Archive for October, 2010

in performance: chicago luzern exchange

chicago luzern exchange.

chicago luzern exchange. from left: mark unternahrer, frank rosaly, josh berman and keefe jackson. photo by michelle harris.

One of the unintended delights surrounding Sunday afternoon’s performance by the Chicago Luzern Exchange was the manner in which outside ambience pulled up a chair and became part of the Halloween fun at Collexion.

On its own, the quartet – Chicago artists John Berman, Keefe Jackson and Frank Rosaly (on cornet, tenor saxophone and drums, respectively) and Swiss tuba player Mark Unternahrer – operated on the freer plain of the free jazz sounds the Outside the Spotlight Series has been bringing to Lexington over the past eight years. Operating more as a pack of improvisational free agents rather than a stereotypical band, the Exchange also strayed into as many found sounds on their instruments as musical ones. Percussion devices became wind instruments, with Rosaly blowing into the side of a drum for an odd, vaporous sound, while the brass instruments were often used to create pops, whistles and other musical suggestions.

Over the course of the hour long set, that combination made for listening that was both fascinating and difficult.

During a 20 minute improvisation that opened the performance, the Exchange sounded purposely fractured. The brass instruments seemed largely devoted to moving about in a sort of breathy isolation until Jackson switched to bass clarinet and explored more defined hints of melodic color. Rosaly played largely to his own groove with subtle, brushed strokes on a snare. But because the quartet kept a lid on the volume (helped, no doubt, by the fact the performance was completely unamplified), such seemingly disassociated ideas formed an almost meditative musical fabric.

Ditto for a second, untitled improv that allowed Unternahrer to play oscillating patterns over a bed of tempered percussion. There were instances where the instruments offered more sustained and expected melodic colors, as well as some brief interplay between Berman and Jackson that sounded genuinely harmonic. But mostly, the Exchange seemed engaged in creating new sounds – like the ones Rosaly summoned by literally taking a knife and fork (at separate intervals, mind you) to his percussion devices.

But the outside surroundings played a role, as well, whether they intended to or not. A distant siren sounded as the opening improv became especially abstract. Later, during the performance’s fourth and final improv, the sound of a barking dog seemed right at home amid the raspy, reedy tones of the brass players. Who knows? Maybe it was a critical reaction.

It wasn’t the most immediately approachable performance the OTS series has ever presented. But on Halloween afternoon, with the autumn sun pouring through the numerous Collexion windows along with the contributions of a neighborhood hound (“Children of the night, what music they make”), the Exchange found harmony to be inescapable.

in performance: al green

al green

al green

You know the Rev. Al Green was at home in Kentucky when the first sound out of his mouth at a profoundly soulful Halloween Eve concert at Danville’s Norton Center for the Arts was a hearty “yee-haw.”

Don’t be fooled, though. Green may have been a welcome and versed Kentucky guest, having played his Norton Center debut two autumns earlier. But his music remained drenched in the sounds of ‘70s Memphis soul.

Backed by a 13 member band that included two dancers, a trio of backup singers made up of the singer’s daughters and a wildly efficient horn section, Green matched the gospel authority that drives his offstage life (he claimed, at one point, his order of job priorities were “preaching, sweating and singing”) with a soul conviction that has not diminished a whit over the past 40 years.

The popular falsetto squeal that has long been a trademark of Green’s music – and, in recent years, an improper critical measuring stick of his artistic validity – was employed devoutly but sparingly. A better indicator of his vocal prowess was an ability to stand three and four feet from the microphone, forcing his band to settle its orchestral charge, and sing with startling clarity. That was the set up for Let’s Get Married, but Green returned to the vocal setting repeatedly during the show.

While the crowd was brought to its feet several times by established hits like Let’s Stay Together (a soul affirmation that remained nothing short of euphoric) and Tired of Being Alone, the set was equally powerful when Green played things cool for the gospel medley of Amazing Grace and Nearer My God to Thee, his studiously righteous reading of the Bee Gees hit How Can You Mend a Broken Heart and the sublimely reserved Simply Beautiful. The latter was one of the four tunes offered from 1972’s I’m Still in Love with You album.

Of course, that didn’t mean the good Rev couldn’t cook up a party. The finale version of Love and Happiness (also from I’m Still in Love With You) was all churning, relentless funk taken at a far more turbulent pace than its recorded version. The vocal intent may have reflected Sunday morning, but the performance urgency screamed Saturday night.

halloween with al green

al green at the 2009 bonnaroo festival.

al green at the 2009 bonnaroo festival.

It may be Halloween weekend, but that won’t stop the Rev. Al Green from spreading the Sunday morning word on Saturday night at the Norton Center for the Arts.

Known for a trailblazing string of Willie Mitchell-produced hits during the ‘70s and a powerfully visible arsenal of gospel recordings since then, Green has remains an immensely emotive soul music stylist.

Luckily for us, he has been making Kentucky something of a regular stop in recent years. He poured on the soul power by way of classics like Tired of Being Alone and Love and Happiness two autumns ago at the Norton Center. Green also took centerstage at July’s ill-fated HullabaLOU fest at Churchill Downs.

The highlight of both performances was, curiously, not one of his own singles (although his version of Let’s Stay Together at the 2008 Norton Center show was pretty fine). It was instead Green’s cover of the 1971 Bee Gees hit How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?, which was delivered as a roaring soul music affirmation.

The Rev doesn’t live solely in the past, either, at his shows. He has three splendid Blue Note albums cut over the last decade – 2003’s I Can’t Stop, 2005’s Everything’s OK and 2008’s Lay It Down – to round out his repertoire.

Need something to keep the creepy crawlies at bay this Halloween? An evening with the Rev. Al ought to do the trick. 

Al Green performs at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Norton Center for the Arts in Danville. Tickets are $60-$125. Call (877) 448-7469.


The Boston Globe (Boston, MA) November 20, 1987 | Jack Craig, Globe Staff CALGARY, Alberta – Al Michaels is a two-sport play-by-play superstar, a rarity in the ’80s.

Some may prefer Vin Scully’s anecdotes or Bob Costas’ quickness on baseball telecasts. Others may like Dick Enberg’s precision or Pat Summerall’s non- speak in football. But only Michaels broadcasts both football and baseball, and each so well that opinion is divided on which sport he does best.

Once every four years, he adds hockey at the Winter Olympics. He and Ken Dryden were acclaimed in the 1980 Games for their descriptions of the miracle on ice by the US team. The announcers had pulled off a near miracle of their own. They had never worked together before, and Michaels until then had covered only one hockey game in his life, the 1972 Olympic gold medal match.

Just as Curt Gowdy, the last two-sport superstar, Michaels projects as a fellow who really knows it all without being a know-it-all. He makes his analyst look good. If he has co-analysts, both benefit. He is prominent, but not dominant, the highest compliment to a play-by-play announcer.

Michaels confesses he is “inordinantly fortunate,” having fulfilled his boyhood dream of becoming a sports announcer. He is compensated in excess of $1 million a year by ABC and even enjoys a fine family life with his wife and two teenage children, not so common in his line of work.

But is something missing? web site michaels printable coupon

While few broadcasters bask in so much praise, none seems to more resent even rare criticism.

Two years ago, Michaels mailed me the nastiest letter I have ever received from a broadcaster, over an article in which I actually praised him, but placed him slightly in arrears of Scully and Costas in that season’s postseason baseball broadcasts. He not only challenged my judgment but also my motives.

Later, when I expressed surprise to a former ABC executive who once had been Michaels’ boss, he was surprised that I was surprised. It was not an uncommon response, I was told.

Last month, Bob Raissman, a critic for the New York Daily News, was confronted by Michaels in a New York restaurant over a criticism he had written about Michaels’ work in the first Monday night NFL telecast of the season between the Bears and Giants.

An eyewitness who remembered Raissman’s complaint called Michaels’ reaction to it that night “incomprehensible.” Michaels now explains that Raissman had contended that not enough attention had been given on the telecast to the fact that Karl Nelson of the Giants had recently been discovered as suffering from Hodgkin’s disease.

“I just blew my top. I got very angry,” Michaels said, noting that cancer has struck in his own family and with close friends. “It is a very private disease, I know. How much did he want us to say? Did he want a biopsy report?” Raissman does not recall the incident exactly that way. “I wrote that ABC had failed to note the weakness in the Giants’ line as a result of losing Nelson. I was stunned by his reaction to me. I’m trying to put the episode behind.” Michaels seemed to get even angrier during the World Series.

This time, his target was Bob Lundegaard, TV critic of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, after Lundegaard took note of remarks Michaels made off-camera between innings of a Series telecast, heard only by those watching via satellite home dishes.

Lundegaard wrote that Michaels had called the Twins-Cardinals Series dull, and had complained about his Minneapolis hotel accommodations. in our site michaels printable coupon

They were hardly devastating revelations. Yet during a commercial break in Game 6, Michaels attacked Lundegaard directly while addressing satellite dish owners: “Folks, those of you looking in on Telstar (the satellite), there’s a scumbag out there by the name of Bob Lundegaard . . .” The audio was cut off at that point by ABC.

“Since we’re still on the dish, you jerk Lundegaard, try to . . .” Again, the plug was pulled.

Michaels also spoke over the satellite, ostensibly to co-analysts Jim Palmer and Tim McCarver. “Let me go through Lundegaard’s trash for syringes. Nobody straight could do that,” he said.

There is a legal question and certainly an ethical one about private remarks, even those carried on the satellite, becoming public property. But the intensity of Michaels’ retaliation blurred that issue and left him the heavy and Lundegaard the victim.

By comparison, Michaels’ confrontation during the Series with a columnist from the St. Paul Pioneer Press Dispatch was mild. Still, in addition to facing off with the writer, he went over his head and complained to the assistant publisher of the newspaper.

As a result of the furor, when the World Series film was introduced in Minneapolis last week, Michaels was uninvited, even though his voice was used on the video.

Michaels acknowledges he went “overboard” against Lundegaard. “But we had been so criticized throughout the Series in the Minneapolis papers, and dishonestly. It was ongoing . . . If you push the button long enough, something’s going to happen,” he said.

“There’s a part of me that says ‘Who cares?’ ” Michaels said of critics. “But I guess I care so deeply . . . Maybe I’m the guy who says, ‘Wait a minute.’ Maybe I’m on a crusade.” One explanation for Michaels’ nasty “crusade” could be a loathing of newspaper reporters. He wouldn’t be the first one. But that does not seem to be the case.

During the 1984 Winter Olympics, he would have been an easy winner on a poll of the most cooperative of ABC’s major broadcasters at the site. He is not aloof, like other broadcasting millionaires.

Instead, Michaels simply seems determined to give back more than he gets, unable to accept the truth that judging a broadcaster is often subjective and occasionally even unfair.

It is an occupational hazard, just as dodging dogs is for the mailman, except network broadcasters make more money, work shorter hours, and have better seats at sports events.

At age 42, Michaels should be ready to enjoy a long and prosperous run at the very top of network sports. During the Winter Olympics that begin Feb. 13, he and Dryden will again broadcast hockey, a major sport to be televised in prime time.

But woe to anyone who criticizes him. After that, woe to Michaels himself. craig ;11/18 NKELLY;11/20,09:19 CRAIG20 Jack Craig, Globe Staff

morning becomes electric

my morning jacket

How do you break in a brand new arena? Here’s a tip: try doing it with one of your city’s most prominent and industrious rock exports.

Admittedly, Louisville’s My Morning Jacket isn’t the first act to play its new hometown arena, the KFC Yum! Center. It was actually christened a few weeks ago by the Eagles. But the band will get to use the venue as a homecoming base on Friday after one its most curious road treks.

Frontman Jim James and company have just completed an intensive New York residency that began on Broadway with a performance of The Way That He Sings on The Late Show with David Letterman. MMJ then served an hour-long post-show set at the Ed Sullivan Theatre which is still viewable here.

The band then detoured to Woodstock to serve as a special guest at one of Levon Helm’s famed Midnight Ramble concerts. After a 10 song set, James teamed with Helm for some of the latter’s songs with The Band, including It Makes No Difference.

Then came the really wild run. Last week, MMJ journeyed back to Manhattan to play five club shows over six nights at Terminal 5. During the engagement, the band performed each of its studio albums in its entirety in chronological order (from 1999’s The Tennessee Fire on Oct. 18 to 2008’s Evil Urges on Oct. 23). Encores included cover tunes by Elton John, Erykah Badu, Rod Stewart, Danzig, Black Sabbath and more.

So after giving New York literally all it had, My Morning Jacket is returning home Friday for a show that could cover anything and everything.

Louisville’s Wax Fang and members of the Louisville Youth Orchestra will open the performance. Wax Fang will also journey to Lexington on Saturday for a performance at Cosmic Charlie’s with Ultra Pulverize and The Broken Spurs (9 p.m., $8).

My Morning Jacket performs with the Louisville Youth Orchestra and Wax Fang at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 29 at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville. Tickets are $52.05. Call (800) 745-3000.

critic’s pick 147

How appropriate it is that Halloween weekend finds the Grateful Dead still alive and kicking.

Though defunct for over 15 years, the pioneering jam band lives on through a ceaseless string of archival live recordings detailing most every phase of its 40 year career. Two recent entries hail from concerts held a mere four months apart in 1989. Yet the intent and execution of the music they contain are markedly different.

Crimson, White and Indigo compiles a full July 4 concert from Philadelphia’s John F. Kennedy Stadium. Running just shy of three hours in length (and presented here on three CDs and a DVD), the set list is amazingly comprehensive with guitarist Bob Weir very much in the driver’s seat. He lights a fuse under the opening Hell in a Bucket and never lets up until the band slides into a light and slightly tentative Turn on Your Lovelight. Though maintaining a more modest profile than usual, Jerry Garcia still manages to steal some thunder with the then-unreleased Standing on the Moon, one his last and loveliest collaborations with lyricist Robert Hunter.

Formerly the Warlocks fast forwards to early October of 1989 by offering two complete concerts that double the length (six CDs) and price (roughly $70) of Crimson. Intended as public rehearsals of sorts for a fall tour, the band booked itself into Hampton Coliseum in Virginia under its pre-Dead name of The Warlocks and charged a mere 18 bucks for admission. As such, the shows have a scrappy, loose sound. Some of that design is unavoidable, as in the weariness in Garcia’s singing during first night selections like Foolish Heart and Candyman. Some is truly exciting, like the revitalization that greets forgotten favorites like Attics in My Life (making its first stage appearance at a Dead show in 17 years) and Built to Last (which would be released three weeks after these concerts as the title tune to the Dead’s swan song studio album).

We also hear just how integral keyboardist Brent Mydland’s contributions had become. An imperfect but nonetheless vital harmony singer, he added a coarse luster to concert favorites like Franklin’s Tower and combustible lead vocals to a spiraling second night cover of Traffic’s Dear Mr. Fantasy. But as an instrumentalist, Mydland veered the Dead ever closer to the cosmos with a keyboard vocabulary that is considerably more expansive than the rootsier, leaner sounds of his predecessors. You hear it vividly unfold during a 46 minute suite that blends Playing in the Band, Uncle John’s Band and Dark Star. It takes up the bulk of the sixth Warlocks disc.

Less than a year after the Hampton shows, Mydland would be dead of a drug overdose. But here, as in all chapters of the band’s history, the Dead boldly lives on.

current listening 10/23/10

+ David Bowie: Station to Station (1976/2010) – Arguably David Bowie’s greatest work, Station to Station is a slab of dark post-disco cool that still rocks like mad. It lives again this fall as a three CD box set that teams the original album with an unreleased double-disc live set cut in New York two weeks after Station‘s release. A serious look and listen to one of Bowie’s most dangerously creative but critically underappreciated periods.

+ Dave Alvin: The Best of the Hightone Years (2008) – Despite the generic title, this 18-track, 77 minute disc is boldly comprehensive is its assemblage of sleek Americana cool,  righteously traditional folk and West-of-the-Rockies rock ‘n’ roll. A few unreleased treats (Dixie Highway Blues, Why Did She Stay So Long) and alternative takes fortify this vital primer album by one of America’s most skilled, soulful and literate songsmiths.

+ Caravan: In the Land of Grey and Pink (1971/2001) – An unmistakably autumnal sounding slab of vintage British prog rock. The highlight remains the eight-part, 22 minute suite Nine Feet Underground, a wondrous mix of post psychedelic pop and meaty jams by singer/guitarist Pye Hastings and keyboardist David Sinclair. A relaxed instrumental version of Winter Wine highlights the unreleased goodies added in 2001.

+ Miles Davis: Live at the Hollywood Bowl (2010) – A clean, but still bootleg-ish account of a September 1981 concert that solidified Davis’ stage return after an extended hiatus. An album-opening guitar slash by Mike Stern, which jolts Back Street Betty to life, establishes the jagged, primitive flow of these performances. One of several new low-priced import live albums documenting Davis’ final concert years.

+ Mark Knopfler: The Ragpicker’s Dream (2002) – My favorite post-Dire Straits Knopfler record. Its sound is light, sleek and pristine. But never is the music antiseptic. You Don’t Know You’re Born, for instance, positively shines from the polish. But the twang of its airtight groove is still impossibly cool. Ditto for the horns that pepper the hot rod machismo of Coyote and the Yuletide ghosts at play on the title tune. A quiet classic.

from lexington to the austin city limits

alejandro escovedo on austin city limits.

alejandro escovedo on austin city limits.

Need a reason to stay in on Saturday night? We’ve got one. Well, at least we’ve got something tasty for your recorders to lap up while you’re out.

The venerable Austin City Limits, still one of the coolest contemporary music performance series on TV, will be presenting a pack of artists that lit up Lexington stages in recent weeks.

The first is Alejandro Escovedo, who played the Kentucky Theatre as recently as Tuesday. He will be offering a setlist pulled entirely from his recent Street Songs of Love and Real Animal albums with an expanded lineup of his Sensitive Boys band. Shoot, he’s even got two ladies singing backup. Better cook up a new band name for the night, Al.

troy "trombone shorty" on ACL.

troy "trombone shorty" andrews on ACL.

The second will be Trombone Shorty, aka trombonist, trumpeter and soul pop sensation Troy Andrews. His outdoor concert on Sept. 26 was easily one of the highlights of the World Equestrian Games-related Spotlight Lexington festival. Andrews and his Orleans Avenue band will be joined briefly during the broadcast by keyboardist Ivan Neville, who played Buster’s as part of the WEG’s Alltech Fortnight Festival.

Austin City Limits will air in Lexington at 11 p.m. Saturday on KET-TV.


States News Service June 23, 2011 BERKELEY, Calif. — The following information was released by the University of California – Berkeley:

By Public Affairs, UC Berkeley Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau testified in Sacramento Wednesday on behalf of the California Dream Act, urging the Senate Education Committee to expand opportunities for undocumented students by allowing them to qualify for state-administered financial-aid programs.

Chancellor Birgeneau appeared Wednesday at a hearing of the Senate Education Committee “I consider it an honor to represent these worthy students from my campus,” Birgeneau said. “They are pursuing the dream of higher education and the hope of contributing to our state and our nation as productive citizens.” While praising undocumented students for their “tremendous initiative and courage,” Birgeneau said “they are carrying burdens far beyond what we expect of other students.” Without financial help, he warned, their educational opportunities are compromised, and the state’s economy is apt to suffer as well.

The chancellor spoke at a Capitol hearing on AB 131, part of a two-bill package supporters have dubbed the California Dream Act. The bill would allow students who are exempted from paying nonresident tuition under a 2001 law, AB 540, to apply for and participate in any state-administered student financial-aid program, including institutional aid and Cal Grant awards. this web site california dream act

A companion bill, AB 130, would allow the UC, CSU and community-college systems to provide financial aid to undocumented students from their own financial-aid reserves. That bill has been passed by the state Assembly and the Senate Education Committee, and is expected to go to the Senate Appropriations Committee next month.

Birgeneau has long supported the cause of so-called AB 540 students, and testified before the Assembly Higher Education Committee in March on behalf of AB 130. In his appearance on Wednesday, he told the Senate panel that AB 540 “opens the doors of higher education in a way that allows many more students to achieve their full potential,” but that “it is not enough, absent some financial assistance.” For undocumented students, the full costs of attending college – at Berkeley, around $31,000 per year – often exceeds their total family incomes. go to website california dream act

The chancellor called AB 131, authored by Los Angeles Assemblyman Gil Cedillo, “a critical component of ensuring that these students can attend UC Berkeley, and achieve degrees that allow them to contribute to the economic and social vitality of our state.” And he thanked Cedillo for his “constancy” in advocating for the Dream Act, because “UC Berkeley students are truly some of California’s best and brightest.” Among the students who testified at the hearing was Maria Luna, an aspiring law student who was brought to the U.S. from Mexico when she was three days old. Luna told the panel how she’d received a private scholarship to UC Davis, but that the money was placed in a joint account with her mother, who kept it for herself.

“America raised me, America adopted me,” Luna said. “I am inspired by the best of the American tradition.” If the bills are approved by the state Senate, they will go back to the Assembly for a concurrence vote and be forwarded to Gov. Jerry Brown for his consideration. Similar bills were vetoed by Brown’s predecessor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, in last year’s legislative session.

critic's pick 146

In slipping on Clapton, the newest studio album from guitar rock demigod Eric Clapton, it was only natural to expect another bloated serving of overproduced, lazily written, commercial conscious radio pop. That’s basically been the bill of fare since the once industrious guitar titan became more of a celebrity savvy rock ‘n roll underachiever in his recording career.

Let’s face it. While his performance chops have remained solid through the years, Clapton’s creative ingenuity as an album artist has pretty much evaporated.

And now this? A 62 minute, 14 track album with Clapton tackling tunes by Hoagy Carmichael and Irving Berlin? A record that shifts from lean, blues-rooted soul to sly guitar collaborations with J.J. Cale (that, by the way, beat anything the two came up with on their 2006 collaborative album The Road to Escondido) to New Orleans romps featuring Wynton Marsalis, Allen Toussaint and Trombone Shorty?

For the most part, it’s pretty tasty, stuff, too. One gets the idea that the guitarist’s recent tour with Steve Winwood may have been the catalyst for the stylistic soul searching prevalent on Clapton. It opens with a sweaty, roots-driven quartet version of Travelin’ Alone that is drenched in swamp boogie guitar grooves and churchy organ lines. The mood then brightens for the lighter blues stride of Carmichael’s Rocking Chair, with Clapton happily trading guitar licks with part-time protégé Derek Trucks.

Now, hitch all that up to curiously orchestrated summits with Cale full of hushed vocals, jazzy reverence and the kind of crafty string colors that recall Paul Buckmaster’s expert arrangements on Elton John’s early records and you would have enough ammo to claim Clapton as Clapton’s best album in ions. But things get wilder from there.

On My Very Good Friend the Milkman (cut previously by Fats Waller, among others), Clapton turns the sunshine up a notch for a cheery New Orleans brass band outing featuring Marsalis, Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews and the luminous clarinet of Dr. Michael White. Harry Woods’ When Somebody Thinks You’re Wonderful adds a summery Toussaint piano solo to the mix.

And what of the blues? Clapton’s still got them, but he’s not pouring his heart out on guitar. On Lane Hardin’s Hard Times Blues, he leaves the solos to co-producer Doyle Bramhall II, preferring instead to play mandolin.

Not everything works. Clapton and Bramhall pour on the strings of the London Session Orchestra a bit too generously at times, especially on an otherwise enticing take of Berlin’s How Deep is the Ocean. And for all of its sense of surprise, it would have been really cool to have heard the album-closing jazz standard Autumn Leaves done as an intimate instrumental minus the strings.

But one can’t complain with the bulk of Clapton. In a career marked by artistic and personal comebacks, this may just go down as his biggest and most satisfying surprise yet.

King makers: Bakers reimagine the famous Mardi Gras cake.

The Star (Amman, Jordan) March 7, 2011 By Tim Carman Little about the king cake suggests it’s made for human pleasure.

Its oval shape and doughy bloat invite unfavorable comparisons to underinflated inner tubes.

Its neon-sugar colors are certifiably cartoonish, as gaudy as the beaded trinkets that fall from the skies on Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras.

And then there’s the issue of the prize buried deep within the dough; any cake in which a diner is in danger of chomping down on a tiny plastic infant automatically places itself in the kitsch category.

The king cake would seem to be the Jerry Lewis telethon of baked goods: An annual ritual, beloved by millions and way, way overwrought.

Of course, true believers of the multicolored cake will tell you that Northerners live a bereft existence, separate and apart from the true New Orleans king cake, which is the centerpiece of Carnival parties from Jan.

6 right up to Fat Tuesday, the day before the Lenten deprivation kicks in.

The cake’s appeal becomes clearer the closer you get to the city limits and, conversely, becomes more comical the farther you travel from the cultural vortex of the Big Easy.

“I attribute my inflated civic pride and weakness for Mardi Gras in part to this early overexposure to yeast dough and unnaturally colored sugars,” writes Sara Roahen in “Gumbo Tales: Finding My Place at the New Orleans Table”.

“Before I ever experienced Mardi Gras, I had a hand in preparing for it, and rather than embittering me, the tedious assembly-line baking somehow fostered within me a sweetness for king cakes, all of them, runny sugars included.” David Guas, chef and owner of Bayou Bakery in Arlington, Va., understands an irrational attachment to king cakes.

The New Orleans native grew up sampling the city’s best, at McKenzie’s Pastry Shoppes, Gambino’s and other iconic bakeries.

The main instigators of the king cake rebellion are bakers with little to no allegiance to Louisiana culture. this web site king cake recipe

“If you’re from New Orleans, you love it,” says baker, teacher and cookbook author Peter Reinhart.

“Most versions to me are not that interesting.

I’d rather eat a Christmas fruitcake.” Baker and teacher Mark Furstenberg is blunter: “The New Orleans cakes are so incredibly ugly that it’s hard to identify with that tradition.” What both of those bakers do identify with, however, is the story behind the king cake.

There is so much symbolism wrapped up in this one cake, it’s almost impossible to separate fact from myth.

Some say the cake’s origins date to pre-Christian Europe, where tribal cultures included cakes baked as part of harvest celebrations; the man who discovered the coin or bean tucked into the cake would be the sacred king for the coming year.

It was a dubious honor: The king would be sacrificed after 12 months, his blood spread across the soil to ensure bountiful crops.

Christians in France apparently adopted part of the pagan custom and turned the cake into a symbol of the three kings who visited the Christ child on the Epiphany.

The French, being French, created elaborate, butter-heavy cakes to celebrate the occasion, such as the galette des rois, a decadent puff-pastry concoction with an almond filling.

When the French settlers brought the king cake tradition to New Orleans, it somehow morphed into a fluorescent, coffee-cakelike oval, adopting the purple/green/gold colors that would eventually define Mardi Gras.

Even the symbolism of the infant baby grew faint; drawing religious connections to Christ and the three kings became secondary to more secular functions, such as selecting a queen of the ball or just selecting who should host the next Carnival party.

Because of the ever-changing nature of the king cake, there is no definitive recipe for it, says Guas.

Some are breadlike, with drizzled icing and colorful sugars sprinkled on top.

Others are squat and stuffed with sweet things, whether a cream cheese mixture or canned apple pie filling.

There are fudge-covered “Zulu” king cakes dusted with toasted coconut shavings.

There are king cupcakes.

There are even “queen” cakes, which Roahen writes look like a “wreath of open-face jelly doughnuts, a jewel of different filling embedded into every couple inches of pastry.” Guas says he thinks most of them are hooey.

He prefers a straightforward coffee-cake interpretation, a combination of yeasted dough, cinnamon, butter, eggs, sugar and a few other ingredients. go to website king cake recipe

Interestingly enough, despite his affection for his published king cake recipe, Guas can’t stop tinkering with it.

In fact, the king cake he sells at Bayou Bakery is different from the one whose recipe appears in “DamGoodSweet: Desserts to Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth, New Orleans Style”.

He has changed flours and added a little more butter and sugar to increase the moisture and prolong the cake’s shelf life.

“These kind of things haunt me,” Guas says about his constant tinkering to improve the recipe, “in a good way.” But it’s just such manipulations that might give the king cake a better reputation outside the Crescent City, and it’s just such manipulations that we in The Post Food section were looking for when we asked three bakers to put a new spin on the Mardi Gras staple.

(And I baked a fourth version, from Krystina Castella’s cookbook “A World of Cake.”) Shauna James Ahern, a.k.a.

the Gluten-Free Girl, riffed off a familiar idea among students of the king cake: It’s essentially a tarted-up cinnamon bun.

“We have a cinnamon rolls recipe we worked on for a couple of months last year, to get it right.

To make sure the rolls were yeasty, doughy and pliable.

I just started working with that dough, adding almond extract and a bit more cinnamon.

It rose well and baked up even better.

Predictably, Furstenberg, given his distaste for the tricolor coffee cake of New Orleans, looked toward France for inspiration with his brioche version (although you can be forgiven if you mistake his tall, tube-pan interpretation for an Italian panettone).

Reinhart, on the other hand, borrowed from Eastern European traditions to create a restrained, almost artistic interpretation of a king cake in which he started with his babka recipe and embellished it, with only the smallest amount of icing and sprinkles.

Reinhart decided to ditch the plastic baby in favor of a hidden gold coin, which he felt was more symbolic of the three kings’ visit to the Christ child.

The coin also fit into Reinhart’s philosophy on king cakes: The story is more interesting than the baked good.

“The recipe to me is not that important,” he said.

“It’s important to preserve the tradition.” Post deputy Food editor Bonnie S.

Benwick contributed to this report.

WPBLOO 2011 Jordan Press & publishing Co. All rights reserved.

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in performance: alejandro escovedo and the sensitive boys

alejandro escovedo and the sensitive boys.

alejandro escovedo and the sensitive boys in the balcony of the kentucky theatre. from left: hecor munoz, alejandro escovedo, david pulkingham and bobby daniel. photo by roscoe weber.

The first point of clarification for Alejandro Escovedo last night at the Kentucky Theatre was the name of his band. It wasn’t The Sincere Boys, which was the billing that appeared on the tickets, but The Sensitive Boys.

“We appreciate the sentiment, but that’s not really what we were going for,” he said regarding the moniker mixup. But let’s examine both names for a second.

Sincere? Escovedo and his bands have always been that. Last night was no exception with a performance that shifted from party-savvy guitar rock to elegiac acoustic works to a very engaging encore segment that combined elements of both.

Sensitive? Well, the show was that, as well, but not in ways one would anticipate. Five of the concert’s opening six songs came from Escovedo’s critically lauded Street Songs of Love, the latter of two recent albums Escovedo has cut locally at the Saint Claire Recording Company.

The first four songs – This Bed is Getting Crowded, Anchor, Tender Heart and Street Songs‘ title tune continue a fruitful songwriting partnership with Chuck Prophet rooted in themes of epic love and lust. They were, as Escovedo aptly described them, “songs about love as opposed to love songs.” All also possessed an ear crunching electric drive perhaps better suited to a club than the sit down environment of a theatre crowd that was engaged but a little stymied by the long wave of very loud unfamiliarity.

The sensitive nature of the show, however, came into play when its musical scope opened up with the last of the Street Songs. Escovedo prefaced Down in the Bowery with stories of his children, especially his punk-infatuated teenage son and the proudly coarse music he is making (“every so often you make out the words ‘hate’ and ‘father’ within the screams”). The album-closing Fort Worth Blue – a loving, semi-acoustic instrumental eulogy to the great Texas music songsmith Stephen Bruton, who died last year – nicely followed.

That brought the half-full Kentucky Theatre crowd to more familiar surroundings – namely songs that have become staples of Escovedo’s many Lexington performances over the past 14 years. The medley of Juarez and Rosalie was full of quietly lush Spanish lyricism, I Was Drunk sported a wild flamenco-esque breakdown by guitarist David Pulkingham and Sex Beat came drenched in a wash of electric soundscapes that morphed into an engrossing dub-style jam before leading into the more jagged gusto of Chelsea Hotel ’78.

The encore was a party unto itself – a loose, celebratory cover of The Rolling Stones staple Beast of Burden and a show closing Always a Friend done as a sing-a-long with Escovedo and band lined up in front of the stage playing only acoustic guitar and percussion. It was part folk meditation, part hullabaloo and, of course,  all wildly sensitive.

all streets lead to lexington

alejandro escovedo. photo by marina chavez.

alejandro escovedo. photo by marina chavez.

When last we heard from Alejandro Escovedo, the acclaimed Texas rocker and songsmith was booked into the now defunct Dame on the night of the worst winter storm of 2009. A sizable portion of the city lost power that evening. But not The Dame and definitely not Esscovedo, who ripped through tunes from his then-new Real Animal album with a swift, efficient immediacy that was indicative of his firebrand rock ‘n’ roll.

But it was still a muted return for an artist that has made Lexington a second home of sorts since the mid ‘90s.

Considering Escovedo has been cultivating a strong local fanbase through frequent performances – some proudly electric and rockish, others acoustic and almost chamber-like – one expected a healthier turnout. Given that national audiences had started flocking in more appreciative numbers to Escovedo’s music since the release of Real Animal, a similar growth spurt in local attendance was in order. Shoot, Escovedo even recorded Real Animal in Lexington. Didn’t that count for something?

Not when Old Man Winter was rocking out. The snow, sludge and blackouts that night kept the crowd turnout down to the faithful few. But here we are in the height of autumn with a return Lexington performance and an even newer Escovedo recording, Street Songs of Love. Like Real Animal, it was cut locally at the Saint Claire Recording Company. And like its predecessor, Street Songs of Love screams something to the rest of the world that Lexington has known for roughly 15 years – that Escovedo is one of the most keenly literate, emotionally direct and robustly rocking songwriters in or out of Lone Star country.

“It was such a blast to make this record and to write this record,” Escovedo said by phone recently from a tour stop in Miami. “Everything about Street Songs of Love has been really exciting. It’s a real fun one to play, too, which is not always the case with an album. I can tell you now that The Boxing Mirror was not a fun record to play live. I don’t think we’ve played any of those songs live for awhile now.”

The Boxing Mirror was released in 2006. Produced by one of his musical idols, John Cale, the album was inspired, in varying degrees, by the years Escovedo’s life and career were derailed while battling Hepatitis C. But upon regaining his health, revisiting the songs from his darker days in nightly performance settings offered few thrills.

“I think it was just about what those songs were reflecting. I was trying to get so far away from what they were speaking of. I just didn’t want to live there again. So I became very anxious to get to work on a new record. That’s where Real Animal came in. It changed the whole attitude and reflected more of what I was at the time – healthier, stronger and more creative.”

Real Animal also represented a dramatic shift in Escovedo’s songwriting. Specifically, he penned the entire album with West Coast Americana stylist Chuck Prophet.

“First of all, songwriting is such a personal thing in my opinion,” Escovedo said. “It has been for many, many albums now. And while I have co-written with other people, I’ve never written an entire album with anyone. But when Chuck and I started work on Real Animal, we realized that we had something special going on. You put the two of us together and we start telling stories and showing off for each other. Do that and you’re going to get some good songs.”

Prophet also co-wrote over half of Street Songs of Love. But the guest list is a little more crowded this time. Another of Escovedo’s musical heroes, Mott the Hoople’s Ian Hunter bolsters the vocals on Down in the Bowery (“Ian continues to impress me on a level that very few artists do”) while Bruce Springsteen sings with typical reverence on Faith (“He’s a real gracious guy to have done this”).

Of perhaps greater importance, though, is the fact Real Animal and Street Songs of Love were produced by Tony Visconti, who was behind the boards for the career defining early ‘70s albums of David Bowie and T. Rex, among many other projects.

“I think having been a fan, first of all, of his production and his expertise in making records helped create a relationship that is so intensely musical. But that relationship is also built in friendship and camaraderie. I think we can all hear the difference between the albums I’ve made in the past and the last two that I’ve done with Tony.”

But what literally brings Esvovedo’s Visconti-produced music home to local audiences is that fact that Real Animal and Street Songs of Love were both cut within the Lexington studio walls of Saint Claire.

“Just to be in Lexington with the four guys in my band (dubiously dubbed The Sensitive Boys), Tony and the guys at Saint Claire and then to come up with the record that we did says a lot about that combination of people. So as far as I’m concerned, we’ll probably come back there for the next one as well.”

Alejandro Escovedo and the Sensitive Boys perform at 7:30 tonight at the Kentucky Theatre. Tickets are $33.75. Call (859) 231-7924.


The Boston Globe (Boston, MA) April 21, 2004 | Liz Kowalczyk, Globe Staff Four doctors’ groups in Eastern Massachusetts have taken the unusual step of merging, saying their larger size will allow them to increase profits but also improve medical care for their nearly 600,000 patients.

The deal includes an odd twist: All the groups agreed to become nonprofits, which allows them to pump more of their revenue back into operations a competitive advantage rather than paying it toward taxes.

Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates with 500 doctors, one of the largest multispecialty physician practices in the state has been pursuing the merger for more than two years. The new group of doctors, which has organized under a parent organization called HealthOne Care System, includes about 700 physicians.

The doctors are following an example set by hospitals during the 1990s, when more than 1,000 US hospitals merged, generally to gain financial clout against powerful managed-care companies.

In recent years, doctors increasingly have complained about flat or falling salaries while squeezing in more patients to meet demand and keep pace with the cost of running their offices. Meanwhile, many doctors say they are unable to afford electronic medical records and other cutting-edge technology to improve patient care and safety.

According to the most recent figures from the Center for Studying Health System Change, a nonprofit research organization in Washington, doctors’ salaries fell 5 percent between 1995 and 1999, increasing just slightly in 2000, when taking into account inflation and cost of living. As a result, according to a study the center published last month, physicians are using a variety of strategies to increase their incomes, including offering patients bone densitometry tests, positron emission tomography, or PET, scans, and endoscopy tests in their offices; opening ambulatory surgery centers; and merging into larger groups.

The impact on patients is unclear. Critics say physicians’ business practices are contributing to the public’s rising use of unnecessary medical services and to growing costs. But other health specialists say larger doctor groups may operate more efficiently and are better at coordinating patient care. see here south shore medical center

Kenneth Paulus, Harvard Vanguard’s chief executive, said he was looking for a way to boost revenue for doctors and improve patient care at the same time. Doctors in Massachusetts, he said, are seeing “15 to 20 percent more patients than they did 10 years ago,” while they earn about the same, an average of $150,000 for an internist.

“When you consider inflation, that’s a significant hit on income,” he said. “Doctors also want to go back to spending more time with their patients. I hear physicians talking about it every day.” The doctors formed HealthOne partly “to help us survive these difficult economic times,” Paulus said.

The new group, formed in January, also includes Dedham Medical Associates, Southboro Medical Group, and South Shore Medical Center, which is also a doctors’ group. Concord Hillside Medical Associates and Lynnfield Medical Associates already joined Harvard Vanguard during the past two years.

The group is the largest independent doctors’ group in Massachusetts that is not aligned with a particular hospital network. It’s smaller than the physicians’ group associated with Partners HealthCare System, the parent organization of Massachusetts General and Brigham and Women’s hospitals, which has about 1,100 primary care doctors, 2,000 community cardiologists, gastroenterologists, and other specialists, and 2,000 specialists at the two teaching hospitals, many of whom do research part time and treat patients part time. But HealthOne is now significantly bigger than Lahey Clinic, a group practice with about 450 doctors.

Paulus said HealthOne will have more buying power to implement electronic patient medical records, as well as the resources to open an outpatient surgery center, and two additional imaging centers. Harvard Vanguard opened an imaging and endoscopy center last year at its Kenmore Square location, and already has electronic medical records. Imaging and endoscopy centers bring in extra revenue for doctors, and Paulus said that by owning their own, the doctors can keep better track of their patients’ results. go to web site south shore medical center

“Right now, we’re referring out to for-profit imaging centers. Patients go all over the place,” he said. “There’s very little integration of information and data. We think we can significantly improve patient care and safety.” Dr. Michael Lee, a pediatrician with Dedham Medical Associates, said it would have cost his group $1 million a year for seven years to implement electronic medical records, electronic prescribing, e- mail communication with patients, and other Internet-based medical information systems. “We were eager to go forward with this, but we could never make that leap,” he said.

Harvard Vanguard already was a nonprofit group, but the other physicians’ groups converted to nonprofit status as part of the affiliation. This allows them to keep more nontaxable money in reserves, which they then can invest in new services and systems.

The doctors also will be able to negotiate fees jointly with health insurers.

In the study published last month, researchers at the Center for Studying Health System Change said they are concerned that doctors’ groups that offer profitable ancillary services will be more likely to refer patients for unnecessary tests because they stand to profit from them.

“The main issue the public worries about is the conflict of interest that could lead to overuse of services,” said Paul Ginsburg, president of the organization. “But I worry about this more with a small group of 10 physicians than I do with a large organization where the financial benefit to each individual doctor is more diffuse. This new organization could be good for patients; large groups do much better at integrating care for their patients.” But hospital executives worry that this new physicians’ group, as well as other doctors’ groups providing ancillary services, will lure away a growing portion of hospitals’ best-paying business. Physicians are not required to treat the uninsured, and tend to attract patients with private insurance and simpler problems to their MRI and endoscopy centers. This has the potential to leave hospitals with the more complex cases, and more poor patients.

“Hospitals have to care for anyone who walks though the door,” said David Ball of the Massachusetts Hospital Association. “The proliferation of these providers makes it more difficult to do that, and puts more pressure on hospitals.” Liz Kowalczyk can be reached at

Liz Kowalczyk, Globe Staff

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