Monday, December 22, 2008

John Zorn: Cobra

Cobra is a musical game created by the jazz artist John Zorn.

Cobra's rules are complex, but basically, a director leads an ensemble of improvisational musicians with a series of hand signals and cue cards.The resulting music can be described as free jazz. The form is entirely conceived on the spot by the director and interpretations vary from musician to musician and from performance to performance so each game of Cobra is unique.

There are also rules to make the game more interesting. Each player wears a headband somewhere on their body. Players can usurp control of the ensemble by stealing other players headbands. The 'guerrilla' leader has complete control over the music until power is taken from him. These aspects to the game can make for an interesting stage show.

There are several recordings of this game available.
This is an album cover for a recording from 1992.

Here is a sample of John Zorn conducting a game of Cobra.

This is a great version from a performance in Israel in January of 2008.

This music would likely be catgorized as unlistenable by the average person, but to jazz fanatics and musicians this is the coolest thing around. It throws the traditional concept of form out the window. It takes improvisation in a new direction.

There have been a few incarnations of Cobra ensembles in Morgantown WV over the years. Many sessions have been directed by WVU jazzer Paul Scea. This is a recording of a performance on the Morgantown Sound show from 1999. Thanks to Orville Weale for making this available.

cobra_ensemble - Deborah Voigt and Placido Domingo

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Roger Dean

The art of Roger Dean could be described as wonderous, fantastic and even trance inducing.

His art is most famous for the album covers he created in the late 60's and 70's, the most notable of which were designed for the English progressive rock band Yes.

Roger Dean was born in Kent, England in 1944. He studied at the Royal College of Art Furniture School and gained notoriety for his architectural and furniture designs.

He is also known for designing the Retreat Pod

His album art gave Yes albums a signature look and he was soon doing stage design for the band.

Roger Dean continued doing album cover art for Yes, Asia and many other bands through the 1990s and 2000s and has published several books. You can see more artwork and designs at

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Friday, December 5, 2008

Word Jazz

Word Jazz is an art form that combines beat style poetry and free form jazz or electronic music. Word Jazz was created by the popular TV and radio voice over artist, Ken Nordine. Ken Nordine's name may be obscure but his voice is unmistakable. Nordine's voice has been in thousands of TV and radio spots since the 1950s.

The classic album, Sounds In Space, is narrated by Ken Nordine

Nordine's prose is surreal and often employs multiple characters. In his early work He is backed up by small jazz ensembles such as the Fred Katz group. Later on he is often backed up by electronic music or live improvisational musicians.

Upper Limbo is a live performance in which Ken recites over improvisational music, the album features harmonica great Howard Levy.

My first exposure to Ken Nordine and Word Jazz was The Devout Catalyst which was released on the Grateful Dead's record label. This is a very bizarre album in which Nordine collaborates with Jerry Garcia on acoustic guitar and David Grisman on mandolin.

If you don't know the name Ken Nordine take a listen and I think you might recognize the voice.


The Nervous system

The Essence of S

Check out Ken's website at

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Peter Gabriel and Wall-E

I usually don't really like kid's movies. I started getting into classics like The Aristocats because my son Gibson loves them. After seeing Cars, he couldn't get enough. Pretty soon I realized that I actually was enjoying some of these movies, especially the newer Pixar movies. I actually like Ratatouille more than little Gibson. And when I saw Wall-E I was in love.

This is a beautiful movie. The animation is so cool you forget you are watching animation at all. The story is touching and illustrates a frightening possible future for humankind and the Earth. So before I say "feelgood movie of the year", I should mention the other reason I think this movie is so cool. Peter Gabriel.

Peter Gabriel does a track which is used in the credits. It's sweet.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Yerba Mate

Yerba Mate is a small tree found in South America. It's leaves have been used for centuries in an herbal tea-like infusion which is used as a healthy caffinated coffee alternative. It contains 24 vitamins and minerals, 14 amino acids, and is abundant with antioxidants.

Yerba mate is used as a nutritional suppliment, energy booster and as a weight loss aid.

It is traditionally drank from a gourd with a straw which has a filter at the end. It is now available in loose and tea-bag form and can be found in various flavors.

Guayaki is my personal favorite brand of yerba mate. I have tried several flavors but the regular traditional yerba mate is my favorite. The only way to describe its flavor is hay-like... don't let that turn you off, it tastes good. It is good hot or iced and can be sweetened or mixed in smoothies, teas or even cocktails.

I usually get it in loose form as that is the most economical and it gives the most control in achieving the desired strength of the brew.

More information at

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Michael Hedges: Transcendental Guitar

Michael Hedges, (1953-1997) was a pioneer of acoustic guitar. You know that cliché "think outside of the box"? Michael Hedges was never anywhere near the box. His approach to tuning the guitar was revolutionary. His percussive technique of playing was unseen before his time. His savage creativity is unrivaled to this day. Only rarely has the world seen artists (of any medium) with this kind of passionate creative spirit.

"I play the guitar because it let’s me dream out loud." -MH

Michael hedges was born in Sacramento and grew up in Oklahoma. He studied music at Phillips University in Oklahoma and at Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore. Like many truly creative people he found it difficult to make it through the drudgery of music school core course requirements. Eventually he quit to focus on his music and began to study privately with his mentor, Dr. Eugene J. Ulrich.

Michael was given his big break by William Ackerman, the founder of new age record label Windham Hill, who saw Michael's performance at a Palo Alto cafe and immediately signed him to the label. Hedges put out his first album Breakfast in the Fields in 1981.

Hedges' early work is mellow, ethereal and technically impressive. He maintains multiple melody and counter melodies along with bass lines and various percussive and harmonic ornamentations. The result sounds like a well rehearsed ensemble. At first listen, it is hard to believe that the music is created by one musician in real time with no overdubs.

Here is a newer version of the title track from Hedges' second album Aerial Boundries. The song starts around 3:00.

His later work gets increasingly "savage". He used his tuning methods and a new pick-style technique to write new music and do cover songs.


This video is a good example of how Michael was able to deconstruct classic tunes such as All Along the Watchtower and make them his own.


Michael died tragically in 1997 in a car crash just North of San Fransisco. There is a fund to help support his children at as he did not have life insurance or a significant estate.

Michael's last album Oracle was released posthumously. His unreleased recordings were compiled by his producer and friends David Crosby and Graham Nash, and released as the album Torched named after his song of the same name.

"Heaven is all around... Translate it to sound" -MH

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Hot Stuff

I like hot stuff.


Eating a really hot pepper is kind of like having an out of body experience. First, your teeth crunch down and you know you're in for something big but you don't know exactly what. The heat hits and you wonder if you are going to live through the pain. Your heart races, your throat burns, you start to sweat, your eyes tear up...
and then the hiccups.

But as the pain begins to pass, you relax... I mean really relax. The body seems to vibrate and you get a feeling as if you've reached a mountain peak. It's a natural high.


I've eaten many peppers and met many dares. And I've learned a couple things about eating peppers.

First, have plenty of milk on hand. Milk coats the stomach and eases the burning. Ice water doesn't hurt either. If the burning persists, ice cream works well.

Second, have a little food in your stomach. Hot peppers in an empty stomach will hurt for a long time. As you can imagine, too much food in your stomach is not a good thing either.

Thirdly, and most importantly, wash your hands after touching any pepper. Whatever you do, do not touch your eyes. That was a tough lesson to learn.


The Scoville scale is a measure of the hotness of a pepper. The scale ranges from a regular bell pepper which is 0 Scoville heat units (SHUs), to the hottest known pepper, the Naga Jolokia which has been rated at 1,041,427 units.

That's about four times as hot as the hottest pepper I've eaten. As a pepper adventurist I would have to try a Naga Jolokia if given the opportunity.

Here are a few favorite peppers I have tried:

The Jalapeño Pepper is nice and mild and good for everyday cooking. Almost anyone can eat a Jalapeño. It has so many uses. One of my favorite drinks is some lime and fresh Jalapeño muddled with a shot of Patrón Tequila and chilled... Delicious. The jalapeño is rated at a mild 2,500 to 10,000 SHUs.


The Habanero Pepper is much hotter and goes well with Mexican food. The pods are pretty hot and can be removed from the pepper to get a better sense of its flavor. Leave the pods in for an intense experience. They come in different colors. I've had green, yellow, orange and red. It packs a hefty 200,000 to 300,000 Scoville units.


The Thai Chili Pepper is a tiny pepper. It's sweeter than a Habanero. It has a wonderful flavor and packs quite a punch. I like to slice a few up and put them in a quesidilla with some finely sliced raw purple garlic. It ranks around 50,000 to 100,000 Scoville units.


The Cayenne Pepper is pure heat. It is commonly known as red pepper. While it rates much lower than other peppers in SHUs, it has less flavor and is just plain hot. It rates around 30,000 to 50,000 Scoville Units.


Here are some of my favorite hot sauces...

Frank's Red Hot Sauce is the old standby of hot sauces. It's often used in Buffalo wing sauces and is good on almost anything. It is mild and has a vinegar base.


El Yucateco Habenaro Chili Sauce is found at many Mexican style restaurants. It comes in green or red (I prefer the green). I like to put a drop on each bite. My old friend Dino is an El Yucateco fanatic, he keeps a large bottle in his glove box.


Sriracha is a Thai-style hot sauce. It's sweet, garlicy and most of all, hot. This stuff is so delicious, I put it on anything and everything: pizza, soup, grilled cheese, Chinese, quesidillas, cheese and crackers, believe it or not, I love it on a bagel with cream cheese... it goes with just about anything.


Jersey Death Sauce... this stuff is just wrong. It's two main ingredients are habanero pods and cayenne. I find it useful once and a while when I need to take the heat to the next level, and even then I am only good for a small drop. Oh yeah... It's great for dares or pranks too.


Thursday, November 13, 2008

Hot Springs

Hot springs are naturally occurring springs that release geothermally heated groundwater. Often times they are captured in man-made pools for the purpose of bathing. Hot springs exist all over the world and are common in the western US. Deep in the earth's crust, groundwater is superheated and infused with a high level of mineral solids. This spring water has been regarded for generations as having therapeutic value and artifact records show that hot springs have been inhabited by Native Americans for hundreds of years.

Balneology/Balneotherapy is the scientific study of mineral water and its potential use as therapy for a wide range of disabilities and ailments. It is widely practiced in places such as Europe, Japan and Iceland.


Aside from the medical uses of hot springs, they are useful for average people who want to soak, relax and enjoy nature's bounty.


I have had the pleasure of visiting some of this countries beautiful hot springs. As a child my family visited my Grandfather in Hot Springs Arkansas every summer. At the age of 15 I visited Buckstaff Baths, the only remaining operational bathhouse on Hot Springs' historic Bathhouse Row.

Buckstaff Baths in Hot Springs, Arkansas
Buckstaff Baths has been in operation since 1912. It is a beautiful and historic place to enjoy the mineral-rich spring waters and various luxurious spa treatments. At Buckstaff you can sit in an old-fashioned steam box, be wrapped in hot towels, get a full body massage or just soak in an over sized tub.

In the year 2000 my cat Cali and I traveled out west. Somewhere around Kansas I was reflecting on some of my big brother Pete's hot spring adventures and I decided this would be a good area of focus for my journey. I stopped at a local bookstore and picked up a couple hot springs travel guides. I mapped our journey around some of the west coast's most beautiful hot springs.

First stop... The Hobo Pool

The Hobo Pool in Satatoga, Wyoming
The hobo pool is a free public hot spring pool. It has a black sand floor from which the spring water flows. At one end of the pool is a small tub called the "Lobster Pot". I was not man enough to bear the lobster pot's 120 degree water.

As I sat cross legged in the pool's steamy water, it began to snow.

The next stop was Portland Oregon to visit my big brother Pete. I couldn't wait to talk with him about my newfound interest in hot springs. When I got there he directed me to Mt. Hood and Bagby Hot Springs.

Bagby Hot Springs, Mt. Hood, Oregon
Bagby was amazing. The rustic bathhouse is very cool. Bathers can sit in a big hot tub style tub or take a bath in a personal hollowed out log. If you're shy, you can use a private room with the log style tub. A trough system directs the spring water to the tubs and a cool water pool and buckets are available so you can get that bath just right.

here is a video depicting the Bagby experience, warts and all:

The crown jewel of my hot springs exploration was Cougar Hot Spring. I had heard of Cougar as it was famous as a kind of sub-cultural hot spot in the 90's. It is nestled in a redwood valley where the spring converges with a cool stream and flow into a series of pools. As you go down each pool gets a few degrees cooler so you can find one that suits your needs. I spent the whole day at Cougar where I met several interesting people. Cougar is so beautiful and unforgettable. I will be visiting there again.

Cougar Hot Springs, Willamette National Forest near Eugene, Oregon

Finally, if you decide to visit a hot spring you should be warned...