Sunday, May 17, 2015

David Letterman (1980-2015)

The parenthetical years above are obviously not David Letterman's life span but rather the span of his extraordinary and legendary television career.

On May 20, 2015, Letterman will sign off for the last time, concluding 35 years as a television host, 33 of those years in late night. I have been an ardent fan for 24 years.

Letterman is truly the king of late night, having lasted longer than anyone else in that position, even Johnny Carson. In fact, Letterman is Carson's real successor. Sure, Jay Leno and Jimmy Fallon took over as successive hosts of The Tonight Show after Carson, but they are not his successors. They are merely followers in his footsteps.

Letterman, on the other hand, was personally groomed by Carson to be his successor, and even though NBC pushed Carson out and stiffed Letterman in favor of Leno, it was clear that Carson favored Letterman, as evidenced by Carson's many appearances on Letterman's show. Carson even sent many jokes to Letterman to use on TV.

One of my favorite Letterman skits over the years was “Pat and Kenny Read Oprah Transcripts,” after which viewers were given an address where they could write to request “Transcripts of Pat and Kenny Reading Oprah Transcripts.”

What set Letterman apart from his competitors was that unlike them, he wasn't about himself. He was about his guests, his cast of “characters,” and, most importantly, the comedy. Whenever he focused on himself, it was to poke fun at himself. Letterman was the undisputed master of self-deprecating humor.

Letterman's longevity will never be surpassed in our lifetime, especially in this era of transitional media technology, restless network executives, and fickle audiences. But, even if it were, perhaps sometime in the distant future, Letterman's like will never be seen again.

--Raj Manoharan

B.B. King (1925-2015)

What can I say about Riley “Beale Street Blues Boy” King that hasn't already been said?
All I can do is acknowledge that America has lost a true national treasure and the world an international icon. The King was indeed a global ambassador for the blues.
No matter what kind of music you like or whether or not you are a fan, there's no mistaking that B.B. was a class act, a true king of the blues and a master among musicians.
My favorite B.B. King moment is his guest-starring stint as himself on an episode of Sanford and Son.
The various images over the decades of King and his many beloved “Lucille” Gibson guitars will forever be ingrained in our collective conscious, and his legacy will continue to thrive thanks to his great body of work.
Long live the King.
--Raj Manoharan

CD Review – Surya: Chants of Light, by Nadaka and Gopika

The mystical spirit and exotic sounds of ancient India come to us once again in an accessible Western context, courtesy of Nadaka and Gopika.

The duo creates entrancing atmospheres, with Gopika and Nadaka's impassioned, heartfelt vocals and Nadaka's raga guitar and guitar synthesizer providing the focal point through which the traditional songs are revitalized in a contemporary setting.

Rounding out the alluring sounds are Keshava on tabla, Karthick Iyer on violin, Ganesh Basavaraj on tabla and percussions, and R. Rajkumar on gatham and percussion sampling.

If you're looking for a modern introduction to classical Indian music, this is a good place to start.

--Raj Manoharan

Monday, May 11, 2015

CD Review – Closer, by Louis Colaiannia

The usually bright and poppy pianist Louis Colaiannia returns with an album of deep reflection, introspection, and contemplation, as evidenced by the lead off track devoted to the victims of the Aurora movie theater shooting a few years back (the proceeds of the single are earmarked for those victims).

In addition to the more intimate nature of the music, this CD also marks Colaiannia's first recording produced by Will Ackerman and Tom Eaton, at Ackerman's Imaginary Road Studio in Vermont. As a result, Colaiannia's sound is enhanced by the talents of Ackerman's musical associates, including Eugene Friesen (cello), Jill Haley (English horn), Jeff Haynes (percussion), Tony Levin (bass), Jeff Oster (trumpet), and Noah Wilding (vocals).

Colaiannia's inspired compositions and graceful piano playing, combined with the stellar contributions of his fellow musicians, make this record an absolute delight to listen to.

This is Louis Colaiannia like you've never heard him before – up, closer, and personal.

--Raj Manoharan

Monday, May 4, 2015

RajMan Reviews' Top Ten Superhero Movies

Hawkeye's wife totally supports his avenging, and apparently so does the world. I do, too. I don't anticipate seriously modifying this list until the release of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice in theaters in March 2016. But then again, you never know.
1. Avengers: Age of Ultron
2. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
3. Marvel's The Avengers (2012)
4. Superman (1978)
5. Man of Steel (2013)
6. Iron Man 2 (2010)
7. Thor (2011)
8. Batman (1966)
9. Batman Begins (2005)
10. The Dark Knight (2008)

--Raj Manoharan

There But for Grace Lee Whitney (1930-2015)

Although she was in only the first eight episodes of the original Star Trek series in 1966, Grace Lee Whitney's Yeoman Janice Rand is as much a beloved part of the storied franchise as are its classic seven cast members – and Majel Barrett Roddenberry.
So much so, in fact, that Whitney reunited with her onscreen family several times, making cameo appearances as Rand in Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979), Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984), Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986), and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991).
Perhaps Whitney's greatest role is that of survivor of alcohol and drug addiction. After several long years of battling her dreadful demons, Whitney, with the help of fellow late Star Trek actor Leonard Nimoy, finally emerged victorious, ultimately serving as a role model and mentor for others suffering the same afflictions.
You can find out more about this remarkable, aptly named lady at her IMDb page:
--Raj Manoharan

Sunday, May 3, 2015

CD Review – The Dream Exchange, by John Luttrell

This album proves that subconscious dream-like states can be achieved while fully alert and awake.

John Luttrell accomplishes this effect by weaving threads of luminous acoustic and electric guitar tones over a loom of lush, layered keyboards and synthesizers.

Thanks to the compositions of Luttrell and David Veirs, elements of jazz, new age, and space blues keep listeners' brains engaged and attuned to ethereal frequencies from higher planes.

This CD works equally well as both comforting music to play in the background and intellectually stimulating sonic art to fully concentrate upon.

--Raj Manoharan

Saturday, May 2, 2015

RajMan Reviews' Top Ten Superhero Movies

This weekend marks the beginning of the age of Marvel's Avengers: Age of Ultron, which most likely will last all month, all summer, and probably the rest of this year – at least until the December release of Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens. In tandem, I offer my list of what I believe are the top ten superhero movies of all time.

1. Superman (1978)
2. Man of Steel (2013)
3. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
4. Marvel's The Avengers (2012)
5. Iron Man 2 (2010)
6. Thor (2011)
7. Batman (1966)
8. Batman Begins (2005)
9. The Dark Knight (2008)
10. Batman (1989)

--Raj Manoharan