2018: A Year In Food
In 2018, my gym coach assigned me to keep a food blog so he could track my meals. Through developing healthy eating habits to satisfy all of my nutritional needs and a rigorous exercise programme, I lost the 21 kg between January-August 2018 I'd gained on anti-depressants.
I wanted it to be somewhere more private rather than being shoved down people's throats (literally) through Instagram/WhatsApp. Hence I've posted my culinary creations here.
Being vegetarian and/or vegan always presents a challenge in terms of hitting the protein target so this was particularly the most interesting challenge for me.
I made a conscious decision to stop food blogging in 2019 (due to time restraints), but it's useful to have a year's diet documented as a reference and a source of inspiration!
There are no words to describe Snarky Puppy - they are, simply, indescribable. When I first witnessed their open clinic in April 2012, it opened my mind to a whole new set of possibilities concerning live musical invention. Seeing their live show was something else entirely. Snarky Puppy is a jazz-rock-fusion project hailing from Brooklyn, New York. Currently on tour throughout the UK (London, Leeds, Manchester) and Europe, Snarky Puppy stopped off at XOYO in Shoreditch tonight, to unleash their magic at the London Jazz Festival.
The band is unique for two reasons. Firstly, it is completely undeputisable. This means that every member is as important as the next, and each individual contributes in equal measure to the whole. When one member is absent, the band cannot perform. It is this level of commitment and dedication, not only to the project, but to its binding musical and social relationships, that set this band apart from the rest. Secondly, none of the music is written. Themes can be played in a multitude of different ‘modes’ and still be the same, and the music is in constant flux from tour to tour. This means that the same composition can bring about new circumstances and challenges that make it sound completely different. Ontologically, however, it is the same composition. The compositions are formulated on musical ‘germs’ that grow and develop outwards from within themselves - it is these processes in which lies the magic.
‘Flood’ opens the set with a geodesic, rhythmic entity slowly turning around on itself, like meat on a skewer, fleshed out with a fragmentary vein of brass melody, always coming back to land on the familiar hooks and presses. The composition flits between two modes of reality - on the one hand, strident and organised; on the other hand, voyeuristic and pensive - like two distorted sides of the same face. This dialectic tendency is a distinguishing feature of many Snarky Puppy compositions. The zappy, synthesiser solo twists psychedelically through this sonic transept, expelling outwards in shards of timbral colour, and occasionally stepping outside of the harmony to reveal a box within a box. Upon its culmination, the band arrives at possibly one of the most extraordinary harmonic sequences known to date. This was deconstructed in the clinic that I attended in April. Basically, the sequence comprises six bars of modulation, played out in a swirling guitar texture, which gradually revolves and reverberates upwards like a gigantic machinism taking to the stars. Upon this is superimposed a zigzagging brass melody, which propels the improvising lead guitar into the stratosphere. It is amazing how such a non-verbal medium can promote such an elated response from the audience; it is the paradigm of a new dawn in improvised music - a new philosophy, an all-encompassing, therapeutic way of composing without words - based on the principle of developing a single idea within a complex, sonic situation. After reaching the point at which the musical machinism is fully suspended in the stars, the music violently transforms into a disturbed carnival of ‘We Will Rock You’-style, thumping rock, bringing the machinism crashing down to earth and labouring it into the ground.
‘Ready Wednesday’ follows this, written by the only English member of the band, Bill Laurance (piano). His first cluster of five notes provokes screams of recognition from the audience, and launches into a racy and syncopated piano invention, over pumping disco beats and spiky horn stabs. One feature that is prevalent throughout many of Snarky Puppy’s compositions is the use of busy, florid rhythms surging underneath a cyclic, yet static and sustained, melodic line. This creates the illusion of flying very fast over a wide, open space. The prophetic, thematic undertow is always on the move, progressing ever closer to a goal that it may or may never reach, until some kind of release from the cycle propels it into another dimension. I would go so far as to say that the music is like a film score (sci-fi comes to mind, such as Star Wars or Deep Space Nine), except that it does not require a visualisation to bring it into relief; its thematic development is metaphysical in itself. Here, any spatial-conceptual references are purely analogical. At this point, the music descends underwater, until rays of piano permeate it once again and throw it out of the water and back into the funk.
Harmonically, the music is rich enough, that even without having known it prior to hearing it, it reaches inside of you and wells up not only emotions that are both powerful and complex, but also abstract ideas that are so deep that you can relate to them even if you have never heard the music before - bringing you back to moments of childhood, disembodied thoughts and memories. The compositions manifest the unfolding of history - the sediment of time itself. Like Adorno on the music of Schoenberg, for the most part, music has never really broken away from the technical restraints to become a ‘thing’ or an ‘experience’ in its own right. Listening to this music, you momentarily forget who is playing what instrument and how, as you become solely focussed on The Forms.
‘Slow Demon’ is up next, rolling out a boxy, polygasmic groove, surrounded by elaborate horn structures oozing parasitically out of the sides, grinding cogs, rattling cages and whizzing mechanics. Again, we experience the seamless alternation between two different modes of being, sudden leaps from the extrovert to the introvert. The saxophone solo, encased in a vocoder shell, reminds one of the mechanical age, the onset of technology and the transgression from organic evolution to digital revolution - the sediment of the times. The saxophone solo flits in and out of existence among towering colossi of synth pad and brass mesh. Every time it comes around, the soloist and band collide together on the dramatic seventh beat. Upon its culmination, the great, multi-faceted contraption screeches to a halt, opening out into a vista of Hammond organ spiralling upwards. Again, we are returned to the transcendental ideas of the first song, ‘Flood’, and it seems that some themes are universal and branch across more than one composition. For me, this composition reveals the advanced development of the complex human being. Like societies, the Hammond organ and lead guitar theme builds, while the percussion stirs up a resistance; a ferocious rebellion which rises to the same strength such that it almost drowns out the main theme - here, the excitement lies in a dynamic battle between rhythm and harmony - leaving the audience to question, which side is going to win? The band segues into a distorted six-eight metre, lazily pulled under a carpet of harmonic disorientation, such that it almost morphs into a slow reggae. What is to happen next?
‘Young Stuff’ is so immersive that it is almost like its forms are unfolding in three dimensions, right inside your very ‘brain and booty’! With its dynamic tensions, its schizophrenic alternations between two opposing sides, and its funky, well-coordinated snaps and breaks, the music empowers and transports you through its mind-bending soundscapes. Claire commented ‘I think the piano player [Bill Laurance] is enjoying himself far too much - look at his face!’ I asked Claire how she found out about the band. She is studying the guitar, and her guitar teacher advised her to check them out. After all, the name of the album is ‘Tell Your Friends’ - much of what Snarky Puppy represents is the fact that words cannot describe the music, words simply cannot unlock those innermost structures that make the music so compelling. The name ‘Snarky Puppy’ does not really give much away, concerning what the music is about. I’ve come to realise that the music is not actually about anything, apart from itself; it creates its own dramas, unleashing a barrage of abstract happenings, situations and eventualities. And perhaps the name ‘Snarky Puppy’ is the key to this door because it the name does not really mean anything, objectively - it can be interpreted, subjectively. Like fractals blowing in the wind, you cannot actually see the wind, only the objects that the wind touches. Likewise, you cannot see what the music is cognitively imparting - only the reactions from the audience are telling.
In terms of vivacity, the band has the ability to seamlessly interchange between two opposite ends of the dynamic spectrum - as if they were slipping through a curtain into an adjacent musical ‘environment’, or simply tapping into a continuum that was happening all along (rather than starting or stopping sections). The music not only creates its own Time, but it presents us with an alternative concept of Time, one that is cyclic as opposed to the linear sense that we are so accustomed to in the ‘Western’ world - all at once, plunging from the noise and bright lights into the quiet depths of deep space.
I remember from the clinic that each of the players listens to all kinds of music, and they all exchange music amongst one another. This enables the group to truly establish a common musical forum, in terms of their influences and compositional ideas. While a central musical theme is unfolding, the players are, consistently, hearing other tunes buzzing around in their heads. Occasionally, I hear snatches of melodies from other lifetimes and experiences that burst out of their shells and bleed into the present continuum, as if the central theme were surrounded by a milky way of alternate, parallel realities, all contributing to the same composition. These idea ‘bubbles’ are neither good nor bad, happy or sad, they simply exist within the collective subconscious.
Tonight, Snarky Puppy feature a guest musician with whom they have had a most fulfilling musical relationship - a ‘freak of nature’ - about whom they can recount many stories: percussion, Jason Marsalis. ‘Alma’ (‘Soul’) introduces Latin rhythms; a three-two Partido Alto feel, bolstered by layers of wood, metal and electricity, supplanted with a suave reggaeton, and staggered with heavy metal. The trumpet solo throws up snapshots of different moments out of time, before Jason Marsalis skids into a giddy, conga-injected Cuban rumba, complete with bell, conga, bongó and timbales. His improvisation builds, punctuated at every other turn by a sparse stab on the ‘and of one’, like a gigantic press. Eventually, this crunches back to the original, half tempo.
‘Thing of God’ is the only composition written in the UK (in Bill Laurance [pianist’s] living room as he was making pesto). It opens with a tantalizingly shrill ‘clown-walk’, which is both quirky and odd. However, it is not long before this descends into open, angelic pastures - evocative to the opening of a Disney movie. Instantly, I recognise this theme as the track featured on one of their most notable live, studio videos; bringing in spiritual soul and gospel influences. At once, I know that I’m in for a ride, because this one modulates into ever higher and ecstatic planes. Again, I’m reminded that there are two sorts of people - those who have heard Snarky Puppy, and those who have not. Likewise, this song separates two states of being - the light, silkiness of the main theme, and the chugging underbelly of its counter-theme. Subsequently, the main theme returns, subverted in the minor, before giving way to a gloriously modulating stairway, ever progressing upwards, and the sky’s the limit!
The last number transforms from a brass band-style march, to a cosmetic, free improvised New Orleans-style ‘Trad’-jazz momentum, before delving into a funky hotbed of James Brown-ness. I am particularly impressed by the way in which the band members are announced, celebrating each name with a party piece of brass and percussion, integrated into the flow. By the end of it, the audience is ecstatic, and bring the band back to stage by thumping the ground with their feet, and chanting ‘Snarky’ all over again.
‘White Cap’ - the encore - pulls together some thrashing disco beats with the characteristic slow, brass melodies laid down on top, like the light squares on a dance floor amidst spinning, metallic loops and sequences. The most astonishing feature of this composition is the dynamic interplay between harmony and melody. While the melody is very simple and consists of static, walking intervals, the points at which it lands throw up complex harmonic implications - like hot surfaces touching. This technique is most effective when, after having projected this cycle many times, the backing drops out, leaving the horns alone. The theme is so strong, so profound, that it can be justified by the horns alone - simply because when the harmony ceases, it carries on in the mind of the listener.
These characteristics reveal the profound universality of the music; that the compositions are merely the adjustments of perspective that interrogate and interfere with forces that are already present.
Michael League - bass
Mike Maher - trumpet/flugelhorn
Chris Bullock - tenor saxophone
Justin Stanton - trumpet/keyboards
Robert Lanzetti - guitar
Mark Letteiri - guitar
Nate Werth - percussion
Dave Laurance - keyboards
+ special guest Jason Marsalis - percussion
Australian Art Orchestra @ Purcell Room, Southbank Centre
Australian Art Orchestra, founded in 1994, plugs the disparity in larger ensembles geared towards primal, free improvisation.
Through the AAO, director Paul Grabowsk explores his fascination for engaging with musicians from other cultures, in a musical dialogue that transcends structural and technical boundaries. Australian music is the perfect case study, for him, since - apart from being Australian himself - Aboriginal music dates back tens of thousands of years to be one of the oldest musical forms known to man.
Through their relationship with native Australian, Ben, and the young Wagilak group, one of the few surviving indigenous groups, Australian Art Orchestra play the landscape, explore new conceptions of time, and resurrect the spirits of the deceased.
Rory spent the first few years of his life in an ice cave, carving out his palace of wonder. He's a bit of a love doll, but he who melts the ice shall have their reward.