07.09.2018
Kamasi Washington
Heaven and Earth

I'll be honest—I haven't actually listened to Heaven and Earth in full yet. I'm not even sure how that's supposed to be done; every song on it is the biggest, fullest, most epic jazz odyssey ever recorded, and there's two discs worth of it! It's like watching 2001 front to back and then turning on Andrei Rublev without even getting up from the couch.

That's a terrible comparison and I'm going to edit it out later. But I'm just trying to get this music blog done so I can go to bed, so let's keep moving, yes? So: everything that Kamasi Washington has recorded so far is astounding, and Heaven and Earth is too. Just the most correct shit, over and over again, one track after another. Choirs, strings, dueling drum sets, vintage synthesizers, noise prog guitar solos, spoken poetry, wah pedals, talk boxes. Everything is on this album. You're probably on this album. Bet you didn't know it. The craziest thing about all of it is that it all makes sense.

10.17.2017
Kamasi Washington
Harmony Of Difference

"Truth" might be the most beautiful thing Kamasi Washington has recorded. Which is a very high bar.

06.02.2015
Kamasi Washington
The Epic

For the first time since, maybe, when the Bad Plus did "Smells Like Teen Spirit," or when Brad Mehldau did some Radiohead covers, it feels like a jazz artist is making a legitimate splash in the mainstream. Or the hipster-music-geek mainstream, at least. Okay, the NPR music-geek mainstream. But unlike those two, Kamasi Washington and his band/orchestra isn't doing it on novelty covers (apologies to the legitimate genius of Brad Mehldau). He's doing it by releasing a triple album of epic, psychedelic, bluesy, souly, trippy, sublime, 70's-inspired jazz composition. And even those six adjectives undersell it. It's massive. A 10 piece band. A full orchestra. A Morricone-inspired choir. Huge. But somehow it comes off as totally reasonable, almost personal. It'll take time to totally digest it, and I didn't immediately fall in love with it as I did Mehldau's similarly orchestrated-but-more-melodic Highway Rider, but I can say that it deserves every bit of the attention it's getting. (And, okay, admittedly most of that attention is coming from the fact that he, along with collaborators Flying Lotus and Thundercat played on Kendrick Lamar's equally dense, equally genius To Pimp A Butterfly earlier this year.)

03.16.2019 - by Steve
Lions and Tigers and SquaresManhattan
Detroit style pizza

I'm going to try to keep this short. Because there's so many levels to it that I'm just exhausted from it already, especially having just written a 30 page essay about black and white cookies. Here's what's up: Detroit-style pizza is a thing now. It's a thing. Do they really make pizza like this in Detroit? Because if you ask me, what's known as Detroit-style pizza is what Rocky Rococo has been making my entire life. Square pan, thick crust with butter-crispy edges, personal sized pizza. You can even find versions of it in this city called something like "Sicilian style" or "grandma style." Where did this Detroit thing come from? Are you from Detroit? Can you help me?

That said: Detroit style pizza is delicious. Lions and Tigers and Squares, a new little shop that's decided to kickstart the trend in Chelsea, does a fine job of making it. It's probably an insult to them for me to say I like Rocky Rococo better though. But that's okay; Rocky Rococo is the best. Have you been there lately? There's one left in Brooklyn Center. Check it out.

And I have to admit, despite my annoyance at this whole "Detroit" thing, Lions and Tigers and Squares is an extremely clever name. Think about it.

03.09.2019 - by Steve
Zabar's Manhattan
Black and white cookie

I'm here to talk about the black and white cookie. This post specifically says "Zabar's" on it, which is where I purchased and photographed this particular black and white cookie, but having eaten a handful of different cookies from various locations—from trashy deli to beloved contemporary bakery—I have thoughts on this style of cookie in a more general sense, and subsequently thoughts about New York City's cultivation of a unique and hyper-local cuisine. If you would allow me to elucidate? Thank you.

There are certain foods that have been used for decades as a shorthand for "New York." Hot dogs. Bagels. Pizza slices. Pastrami on rye. These are all still pretty apt choices, but it's also an old list. It's 2019, times change, a whole new crop of people have been living here long enough to become a part of it. There's still a clear family of foods that are not necessarily unique to this city, but are so ubiquitous here while remaining somewhat niche in other places, that they feel truly like part of the makeup of New York's ecosystem. The list as I see it:

1. Halal chicken on rice
2. Pizza slices (going nowhere)
3. Bacon egg and cheese sandwiches
4. Bagels (going nowhere)
5. Boar's Head deli meat sandwiches (Boar's Head feels like a fancy good brand at stores in Minnesota. Here it is literally everywhere. You can't not buy it. Even the shittiest scariest lamest bodegas serve Boar's Head without fail.)
6. Seltzer
7. Jamaican beef patties
8. Hot dogs (going nowhere, but seemingly overtaken by halal chicken on rice carts)
9. Pickles
10. Black and white cookies

The black and white cookie might be the least visible of the items on this list, yet it's still extremely New York. It was even part of a Seinfeld gag! I don't think I ever saw one for sale anywhere in the Twin Cities. Maybe possibly once or twice in little bakeries, but not really. Here they're almost always right there in the pastry rack, next to the chocolate chip cookies and muffins and cakes, and just as often are up on or near the front counter of random crummy delis and bodegas, pre-packaged from whatever food distributers make them. What surprised me most about the black and white cookie, though, is that's it's barely even a cookie! I bit in, expecting sort of a standard sugar cookie, or perhaps something like a snickerdoodle, but really they're practically cake! They're extremely soft, like a very thin cake; or like a very wide muffin top. The icing, as you can see, is half chocolate and half plain (or vanilla?). And that's it.

I've had 3 or 4 at this point, and while the quality of course varies on the quality of the bakery. I've had them pre-packaged from a deli, and I've had one from a artisanal bakery in Prospect Heights that was listed on one food blog as the best black and white cookie in Brooklyn. In general they're always tasty. But they're too big, the icing sometimes gets weirdly chemically and kinda gives me a headache. But they're always satisfying.

This specific cookie that's up there in the photograph (and listed as the title of this post!) is from Zabar's, a "famous" Upper West Side grocery store that is supposedly famous for the black and whites. All I can say is it was good. Maybe the best I've had? It was certainly better than the cheap deli ones, and I actually didn't like the aforementioned Prospect Heights one all that much. So I guess Zabar's is technically the best I've had. But mark my word I'm going to track down the true king of black and white cookies in this town.

(Oh, also Zabar's pastrami sandwich was incredibly mediocre. Not worth a post.)

(Oh, oh, and the new Vampire Weekend music video was filmed in Zabar's! And Jerry Seindfeld was in it! We've come full circle!)