Cruisin’ Part I

Five of the last five bands I’ve seen live have had a trombone player. The latest group was Panic! at the Disco at Nassau Colosseum. I’ve never seen them before but have been a fan for a while. It worked out well cuz my daughter wanted to go see them with her cousins, so I went with my sister-in-law. Modern pop music has been getting back into my head for a while now, driven mainly by the fact that my kids are now old enough to have interesting taste in music and are turning me on to new bands. From the first time I heard them a few years ago P!atD stood apart due their over-the-top manic sensibilities and Brendan Urie’s incredible talent as a singer and a showman.

The show did not disappoint. In addition to the core band of guitar, bass and drums, he had a string section and a horn section, for a total of ten musicians on stage. Plus alot of tracks were piped in so the mix sounded very much like the record. Man, Brendon has a incredible range! Alot of his songs start off comfortable for me and go way to high! Like Freddy Mercury he mostly just sings but likes to sit down at a piano sometimes. The highlight of the show for me was Brendon actually had a grand piano on a flying saucer and rode from high above the mixing board station back to the stage. The rig give Keith Emerson’s famous upside-down rotating piano a run for it’s money. The other highlight was toward the end of the show P!atD played Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. It sounded pretty much completely live, although I’ll be they piped in some reinforcement on the vocal harmonies.

The next day we all went on cruise to the Caribbean, all the siblings and nieces on Jeannie’s side of the family, and of course Jeannie’s parents. I’d been on a cruise once before (not to the Caribbean) and found being trapped on a boat with basically nothing to do not very much fun. Unlimited food and drink gets boring by the second day or so, and there’s usually little to no access to musical instruments or that kind of thing, not to mention the tiny cabins and low ceilings. So this time I planned ahead. I started a D&D campaign.

Playing Dungeons and Dragons was actually Michelle’s idea. We had a family D&D campaign a few years ago but the two of us were the only ones really interested, so it kinda petered out. Michelle recently got the 5th edition rules and has been trying to get an adventure going with her friends from school. Then she told me her cousin Abby wanted to play. Then Abby’s sisters and brother wanted in too, and their dad Lou. Lou and I were in a party together back in the early ’90’s. Apparently they all watched Stranger Things and now D&D is popular among high school kids. Who knew?

So suddenly there was a party of six players, with me as DM. Of the group, Michelle, Lou and I were experienced players. I read up on the 5th edition rules and picked a module. The module was one of mine from when I was in high school: The Isle of Dread. This was so old it was written under the “Advanced” rules. But it fit thematically because the adventure was about traveling to a faraway island. We rolled up characters the weekend before. The party consists of a human Cleric (Michelle) whose god is Thor, a halfling Rouge (Abby), and Elvish Wizard (Phil), an Elvish Druid (Val), a human Ranger (Katie), and a Dwarven fighter Carmine the Invincible (Lou).

Another things I did to make the voyage tolerable was to go to the gym in the mornings. The boat actually had a pretty nice gym, including free weights and a bench press set up with a rack so the weights wouldn’t fall all over the place in storm. I must say lifting weights on rocking boat provided and extra level of challenge. Also I watched the last half of Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood with Michelle in the evenings. Totally mind blowing. Who would’ve guessed that Selim was a humonculus?

Anyway, I honestly had no idea how the D&D would go but I did what I could and hoped for the best. It turned out great. Our first session was on the first whole day at sea. And we basically played the whole afternoon. Everyone was into it, and eager to get into character and learn the riles and play and have fun. We were in a big lounge in the stern of the ship with view of the ocean on three sides, in a cluster of chairs and couches, coffee tables and end table.

The campaign started with the characters meeting for the first time at a tavern in some medieval seaport, listening to an old pirate tell a tall tail of treasure and danger on some haunted island far away in the sea, in order to recruit a crew of adventurers. The party escaped the tavern as a brawl erupted, found a ship and set sail. They reached the island and met the natives of a local village, then trekked off into the jungle in search of the lost temple. Soon enough they had their first encounter with a phalanx of undead skeletons. Then the real excitement began…

Heat Power Horns

Earlier this month I celebrated turning fifty. Wow. Halfway there. Fifty years is far too short a time to spend among such excellent folk as the humans of Earth I know and love. We had a great party, so thanks to everyone who helped celebrate, and wished me well, especially those that came from far away.

It’s been really, really hot the last few weeks, in the upper 90’s every day. A few days ago we finally got some rain and the last few days it’s been really pleasant outside, sunny and in the mid 80’s.

Our power went out last Saturday, at the zenith of the heatwave. Two power lines outside our house were rubbing against each other, causing a shower of sparks and everything to flicker, until the power went out completely. It took out our whole end of the block, and so all the neighbors came outside to see what was going on and it turned into a little party. The power company sent out one guy. After a few hours he wasn’t able to fix it and they sent out a whole crew. Fortunately that evening the rain came and it cooled down a little bit. Apparently they replaced a transformer and patched the power cables, and put in a few spacers to keep the wires from rubbing together. At four in the morning they brought the power back up. All the lights and appliances came back to life, waking everyone up.

We’re looking into getting solar power for the house. Now we’re considering what kind of setup we’d need to keep our power running in the event of a blackout.

I went into the city one day this week to see a show after work. It was the Ed Palermo Big Band. They play at the Iridium once a month. Rich, the piano player in my band turned me on the them, told me I’d love ’em. He’s been taking lessons with Ed Palermo’s piano player.

Shaw’nuff EPBB was out of this world! They have fifteen horns (5 saxes, 3 trombones, and two trumpets) with the reeds doubling on clarinets and flutes and one of the bones doubling on tuba. The rhythm section consisted of piano, bass, guitar and drums. Ed plays alto (monster soloist) in addition to conducting and emceeing, and the guitar player sings and provides schtick. He also had a guest tap dancer, and a violinist with a fretted, 5-string electric red violin the likes of which I’ve never seen. She played it amazingly, particularly the blues. The level of musicianship is superb in the whole band, their arrangements fantastic, and most of all their repertoire is.. out there.

EPBB’s first album was interpretations of Zappa songs, and that pretty much set the tone. Ed loves mashups and medleys, and specializes in juxtaposing dissimilar themes and moods, either sequentially or simultaneously. So most of the “songs” they performed were actually medleys drawing from jazz (Mingus, Tony Williams, Duke and Diz), prog rock, pop and of course Zappa going on for ten minutes or more. A perfect example was the show’s closer, which began with Mingus’s Goodbye Porkpie Hat, segueing into Jaco Pastorius’s Three Views of a Secret, passing thru Peaches en Regalia and some other Zappa stuff, ending with Baba O’Reilly.

The Iridium is a great place to see a show BTW. We sat right up front at a table with one of the sax player’s girlfriend (who was featured on a Deliverance/Giant Steps mashup) so we got to meet some of the players. After the show I bought a CD. I was gonna get the Zappa one, but when I saw it I had to get the one that had Lark’s Tongues in Aspic, Part II.

Road Trippin’ with Jazz, Part II

Next day we woke up in downtown Canada and it was Canada day. For some reason it seems like whenever we go up to Canada in the summer there’s record-breaking temperatures. It got up to 37 degrees that day (99 Fahrenheit), and the major activity was walking around the city. We passed some impressive, official-looking stone buildings and made our way out to the waterfront, and then to a district of shops like a street fair. The whole atmosphere was like a giant street fair.

We went into a touristy gift shop, and it was the most Canadian store ever. They sold art prints and sculptures from Inuit artists, very nice stuff, plus a large collection of antlers, Narwhal tusks, furs, taxonomically stuffed wolves, polar bears bobcats, etc., bear- and wolfskin rugs, fur coats and wraps.

Eventually we made our way back to the jazz fest. Tired from the heat we stopped for lunch at a sports bar. They had a publicly accessible walk-in refrigerator room where they kept their beer cold. So I stepped inside and hung out for a minute or two. Ah, great relief. Inside the bar a World Cup game was going on, already in overtime. We had poutine for the first time, to see what all the buzz was about. Yum yummy dish, but probably better on a cold wintry day.

In the evening we got back to listening to jazz. The main drag of the festival is several blocks of streets closed to traffic full of kiosks selling food, drinks, records, t-shirts and other stuff, with four public bandshells with near-continuous free music. In addition, all the local clubs and theaters and the big arts center have ticketed live acts. We wandered around for a while taking it all in, and eventually settled into up at a small bandshell in one corner of the festival. It looked like it was set up on the lawn and parking lot of the church next door. We had seats at the bar and the gin & tonics went down smoothly.

A succession of bands came on, including an English lady that wasn’t exactly jazz, since she sang songs and there wasn’t much improvisation, but it was pretty much a trio with piano bass and drums, and they used some jazz chords. Reminded me of Kate Bush. The next group was a horn-section jazz band consisting of trumpet, trombone, alto sax, bass and drums. They started off playing mainly Dixieland, but did some interpretations of rock tunes, including Closer to the Heart and Stairway to Heaven (modeled after Frank Zappa version). Needless to say they were very good.

By nighttime it still hadn’t cooled off very much. The headlining act on that stage was the Low Down Brass Band from Chicago. They featured seven horns, a drummer and a percussionist. The horns were bari and tenor sax, two trombones, two trumpets, and a tuba in lieu of a bass. The music was kind of a cross between funk soul, hop-hop and jazz. A bunch of guys in the band could sing, and they had a rapper too. But they also took alot of solos and all of the guys could really play. All in all a great group. And it turned out they were staying at our hotel, so we met some of them after the show.

Next day we toured around Montreal. We went up to the mountain in the middle of the city with giant cross and hiked around. Then we checked out the giant geodesic dome where they had Expo ’67. We would have liked to hang around longer but it was brutally hot again. We headed back into the States, to Lake Placid area. We met up with our friends Mark and Kelly and spent the afternoon at a swimmin’ hole on Lower Saranac Lake, where we found some much needed relief from the heat. Next morning we climbed up Mount Whiteface, which was totally epic, and the temperature was actually temperate on the mountaintop. Then finally home. A totally epic and awesome vacation.

Road Trippin’ with Jazz, Part I

So as I said, I had a great road trip upstate and into Canada. It started with a visit to Martin and family outside of Albany. The kids are sweet and delightful, the ducks and chickens and cows and game hens are doing fine, and the shale pit is full of birds and frogs. We all went out for a delightful dinner at the local German restaurant on the lake.

From there it was on to Lake George. Our hotel had a pool and a bar and beach right on the lake, with boat rentals and everything. It was a beautiful summer day and a perfect spot for relaxing enjoying the water and sun. In the morning we kayaked around the southern end of the lake, then spent the afternoon back’n’forth between the pool and the bar. What a great place. I can’t believe it’s been five years since the last time we were up there. Ah well it’s a big world and life keeps you busy.

In the evening we went on a dinner cruise on the bigger, fancier boat. (Last time we did the Mini Haha, which had tacos and no air conditioning. This was more like a reception or something.) Good food, nice views or all the islands and coastlines, lovely sunset. After the cruise Lizzy talked us into taking a tour of fort William Henry, rebuilt on the spot it originally stood in the French and Indian wars.

Lizzy normally loathes this kind of thing, and complains loudly whenever we approach any kind of museum or historical site on a vacation. Michelle, Jeannie and I, meanwhile are generally keen on kind of thing. So we were all a bit surprised but she talked us into it.

The hook that piqued her curiosity was that it was billed as a “Ghost Tour”. I have no idea where Lizzy’s interest in the occult arose, but we had tell her not try and bring a Ouija board to the Bermuda Triangle. Surely the ship would hit an iceberg and we’ll all die, or get sucked into a rift in the spacetime continuum. It’s just common sense.

Anyway the fort was supposedly haunted due to a massacre that took place shortly before it burned to the ground. The tour was pretty cool. It was nighttime and spooky, but it was mainly a tour of the fort with explanations of its history and snapshots of daily life back in the day, layered with dubious second-hand accounts of ghost sightings in every nook and cranny. At the end of the tour Lizzy declared “they tricked us into learning something,” but she had a good time anyway.

Also the kids turned us on to the show How I Met Your Mother, which was on-demand on the hotel TV, and hilarious. As luck would have it we watched the episode with Geddy Lee.

Next day it was on to a place called Ausable Chasm, which Jeannie had visited when she was a girl. She’s been telling us for years she’d love to get back there someday. As you might expect, it’s a gorge in the Ausable river, with hiking trails, rope bridges and catwalks, and raft rides thru the gorge and it’s (mild) rapids. So that was really cool and alot of fun.

We had taken two cars up and at this point the kids departed for home, while Jeannie and I headed further north. That was a bit of an experiment, but since the kids weren’t that interested in the second half of the itinerary and Lizzy wanted to work and make money, we figured we’d give it a shot. Happy to say it worked out just fine.

Jeannie and I trekked on into Canada, crossing at the north end of the Northway. For obvious reasons the Canadians are angry with the Americans these days, so the border crossing was extra slow. We waited in line an hour and a half, and then were subject to an interrogation the likes of which I’d never heard, and I’ve crossed into Canada hundreds of times. It was really not such a big deal, just a delay and annoyance. Luckily they were playing the new Coltrane album on the radio, which gave us something to do during the wait.

We got to Montreal quick enough after that. Our hotel was right downtown and offered parking, super convenient. And they upgraded us to a suite. Sweet! We set out to explore the neighborhood. Montreal is a beautiful city full of lots of old stone French architecture. The neighborhood where we were staying was funky and artsy but well kept, alot like the West Village in NYC. There were lots of food options. We went to a fast, cheap and yummy mideastern place.

We were in Montreal for the Jazz Festival, and the act we were there to see first, the motivating excuse for the whole trip, was Kamasi Washington. I’d heard him on the radio and consider him one of the most interesting new sax players in the last five or ten years. Unfortunately he doesn’t play very much in the States, particularly int he NYC area.

The venue was a short walk away. It was a good size; I’d compare it to Irving Plaza, the Capital Theatre or the Fillmore. They had a several bars in the place, including one in the lobby, which was a good place to sit and chill between acts.

My two favorite sax players of all time are John Coltrane and Clarance Clemons. Kamasi draws from both styles of playing. First of all, he has a great big tone, which I love. His compositions tend toward the abstract and soulful, and function as vehicles for both individual and collective improvisation. Crucially, Kamasi explores the question of where to go when your expressiveness and intensity are maxed out, and gets to some really cool and original territory.

Coltrane’s answer was to repeatedly push the boundaries, particularly with respect to harmonic complexity, and he passed thru several styles and did all kinds of amazing things before ultimately arriving at a kind of chaotic atonalism where few could truly follow. I’ve listened to most of his later albums and and some of them are, well let’s say more interesting than entertaining. Meanwhile Clarance was a guy who was not noted for complex playing, but for using big, bold strokes, almost like drawing with crayons. The result was almost everything he played was bold and anthemic, and you couldn’t imagine any other sax part.

And so Kamasi does this thing where you think the solo has nowhere left to go, and then instead of going more complex, he turns left and simplifies, repeating a riff, or just a single note, getting right down to the essence. Then the band builds up in intensity behind him and the whole thing just explodes. Very into repetition and dynamics, very effective.

So even knowing all this about the music coming in, I was not prepared for the live show. Cuz you know, the whole loop-and-build approach would fall flat and get really boring really fast if you don’t have a really good band. This band was several levels beyond really good. First of all, he had two drummers. And all that implies. Even though they were playing true jazz, there was a current of deadhead jambanditude in their collective improvisation. Or maybe King Crimson meets Curtis Mayfield. The bass player, Miles Mosley was out of this world too, on standup bass. The front line consisted of Kamasi on tenor sax, and then a trombone, flute, Moog/Rhodes and a female vocalist who sometimes sang words and sometimes not. The combined sound was very hipster sci-fi. They had definitely been playing together for a while, and were spontaneously, simultaneously loose and tight, often improvising a one cohesive whole, so you couldn’t really tell where the composition left off and the jamming began.

On top of that they had just released a new triple album the day before, and were hot to showcase alot of the new tunes. The opened with Street Fighter Mas, which Kamasi said he wrote about his favorite video game. They covered many moods, but it was all very evocative, free and precise. All in all I was just blown away. It was up there with the greatest concerts I’ve ever seen.

I could have stayed and got a copy of the new record signed by the man himself. I would have liked too; he seemed like a bright and personable guy. But the line got long quickly and by the end of the show we we were just too darn beat.

BTW I saw several really good trombone players over the weekend, and I’m kinda fascinated by trombone now. It’s not an instrument that offers great speed or facility, so most trombone players tend to play really soulful. It also kinda makes you wonder why the French horn never really penetrated jazz. It has a versatile and distinctive tone and a very broad range, and it’s alot more maneuverable than a trombone. But you only ever hear it rounding out the low end of some big bands.

Origami Weekend NYC

I just got back from a great trip upstate and into Canada. More on that soon, but this post is about this year’s OUSA convention in NYC, which was now two weeks ago. For the last few weeks I’d been trying to make the time to develop to completion some ideas for some new models. I won’t say what all the unfinished work-in-progress ones are cuz I’m sure someday I’ll circle back to them.

One brand-new model I finished is my Platypus. It uses the hex base like my Lizard, Turtle, and Armadillo. The main challenge here was to get a good looking head (and as always the shoulders) including a color change for the bill.

The other one is my Blimp, a.k.a. Zeppelin II. A few years back I created a fully three-dimensional Zeppelin. It’s a pretty impressive model and was featured in several exhibits at the time. But although I liked the final form I was never truly satisfied because it was not very efficient in it’s use of paper, and it was very, very difficult to fold, and basically impossible to diagram. It employed the original Origami from Space approach I developed on my Rocketship and U.F.O., using a polar layout to create a round, voluminous form. I took that approach about as far as it could go.

When I did my airplanes and spaceships book I revisited some of these subjects and created much simpler forms that still captured the essence. Notably my Retro Rocket and Flying Saucer are foldable in about twenty minutes in less than 30 steps, compared to their archetypes, my Rocketship and U.F.O., which require an hour or two each, and whose diagrams run over 60 steps.

The new Blimp is also greatly simplified, requiring about an hour to fold, compared with several days, and the folding sequence is also streamlined, and doable from 10” paper. It has completely different plan. The main form of the model wraps around like a tube. I had tried this approach several times before but couldn’t get the nose or tail to lock, or the tail fins to be large enough. This time around I was able to somehow solve those problems easily.

I started on the blimp the Thursday night before the convention. It took a few iterations and I ended up staying up very late tweaking the proportions and trying different variations, but it was basically there. Friday daytime I folded an exhibit-quality model out of 35cm Marble Wyndstone to put into my display. There is still one little tweak I want to make to the underside of the nose to make the lock tighter. Then I’ll fold one out of some kind of shiny sparkly paper and diagram it.

With this model perfected, I have enough material to make a complex counterpart to my upcoming Origami from Air and Space book, coming out this fall. The idea would be to release an ebook of complex air and space themed models including the new Blimp, the Rocketship and U.F.O.and the Biplane. These are all great models. The others were originally slated for the print book before the focus shifted to a broader audience, and are already diagrammed.

Fortunately my agreement with my publisher is print-only. I can do whatever I want online or as an e-book. I think the two titles will complement each other nicely. There is an audience of advance folders out there who are really hungry for good material. If it works out I have several other topics’ worth material I can use in this way.

The convention itself was alot of fun. My main thought is that it always comes and goes so quickly! It’s always such an intense experience, like being teleported into another world. It’s great to re-connect with my origami friends, and I always come away with lots of new ideas I want to follow up on. I wish I had more time in my life to do more origami. Ah well, someday.

One source of new ideas came from John Montrol, who often comes with diagrams for new unpublished books. This year’s batch was complex single-sheet polyhedra. The whole collection was great, but in particular a couple variations on the Dodecahedron and Cuboctahedron stood out, nicely foldable from a 9” square.

Another great model came from Jason Ku. It was some kind of oriental dragon, inspired by Satoshi’s classic Eastern Dragon, but simplified, taking only about 5 hours to fold rather than months and months. It’s a really beautiful and impressive model. Jason came to Michelle and me Saturday morning, wanting to try out teaching it to us so he could prepare for his class. It starts by folding a 32×32 grid, and from there develops the tessellation that is the dragons’ scales on it’s body and tail. This took about 3 hours and was all had to go to lunch and on to other classes.

Jason was teaching it again Saturday night, and Michelle and I dropped midway thru, only to be told we should come back later. So we did, and we got thru the next section, developing the base for the head and legs. It was mainly box pleating, and I learned a new technique called Wizard Fingers, apparently developed by Satoshi for the hands of his Wizard. Finally Sunday night Michelle and I tracked Jason down and he showed us the sculpting and finishing for the head, legs and whole body.

Every time we go to an origami event Michelle levels up. She’s now capable of folding stuff like this. She says next year she wants to teach and possibly exhibit.

A third source of inspiration came from Viviane Berty from France, a convention special guest. She has a very flowing and sculptural folding style. I took her Monday class, about origami design. I always like taking origami design classes because it reveals so much about the designer. She is a very knowledgable and friendly person. She talked about getting to the essence of the form, and used a couple of her models as examples. Then she had everyone do a exercise of trying to come up with a bird or animal in as few folds as possible. I had come in already folding something, so I just stopped were I was a and had a airplane. I also came up with a pretty nice Hawk, based on an idea I had once before and developed a little further. Other people in the class came up with some other good ideas. Making a pretty good simple model is not that hard, but making a really great one is far from easy.

As it turned out Viviane had a few of her models in the convention book, so I folded those later in the day. My favorite was her Buddha, which was a compound model with a robed, meditating figure and a radiating pattern in the background. Similar in approach to my Martian.

Of course we went to the shop for paper and books. I now have a new favorite kind of paper, It’s called Vintage and it’s available from It’s almost like a really thin Elephant Hide. It’s just a bit thicker than Kami, but much stronger and crisper, and the same color on both sides. It comes in a nice array of colors, subtle not garish, with a texture that suggest the finished model might be carved out of stone. Available in 9” and 15” sheets, and not crazy expensive. A good general purpose paper. We folded so much that we went back and bought some more, and then went back the last day and bought out the rest of their stock.

I also bought Robert Lang’s new book Twists, Tilings and Tessellations. At 700 pages it’s a massive tome on the level of Origami Design Secrets, full of math and theory. Should keep me busy for a while.

As always, I taught a few classes. This year I did my Butterfly II, which is a fairly accessible high-intermediate model. The class was quite full and went well. The next day I taught my Flying Fish, which is a new model from last winter. I accidentally gave a wrong direction about halfway through, which caused some confusion and cost some time to straighten out, so we barely finished on time. Still, all in all it was okay and everyone finished with a successful model.

Later on outside of class a couple of kids came up to me and asked me to sign their copies of my book. They asked me to teach them something so I had them do my new Platypus.

Up at the exhibit hall I met a folder name Boice who told me that my original dragon, whose diagrams have been online for many years, was one of his favorite and most influential models. So I sent him the diagrams for my Medieval Dragon, which is an evolution of the dragon on my web site, with a more detailed head and wings, and is currently unpublished. I may put it into an ebook for supercomplex fantasy models, along with my War Elephant and Random Monster Generator.

Finally, for years I’ve been working on-and-off on origami simulation and diagramming software, although recently it’s been more off than on. I met a guy name Robby Kraft who has an origami simulator based on javascript. You can see a demo at He’s using Jason Ku’s FOLD schema to represent the model as json. Really good stuff.

His project is open source and I’m trying to figure out a way to collaborate/contribute. I’ll probably start by taking some some of my crease patterns and feeding them into his system. He’s getting it on github with feature requests, so hopefully I can just pick something small to work on as a way into getting to know the code base. We’ll see how it goes. As I said, I wish I had more time for origami.