Last Train Home

I think I spent about 10 hours listening to live music yesterday. It might have been 11, but it’s hard to remember precisely at this point. There is one particular good, and one particular not-so-good observation I have from yesterday however.

Good: SPF30 sunscreen, applied early enough, does actually keep me from roasting my skin and repeating last year’s idiocy of getting a burn on my knees bad enough to make walking painful.

Not-so-good: The last run on the LRT from the Nicollet Mall station leaves at 1:18am. I had thought I had seen that the last train was at around 2:30, but it turns out that is the last train heading into town, not out. However cabs seem to be quite plentiful at even that time and are not actually hideously expensive when there is a good driver who doesn’t try any shenanigans and takes you exactly the route you would have told them.

After the great time I had on Friday, I was excited to get back downtown and I arrived in time to see the Apple Valley High School Jazz Ensemble 1 who seemed to be a pretty decent high school big band, but was not quite what I was looking for at that point in the day so as soon as I heard the main stage start up I headed down there and was quite glad that I did. Bill Crutcher and Work In Progress had started their set and played a great mix of stuff. I have to say that I have a weakness for good vibraphone playing and despite the only good seating available at this time being the acres of baking concrete in the hot early afternoon sun it was great to hear someone of his caliber playing. The rest of the band was also very good and it’s too bad they didn’t have a slightly better position on the schedule.

I stuck around for the MITY performance and was fairly impressed with a fair amount of it. In particular one of their pianists sounds like he might have a promising future, and already has a distinctive image with a wild mane of long curly hair. I popped back to the Dakota Foundation stage for the last half of the Kelly Rossum Quartet who is always good. I had managed to remember to get cash, so I got two of his CDs for a bargain price as well.

Then it was dinner at Masa on the street. I had the Puerco Veracruzana and a Mayan Margarita. The salsas served with the chips are exceptional, and the pork was very good, but the Mayan Margarita was very slightly disappointing in that I had been hoping for something a bit more understated and delicate than the seize-my-mouth-with-both-hands experience that I got. Toned down a bit I think it would be a great drink but as it stands it’s just too much. Or maybe I’m just pining for the only really truly amazing margarita I’ve ever had, at Chapultepec in Chicago a couple of years ago. Next time I’ll try the Sangria Blanca instead since that was the other option I had been thinking off. (While I’m talking about Masa, it is both great and a little strange to see a restaurant of that caliber with a To-Go menu on their website. Yet another reason to miss working downtown.)

Finished dinner in perfect time to get a good seat for Paul Stubblefield, who I felt kind of bad for. He’s obviously a pretty good entertainer, but the crowd just didn’t seem to be working for him. Though maybe my use of the word “Entertainer” is kind of telling since he did come across as a classic Las Vegas lounge act. That does have it’s place, but maybe not at a Jazz Festival at prime time. He did have a split set with 19 year old sax phenom Alex Han and I can’t help thinking that I’m not the only one who might have rather seen a full set from Alex in the first place. He’s intensity and improvisation skill had some of the crowd on their feet a couple of times and with Taylor Tanner, Gordy Johnson, and Kevin Washington playing rhythm they were a shoe-in for an encore that was fantastic.

After that it was a fairly quick setup for Charmaine Neville to come out and top it all off the right way. I had not known she could do that sort of Louis Armstrong impersonation, and she used it to pretty good effect. Not quite enough to make it a gimmick but enough to show what sort of range she’s got. Her band was absolutely stellar too, and I’m really glad that she has them warm up the crowd with a song before she gets on stage.

After that it was a quick walk up to the Dakota where I caught the end of Willie West and the festival jam session over an order of the really tasty french fries, which the Dakota serves with an excellent Bearnaise sauce. It was pretty obvious that people were thinking along the same lines I had been when the last combo on the stage included both Grace Kelly and Alex Han. After trading solos with the rest of the band for the first 20min, Kevin Washington finally goaded them into doing an improvisation duet that was exactly the kind of music I had been hoping to hear staying up for the jam. Trading licks like they did was a great end to the evening and the right note to go home on.

My armchair observation: Grace Kelly needs the polish that Alex Han has developed over the 5 years that he’s been playing to be a great musician, but Alex needs to work on the stage presence that Grace has already gotten to be a great entertainer. I’m fairly certain that All Grace needs is time to develop the polish, but I wonder if Alex will ever look really comfortable speaking to the crowd on stage.

Off to day 3, which should be full of really great latin jazz on the main stage.

Sole Inhabitant, but not lonely

My autographed copy (#219!) of Thomas Dolby‘s “The Sole Inhabitant” concert DVD arrived in the mail today from CD Baby and I spent a really great evening getting through the contents despite a couple of little flaws in the package.

The main content is the concert from September 28th 2006 at the Berklee Performance Center in Boston. Being a big fan of Thomas Dolby’s music means that it was worth it just to hear some great live arrangements of several of his classic songs, but the video presentation by Johnny DeKam really made it fun to keep my eyes open instead of just blissing out to the music. Using several cameras, video effects, and sometimes the video footage that accompanied the live music, the imagery is very suitable and comes off as very professional even though there is obviously very few people behind the production. The concert itself is presented in two formats: with the introductions between songs, and without the introductions between songs. I tend to like to hear what a performer has to say as much as what they play so I stuck with the version with introductions and was not displeased. The concert is fairly well constructed and moves well between numbers. The monologue’s between tracks are to the point and show an old hand to the stage successfully getting his sea legs back after being ashore for an awfully long time.

Also on the disc are several extras: “Rig Voyage” is a portion of a presentation given to students at the venue, “Building a Song” is a narrated clip from the TED 2006 conference, and “Studio Interview” is exactly as billed. “Rig Voyage” was a pretty interesting look at the content of his current hardware setup and some notes about the equipment he started his career with. “Building a song” was a nice, if quite short, version of something he also does in the show but with a simple narration that helps follow along with the technique. It is also the only video on the disc that is shot in widescreen but unfortunately is inexplicably fairly grainy. There are also a couple of small audio glitches that almost ruin the clip. I’m not sure if those are from the source material or the disc mastering but I actually went to the trouble of verifying it on several players and machines and they were present every single time. “Studio Interview” is a pretty good interview with Thomas Dolby talking about his careers in music, business, and family and manages to not quite say anything concrete about where he plans to go in the future except that there will be more music which is probably all that we really need to know at this point.

Besides the audio glitches in “Building a song” there are a couple of flaws in the mastering of the disc that make for some slight irritation with the packaging. When all of the extras are played, instead of returning to the menu the disc stops. On two of the players that I tried the disc on hitting Play after an extra finishing stopped the disc starts the “Concert (with intros)” track instead of bringing up the main menu which means an extra button press to get to that menu so you can see something else. I also found the low end of the sound to be a bit spotty sometimes making my subwoofers do their jobs and other times sounding decidedly empty in that range. Still, I’ve certainly seen worse and the disc as a whole is functional if more rough than I had expected.

There’s plenty here for a fan, and it’s probably worth watching for someone into electronic music and/or 80’s pop, but if you don’t count yourself in any of those groups I can’t see it keeping your interest.

Clovers where you least expect them

In the last two weeks I’ve run into something a little different at two places that I’ve been for dinner. It appears that both the new Chatterbox Pub location in Highland Park and Signature Cafe in Prospect Park are serving sodas from The Shamrock Group. So far, the cola and the root beer flavors that I have tried are pretty decent, though nothing stellar. It will be interesting to see if I seem them showing up elsewhere around town, I know the original Chatterbox Pub near my home still has Weinhart’s for their root beer.

And while I’m thinking about it, do give the Signature Cafe a try if you have the chance. It’s got a very interesting and varied menu and a staff that is… well, friendly doesn’t begin to describe it.

Playing with Windows Vista

So I’ve started to play with Windows Vista Beta 2. I’ve got a machine at work (dedicated but sucky integrated graphics) and a machine at home (dual-booting my primary gaming system with XP MCE 2005) and so far the experience has been a pretty good one.

I had some initial trouble with the machine at work and ended up doing a whole bunch of memory swaps to finally get stable and usable memory in the machine. Still, I only have 512MB right now and so it’s running pretty slowly. Setup would basically not run with only 256MB, which is about to be expected. With the integrated Intel 815 graphics chipset the graphics really are pretty simple. Not quite the big difference that I had heard about, just slightly different from XP. I didn’t get to see what people were talking about until I loaded it up at home.

At home, with my nVidia GeForce 6600 GT the graphic bells and whistles are in full effect and it’s pretty impressive. Non-fans of the old 2K menu “oozing” will probably be completely unnerved by the fade in/out of entire windows now, but I think it’s a pretty cool effect. The translucency I could go either way with, but at least Windows if finally taking advantage of what has otherwise simply been a gaming requirement for a long time.

I’m playing The Matrix on Media Center on my other machine right now and I think I still have some tweaking to do. I loaded up my registered copy of the nVidia PureVideo codecs which are normally top notch, but the video is stuttering slightly and the audio is slightly out of sync. I might try and load up the ATI codecs that I got with my HDTV Wonder later and see how those do.

Speaking of which, the analog tuners appear to be doing just fine, and the HD tuner drivers did load during device detection, but Media Center can’t seem to work with them yet. I might see if ATI has updated drivers for the tuner available.

Whoops! “Media Center crash reporting” just popped up. Gotta love a beta OS. :-)