Sunday, April 26, 2015


From MacPhail Center for Music in Minneapolis, the Bakken Trio of three artists present three classical versions, combined into a single chamber series. The concert on Sunday, April 26, consisted of pieces by three composers all of whom lived and produced around the end of the seventeenth century. All three, Mozart, Boccherini, and Franz Schubert, lived and worked mostly for European nobility and died in poverty. There was no medical coverage and no social security.
Today’s well-attended concert was an excellent selection of Mozart’s Violin Sonata in C Major, Luigi Boccherini’s Quintet for Guitar No. 4 in D Major, and the piano  Trio in B Flat Major by Franz Schubert.
Musicians on the program included Jeff Lambert, guitar, Judy Lin, piano, Stephanie Arado, violin, Helen, Chang, violin, Sabina Thatcher, viola, Pitnarry Shin, cello, with Mina Fisher as host for the program.
The audience was enthusiastic, the musicians accomplished, and the hall was well filled.

Saturday, February 28, 2015


Chinese Turkestan  
By Ryan Pyle
ISBN: 9780992864408
A 2014 release from
Ryan Pyle Productions

I confess, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I received a request to review this volume of photographs. Although I have worked as a free-lance photographer, my concentration for many years has been writing and reviewing crime fiction. Hence, readers may legitimately question my credentials here.

This book is a stunning accomplishment. During a period of eight years in the first decades of the twenty-first century, the author traveled several times to a remote, sparsely settled, part of Asia to learn about and document the ordinary lives of the people who live there. After graduation from a Canadian university, he eventually established permanent residence in China where he lives and produces award-winning documentaries.

His interest in Turkestan developed gradually and the images contained in this richly produced volume reflect his repeated visits along this section of the Silk Road. Here are images of a modern city closely juxtaposed with people living simple lives, engaged in work that we recall from our history texts of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Here are intimate portraits of citizens of every age, individuals and small groups in formal and informal settings. There are shop owners in street markets, individual customers, factory workers and farmers. Pyle offers the widest possible range of images so that it only requires a casual visit to these pages to acquire a sense of this lonely and special land. And then one is drawn again and again into a more thoughtful and intimate examination of these people, so distant from us in so many way. And yet so powerful in their human-ness. Every time I open the book I am reminded of some of the very early photographs of the people who lived on the Western plains and mountains of North American, before the European settlers arrived.

No expense was spared in the production of the book, the photographs, for the most part are carefully arranged to provide maximum impact to the viewer. I was troubled at times by the rich red borders which distracted my eye from some of the lesser black and white images, and there are cases where the impact of the image is lost because of its placement on the page and the layout strictures. However, these are small caveats in the overall interest this fascinating book of photographs should engender. “Chinese Turkestan” is a thoughtful, interesting and intimate look at the people, the culture and the land.

Friday, January 23, 2015


Dark. Night. Moon up there somewhere. Temperature in the low twenties and the raw wind numbed my nose. We stumbled across the ice-rutted parking area in the industrial heart of a suburb somewhere on the northern fringe of the city. Box trucks, vans. Shiny automobiles. Harsh floods bolted high on the concrete walls of the narrow parking space sent needle-sharp shadows caroming off dingy windshields. Behind me a faulty compressor rattled in its cage against the concrete block wall. The wind moaned low.

I slowed and scanned the area, noting two small huddled clusters of figures. Male or female it was impossible to tell. They were plotting or sharing a joint. The lone point of color was a garish red orange sign, OPEN, over a glass door. Behind the door, a raucous crowd sampled beer from Bent Brewstillery, ate Jimmy John sandwiches, told each other jokes and lies.

I pushed my way through the tables, heading to the bar. Behind a tall iron-barred barrier, two-story fermenting tanks stood silent sentry duty. Overhead, set against the ribbed ceiling, big televisions sprayed silent electrons of colorful light from sports competitions that the crowd mostly seemed to ignore.
The trim bartender in a tight t-shirt raised her plucked eyebrows at me. I pointed at the menu and gestured for a small glass of beer. We were checking out an event hosted by a microbrewery. The server poured a glass of rich amber fluid and took my money. My companion and I eeled through the press to the middle of the room where we found a table and two empty chairs. The crowd, a mixed range of ages, got louder and bigger. In another time the atmosphere would have been thick with cigarette smoke. People shifted and surged around the room. I glanced around again slowly, wondering how many were carrying.

A large bearded fellow in a dark woven stocking cap aslaunch on his forehead picked up a wand and cleared his throat into the sound system. He looked like he could handle himself. He looked like he could be competently employed at any of a dozen downtown bars as door minder or bouncer. He muttered an expletive and welcomed the crowd. The beer was excellent. Applause rattled the pile of old board games. Another Noir at the Bar evening of dark readings by local crime writers about nasty, violent crimes, was about to begin. There were a few minor celebrities from the local crime scene in the audience.

Kristi Belcamino, mob organizer of the evening in a long dark gown took the mike. She stared malevolently at us until the restive crowd subsided. Her reading was followed by Kent Gowran, Dan O’Shea, Jeff Shelby and Frank Wheeler, Jr. Later, a short indie film was projected on the painted block wall. We escaped with our lives into the windy winter night.