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May 23, 2017

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Sammy Davis Jr.; Sonic Youth; The Clash…
by S. Duda
Magazine Issue: U.S. Vol. 4.2
My mom's favorite entertainer was Sammy Davis Jr. "Oh, that Sammy Davis," she'd say, her voice dropping a few reverential notes, "He's such an entertainer! God, what talent. He puts on one helluva show!" Living through bleaker than bleak Michigan winters, my parents pinned their sanity on a midwinter getaway to Vegas, where for five days and six nights they lived like royalty and, of course, sat front and center for Sammy. Little did I know, back then, just how kickin' the Sammy Davis Jr. experience could be.
Sammy Davis Jr.

Tethered Moon

Sonic Youth
SAMMY DAVIS JR.
Yes I Can!

Is Yes I Can!, the four-disc retrospective box, too much Sammy? Maybe a little, but this package is a charmer from the first track, "Smile, Darn Ya, Smile" (wotta title!), which actually features the sounds of Sammy tap-tap-tap dancin' away. (Sammy fact: Besides hoofin' it like a monster, Sammy was also adept as a drummer, actor, Master of Ceremonies, pal of the stars, player of any instrument and able to summon hilarity in the wink of a glass eyeball.) Disc two features two cuts with Count Basie (a disappointment, why not more with the Count?) along with an appearance by Frank Sinatra (again, why only one cut with Sammy's rat pack pal, the Chairman?). The big hits come on Disc three, with the likes of "Mr. Bojangles," "Baretta's Theme" and, of course, "The Candyman." The real kicker's this set's finale, which features Sammy at home in front of a live audience. Here's where we finally get to see Sammy being Sammy. While he certainly didn't have the pipes of Sinatra, who took pleasure in working with Sammy on his voice, he had the will to belt these tunes out with every bit of energy he could kick out of his diminutive frame. Sammy worked hard for our entertainment, and in his world everything was beautiful, baby, just beautiful. Even with its faults, Yes I Can! opens a window into this world. And through that window, there are views of a slam-blam Las Vegas, an America in transition and one extremely talented guy bustin' his hump.

That banging sound isn't Sammy Davis rappin' on a pair of congas. It's just me once again beating the drum for a moscato-based sparkling wine from our Italian friends. The juice in question is La Delizia Moscato. I'm a little perplexed, however, as most of this stuff is labeled Moscato d' Asti. The La Delizia (the delish?) is simply stamped "Moscato." The only difference this reporter can see in the La Delizia is a slightly higher alcohol content -- eight percent as opposed to four percent for most Moscato d' Asti -- and a markedly more robust bubble structure. On the tongue, the La Delizia is cream, creamy, creamiest! Like other moscatos, there's a lovely citrus squirt -- here it's tangerine along with peach. Yes, moscato's a sweet wine and the La Delizia is certainly sweet, but it's not as if this is sugar water. With the best moscatos, you'll note a light, floral quality that underscores the shots of citrus and honey. The best trait of Moscato-based sparklers is their versatility. This wine is equally at home as a sly Champagne substitute, a dessert wine or to offset the bite of a gorgonzola cream sauce atop linguine, prawns and prosciutto (man, was that good!).

TETHERED MOON
Chansons d'Edith Piaf

The world needs more record labels like Munich's Winter and Winter. Each album is recorded in gorgeous, high-resolution 24-bit digital -- which means, if you're listening on anything better than a boombox, you'll certainly notice improved sonics -- packaged with exquisite artistry, and including the best players in jazz tackling unique and creative music puzzles. The label's latest project, Tethered Moon's Chansons d'Edith Piaf, features the trio of Gary Peacock (bass), Paul Motian (drums) and Masabumi Kikuchi (piano) interpreting the music of "The Little Sparrow," Edith Piaf. Piaf, a legendary French vocalist, is best known as the crooner of weepy but oh-so-romantic French tunes. Born in the streets and raised in a brothel (really!), Piaf had a rough, smoky voice that was able to transmit emotion and intimacy on a grand scale. The French, as they say, felt her pain. On this project, the show's all Kikuchi. A well known figure in Japan, "Poo" (as he's known) is a pianist with probing, Keith Jarrett-like moves. His gentle explorations dig deep into the soul of these tunes, fleshing out the gorgeous lyrical melodies that Piaf gave voice to. Drummer Paul Motian is no stranger to the piano trio. In fact, he played with Bill Evans and bassist Scott LaFaro in the greatest piano trio ever. His work here, subtle as ever, propels the music without forcing the issue. Bassist Gary Peacock (who also worked with Evans) is equally subtle, adding gentle counterpoints to Kikuchi's statements. This is a wonderfully gentle, evocative recording that'll remind you of the work of the great French composer Eric Satie (if Satie had played in a jazz band, that is).

Although no French-types appear on Chansons d' Edith Piaf, the music's so steeped in French history and culture that it'd be a miscarriage of wine justice to try to pair this with anything other than Frenchie grape juice. Unfortunately, I don't know squat about French wine. I do know, however, that Didier Dagueneau is a very big deal in wine circles over there. Dagueneau, a French wine celeb, is a woolly looking free spirit known as the "wild man of white wine." The major wine press has built an industry swooning over this guy. Anyway, fat Wine X expense account in hand, I actually ran across a bottle of his 1998 Pouilly Fume En Chailloux, bought it, chilled it down and drank it up. I can't read a damn thing on the label, but reference materials insist that Pouilly Fume is made from the sauvignon blanc grape (my fave!) and that this particular bottling is the only one Dagueneau doesn't oak. The results are a French wine that, get this, actually tastes good! Surprisingly viscous, the wine has a pale straw color with a sharp, tangy nose. Swished around in the mouth, this white's even more tangy than the nose lets on. I usually drink my New Zealand and California sav blancs super cold (and I don't care what "experts" say about this, it's the way I like it, so phooey on them). However, this strategy didn't work at all with the Dagueneau. Super cold, this wine had nothing, nada, ziggy. So I waited, not too patiently mind you, for the dang thing to get comfortable in its little glass house. Time passed. I drank again. Conclusion? This here's a wine that's single-minded like few wines have the guts to be. This is a wine that's austere, spartan, only concerned with a few things. That's both good news and bad news. The bad news first: Don't open this bottle expecting a New Zealand grapefruit bomb cuz friend, it ain't gonna happen. That means this wine isn't all that great to just drink as it is. The good news: This is a wine built on its acidity. It's a wine built to stand up to food -- gooey white sauces, buttery garlic lemon sautes, sharp cheese whatevers. This is a wine built not only to stand up to food, but to provide a stirring counterpoint -- a tangy, lemon-scented punctuation and a tongue-clearing mouthwash for that extra lubrication needed for ingesting large amounts of chow. It's like sucking on a rock, a friend says, but a rock with a nice mouthfeel and a hint of vanilla. Odd note: While first impressions were lukewarm, this is a juice that's simply addicting. With the right food, you need this wine.

SONIC YOUTH
Goodbye 20th Century

My buddy, Fat Boy, has a caffeine problem. Well, perhaps not a caffeine problem. More like a caffeine delivery problem. See, Fat Boy's problem is with coffee shops. "I love coffee," he moans, "but I hate coffee shops and everyone in them." Obviously, Fat Boy hasn't spent much time in wine shops. Now there's something to bitch about. I can empathize. I feel the same way about Sonic Youth. That is, I love Sonic Youth, I just don't like their albums that much. Confused? Bear with me. For years, Sonic Youth has been blazing trails both noisy and interesting, in the live setting as well as on their records for their own small label, SYR. Albums for their major label have been, to these ears, something of a compromise. To celebrate the turn of the millennium, Sonic Youth (no longer youths, but certainly as sonic as ever) have released Goodbye 20th Century, a two- CD adios that features their interpretations of 20th century classical composition. You may recognize a few of the composers whose work Sonic Youth covers here -- Steve Reich's serialism, John Cage's work with chance and improbability; even a piece by Yoko Ono gets a run-through. Mostly though, composers like Cornelius Cardew, James Tenney and Christian Wolff have gotten little attention and even less airplay. That being said, the "source material" from which this project springs probably won't have much meaning to you. You've probably never heard these classical compositions before. Which, giving Sonic Youth's treatment of them, is just fine. You really don't have to be conversant in post-mod composition to dig the Youth's sublime buzz, hum and howl here. Much of this music's without a center, since most of it was originally written to be open to interpretation, and in the hands of Sonic Youth this is an invitation to let their freak flags fly. No band in the history of recorded music can fuck with a guitar sound the way Sonic Youth can, and on Goodbye 20th Century, they rev up the axes and just let 'em hum. There's an awe-inspiring majesty to much of this music, both in Sonic Youth's mastery over noise and silence, but also in the way they pace these compositions, turning a melange of feedback into a shiver-inducing wave of undefinable but no less lovely group of sounds. Admittedly, the place where avant-garde classical composition and Sonic Youth meet is not for everyone, but damn, it sure is interesting.

No one's ever accused California's wine country of being a region fraught with intrigue. Indeed, from an outsider's perspective, the place is about as predictable as my cat's morning hairball. On my latest trip, however, Matanzas Creek was something of a surprise (well, not the high prices -- any stupe coulda guessed that). This is about as gorgeous a winery as you're ever gonna see. And the wines were simply fantastic. The surprise? The 1996 Estate Reserve Sonoma Valley Merlot Port -- a scrumptious chocolate-dipped cherry that reclines on the tongue like a silk sheet. Perhaps a bit richer than your usual port, this is a perfect after dinner/late night sipper. Since this is only sold at the winery, you'll have to track it down on their website -- http://www.matanzascreek.com.
THE BASEMENT
the clash THE CLASH
Sandinista

The Clash recorded a lot of great music while managing only a few questionable efforts. To this day, their most critically debated project was the three-LP set, Sandinista!, a sprawling, ambitious mixed bag of styles and sentiments. Along with their recent live recording (From Here to Eternity, Live) much of the Clash's catalog has just been reworked and reissued -- including Sandinista, to my mind, the band's moody and fitful masterwork. Sure there's a lot that doesn't work on Sandinista (it's three goddamn albums, after all) including a too-fake Motown grab on "HitsvilleU.K." and an attempt at Gospel on "The Sound of Sinners." But when the Clash did hit their mark on Sandinista, it was devastating. The album abounds with the band's white-boy dub hybrids featuring booming, slow-motion bass, trippy effects and the band's take-it-to-the-streets lyrics. To its credit, the Clash tried their hand at nearly every style here -- folk, hard rock, reggae, funk, swing -- and, for a garage rock band, were astonishing in both their execution and the approach they took to the forms. Hard to believe that this record is now 20 years old. Equally hard to imagine is one of today's rock bands -- say Live or Korn or (God forbid) Third Eye Blind -- even attempting something of this scope and power. The Clash did very few things half-assed. After all, if you're going to release an album, why not make it a triple?

Likewise, the 1997 Folie a Deux Amador County zinfandel is an ass-kicker. A cherry-flavored fruit bomb with slight hints of licorice, this bottle's straightforward and, at 14.5 percent alcohol, powerful. I popped this baby with a plain cheese pizza sprinkled with hot pepper flakes and it had no problem holding its ground. The label suggests anything from "burgers to barbecue" and I'm willing to bet that even with my secret recipe, Sweet Mama Soul Sauce, the Folie a Deux (flowery name or not) would stand tall. This is a big ol' zin with lots of power, so the question becomes not whether the wine will stand up to food but will food stand up to the wine. Yeah, it's that big and that good.

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