Thursday, February 11, 2016

TV – Don’t Make Him Angry. You Wouldn’t Like Him When He’s Angry. But He’s Definitely Entertaining When He’s Angry. Watch The Incredible Hulk on Me TV.

DC Comics icons Superman and Batman are giving up 30 minutes each and will share the 6 p.m. hour to make room for The Incredible Hulk at 7 p.m. on Super Sci-Fi Saturday Night.

Although Marvel Comics’ monstrous mainstay has since starred in two of his own big-screen movies as well as the Avengers films, his definitive and most critically-acclaimed live-action interpretation remains the classic hit television series of the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Bill Bixby stars as mild-mannered scientist David Banner, who, after exposing himself to an accidental overdose of gamma radiation, reacts to the slightest provocation by hulking out in the form of green-painted bodybuilder and muscleman Lou Ferrigno (another actor interviewed by me who’s now on Me TV).

While on the run from unrelenting newspaper reporter Jack McGee (Jack Colvin), who has a penchant for making Banner angry even though Mr. McGee wouldn’t like him when he’s angry, Banner and his beastly alter ego end up helping all manner of people in all manner of despair.

After Banner finishes hulking out, Super Sci-Fi Saturday continues with DC Comics’ Wonder Woman at 8 p.m., followed by Star Trek at 9 p.m., Svengoolie at 10 p.m., and Irwin Allen productions Lost in Space and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea at midnight and 1 a.m.

--Raj Manoharan

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Abe Vigoda (1921-2016)

Finally!

Just kidding, Abe. No matter how long you might have lived, we never would have had enough of you.

Yeah, you were in The Godfather and The Godfather: Part II, but you’ll always be Fish to me.

Take care in that big squad room in the sky.

(If I could be you, I would forgo that Snickers bar and stay hungry.)

--Raj Manoharan

Sunday, January 17, 2016

CD Review – Mind Heart Fingers, by Trevor Gordon Hall

The latest album from Philadelphia acoustic guitarist Trevor Gordon Hall is marketed as new age, folk, and country, but it is far more than that.
Before we get to the music, let's get to the man and his craft. Hall is no ordinary guitarist. He plays a unique, custom-designed instrument called a kalimbatar, a cross between a guitar and an African finger piano known as a kalimba, which is affixed to the top of his guitar.

This unusual assemblage allows Hall not only to generate acoustic guitar tones, but bell-like timbres as well, giving off the effect of a duo without the need for overdubs or two actual musicians.

The kalimbatar is perfectly suited to new age, folk, and county, but Hall does much more with the instrument. The technology, as impressive as it is in itself, never distracts from the striking beauty of Hall's original compositions.

And unlike a lot of new age folk in particular, Hall relies much less on repetitive patterns and locked rhythms than he does expansive, thoughtful chord structures and incisive lead phrasing. In fact, many of the tunes come across delightfully as acoustic jazz.

This is a fine guitar album worthy of attention.

--Raj Manoharan
 

Thursday, January 14, 2016

CD (Fan) Review – Star Wars: The Force Awakens, by John Williams

It wouldn’t be a Star Wars episode without the music of John Williams to underscore the cosmic feats of intergalactic derring-do unfolding on the big screen. The 83-year-old maestro returns with what is one of his finest scores for the legendary franchise – in fact, probably his best since Return of the Jedi.

Just like the box-office-busting seventh episode it accompanies, Williams’ new soundtrack is a brilliant blend of old and new that reacquaints us with familiar themes while taking us to new heights of thrilling adventure and emotional poignancy.

Of course, there is the classic fanfare that blasts the Star Wars logo onto the screen and into the farthest reaches of space while the famous main theme accompanies the latest text crawl, before segueing with original music into the newest installment.

As with Williams’ previous Star Wars scores, much of the incidental music is, well, exactly that, incidental. But it is much more melodic and tuneful than before, as opposed to being just abrupt and atonal, especially during scenes of action and suspense.

Highlights include musical callbacks to old friends and iconic spaceships, plus a spectacular and majestic new hero motif, which brilliantly inverts Luke’s binary sunset/Force theme from the original trilogy before soaring to a lofty new crescendo of hope, promise, and triumph.

Since Williams’ Star Wars end title music usually encapsulates the themes of the just concluded film, his closing music here is joyously exhilarating, making it the most memorable and resounding finale since Return of the Jedi.

This is one of the very few exemplary soundtracks of at least the last decade and a fine return to form for both Williams and Star Wars.

--Raj Manoharan

Sunday, January 10, 2016

CD (Fan) Review – Flash Gordon, by Queen

I am not at all a fan of Queen, but I have to give them props for having crafted one of the wackiest, most bonkers motion picture soundtracks ever committed to record.

Just like the 1980 film itself, the album is full of cheesy goodness, including snippets of dialogue and sound effects lifted directly from the movie. Brian Blessed’s exhilarating, maniacal intensity as Vultan, leader of the Hawk Men, is alone worth the price of purchase– for both the film and the soundtrack.

None of this insanity detracts from the music – in fact, it enhances it, and the music responds in kind. The lead vocals (on the iconic main theme and its reprise throughout), the screeching guitars, the crazy keyboards and synthesizers, the pulse-pounding drums, and the kinetic percussion all function simultaneously as both classic rock and classic kitsch – a rare feat.

I highly recommend the 1994 single CD version, which is the basic movie soundtrack; the 2011 double CD deluxe edition is really geared more toward die-hard devotees of Queen.

If you enjoy the movie, you’ll enjoy this soundtrack. If this is all new to you, but you just want to hear something totally weird and off the wall, you will not be disappointed.

--Raj Manoharan

CD Review – Ambient Alchemy, by Steven Halpern and Michael Diamond

New age masters Steven Halpern and Michael Diamond create musical magic with this delightful digital concoction, along with some help from their friend Michael Manring.

The CD contains 14 tracks of tranquil instrumental bliss, with genre pioneer Halpern laying a dense sonic foundation with his Fender Rhodes, keyboards, synthesizers, and crystal bowls, and Diamond weaving his smoldering guitar tones throughout the mystical mix. Manring chimes in on several numbers with his formidable bass.

The result is a flawless record of a dynamic trio that would be a dream to see live.

--Raj Manoharan

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Happy Birthday, Andy Summers!

On Thursday, December 31, 2015, Andy Summers – my favorite guitarist and musician of all time – turns 73 years old.
 
I first became acquainted with the music of Summers in 1983 at the age of 10 in a Catholic elementary school classroom when I heard a hypnotic and futuristic-sounding pop/rock song emanating from the radio of Candy, my substitute teacher. When I asked what the song was and who recorded it, I was promptly informed that it was “Spirits in the Material World” by The Police. I was instantly hooked, so much so that that Christmas, my parents got me a vinyl copy of Synchronicity, The Police’s fifth and final studio album and one of the biggest hits of the year. The Police have since remained my favorite rock band of all time.
 
Summers was the guitarist for the mega-popular group, who were active in the late 1970s and early 1980s and reunited for a 30th anniversary tour in 2007 and 2008. Being a good decade older than his bandmates Sting and Stewart Copeland, Summers began his professional recording career in the early 1960s, playing for Zoot Money’s Big Roll Band (which later became the psychedelic but short-lived Dantalian’s Chariot), Eric Burdon’s New Animals, and Soft Machine. After formally studying guitar at Northridge University in California from the late 1960s to the early 1970s, Summers returned to England and plied his trade as a session guitarist for Joan Armatrading, Neil Sedaka, Kevin Coyne, and Deep Purple’s Jon Lord before achieving monumental success and international stardom with The Police.
 
After the dissolution of The Police in the early 1980s, Summers scored some Hollywood films (Down and Out in Beverly Hills, Weekend at Bernie’s) and recorded one rock vocal album before establishing himself as an acclaimed and accomplished contemporary instrumental guitarist across a variety of styles, including jazz, fusion, New Age, and world music.
 
I was privileged to interview Summers by telephone in Fall 2000 for the January 2001 issue of DirecTV: The Guide. I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered that Summers posted a notice of the interview in the news section of his Web site. Later, I met Summers in person during his book tour in Fall 2006, just a few months before The Police reunited for a 30th anniversary reunion tour, which I was fortunate to attend twice in August of 2007 and 2008.
 
For a good overview of Summers’ solo work, I highly recommend the following albums: Mysterious Barricades, A Windham Hill Retrospective, Synaesthesia, and The X Tracks. My personal favorite Summers albums are Mysterious Barricades, The Golden Wire, World Gone Strange, Synaesthesia, Fundamental (with Fernanda Takai), Circus Hero (with his rock band Circa Zero), and Metal Dog.
 
--Raj Manoharan