Cultural Consumption: 2/28/24

Home again, home again, jiggety-jig

Cultural Consumption: 2/28/24
Bucolic, man

I'm back home again for another week or so, which is great — sleeping in one's own bed is forever underrated — although tumbling into the middle of a work week after missing a couple of days is hard to do without some turbulence. In other words, I've got a lot of catching up to do, which is why it was nice to have Bola Sete's Concert at San Francisco State College to keep me company throughout the work day.

Active from the late '50s through his untimely death in 1987, Bola Sete was a Brazilian guitarist — a description that tells you a lot of what you might need to know even if you've never heard a note of his music — and he compiled a highly regarded discography, some of it involving titans of American jazz, without ever necessarily achieving the sort of lasting mainstream recognition in the States that has been enjoyed by some of his peers. Chief among those American collaborators was Vince Guaraldi, who cut a trio of mid-'60s LPs with Sete; he can also be heard on Dizzy Gillespie's 1963 album New Wave.

All of which is to say that while I have not currently availed myself of the majority of Mr. Sete's catalog, he was not just some random dude, and his prodigious talents are well captured by the just-released Concert at San Francisco State College. Recorded on October 3, 1971, this 14-song set finds Sete playing solo for an audibly appreciative crowd while moving between shorter numbers and more expansive songs like the 11-minute "Ocean Fantasy" and nearly eight-minute "Black Orpheus Suite."

Aside from it being released by Sete's widow Anne, I haven't been able to find a lot about this performance; San Francisco State was Guaraldi's alma mater, but other than that, I have no idea whether Sete had any strong connection to the venue or how this show is supposed to fit within the broader context of his legacy. What I can authoritatively state is that Sete's charmingly rambling, heavily improvisational style lends itself quite well to gloomy mornings when you're responding to emails and chugging through spreadsheets. Or probably any kind of morning, really — Sete had a real gift for highlighting melody even as he flashed his chops, and if you're any kind of fan of instrumental music, I predict Concert at San Francisco State College will be enough to make you want to investigate further.

Watching: Still loving my ongoing trip through Northern Exposure, although I also managed to fit in time to watch the latest Curb Your Enthusiasm today — an episode that, like many of the show's finest, manages to incorporate several seemingly disparate strands (an anonymous note at the country club, couples therapy, a urologist who may not be what he seems, arbitrary cutoff times between breakfast and lunch menus, etc.) and eventually ties them all together brilliantly. I will miss this show.

Reading: While I was away, I inhaled Ed Zwick's Hits, Flops, and Other Illusions: My Fortysomething Years in Hollywood. I've only seen a couple of Zwick's movies, and it'd be hard to argue they're among his finest, but I find it hard to resist an unvarnished Hollywod memoir, and this one feels like it has an admirably minimal coating of shellac. Zwick takes a "critics don't matter" stance, through which I assume he felt empowered to ignore the fact that most of his movies have been greeted by lukewarm-to-hostile reviews, but that's a minor complaint given that the book is stuffed with anecdotes about working with Julia Roberts, Harvey Weinstein, Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, Anne Hathaway, Jake Gyllenhaal, Matt Damon, and numerous others. Without ever having met the man, I came away feeling like he was just as tough on himself as he was on anybody else. If you're at all interested in the business of making movies, this is a book for you.

Now I'm on to The Complete Stories by Flannery O'Connor. While I was in Nashville I visited the Frist Art Museum, which was displaying a variety of really gorgeous and thought-provoking works inspired by various facets of Southern life, past and present. The centerpiece was a series of astonishing works by LaToya Hobbs, and throughout the gallery, a series of quotes were scattered — including a couple of brilliant ones from O'Connor, which reminded me that I've never read any of her stories and I really ought to. So here we are.

Hopefully, tomorrow will be more conducive to listening and writing. Cross your fingers, send all your best mojo, and I'll meet you back here on Leap Day.