless vocals throughout. Her warm, breathy voice provides reassurance and, in combination with Syversen’s and the other musicians’ instrumentation, creates an almost haunting quality.

Once again, Syversen has created music that is perfect for relaxation and refuge, serves as ideal background music for light work or other activities, and can be enjoyed on its own artistic merits.

--Raj Manoharan

Music – New Andy Summers Release Due Shortly

The first new album in half a decade from Police guitarist Andy Summers is due for release shortly. Entitled Fundamental, the CD is in collaboration with Brazilian singer Fernanda Takai, who is also the lead vocalist of the South American rock band Pato Fu. Summers and Takai met in 2009 during the making of the DVD concert documentary The United Kingdom of Ipanema, in which Summers collaborated with Brazilian guitarist Roberto Menescal.

Fundamental features 11 songs written by Summers, some of which are translated into Portuguese. Takai’s vocals are backed by Summers on guitar, Abraham Laboriel Sr. on bass, and Marcos Suzano on percussion. The album is aimed at the Brazilian/bossa nova/Latin jazz market and will be released in Brazil, the United States, Europe, and Japan (the Japanese edition contains a bonus track). Sound samples can be heard at

Summers was the guitarist for the mega-popular rock band The Police, who were active in the late 1970s and early 1980s and reunited for a 30th anniversary tour in 2007 and 2008. Being a good decade older than his bandmates Sting and Stewart Copeland, Summers began his professional recording career in the early 1960s, playing for Zoot Money’s Big Roll Band (which later became the psychedelic but short-lived Dantalian’s Chariot), Eric Burdon’s New Animals, and Soft Machine. After formally studying guitar at Northridge University in California from the late 1960s to the early 1970s, Summers returned to England and plied his trade as a session guitarist for Joan Armatrading, Neil Sedaka, Kevin Coyne, and Deep Purple’s Jon Lord before achieving monumental success and international stardom with The Police.

After the dissolution of The Police in the early 1980s, Summers scored some Hollywood films (Down and Out in Beverly Hills, Weekend at Bernie’s) and recorded one rock vocal album before establishing himself as an acclaimed and accomplished contemporary instrumental guitarist across a variety of styles, including jazz, fusion, New Age, and world music.

For a good overview of Summers’ solo work, I highly recommend the following albums: Mysterious Barricades, A Windham Hill Retrospective, Synaesthesia, and The X Tracks. My personal favorite Summers albums are Mysterious Barricades, The Golden Wire, Charming Snakes, World Gone Strange, Synaesthesia, Earth and Sky, and First You Build a Cloud.

--Raj Manoharan

CD Retro (Fan) Review – Up Close, by Eric Johnson

Since Eric Johnson's Up Close tour is still going strong in 2012, I decided to revisit my review of the December 2010 release, which I'll be listening to again this week.

The seventh studio album from Grammy Award-winning Texas guitar hero Eric Johnson is quite the trip. Like his other CDs a mix of instrumentals and vocal songs mostly penned by him and showcasing his unique virtuosity on the electric guitar, Up Close includes some of the best work that Johnson has ever written and recorded.

The album is dripping with crackling guitars. If a guitar died and went to heaven, this is what heaven would sound like. Johnson is on fire, effortlessly weaving incredible, sparkling solos in and out of both the instrumental and vocal tracks. The vocal songs range from energetic blues and rock numbers to gorgeous, heartfelt ballads. Inspired like never before, Johnson plays and sings with a fervor not present in his previous work. Perhaps Johnson is like a fine vintage wine, improving with age.

I was first introduced to the music of Johnson 22 years ago by an employee at a local cable television station I was interning at during my senior year of high school. That was the year Johnson, then 36 years old, released his breakthrough second album, Ah Via Musicom, which achieved the distinction of having three instrumental songs reach the American Top Ten.

As accomplished and groundbreaking as Ah Via Musicom and its edgier and sonically more expansive 1996 follow-up, Venus Isle, are, Johnson has really poured his living, breathing essence into Up Close. The result is the best guitar-based album of the last several years, and one of the best guitar-based and general music albums of all time.

With Up Close, Johnson is at the top of his game as a guitarist, composer, and singer. He has created a masterwork of soulful jazz/pop/rock fusion that exudes passion, especially through his trademark virtuosic guitar sound. Even with guest vocals by Malford Milligan, Steve Miller, and Johnny Lang, and guitar performances by Jimmie Vaughan, Steve Hennig, and Sonny Landreth, the album is clearly all Eric Johnson up close front and center.

--Raj Manoharan

TV – Retro TV Roundup

If the current slate of programming on broadcast, cable, satellite, and pay TV hasn’t caught your fancy, there are plenty of old favorites to catch up and relive the good old days with on the slew of retro television networks that are booming in popularity.

First up, you can watch William Shatner in all his scenery-chewing and over-the-top gut-busting glory in two different decades in two different uniforms. 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 no-nonsense police sergeant T.J. Hooker.

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. The series, which also stars the adorably smug Adrian Zmed, a very fresh-faced Heather Locklear, and fellow aging pretty boy James Darren, airs weeknights at 7:00 p.m., Monday through Thursday at 3:00 a.m., and Fridays at 7:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. on Universal HD.

Then, catch Shatner two decades earlier in his first iteration of Captain Kirk in the original 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. Remarkably, 46 years after the show’s debut, with the exception of DeForest Kelley (Dr. McCoy) and James Doohan (Scotty), the other five main cast members are still with us.

By the way, if you love classic television, Me TV should be your first and last stop on the dial. In addition to featuring scores of classic television shows, the network features brilliant commercials touting its various slogans composed entirely of expertly spliced-together clips from all of its shows. This is the ultimate TV channel for the ultimate TV fan.

Between Me TV and Antenna TV, weekend afternoons and evenings make for a veritable bonanza of retro classics. Saturdays and Sundays on Antenna TV, Martin Milner and Kent McCord patrol the streets of Los Angeles as Officers Pete Malloy and Jim Reed on Adam-12 from 2:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. Then, Jack Webb and Harry Morgan take over as Los Angeles plainclothes detectives Joe Friday and Bill Gannon on Dragnet from 3:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.

Saturdays on Me TV, Adam West and Burt Ward star as the caped-crusading dynamic duo Batman and Robin, who race in the Batmobile to save Gotham City from a comical cavalcade of costumed crackpots, with little help from a hilariously inept police force, in the 1960s pop cultural phenomenon Batman. The show airs at 7:00 p.m. and is followed by Irwin Allen’s Lost in Space at 8:00 p.m. and Star Trek at 9:00 p.m.

You can take your pick of Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer, George Clooney, or Christian Bale as the various Dark Knights (Keaton and Bale are my personal favorite modern movie Batmen), but no matter what the fanboys naysay, Adam West (who also played Batman on the big screen) made the most indelible and lasting mark of any of them on pop culture. He is the one Batman to rule them all.

Check your local listings or go online to learn about all the great classic shows airing on Antenna TV, Me TV, TV Land, and Universal HD.

--Raj Manoharan

Sunday, August 12, 2012

CD Review – Linger Longer, by Laura McMillan

Laura McMillan’s latest album presents twelve solo piano tunes that have as their main theme the idea of staying in the moment, even a little bit after the moment has passed.

The tracks themselves have that quality of being in the now. Some music doesn’t register until long after it has stopped playing, and that may not be a result of the music itself, but rather other things that distract or preoccupy us. McMillan’s compositions, however, demand your attention as you listen to them, but not in an overbearing way. Her graceful, nuanced performances draw you in gently, allowing you to enjoy each masterful keystroke and flash of brilliant phasing.

McMillan has succeeded in creating a work that not only inspires us to linger longer in moments that matter, but also helps us to commemorate those moments with beautiful music.

--Raj Manoharan

Sunday, August 5, 2012

CD Review – The Gathering, produced by Will Ackerman

This 22-track collection comprises various previously released album cuts by 21 independent musicians produced over the last five years by Will Ackerman, with the final song provided by the Grammy Award-winning guitarist and Windham Hill Records founder himself.

The CD strikes a nice balance between piano-based compositions and guitar-centric tunes, with the one exception being a number from ubiquitous trumpeter Jeff Oster. Although the artists are independent, they are every bit as creatively brilliant and technically accomplished as their major-label counterparts. In fact, this album sounds just like a Windham Hill Records sampler. These musicians deserve to be represented by major labels, if it weren’t for the fact that major labels aren’t as interested in new age and contemporary instrumental music these days.

While this is basically a various-artists compilation, it is not a typically haphazard collection of discordant styles and idiosyncrasies. Ackerman has done a fantastic job of culling different songs that, although composed and performed by musicians each of whom have a unique and distinct voice, are of one accord musically, resulting in a gentle and tranquil soundtrack that’s perfect for road trips both real and imaginary.

--Raj Manoharan