Charles Lloyd, one of the living legends from the great era of sixties jazz, has ridden a late-career high with a sort of supergroup he calls the Marvels, consisting of himself on tenor sax, Bill Frisell on guitar, Greg Leisz on steel guitar, Reuben Rogers on bass, and the wizardly Eric Harland on drums. On their first two albums, the group offered a mix of classic Lloyd originals, jazzed-up folk and rock covers, and vocal collaborations with Lucinda Williams. This group doesn’t feel like a studio band; clearly they’ve played together and enjoyed it, learned each other’s tics and tricks. So their latest record, Tone Poem, seems to catch them in medias res, doing what they do—and since everyone here is a master musician, they’re doing it damn well. The album opens with two jaunty Ornette Coleman tunes that focus on the melodic beauty of the late avant-gardist’s compositions. Next, they offer a slow, hopeful take on Leonard Cohen’s “Anthem.” Other highlights include a lush and luxurious ten-minute version of “Monk’s Mood” and a look back at “Lady Gabor,” written by Lloyd’s long-ago collaborator Gábor Szabó, a major sixties innovator in his own right whose music is too little known now. Overall, this is a mostly relaxing album, with a seamless flow of sounds, thanks to Lloyd’s smooth, continuous voice on sax, Frisell’s incredible ability to create and sustain musical textures, Leisz’s subtle steel guitar work, and Harland’s light touch. After only a few listens, Tone Poem has whispered its way deep into my consciousness. —Craig Morgan Teicher Read More
In his Art of Fiction interview, Allan Gurganus preaches the power of the sentence. But for me, the real satisfaction to be had from the newly released Uncollected Stories of Allan Gurganus comes from the layers: a shrewd grad student’s thrifting trip becomes the story of a portrait, which is actually the story of a tragic moment in a small town’s history; a local news report becomes a firsthand account of the incident told by a police officer to his tape recorder. (In fact, local news reporters are more than once a way of getting into a story; they act as a kind of chorus for small-town America.) Gurganus’s Uncollected Stories is lean, nine extended narratives often broken up by Roman numerals. He is unafraid of the darkness deep inside his characters. These are tales that left me feeling unsettled and newly aware of strangers I encountered, the likely mysteries in their lives—and yes, in awe of excellent sentences. —Lauren Kane Read More
I am not one of those people who, in the early days of the pandemic, watched Contagion and read Blindness. If anything, finding the waking hours difficult enough, I have largely avoided pandemic-themed works. So this week, when I revisited Torrey Peters’s Infect Your Friends and Loved Ones, it was not in an effort to live out this current crisis in a fictionalized one. Actually, I’d kind of forgotten the complete centrality of a virus to the work and instead best remembered the magnetic, sometimes erratic Lexi and her unforgettable declaration: “In the future, everyone will be trans.” Of course, she’s referring to the pandemic itself—Lexi creates a virus that stops hormone production in the body, forcing everyone to actively choose their gender and seek out hormone-replacement therapy. She infects our unnamed narrator with her virus, and five years later, it appears that society has collapsed, war has broken out, and things have gone full-on apocalypse. Peters does a phenomenal job of examining the complicated, difficult relationship between the narrator and Lexi and capturing the social dynamics within their community. Peters has said she forgoes including “Trans 101” in her work, instead writing for other trans people and expecting cis readers to keep up, and Infect Your Friends and Loved Ones is no exception. What struck me on this particular rereading, however, was the structure of the book. At the novella’s center is the moment that Lexi infects the narrator (“Contagion Day”), with the story moving backward and forward in time from there, oscillating from a prepandemic Seattle to a postpandemic Iowa. This, as we steadily approach our various one-year anniversaries of local shutdowns, felt like an eerily uncanny framing of the narrative. —Mira Braneck Read More
There are very few children in my life right now, but if there are in the future, I look forward to sitting down with them to read Olga Tokarczuk’s beautiful and melancholy The Lost Soul. Illustrated by Joanna Concejo and translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones, it is the brief tale of a man who, by moving too fast in life, has lost his soul. As a wise doctor explains to the man: “Souls move at a much slower speed than bodies. They were born at the dawn of time, just after the Big Bang, when the cosmos wasn’t yet in such a rush.” All is not lost: the man moves to the countryside and, as illustrated in Concejo’s delicate, wistful images, waits patiently for his soul to find him. Once this finally happens, he throws away all his watches and suitcases so as to no longer move through life too fast. When I was a child, the writing and art I liked best always disturbed me slightly and made me realize, with great surprise, that a very large and sometimes unsettling world existed outside the confines of my childhood. There is something disturbing about beauty, after all; it will, like all objects and experiences, wear away with time. The Lost Soul is a reminder to cherish the present, lest you, too, lose your soul. —Rhian Sasseen Read More
Lawrence Michael Levine’s fourth feature, Black Bear, really messed with my equilibrium. I first saw the film as part of Nightstream, a collaborative virtual horror film festival, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that it stirred up something deep in my psyche. The plot unfolds in three distinct strands. One follows a filmmaker and former actress named Allison (Aubrey Plaza) who heads to a wooded retreat to seek inspiration for her next film while navigating the awkward tension of the cabin’s caretakers, Gabe (Christopher Abbott) and Blair (Sarah Gadon). The second departs from almost everything established by the first, picking up on the final day of shooting for a film directed by Gabe and costarring Blair, whose apparent chemistry with Gabe informs Allison’s starring performance at the cost of her sanity. The third strand involves Allison meditating by the lake in a red bathing suit. Feeling disoriented yet? Fear not. Black Bear delivers plenty of laughs from a stellar supporting cast and a career-best performance by Plaza. This cabin-in-the-woods head trip is well worth the spins. —Christopher Notarnicola Read More
As I searched for new shows to binge during quarantine this fall, I kept forgetting the title of the most recent Turkish Netflix drama. Ethics? Event? Euphoria (no), Eulogy … Ego … What was that show friends had told me to watch?
The English title is Ethos, but the words you see in the opening credits are, of course, in Turkish: Bir Başkadır. Episode after episode, I would rack my brain for a suitable translation—one that fit the idea of ethos, but also matched the delicate world of the show. “It’s Something Else,” I ventured to my partner. Or, “There’s One More Thing.” Or, maybe, simply, “The Other,” as in, an-other-ness? Something about this eight-episode miniseries—its wistful soundtrack, its themes of miscommunication, deflection, silence, and withholding—encouraged me to keep generating my own language for it. I still haven’t looked up the dictionary translation for the Turkish phrase.
Ethos is, admittedly, the first Turkish show I’ve managed to watch past the first episode. I never took to the long and overstated soap operas that played continuously on the TV in the restaurants of my childhood, nor could I get into the flat knockoffs of American shows with equally vague titles, like Intersection. I even struck out with The Magnificent Century—a gaudy historical drama about sex in the Ottoman Empire that I did attempt, in earnest, to enjoy.
What makes Ethos different is, well, everything and nothing, which is part of its running metacommentary. In its better moments, the show uses subtle humor and poignant details to write its characters both into and then out of the roles that it also, inevitably, inscribes. The most memorable scenes revolve around communication set askew: the aristocratic mother who calls her housekeeper by the wrong name, the conservative abla who prays as a way of ignoring her cosmopolitan sister, the ornery young hodja-in-training who tries to flirt by detailing each stop on a bus route through unremarkable neighborhoods of the city.
I appreciated what the show was able to do with a bus route, the way it displaced any celebratory focus on Istanbul’s prominent postcard sites. Rather than marveling at the Hagia Sophia or the Blue Mosque, the camera takes us to the interior spaces of the city: dystopian skyscrapers, dingy suburban nightclubs, sun-soaked Anatolian homes. About halfway through the series, when I saw the Bosphorus lapping up against the glass window of a traditional Ottoman yalı, I nearly choked on my Kombrewcha. I kept trying to figure out where the camera was shooting from, which neighborhood these characters actually lived in. At some point, I thought I could make out the Galata tower in the distance, but I wasn’t too sure.
Although I had to read the subtitles, I could tell the dialogue in Ethos leaned heavily on the fanciful “gossip tense” in Turkish (mish-mush)—a grammar used to describe anything that is only known allegedly, or secondhand. Even with subtitles, the conversations and spaces of the show reveal the thickly layered social and psychological underpinnings of this grammar, what it means to have a “gossip tense” at all. —Sara Deniz Akant Read More