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On Celebration of Liberation: Costa Rica’s General Strike

 

Happy Independence Day weekend to all my friends in (and from) Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Mexico!  It’s a particularly auspicious day in an equally dramatic time here in Costa Rica, with a large share of the labor unions on a general strike all the past week and still ongoing, with the stated intention to “paralyze the country.” This has meant no fuel deliveries, so the gas station tanks in our fairly remote area are all empty, along with the gas bottles that keep the local cooking stoves going - although I happened to be lucky enough to have just replaced our propane tank before the supply ran out.  

The situation has meant a lot of inconvenience and certainly some some hardship for many of the residents here, but I have to say that I think the strike’s intended resistance to CR President Carlos Alvarado’s recent proposal for fiscal reform that is currently advancing in congress seems to me to be a cause worth supporting. The bill includes proposed value added taxes on goods and services to replace the existing sales tax, which includes a new 1% tax on basic foods. There’s a good article in the American press on the strike and the circumstances leading up to it here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/the_americas/costa-rica-shaken-by-rare-and-unruly-unrest-labor-strike/2018/09/14/9bea7d26-b88d-11e8-ae4f-2c1439c96d79_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.14b68dcd4a70

While there appears to me to be a growing middle and upper income population here in Costa Rica - as evidenced by way too many Apple stores and fashion athletic shoe shops to be sufficiently supported by the large foreign ex-pat community - who will no doubt pay the larger share of the additional tax revenue (especially taxes on less affordable services like private schools,2) most of the country’s people are still dirt poor by North American standards. Wages are very low and prices are ridiculously high overall - even for basic foods. Rice and beans as a daily diet is not only a cultural tradition, but also a means of survival for most folks here, leaving the idea of putting a tax on those vital essentials totally indefensible, in my view. 

Though I do have permanent residency status here, not being a Costa Rican citizen means that I am not able to vote or participate in politics on any level here. So I remain an observer and just try to stay informed and be a good listener, but in this case, holding my tongue feels like ignoring an obvious problem. And tonight I plan to join the local community in celebrating this country’s freedom at festivities in town and supporting the local beverage crafters at the coinciding Fourth Annual Independent Craft Beverage Brewers’ Festival, featuring the microbrews of Costa Rica.  https://m.facebook.com/BriBriSpringsBrewery/photos/a.259423904175935/1837440289707614/?type=3. It’s hosted by local Bribri Springs Brewery owner and brewer JT Ficociello, and today happens to be his birthday, too.

Pure vida!

 

My Live Setup - For the Gearheads and the Gear Curious

 

I got a question recently on my Facebook page from a friend in the States about my live setup in a stage photo I posted one night and how I use all those iOS devices. My response to him was so long it made me realize that an updated description of all that has been a long time coming here. A lot of this is pretty technical, but I suspect a few musicians and curious onlookers may be interested, so here goes:

The stand on the right and most of what it holds is new - a Focusrite iDock, which now serves as a mixer for my guitar and most of the virtual instruments I’m playing, and the new 128 Gb iPad it holds. The main apps I use on it are JamUp, DrumJam, ThumbJam, DrumKick, Loopy, and Audiobus 3, which is an internal router and mixer that allows the instrument sounds all to be routed into the Loopy, the wonderful multitrack looper app.  I’m now finally able to have the SoftStep floor strip controller, designed by Keith McMillen and which I’ve had for years, in use now to control most of the looping on the floor via USB on the iTrack dock. The dock is AC powered, keeping my iPad battery charged up to 100% so it can handle all this. I have the TC Helicon VoiceLive apps onboard for adding backup vocal harmonies I sing into the looper, but I haven’t incorporated that into my live sets yet - still just using their great VoiceLive Play floor unit on the left for live vocal harmonies. But, as you might have guessed, there’s a lot of learning, tinkering, rearranging, practicing and rehearsal going on here in mi casa this summer.

The second iPad runs keyboard apps, including ThumbJam, GarageBand, a couple other chord triggering apps, and the amazing iFretless apps, which are set up like guitar fretboards that trigger other instruments, making them especially fun for guitarists. You can midi control other keyboard apps with both the iFretless and the color coded ThumbJam apps them too, so the sky really is the limit on sonic possibilities now in the iOS world. I can also midi trigger ThumbJam samples with my guitar too, so no need for my old synth pickup. I have a lot of other apps that I pull in now and then on both units for this kind of exploration, including some of the new audio unit apps that are designed to serve as effects or sample banks in AudioBus. I can now save all my regularly used apps and settings as a single file in AudioBus, som I just open up that app and it loads them all for me, cutting down a lot of tweaking time before a show. It’s made music life much easier for me!

I run that second older iPad into the dock too so I can include parts I play on that in the loops too. My repertoire is pretty enormous for my the aging internal hard drive of my brain, so I keep an updated chord and lyric chart book on that one for reference on newer and seldom played tunes too. I mainly use the little iPod Touch as a soloing instrument, running ThumbJam mostly, but also SampleTank and iFretless too. To cover full disclosure, the dock’s mix goes through my also brand new Electro-Harmonix Freeze app, which I learned about from Bill Frisell awhile back and have coveted ever since. I use it, like him, mainly for holding an indefinitely frozen chord or pedal note on my guitar to play over - really cool for solo guitar stuff and surprise breaks in the loop heavy arrangements. If you haven’t heard of it and you play guitar, you might want to check it out.

All my amp models and most of my guitar effects are in JamUp, made by Positive Grid, where I’ve set up a number of presets that combine them in different ways. I sometimes use their BIAS Amp and Effect apps to custom design the amps, speaker cabinets and effects and then store them in JamUp for live use. DrumJam is an amazing world drum and percussion app co-designed by percussionist Pete Lockett and Sonosaurus LLC, who is also the developer of ThumbJam.  Pete, a world class percussionist who has played with Peter Gabriel, Jeff Beck, Björk, and Robert Plant, played all the loops and sample instruments in the app. You can play them with your fingers on a touchpad on the screen and mix the huge array of different loops he’s made of all the instruments, which I use to make beats or parts for my songs. I use the app as a virtual midi controller that sets the tempo and keeps time for the looping. I play and loop the drum and percussion sounds live on the app, and will soon be triggering them on my new BopPad, a revolutionary new drum pad that was also designed by Keith McMillen, who funded it’s manufacture through a Kickstarter campaign. The pad has a realistic drumhead feel and is super touch sensitive, playing with sticks, mallets, or your hands. I just brought it back from the north a few weeks ago, and I’m about to introduce it into some of the live shows here, but the weather has been too rainy to risk putting another piece of gear at risk on that little seaside stage. As you’ve probably noticed, the Caribbean is lapping the shore literally only a few steps behind me on that little Lazy Mon stage, so you can imagine quickly the storms can blow in. 

Any questions? 😉

 

One Year Later: The Sh*thole Grows Deeper

 

As a US citizen, I feel compelled to share my thoughts on the latest unconscionable remarks of the man I am tempted to call our sh*thead president. With our recent power and internet outages and an exceptionally busy schedule this month, I'm chiming in on this subject a bit late, but I feel it's important to reach out especially to all my friends here in Costa Rica and around the world who did not happen to be born white and privileged US Americans.  I'm writing this not only to express my outrage, but also to let you to know that I'm with YOU.  I've got your back on this, and I will not be silenced in the face of such an assault on those who've been most harmed by the  economic disparity that is a direct result of the same greed and hate fest that brought this scourge of a man to power.       

This was not, of course, this president's first blatantly racist remark or violation of basic human decency, and it will clearly not be his last. Already adding insult to injury on Saturday morning by tweeting "AMERICA FIRST" between his rants against the Democrats, this deeply disturbed and visibly senile fool also seems hellbent on turning his personal domain into the REAL "sh*thole country".  His juvenile button and missile size threats and inane toilet seat tweets are matched only by his steady onslaught of reprehensible actions and decrees on pretty much all fronts since taking office just a year ago in damaging further every day the nation's quality of life, sense of safety, hope for its future, self respect, and eroding reputation and standing on the international stage. Whether or not the United States of America was ever a great nation in the eyes of the world at large or even its own people, Donald Trump will never make it so again, and his continued touting of his long worn out jingoistic campaign promise only pushes forward the rapid demise that, in my view, now appears to be its fate.  

But meanwhile, resistance and political activism continues to grow every day in the US. Trump did not win the popular vote, his public approval rating is one of the very lowest in history of all American presidents, and the investigation into alleged corruption and obstruction of justice during his campaign has already reached the upper levels of his administration. So if you've felt personally attacked by his words and if his deplorable banter and self-aggrandizing displays have made you begin to question the humanity, compassion, intelligence or loyalty of your own American friends, please remember that they, like the majority of us, probably did not vote for him, do not support his agenda or behavior, and are actually struggling every day to remain calm and sane as this very dark period in our history unfolds and, at some point, eventually passes.  

 

Now What? Reflections and Suggestions on Recovering from the 2016 Election

 

from a Former Grief and Trauma Therapist

Did this really just happen?  Sorry, Michael Moore, but until recently, I’d have to say that I have been still in shock much of the time.  Not that I dismissed his very early prediction that Trump would win the U.S. presidency by garnering enough support in the States he needed to win a majority in the electoral college. After all, the last Republican president, G.W. Bush, won that way. I hoped that it wouldn’t come true, and even doubted it at times, but the lesson Moore was attempting to teach the American people with his repeated warning was based on history - you know, that thing we’re doomed to repeat if we forget about it?  

I had to wait a few days to begin to collect my thoughts about this subject before putting much of them into writing, and completing this piece you’re now reading has been a challenging undertaking. Like the death of a loved one, or a relationship, job, or personal dream that you really want to hold onto, this event brings a major and complex loss to a lot of us. For many of us U.S. Americans that loss is much more than Hillary Clinton's losing the election, which in itself might matter little to folks who voted Green or even disillusioned Bernie supporters who took the "lesser evil" approach in the ballot box.  It might also include loss of trust and faith in the electoral system or in many of our fellow citizens, or for others, even a sense of betrayal by their own country.

For many there is also a very real loss of one's personal safety - or at least a diminished sense of security - for ourselves or for our children.  This has already surfaced as one very troubling result of Trump's election in American schoolyards in the form of increased bullying, racial slurs, racist graffiti, and violence targeting children of color and/or of Middle Eastern descent. “These incidents have been ugly," reports Richard Cohen, president of the Southern Poverty Law Center in an interview for a Common Dreams article citing over 860 post-election incidents.  "And time after time the perpetrator has invoked Mr. Trump’s name. The level of hate that has been unleashed is unprecedented." The article's author goes on to say that the Law Center adds that these documented incidents "are likely a 'small fraction' of the actual number of election-related hate incidents that have happened since the election." 

“These incidents have been ugly," says Cohen. "And time after time the perpetrator has invoked Mr. Trump’s name. The level of hate that has been unleashed is unprecedented.”  Although I'm a white male living south of the US border, this particular effect of Trump's victory has been one of the most immediately distressing concerns for me.  As a counselor and teacher in the US, I worked with hundreds of children and adolescents whose risk of being victimized because of their heritage, their beliefs, or their sexual orientation has just been increased dramatically.  My eyes now begin to tear up every time I think of them. Some of those kids have been growing up knowing that there has been a Black man in the White House for half or more of their lifetimes, a symbol of possibilities that their parents and grandparents could, at best, have only imagined. And a President who has consistently modeled and encouraged tolerance. He is now scheduled to be replaced by a man known widely for his racism, bigotry, sexism, and scapegoating of those who do not fit his stereotype ethnic/genetic model of what it means to be an American.  

 

This brings me to the painful reminder that, above all, we are also faced with what is likely to be an even greater loss coming in the form of major setbacks to so much of what we progressives would call progress.  The positive changes, great and small, made in the last few decades not only for human equality and tolerance, but also for our environment, our reproductive rights, our healthcare, and many other areas we care about deeply are now all at risk. 

So there are so many feelings in the mix of our first reactions that, for a lot of us, it’s just all really overwhelming to deal with at first. Consequently our anger may have  immediately surfaced. Rage over something like this can feel pretty righteous. Or we might have immediately slipped into depression or even despair at times. Or denied the reality that it could possibly really be happening ("I can't believe it!")  Or tried to figure out a way to bargain or even pray our way out of it.  We also might have just gone numb for the time being until the initial shock subsides. 

Those of you already familiar with Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s famous stages of grief and loss have, I’m sure, already recognized them in that last paragraph.  Knowing about those stages and noticing where we are in the process of grieving can really help in getting through it, though we don’t necessarily go through them in a prescribed order and not everyone necessarily experiences all of them. During my 20 some odd years of working with people in emotional crisis and in processing my own major losses, I’ve witnessed many times and experienced myself firsthand the passage back and forth and, eventually, through those stages.  Still, some of us will dismiss them as irrelevant right now, because what we are already experiencing feels important to hold on to. 

 

There is some truth in that sentiment, I think, because righteous anger and unwillingness to accept what is - to most of us - unacceptable injustice have fueled every movement for equality, human rights, environmental justice, peace, and positive social change in history.  So that fifth stage of processing a loss, acceptance, may well be one worth putting off or avoiding altogether for some of us.  And, like those other causes I mentioned, this is a case that, to me, is one well worth making a fuss about. 

In a post-election interview on "60 Minutes" Trump vowed again that he will appoint "pro-life" judges to the U.S. Supreme Court who can then overturn Roe v. Wade and give determination of the legality of women's reproductive rights "back to the states." He has also vowed, with the support of the Republican majorities he will have in both house of Congress, to reverse Obama’s commitment to the Paris Accords international on responding to climate change.  If you’re still wondering how far he might go in his initial months in office, his list of contenders for his cabinet said it all, from Newt Gingrich to Sarah Palin. And if his chosen chief strategist, white nationalist and former alt-right media mogul Stephen Bannon, is any indication of where things are heading, we'd all better fasten our seat belts. 

Each day the news brings yet another reminder of how bad the next four years look already. For the last couple weeks these have been a running tally of of the additional things we are likely to lose as a result of his latest cabinet post nominations and staff appointments, from his top immigration advisor's "Muslim registry" proposal and National Security Advisor's defense of resuming water boarding and killing the families of terrorism suspects, to the anti-minimum wage fast food CEO head of the Department of Labor, to the Goldman and Sachs moguls selected to run the country’s finances, to the Exxon-Mobil boss Secretary of State, to the entrusting of national defense and homeland security to the most hawkish of the country’s generals, and - perhaps most insanely horrific of all - turning the Environmental Protection Agency over to the most notorious climate denying, EPA-bashing fossil fuel industry attorney in the country.  You may remember when Rick Perry drew media attention during his own Presidential campaign when he forgot the name of one of the departments he planned to dismantle, the Department of Energy. Now that Trump has picked him, a DAPL board member, to head it, can their yet be any doubt where we are headed?

 

And so it begins. The undoing of decades of progressive change within the system, the pushing of the hands of the American sociopolitical clock back to the 1950's, and the slowing of our race against time in the face of the increasingly disastrous results of human accelerated climate change to the pace of that same decade. As Oliver Milman reports in The Guardian, "Trump has assembled a transition team in which at least nine senior members deny basic scientific understanding that the planet is warming due to the burning of carbon and other human activity." The list, he reports, includes "the transition heads of all the key agencies responsible for either monitoring or dealing with climate change," and not one has "any background in climate science.” To quote geopolitical analyst and MIT professor Noam Chomsky's post-election statement, "Humans are facing the most important question in their history - whether organized human life will survive in anything like the form we know - and are answering it by accelerating the race to disaster."

 

So, like Michael Moore, I will be repeating his recommended mantra to myself and to my many friends from other lands who will, no doubt, be asking about the sanity of my fellow US Americans: No, we, the majority of US citizens, did NOT elect this man, (with the popular vote count in Hillary’s favor by over 2.5 million, as of this writing) who all records indicate will prove soon to be a far worse mistake than all the other electoral embarrassments of our past. With the Jill Stein initiated recounts in key states that gave Trump his electoral college majority now stalled or stopped altogether, how things will come out in the next few weeks may be still a bit uncertain, but, for now, President Trump is still looking a likely reality next month.

I myself am moving in and out of my own awareness of both the immediate horror and the imminent danger ahead. I have always been pretty good at compartmentalizing emotional states. A chaotic childhood can be a good place to learn that survival skill, and it becomes a very helpful one to therapists shifting between numerous clients in crisis while at work and the personal and family needs and obligations awaiting us at home. The positive things in my life are bringing me joy again, at least momentarily, though the darkness beyond that brilliant super moon in the sky just after the election remains undeniable.  I’m writing again now too, and that's usually a sign that it's getting easier to carry on.  But what's been lost is gone, and getting used to that does not bring it back or in any way make up for its absence. 

Most of the comedians who normally bring relief had little to offer and were really struggling with finding a way to make me laugh the first couple days, but they're quickly getting much funnier again, having had a lot of practice during his campaign. Colbert has been doing a fine job, while continuing to acknowledge his own pain and concern, Trevor Noah is doing a great job finding laughs to counter his own despair, and Alex Baldwin’s SNL impressions have been on target enough to garner regular reactionary tweets from the Trump toilet. I would recommend regular viewings of your own favorites for analgesic relief to anyone as preoccupied as I’ve been with this mess. 

 

“Why grieve at all?” some might ask, or “Who has time for it?”  The tough thing about a major loss is that it comes and has its impact on our emotional terrain whether we acknowledge it or not. We can choose to ignore it and pretend it isn’t affecting us, like we may have done with other major losses and disappointments, but then the resulting feelings we’ve been left with will often get displaced, having unintended negative effects on those around us - and ultimately on ourselves, as well.  Like the kid who got scolded or punished by a parent and then kicks the cat or breaks a window, bringing on only more trouble, we may be better off expanding our awareness of what is going on beneath the surface in our own psyches and taking some time to learn more about and notice our own grief and trauma recovery process.  I’m convinced it will help us truly get through it much more effectively and leave us better equipped to cope with the changes and losses that lie ahead. Even four years may feel like a very long time.

As life's routines resume, we will gradually find more and more things to smile about, but the grieving process continues as long as it takes. And acceptance sometimes does not mean lying down or forgetting, but, instead, facing our fate, continuing our watch, and preparing ourselves for our next move. Be sure to allow that to include spending time with your friends and staying close to those you most care about. No one of us can do it alone. Let's give each other all the love and support we need to make it because, short of some monumental turn of events in the next few weeks, we are probably all going to need it.

 

Woodstock Revisited Again: Jim's Recollection (updated from last year)

 

Forty-seven years ago this morning I woke up in my sleeping bag on a grassy hillside in the Catskill Mountains of southeastern New York State alongside roughly half a million people.

It was Saturday, August 16, 1969. No, I'm happy to say, it wasn't pouring rain at that point! The sky was blue, the sun was shining, and people around me were already stretching, getting dressed, sharing breakfast, passing water bottles, and filling pipes and papers in anticipation of the greatest rock concert the world had eveer seen.

After a six mile hike from where we'd abandoned my friend's dad's sedan just off the road in the midst of the biggest traffic jam in U.S. history (which some of you might remember had closed the NY State Thruway section of I-90 - fortunately a few hours after we'd already exited to the mountain roads,) we had all drifted off slowly the night before after being soothed by Melanie singing "Beautiful People" and singing along with Arlo Guthrie's "You can get anything you want at Alice's Restaurant!" (If you're too young to remember either of those, I highly recommend turning on the background music at this point: http://youtu.be/a414FPnl3KU http://youtu.be/m57gzA2JCcM )  That first night, closed out by Joan Baez's hourlong set, went until 2 a.m.

For my traveling companions and me it had been our longest road trip ever, crawling in traffic for the last several hours of the journey from our hometown in the northwestern part of the state, but we had already met many festival attendees who had come much further, including some who'd made the pilgrimage in converted school buses from California. For them and for a number of us who'd gathered there on kind old Mr. Yasgur's farmland, this event promised much more than our favorite bands or a big party in the woods. In the midst of our young lives, rattled, torn and alienated from our elders as many of us were, coming of age in a nation divided by a long and unjust war and ongoing struggles for racial and gender equality, we had been drawn also by the festival poster's promise of "3 days of peace, love, and music." And I think most of us got what we came for.

My then best bud John and I had already plunged into a bit of the peace and love part on the hillside that first night, spreading the slices of a big loaf of bread with the peanut butter and jam we'd brought along from the car to share with the hungry and less prepared folks around us. Others had chipped in and rewarded us with sharing whatever goodies they'd packed in, already building the sense of community and caring that would pervade the weekend for us. That experience continued and expanded Saturday morning for John and me over the course of our long trek back to the abandoned car for the tent and additional camping gear and provisions we hadn't been able to carry when we'd arrived the evening before.

In a sea of pedestrian traffic to rival any contemporary festival crowd moving in both directions for the entire length of our twelve mile walk, we were constantly offered shared food and water by both fellow attendees in transit and local residents who'd set up provision tables along the roadside, knowing that by now the festival grounds had been officially declared a disaster zone due to the size of the crowd in attendance and the impassibility of the roads leading in and out of the area. This had meant that, in those initial hours of the weekend, food and beverage concessions at the site were already running out with little hope of replenishing their stock before the roads were cleared of traffic. Fortunately we had a cooler in the car that enclosed, in addition to a bit more nourishment, a plastic gallon jug that John had ingeniously filled with ice tea and frozen solid the night before our trip. Even in the August heat, packed in the now rapidly melting ice in the cooler, the tea had remained more than half frozen, sustaining us, along with others we passed along the way, throughout most of our hike back to the festival.

Incredibly, we made it back to our friends on the hillside by 1:30 that afternoon, in time to hear Country Joe's famous and then highly risqué "Fish Cheer" and "Feel Like I'm Fixing to Die Rag" http://youtu.be/ScxI94XDdtY while picking up on the electric buzz circulating through the crowd about the next-up band that few had actually heard yet, a group called Santana, who in another half hour had us all on our feet, many dancing in abandon to a sound unlike anything we'd heard before. http://youtu.be/BoC8RTaUZMc

And there was so much more amazing music to come in the hours ahead, with Canned Heat, the Grateful Dead, Mountain, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Sly & The Family Stone, Janis Joplin, the Jefferson Airplan, and the Who all still to come that second night on the festival's single stage. And it hardly ended there, with Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Jimi Hendrix, Johnny Winter, Paul Butterfield, and Ten Years After all still to come in the next day and a half. At some point between sets, though, the two of us hungrily wandered off in pursuit of rumored free food being served from the bus of one of those west coast communes who'd joined the gathering early and brought in extra provisions. Nicely spiced frijole stuffed cabbage leaves, it was my initial introduction to vegetarian cuisine. It was one of a long list of first tastes I experienced that weekend, and though I don't recall vividly every one of those moments, I still savor my recollection of the best of them.

 

Friday Sunset Shows at the Lazy Mon Continue

 

Every Friday for the last couple months that it hasn't rained too hard to play electric music on that little stage right next to the ocean, I climb aboard at the Lazy Mon in Puerto Viejo with my guitar, a microphone, an iPad and an iPod Touch loaded with my favorite  musical instrument apps, and a couple effects pedals that allow me to record and make loops of what I'm playing live, play and overdub more parts on top of it as if I were in a recording studio, and sing harmonies with myself.  

My weekly mission is to perform for those of you who are both interested and nearby enough to get there some of my original material (especially my Rumi based songs lately) and a few of the most interesting cover tune arrangements I can come up with. I have a lot of them, but I like to keep drawing from the well that houses the works of the many great artists who continue to inspire me to keep making music and hopefully help provide you with a good time in the process. It's a live-without-a-net intermixture of practiced composition and unrehearsed improvisation on what are often spontaneous and always evolving musical arrangements. Khalil Chapman and Allen give me a great sound mix so I can hear myself well and usually manage to get all the parts working together, even though there are often a few unexpected surprises and imperfections due to either jungle power technical glitches, admittedly human error, or some combination of the two. The uncertainty of the unknown in the equation boosts the adrenaline rush a bit - enough so that, in listening to some of what's been recorded at these one man jam-band shows, I've been surprised to find that I am often playing some of my very best live work. And sometimes talented vocalist friends like Erin Foley, Juleddi Ryan, and Christiano Can drop by and join me on stage for a bit, taking things in a little different direction. 
For me, it's always a blast, and since the crowds have been great most nights and people there enjoy it enough to encourage me to keep coming back, I do. I will be there again tonight from 5:30 to 7:30, weather willing, and hope to see some of your beautiful faces in the crowd.
 

Pura Vida on Tico Time: More Musings on Life in the Caribe Sur

 
   With my winter performance season wrapping up this month, I'm finally finding time to catch up on my writing here, which I realize has been infrequent since last summer. With the arrival of Spring, my trusty iPod Touch, which has long been my main tool for writing on the go - with the dictation feature enabled frequently - is now back in hand and working again. So that should increase my chances of blogging more often here in more detail than the quick tweets and Facebook posts that have been easier to keep going during these several months without it.
   Reflecting on that less productive period in my writing routine, I have to say that the world of my existence for most of the last 10 years now is still far different from the one I've largely left behind back in Seattle. While mine is not an entirely unscheduled life by any means, the schedule changes daily and often at a moment's notice. This happens as a result of the combination of a couple of seemingly unrelated factors that that tend to combine in a way that produces what one might call the Caribe Sur (south Caribbean) lifestyle. 
   One of those contributing elements is the fact that, although the community of folks we interact with here is nearly equally comprised of ex-pats and long-term visitors from around the world (at last count around 60 countries) and a mix of local Afri-Caribbean and indigenous natives and a more recently growing number of Costa Rican citizens of primarily Spanish descent, we pretty much all seem to eventually succumb to living in what is popularly referred to as "Tico Time.”  Or, as I often tell newcomers waiting for later arrivals at any meeting or rehearsal, my general rule of thumb is: take the number of people coming to the appointment, and multiply it by 20 or 30 minutes to get a rough idea of how long your wait will be. 
   The second one that greatly amplifies the first is the area's slowly developing but still largely inadequate infrastructure. To summarize that quickly, I'm talking about frequent internet and general power outages, water supply shortages and cut offs, and the increasingly unpredictable surprises and uncertainties dealt us by our  rapidly changing climate. We are only about 12° north of the equator here in a tropical rainforest environment, so the natural weather pattern is already somewhat inconsistent, but we have seen that exacerbated, especially during the recent El Niño effect. For example, we can schedule an outdoor event in the middle of the what was once regarded reliably as the dry season and get rained out by a sudden two hour downpour, or get a couple weeks of gorgeous sunny beach weather in the middle of our normally very rainy winter, as we did this past January. On a more personal everyday level, the more erratic weather pattern has kept us a bit more preoccupied with the very essential tasks of rain water collection and management to get us through the dry periods and keep our tanks from overflowing into our tool shed during the wet ones.
   Now toss those factors into the pool with our best laid plans and watch the spiraling repercussions rippling out in the form of late arrivals of buses and taxis (our primary motorized transportation here), fallen trees due to flooding or overflowing rivers slowing traffic or blocking the road altogether, and rainwater collection system or termite invasion crises at home, to name a few. It’s not always, and really not very often, that bad, but still, after reading that litany of challenges, you might ask why in the world we would we ever choose to stay here!  Well, besides having run out of money a long time ago, there are also quite a few benefits to being here that we've come to cherish, such as:
   Once again demonstrating, I think, that a picture is worth at least a thousand words! To summarize, the wonder and beauty and relatively pure state of the natural environment alone have been enough to make us want to stay. And the slower pace of life here has come to feel much more in harmony with our own natural rhythms.  And add to that so many of the people who live here, or who come and go but nearly always eventually return - they, too, are a big part of what makes residing here so "pura vida" . . . such pure life!  And what keeps me glad to still be here.
 

The Original Santana Band Reunited!

 

Boomer era rock band reunions have become pretty commonplace, but this is a particularly auspicious one.  The original group called Santana emerged from Los Angeles in 1969 and released only three records together before breaking up only a few years later. Their sound, so distinctive and Immediately identifiable, is so familiar today that it's easy to forget how unique and original it was at the time the group surfaced. I happened to be lucky enough to be at their East Coast debut at Woodstock for that glorious acid fueled set that was captured on film for the masses and catapulted them almost immediately into fame , and for many of us who were there, they were truly one of the highlights of that star-studded festival. When I caught them live again a couple years later, future Journey-man Neil Schon had joined the group as second guitarist, and the band had grown much tighter and more cohesive (and maybe less acid-ic?) This is essentially the group you'll hear on this release, streaming pre-release now on NPR's First Listen.

 
Things did not end well back in the day, and guitarist and bandleader Carlos Santana has insisted for 4 decades that he would never reunite with the other four core members again. While he, of course, has gone on to release many albums under the name he shares with his original band, it has taken this long for (to paraphrase Don Henley's words about reuniting another famous band from the 70s) hell to freeze over once again. And it's allowing us to hear this truly groundbreaking and highly influential musical force - including original and then teenage drummer (and longtime Seattle Bumberdrum leader) Mike Shrieve - show up with no less than 75 minutes of new material! And sounding like they turned around from "Santana III" and walked back into the studio again, so true fans of the sound and style of the music that pervaded those original albums should not be disappointed. http://www.npr.org/2016/04/05/473083487/first-listen-santana-santana-iv?sc=21&f=98679384
 

Joey Alexander: True Boy Wonder of the Jazz World

 
Twelve year old Joey Alexander may be the youngest musician ever to emerge in the professional jazz world. A self-taught pianist, he indeed became this year the youngest artist ever to perform at the prestigious Newport Jazz Festival. Beyond his remarkable technical accomplishment in so few years, he is also a brilliant arranger and improviser, surprising his rhythm sections with unexpected changes and variations on the tunes he performs so beautifully with the  confidence and finesse of a much older and more seasoned player. 
And remarkable enough already at age 8 to impress ivories master Herbie Hancock, whose encouragement led to Joey's family's move from their native Jakarta to NYC last year, following a performance at Lincoln Center at 10, under invitation from Wynton Marsallis, who discovered the young prodigy on YouTube. Joey's debut album followed this year, along with additional major festival and TV appearances, and he is already being called an overnight sensation. 
So you may have already discovered him - but either way, be sure to have a listen to this stirring solo take on Paul McCartney's classic "Blackbird." And close your eyes now and then to experience the genius of his playing while forgetting for a moment that this is a young kid who just decided one day at the age of 6 that he wanted to figure out for himself what Thelonious Monk was doing on those old jazz records his dad had introduced him to. And then look back again at that brilliant smile and the lost-in-his-music look in his eyes as you marvel at the wonder and potential of a curious child encouraged to explore whatever truly lights a spark within. 
 

Jim's First Listen: Unknown Mortal Orchestra's "Multi-Love"

 

Sounds like Sgt. Pepper reading a Talking Book in Paisley Park! Haven't shared one of these for a while, but this NPR First Listen stream really deserves the attention of anyone who might appreciate an innovative neo-psychedelic spin on the creative soul geniuses of my generation. Catch it quickly before the stream is taken down because it's been up for a little while and will only be there until the album's release date. 

Portland based singer songwriter Ruban Nielson and his band are new to me, so I can't compare this to their earlier work, although I'll certainly be checking it out. Magnetic offbeat lyric theme aside (the perils of polyamory, which became a bit of a preoccupation for NPR's reviewer here) these guys are adventurous in the studio as well. The depth of the arrangement and production on this project requires a second listen - which I personally gave it right after that last track faded out on my first one. It was well worth the ride.