HARD RESET : Book Review

HardResetReview

Fact #1: My favorite kind of fiction is that which regards a protagonist’s search for identity, meaning, and redemption, in a world in which he or she is hanging from the bottom rung.   Fact #2: I don’t know squat about the mystery genre; it just never interested me.

So, some hesitation was about me, in venturing to read the first installment of John Edward White’s new mystery series introducing private investigator Martin Gardens; and making the assumptions that such a genre couldn’t possibly give a fig about the existential questions at the heart of the soul-searching motif, so busy would it be in trying to weave the titillating mystery web.  To my delight, my assumption was dead wrong.

The Ralph Waldo Emerson tracks in the snow epigraph that White references several times in his new novel Hard Reset evokes far more than the transparency of a crime.  It could equally refer, and I assert that it does, to the bleakness of that most peculiar trait of winter: the wide swath of colorless landscape and implied loneliness.  There is a palpable sense of that bleakness in White’s portrayal of a man in desperate need of a reason to get up in the morning, at a crossroads in his life, a man barely holding on by a thread to his sense of stability and purpose.  If Martin Gardens’ newfound calling as a private investigator is a lifeline, so are his canine companion, and his knowledge and love of cars; in the latter’s case, a knowledge that’s been raised to an artform to be cultivated, even curated; and in the former’s case, the only living being in Martin Gardens’ life for whom Martin is completely responsible.

It’s a Los Angeles story, as are Raymond Chandler’s and Walter Mosley’s before him, and what’s most appreciated, at least by this Angeleno, is that White doesn’t choose the typical nooks of L.A. that we know of from most books and especially movies on the City of Angels, making no attempt to give a sexiness to L.A.’s seediness, but instead gives us the landscapes as a matter of ugly, sometimes frightening, fact, where real life, and not Hollywood, happens.  And that move alone gives the Los Angeles of Hard Reset a compelling allure.

White is a subtle writer, never bending to the obvious, and never underestimating the reader’s ability to read between the lines and suss out the heartbeat of the piece.

That heartbeat, far more than the mystery game itself, is White’s empathetic and nuanced portrait of loneliness and aloneness, of a man whose only true intimate relationship is with his dog, Stray; a man who daily fights off his personal demons, barely keeping them at bay via the fancy footwork and stylish rhetoric of addiction recovery, and is in the very throes – at the point where White has chosen to introduce us to him – of self-discovery and radical reinvention.

The mystery itself, which brings this new professional calling into the ordinary Martin Gardens’ life (mechanic by day) seems almost secondary to the exploration of a gravely flawed human being, damaged by heartbreak, loss and addiction, who lives every day looking for a connection to others beyond Man’s Best Friend and a beaten-up classic roadster.

The mystery in question is plenty intriguing, but for me it’s always about the fascinating soul contained within the armor of struggle, and White gives both amply.

I imagine that the subsequent books in the series, without the need for such character establishment, will be exclusively focused on whatever mystery web each presents.   But as for this first in the series, specifically because of such nuanced complexities of character, it completely sucked me in, when I really did dare it to.

John Edward White’s is a relatively new voice in publishing, but it’s quite evident he’s been at this art for a very long time, and has fine-tuned it to a seasoned gift.

Full disclosure:  I know John Edward White personally, so it’s probably not possible for me to be entirely objective, except for the fact that our alliance has always been one of ruthless honesty in each of our desires to help the other become a better writer.  With each other, when something just doesn’t feel authentic, honest, clear, etc, neither has ever shied away from saying so.   So, like I said, I really did dare Hard Reset to pull me in.

Task accomplished.
http://www.amazon.com/Reset-Martin-Gardens-Novels-ebook/dp/B00D9VYHAQ/ref=dp_kinw_strp_1

And as always:
Create – even if you’re not an artist
Support artists – especially the independents
Live well – doesn’t take money to do it
And be whole

 

 

Angela Carole Brown is the author of three published books, The Assassination of Gabriel Champion, The Kidney Journals: Memoirs of a Desperate Lifesaver, and Trading Fours, and has produced several albums of music and a yoga/mindfulness CD.   Bindi Girl Chronicles is her writing blog.   Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram & YouTube.

The Big Purr : CD Review

 

Pasheen

I confess I have a particular weakness for female vocalists with low voices. It’s as if they are saying to a world that is enamored with high notes and prepubescent timbers, “tough shit.” And with a shrug of the shoulder and a gleam in the eye, they pull and tug at your groin with those low notes, rumble the rafters, and take you to places that only seem to exist in acid-washed film noir and lurid pulp novels. Pasheen is such a creature on her most recent jazz CD The Big Purr (it is tempting to suggest that the CD’s title is all about those low notes, but that’s awfully easy), and one suspects that she is clearly aware of the inevitable comparisons to sultry contraltos like Julie London, and so puts it right out there, as she does on the opening cut, So High, as if to say, “well, there’s Julie…and then there’s me.” Pasheen makes it clear that she won’t stand in anyone’s shadow, and then proceeds to blast the genre altogether with lyrics that are as playful and mischievous as they are seductive and alluring.

From the first sound one hears (the crackling of an old LP – remember those?) we are placed frankly and unapologetically in a world that could never be inhabited by the teeny-boppers who command the world’s current stage. There is wicked in every fiber of Pasheen’s voice. She is creating her world, song after song, layer after layer, paint stroke upon paint stroke, and welcoming us in, but with a “beware” sign. It’s an underground world. A world that moves at a stroll’s pace. A world of shadows and seduction. A world that almost doesn’t belong in today, but somehow equally in an era bygone and a tomorrow that waits patiently (read timelessly) until the bubble-gummers burn themselves out.

And then there’s that voice! It is textured and haunting, a lesson in the mastery of phrasing, a history rich with tales and battle scars and luscious liquored flavorings, always in impeccable control, if at moments purposely letting loose grace notes both feral and unrestrained, and with the fattest, sexiest vibrato I think I’ve ever heard. Most importantly, at least to this listener, the voice is rife with poignancy and pathos. And every bit of it works.

Pasheen seems happiest (in a lyric) when letting us know that she knows her environment, her fellow jazz players, the luminaries in the genre; and that while she most definitely celebrates them, she also takes her rightful place in the pantheon. Oh believe me, she belongs.

She has fun on cuts like Busy Man (“being a type-A over-achiever myself, I realize that I could end up in a 24-step program”). It’s a lyric that makes one chuckle, while all the time knowing full well that this Big Purr of a singer moves at a Type-A pace for NO ONE, but vamps by, daring you to come along. And so she creates contradictions that serve to remind us just how complex we human beings really are.

There is an underlying sadness in Vanity, a song about cosmetic surgery. What’s most compelling about this cut is Pasheen’s unwillingness to pick a side on the subject, but instead giving us a startling portrait of modern life’s arguably most pathological preoccupation, and that she even dares to broach such an internal-conflict topic within the jazz environment, a neighborhood, from a lyrical standpoint, that has usually been relegated to weepy love songs, clever Porter-esque turns of phrase, and comedic sexual innuendo. She dares to complicate the idiom.

If I seem to be harping a whole lot on lyric, it’s probably because I’m a vocalist too, and lyric means everything to us. But never for a minute think that the rest of the package is an afterthought. Strong melodic writing and a sophisticated harmonic environment puts these songs (more than half of which Pasheen composed or co-composed) squarely in a league with the most timeless of them.

Trumpeter Carl Saunders’ scatting, on his composition You’re So Cute, had me laughing in the jolliest way from pure joy at the fun he is obviously having, a trick that belongs exclusively and exuberantly to the jazz genre, and yet few do it well. I get the feeling this may be signature for Mr. Saunders, as he is given complete carte blanche on this cut, with Pasheen respectfully giving her colleague the floor. Takes balls to give the floor in that way, when it’s your album. But then Pasheen has a pair on her that, I dare say, rivals any of her male counterparts.

As evidenced in her tome to Billy Tipton. Her heart is practically breaking on the wonderfully odd and iconic song Cross Dress, leading us to consider a world so intolerant that it demands the Big Lie. It is equal parts shame-on-us reprimand and loving tribute to the many whose lives were relegated to the fringes. It is melancholic without ever moving into the territory of dirge-y sadness.

My favorite cut has to be the finale track, The Truth, composed by the Diva, herself, which paints a landscape of the Seek, the Search, the Path, and which suggests that this radiant singer has depth to spare, yet she keeps it light and fun: “Maybe god is a goddess in a strapless dress.” Frankly, I’m envisioning that goddess with shocking platinum hair.

She has the best of the best as her production and performance team: Co-producer Barry Coffing and engineer Talley Sherwood to start with, and a parade of some of the business’s top session players from L.A. and Houston, including celebrated woodwind player Bob Sheppard, who offers gorgeous warm-toned tenor solos on most of the tracks, and who, all, help to make every track strong and tight. Straight-ahead swing, crisp bossas, and ECM-esque rhythms create the bed for this body of work to lie on.

Pasheen straddles playfulness and pathos with equal aplomb on this recording of twelve stellar cuts, and celebrates the genre of jazz in such a unique Pasheen-only way, that one gets the feeling she loves rocking the boat of the comfortable, and shaking up folks’ worlds, all for the sake of a powerful musical moment.

Her liner notes include thank-you’s to animal rescuers and to our soldiers, which gives a clue into the passion and compassion at work in this beautiful songstress’ heart. But you won’t have had to read about it in the liner notes to feel it with every note sung.

You’ll find you need to hear The Big Purr again and again just to catch every finely layered nuance. It was a joy for this listener. Congratulations Diva!

And as always:
Create – even if you’re not an artist
Support artists – especially the independents
Live well – doesn’t take money to do it
And be whole

Pasheen:  http://www.reverbnation.com/pasheen

 

 

Angela Carole Brown is the author of three published books, The Assassination of Gabriel Champion, The Kidney Journals: Memoirs of a Desperate Lifesaver, and Trading Fours, and has produced several albums of music and a yoga/mindfulness CD.   Bindi Girl Chronicles is her writing blog.   Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram & YouTube.

Vermin : CD Review

Vermin-TedBrownArt copy

Vermin is the new album by Hans San Juan  (It’s actually already had its 1-year birthday, but I wasn’t writing a blog back then.)

I am so freakin’ excited by this album!   Still…one year later.  That Hans happens to have one of my kidneys inside his body doesn’t mean that any of my musical acumen has shaped him as a musician.   It really doesn’t.   No, seriously.   And yes, I CAN be completely objective about it.   No, SERIOUSLY!

Upon first listen of Hans’s debut full-length album Vermin, you’ll immediately conjure up inspirations of Pink Floyd. And the influences are most assuredly there.  But after a deeper, repeated listen, you get the clearer understanding of the past life Hans is surely channeling.  I say past life, because at 22 years old he is far too young to be writing music of such depth.

Early productions of Hans’ reveal a music that is wonderfully wild and unharnessed in a way that is as compelling as it is also screaming out for a little balance of some compositional and rhythmic rules (go to Cal Arts, dude!   They would eat you up there!  And you would chew the freakin’ scenery!)   But I have to say, Vermin betrays a giant step out of that wonderfully adolescent energy into a decidedly matured seasoning that has married those two ideals magnificently (and that, without taking my advice and going to Cal Arts).

At once operatic and romping in the playground of electronic innovations, Vermin seems to be telling a singular story. Themes of death abound, and ordinarily such a heaviness of theme coming from a 22-year-old would give me great discomfort, but having been there first-hand for a bit of Hans’ personal history (that his kidneys were failing him before a successful transplant took place), I see an undeniable correlation between his music and what must’ve been years of contemplating his own mortality (a concept hinted at by the front cover art of Ted Brown).  If our pain can’t be funneled and turned into something powerfully creative, then what is our pain for?  And THIS Hans has done, so beautifully that his voice, thickened with a choral effect that gives it an otherworldly edge, breaks my heart in all the best ways.

My personal favorite cuts (though there’s not a weak one in the bunch) are:

  • Inside Out, which, at forty-one seconds and with no lyrics but is the briefest of chants, is probably the most spine-tingling track I’ve heard in a long time. Here, then gone, a grace note, but not without leaving an indelible mark.
    http://hanssanjuan.bandcamp.com/track/inside-out
  • The larger-than-life finale Charlatan, which touches on themes of redemption (you get the feeling that though he’s talking to someone else, he’s really talking to himself, as well).
    http://hanssanjuan.bandcamp.com/track/charlatan
  • And the opening track, Below The Skin, which is as strong as any of the concept album cuts out there by the ones who do it best (U2, The Who, Pink Floyd, etc.), a bold anthem that sets the stage for grand, tormented, cock-strutting theatre.
    http://hanssanjuan.bandcamp.com/track/below-the-skin

It’s clear, though, that Hans is also having a blast, twisting our brains with abstract-expressionist lyrics that take a second, third, and even tenth rendering to decode. And like any one of the most hair-raising canvases of de Kooning or Basquiat, it doesn’t really matter if we ever do.  Hans has plugged us into words that are rich, dark, almost gothic, and more multi-layered than most of the 20-something music that’s presently out there.  His music/poetry is nutritious food for thought.

And this guitarist/vocalist/bass player is not in the studio alone. With Hans on Vermin are Paulina Franco (vocals), Mario Torrico and Craig Pilo (drums), Glen Rewal (saxophone), Tyler Davis and Matt Tye (engineering), and this ultra-talented crew supports Hans well.

Vermin is theatre, opera, poetry, and Jackson-Pollock-esque philosophy all in one little square package. It’s the kind of album you keep forever, the way you’d never pack up The White Album or Electric Lady Land to give to the Goodwill during spring cleaning.

Here’s hoping that more than just family and friends get to experience this beautiful accomplishment, because Hans San Juan’s transcendent Vermin is worth the world’s notice and more.

Visit Hans @ http://www.hanssanjuan.com.  And tell him Aff sent you.

And as always:
Create – even if you’re not an artist
Support artists – especially the independents
Live well – doesn’t take money to do it
And be whole

 

 

Angela Carole Brown is the author of three published books, The Assassination of Gabriel Champion, The Kidney Journals: Memoirs of a Desperate Lifesaver, and Trading Fours, and has produced several albums of music and a yoga/mindfulness CD.   Bindi Girl Chronicles is her writing blog.   Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram & YouTube.