Thursday, January 27, 2011

Beer and football — playoffs, week two

The game: Jets at Patriots
The beer: Cody Unz Ya Altbier
The result: Fuuuuuuck
The commentary: I know nothing about football.

Spending a week away from the game is a good way to deal with the end of your team's season. I don't know what I would have done without the Golden Globes—A. was all excited to watch, and when the game was over and she asked if I was going to watch the postgame stuff I harumphed and changed the channel. The red carpet and Ricky Gervais were just what I needed, as self-aggrandizing celebrity culture does well to balance out football-related despondency.

It's a good thing I'm not superstitious or else I might got into it's-all-my-fault mode. A couple of weeks ago I picked up the Cody altbier (my least-favorite beer of the season—insofar as I actually didn't like it at all—paired well with the Pats' worst game of the season) and, for the "inevitable" championship game, Berkshire's "Shabadoo" Black & Tan Ale. I knew I'd want something reliable for what figured to be a tough matchup against the Steelers–Ravens winner. Drag.

So on Sunday, following a week-long media blackout (no Mike Reiss, no PFW in Progress, no Patriots Daily), I muted the games, drank my Shabadoo and finally finished the Krakauer book (highly recommended) before starting Jonathan Safran Foer's so-far-irritating Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Some Christmases ago I gave it to A. because I liked the cover. She never got through it and it's been sitting on our shelf ever since, dying to be sold or donated. I'm turned off by contemporary authors who can't just produce a good story but I thought I'd give it a shot, though I can already tell I should have chosen to reread The Bachman Books instead of engaging another "next great American novelist" who wears trendy glasses and does forest-crippling things with typography. Say what you will about Dan Brown (I can't remember if Digital Fortress or Deception Point was my guilty pleasure a few years ago because they're basically the same book) but I think well designed ambigrams are more interesting than scanned scraps of notepaper and purposely illegible text. And I guess some readers can't be trusted to imagine what two-and-a-half pages of integers might look like. Anyway, I look forward to not seeing the movie.

The healing process began Saturday evening when I watched the ESPN documentary Four Days in October, chronicling the 2004 Red Sox comeback over the Yankees. I loved the behind-the-scenes clips and puzzled over the value of intermittently cutting to Bill Simmons (someone I used to enjoy reading until he morphed into this generation's Rick Reilly a few years ago) and Lenny Clarke (ditto Don Rickles) sitting in a bar, not drinking their beers and trying to provide context as if the series played out in a world without cable television. (The Sports Guy lost me in 2007 when, long after the fact, he said Jarvis Green—someone with significant playing time over a number of years—and not Marquise Hill—who didn't play a meaningful down his entire (short) career—was the Patriots' defensive lineman who died in a jet ski accident. Does he even follow this team when his bookie's not around?) Anyway, I walked away encouraged… by the Yankees. They lost, they continued with moderate success for a bit and then they won again in 2009. It's the same blueprint if the Pats can win next year or the year after and, despite how upset I am that it didn't work out this year, I have no reason to believe they won't be right back in this thing in September. The quarterback just had the second-best season of his career (maybe the best, if you consider the talent differential from 2007), some defensive building blocks are in place with Vince Wilfork, Devin McCourty and Jerod Mayo (who still needs to emerge as a consistent playmaker) and the young guys learned the hard way that it's not all kittens and pancakes—hopefully they'll want to know what it feels like to win a playoff game.

Watching the Jets lose was rewarding, particularly because their idiotic roughing-the-punter penalty contributed to the outcome. While everyone was raving about what a remarkable quarterback Sanchez had become they forgot that his crunch-time three-and-out two weeks earlier was saved by a similarly idiotic roughing-the-punter by the Colts. Sanchez is pretty good and maybe even plain good—he played well against the Pats, aside from some early accuracy problems—and stability at that position will keep the Pats–Jets rivalry going for years.

I rooted for the Packers in the NFC game because they've had some bad luck this year and because Cutler and the Bears are exceptionally overrated. I hope they destroy the Steelers—no more picking the lesser of two AFC evils. Each yellow-thighed team is capable of playing poorly but this should be an exciting, high-scoring affair featuring two aggressive defenses, one athletic quarterback and one athletic sex-offending quarterback. Just remember that I know nothing about football.

Up next: One more Patriots post and then I'll start working on a year-in-music list. Beer and football will return next season. Cheers!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

I hope Jess still has a job

Courtesy of our CBS affiliate's local-news feed. I don't know if "Jess Will Type Headlines Here" is actually the subject of the story because it links to a dead page, but I'm guessing Jess is shirking her duties and goofing off on Facebook.

Also, Lynn is the next town over from me. Encouraging.

This is indeed a stall tactic to keep from having to write about beer and catastrophe.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Beer and football — playoffs, week one (bye)

The beer: Tetley's English Ale
The commentary: A relaxing, stress-free Sunday is nice for a change. I'm thankful the loudmouth Jets won last night because I'm watching the Ravens push the Chiefs around and I really want no part of them next week. (The week after that, assuming the Pats whoop the Jets, I wouldn't mind a piece of them if they take care of business in Pittsburgh.) Funny story about last night's game, we have a pleasant "sun room" space right off the living room that's large enough for a desk and a recliner. It's got windows on three sides and faces the street and, yes, welcomes the sun every morning. Along the front window we've strung up these blue icicle Christmas lights that turn on and off every evening via a timer. (Never mind that we put them up last Christmas and they've been there ever since. Hey, we like blue things.)

Last night the lights switched off literally two seconds before Folk hit the field goal to end the blue Colts' season. I thought that was pretty cool. If I were a superstitious man I'd hang up some green lights and set the timer to turn them off around 7:30 next Sunday. But I'm not and, besides, I don't fear these Jersey frauds. I don't know if Green-Ellis will get more than sixty yards on the ground (unless it's a blowout and the Pats are trying to kill the clock, though I see them running it up instead) but he and especially Woodhead will do damage through the air, along with just about every other wide receiver and tight end on the team as Brady chucks it around for three hundred or so yards. I'm not expecting a laugher like last time but the Jets will probably be playing catch-up all afternoon, and therefore won't but able to run the ball as much as they'd like. That punk Tomlinson will be pouting by the middle of the third quarter.

Enough football. The Ravens just won anyway. I've got a sip or two of Tetley's remaining (I turn into a child every time I pour a pub can, oohing and aahing as the foam cascades). I included it as part of a make-your-own six-pack yesterday after indulging in a wonderful stout- and porter-tasting event at that new market up the street. The beer distributor hosting it was really nice and enthusiastically allowed me as many half-Dixie cups as I wanted. She was serving Ipswich Oatmeal Stout (which I pick up in Vinnin Square from time to time), Mad River Steelhead Extra Stout (very smooth) and Scotch Porter (so wonderful I walked out with a six-pack and will open one in a minute), Otter Creek Stovepipe Porter (another local winner that supposedly was the most popular) and Southern Tier Choklat Stout (very good but a little too chocolaty to have much in one sitting). Alongside the porter (this is delicious!), I filled out the make-your-own with a can of Dale's Pale Ale and twelve-ounce bottles of Troëgs Java Head Stout (featured earlier this season), Left Hand Milk Stout, a somewhat risky Ithaca "Flower Power" IPA and an exceptionally risky Wells Banana Bread Beer. Feel the apprehension!

I also picked up a couple of bombers for the next two weeks. One of them I know and love and the other is an Amesbury brewer I'm unfamiliar with. I realize I'm taking next week's game for granted in assuming a victory but what are you going to do. (I haven't decided if I'll keep this going if the Pats should lose before reaching the Super Bowl.) Anyway, the new shop apparently did a nice job marketing the event on Facebook because there was a great turnout, even with the snow. (I'm not on Facebook but I was speaking with a guy there and he said that's how he'd heard. I learned of it on my way to the train last week, reading the chalkboard they have hanging outside—no need to worry about security settings with that.) The owner even had some cheese and chocolate available, which was a nice touch. Still, she wasn't particularly friendly even after I spent more than $50 on beer and other treats. It's a neat little place in spite of this, especially to have close by (to have in our town, honestly; there aren't many places here for a middle-class, thirty-something couple to feel welcome) and the number of patrons leaves me encouraged that it might stick around awhile. They're closed on Sundays, but so long as I avoid any blue-law flashbacks I'll have a number of great craft-beer options during my team's potential march to Dallas. Please wish me and my convenience the best of luck.

Up next: It's Jets week. Patriots home crowds tend to suck because real fans (like this guy) are priced out of attending. Still, I have confidence that my sardonic New England brothers and sisters at the Big Razor won't let me down: anyone who can turn foot fetishism, sexual harassment and driving under the influence into an NFL ON CBS sign gets a Scotch Porter on me. Cheers!

Friday, January 7, 2011

In defense of Impulse #AS-95, Edition I

"Be careful, this might make you believe in God." – Me, after giving a CDR (!) of John Coltrane's A Love Supreme and Ascension to a friend for his birthday

Coltrane released Ascension in 1966. I first heard it in the late nineties and finally bought it in 2003 or 2004. It continues to challenge me, as do most things you learn to love for the rest of your life. I discovered the man and his music by accident, having backed into a Pablo CD misleadingly dubbed The Best of John Coltrane. Where I might have ended up with safe studio recordings of ballads I instead was introduced to some groundbreaking (to me, at least) early-sixties European concert performances. It's a wonderful document and I can't imagine jumping into his catalog in better fashion: much earlier and his (relatively) straightforward late-fifties treatment of standards and blues might sound dull; much later and his avant-garde excursions of '65, '66 and '67 could be a little too intense.

(I don't really know what I'm talking about when it comes to jazz. I don't know what modes are and I'll leave it to the nerdophiles to argue whether or not Ascension is free jazz. As with wine, I'm unable to sort out the flavors but I like the way they taste and how they make my brain all swimmy.)

So with each ensuing Coltrane purchase I went forward and backward: Giant Steps (1960) to A Love Supreme (1965) to Blue Train (1957; the one owned by people who own only one, similar to Miles Davis and Kind of Blue) to John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman (1963) to Olé Coltrane (1961), etc. As a result I now celebrate his entire catalog, so I couldn't have gone about it better if I'd tried—particularly because it eased me into what is likely his most divisive album. (From Lewis Porter's essay accompanying Ascension's 2000 reissue: "To some, it was Coltrane's breakthrough album, a bracing declaration of independence from the prevailing musical restrictions. To others, it marked the beginning of a talented musician's disturbing slide into chaos." Reminds me of what Dylan was going through around the same time, except I think Dylan was purposely pissing people off. Coltrane was looking for something new.) Over that time I heard one version or another (I'll get to that in a minute; and in case you don't know, the original LP consisted only of a title track, split into two parts) of "Ascension" and eventually appreciated its transcendent achievement.

It wasn't easy. The preceding A Love Supreme remains my favorite Coltrane album but the nod to its theme at the beginning of "Ascension" wasn't enough to make me a believer. It wasn't so much the squonky nature of the playing—I'd become accustomed to Coltrane and part-time sideman Pharoah Sanders (who plays on Ascension) doing plenty of that for years—but rather the layered, indistinct quality of the non-solo portions.

I won't go into why I like it now when I once did not. I've since been exposed to more "out there" music and I suppose my tastes have opened up or shifted over the years (no more buying stuff based solely on green-light reviews in fucking alterna-rags like some nineteen-year-old asshole, that's for sure; though, in fairness, Spin first pointed me toward the Jesus Lizard's Liar and a year ago I appointed it my favorite album of 1992) so I'm sure that has something to do with it. I also fell harder and harder in love with the drumming of my man Elvin Jones, whose polyrhythmic style (I looked it up) does a lot more for me than succeeding Coltrane drummer Rashied Ali's self-consciously atmospheric playing. I am not a drummer but I'm a sucker for good drumming, and by concentrating on Jones's wild, organic flourishes—still keeping time—I was capable of seeing the big picture.

The eleven-man group recorded two takes of "Ascension" in June 1965. (Another artist would be booed at Newport a month later.) They differ in that the second sounds like it was performed at a slightly quicker pace and therefore is almost two minutes shorter. In addition, Archie Shepp's and John Tchicai's saxophone solos were flip-flopped in the middle (explanation below) and Jones gets a little star time before the concluding ensemble.

When the album was released the following year it contained the second take, with "Part 1" on the A-side and "Part 2" on the B-side. Opinions differ regarding what happened next. The Discogs database (an extremely useful website to have around when considering the tagging/artwork issues mentioned during my fourteen hundred-word introduction to last year's three-hour "best of" playlist), which pulls much of its information from sleeve notes, press releases and magazine articles, explains it one way: "By accident, [producer] Bob Thiele put out the wrong take. After he went through the initial press run, he switched the masters to the other take and inscribed 'Edition II' on the inside of the runout circle." So it was Thiele's error that led to the substitution, right?

Porter's reissue essay tells another story: "Two complete versions of 'Ascension' were recorded, and Coltrane selected one to be released in 1966. Shortly afterward, Coltrane decided he liked the unissued take better, primarily because he didn't like the lack of variety created by the two alto saxophonists [Tchicai and Marion Brown] soloing back to back on the version that was released. Producer Bob Thiele substituted the other take for subsequent pressings, without explanation, even though the solo order didn't match that given in the liner notes. The only hint that this was a different 'Ascension' was the phrase 'Edition II' inscribed in the vinyl near the label." So Coltrane (all along or in retrospect) meant for the first take to be released because he (all along or in retrospect) insisted the Tchicai-then-Shepp-then-Brown order (Shepp's tenor sax separating the two altos) was superior… right?

In the end, different recordings were made available because someone screwed up or someone else changed his mind. Whatever. Imagine if two unique versions of one of your favorite albums existed? (Take a bow, Raw Power!) And imagine if those Hollywood fat cats finally acted in consumers' best interests and bundled each of them together for the price of one? Impulse/Verve/Universal has kindly done so—they generally do a good job with reissues anyway, adding bonus tracks and such, and kudos to them. Now we listeners can indulge in one or the other or both—personally, I prefer the second-take "Edition I." It's a little tighter and the added treat of a Jones solo evolving out of his interplay with bassists Jimmy Garrison (his battery mate since '62) and Art Davis is beautiful. It's short at twenty-five seconds but it propels him into the finale, where to me it sounds like he plays with a little more vigor than in the earlier take. Others will disagree on which is better so it's nice to have both—particularly with a little ambient studio chatter included between tracks.

If not for clumsiness and/or fickleness we might be unable to choose at all without spending $300 on eBay. Thanks again, human nature. You're the best.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Beer and football — week seventeen

The game: Dolphins at Patriots
The beer: Long Trail Imperial Porter
The result: Win, 38–7
The commentary: Ho-hum. Another destruction, another twenty-two ounces. At least some nice Brian Hoyer and eight-percent-alcohol action kept things interesting.

I don't have much to say this week. It was nice to see Julian Edelman cash in on some of that great punt-return potential. And a new coffee shop/market opened up by the hometown train station. I had the day off yesterday so took a stroll down to check it out. It's true that I practically walk by it every day on the way to and from the train, but it's on the other side of the street and I've almost been run down a few times already just trying to chuck a Netflix into the mailbox. I figured having the day off with nothing planned would mean I could carefully take my time and look both ways and such. The shop is pretty neat but they don't serve anything iced "until Spring… Summer" so I left with a hot Colombian something-or-other, a rarity for me (even iced coffee is only once a week or so, due to a swelling iced chai addiction that has come around to the more genuine-tasting options at the Equal Exchange and Sip cafés in Boston). The owner wasn't particularly friendly—odd way to go about staying in business—but I browsed a minute and was really pleased to discover an excellent, if small, craft beer selection. Plenty of new bombers for me to try, and how about that but it's the playoffs this weekend.

I didn't get up to much else. I watched Cloverfield and yelled at the TV a lot, hoping that if I'm ever in a similar situation a top priority will be to find something for my companion to wear beside a cocktail dress and high heels. I suppose a suspension of disbelief is necessary… even the guys in Predator were slaughtered after remaining calm and relying on their survival and combat training. Except for Billy—challenging the predator with a machete and a Sagat-esque chest gash didn't make a lick of sense during the five or six remaining seconds of his life. (Wikipedia says actor Sonny Landham was "unstable" during filming so maybe it was the character's inevitable direction.) Still, he is the one who sniffed the thing out in the first place. Score one for insanity.

I also watched the ESPN documentary Muhammad and Larry. It's a well done and impossibly sad study of the decline of a champion who might just be our greatest living American. Number two: Richard Kline!

Up next: The Pats get a week off to rest and study film on potential round-two opponents. The Steelers have earned the other AFC bye but their top concern will be to keep Roethlisberger from raping anyone. Cheers!