Late Night Tales and Sweetbread

The year was 2008, in the early part of a year where I rode a rollercoaster of career changes.  I had been laid off from managing a Dallas restaurant and brewery near my house, and was waiting tables at a Cuban restaurant that had opened about a mile from where I lived.  We were open until 3 AM on the weekends, and I was working a late night shift when our charismatic bartender Josh put in a CD: “Another Late Night” by Zero 7.

“What is this?” I asked.

“I call this CD ‘Just push play,’ ” he remarked.

“…‘right now we’d like to continue with the conversation by yours truly,’” a voice echoed as beats, lingering bass tones, and a faint melody on a clarinet reverberated, Zero 7’s remix of a song called “Sunrays” by Yesterday’s New Quintet.

*                     *                     *

                        Carla and I had nearly circled all the booths in the Ballard Sunday Farmer’s Market, larger than any others we had yet seen in Seattle.  She called my attention as I was eyeing some produce, for she had found the booth for a farm we had seen featured on Bizarre Foods America called Sea Breeze Farms.

                        The segment opened with Andrew Zimmern taking a shot of chicken blood with George Page, the farm’s co-proprietor.  Since seeing that episode, we have been endlessly curious about their nose-to-tail butcher shop and restaurant (now on hiatus) that came highly recommended by two close friends who had recently moved to Vashon.

Their Ballard booth revealed not only a meat case full of custom-made sausages and various cuts of beef, chicken, pork, duck, and lamb, but also raw milk and three different wines they had produced.  I picked up a bottle of Pinot Noir called “Jamón.”  The label was simple and straightforward, with bare necessities of information printed along with a drawing of a ham hunk.


                        “What’s this Pinot like?” I asked George.

                        “The Jamon?  A lot like a red burgundy, a little heavy, some dark fruit, a little resin.”

*                     *                     *

                        Just a few months ago, I discovered that “Another Late Night” was not unique to Zero 7, but was rather a series of albums wherein individual musical artists have been creating their ultimate late night mixes.

I borrowed a couple of the albums from the West Seattle Library, and started jotting down ideas for my own “LateNightTales,” a mix I decided would emerge on an evening alone with a bottle of wine.

I wanted to compile and curate a collection whose ambience would hang around in my consciousness, expanding and building different modes within the confines of my imagination.  The right bottle of wine to sip while I composed a musical record to document in this blog had to be something new, different, and curious.

A couple weeks ago, I finally sat down with my bottle of Sweetbread Cellars “Jamón” and compiled a mix much longer than any of the albums I have seen from LateNightTales.

“Jamón” was one of the more interesting bottles I have had the privilege to sip late into the evening.  It opened with wild blackberries on the nose, yielding to cranberries and that hint of resin George had mentioned.  I was drinking it with a wild mushroom and mustard green salad I had made at first, and its unfiltered structure stood up well to the spice of the greens.

With each track, I have tried to re-imagine the experience of how the wine evolved along with the music, and wrote my liner notes below in that vein:

1. “Return to Hot Chicken” by Yo La Tengo

Yo La Tengo has mastered the balance between mellow ambient mood music and distorted experimental rock n’ roll more than any other band.  The deceptively simple, quiet melody of this song has a relaxing feel that lingers.

2. “Drama Section” by Happy Apple

This song was the first tune I heard David King’s extremely underrated Minnesota jazz trio play when I saw them live for the first time.   Toward the end of the song, the Jamón was yielding allspice.

3. “Sketches of Spain (For Miles)” by Buckethead

No mix of this type would be complete without one of Buckethead’s more relaxed compositions, a cover of Miles’ Davis’ “Sketches of Spain.”  Here is Buckethead proving his command of the guitar, expanding from the original version in the true spirit of jazz.

4. “All that Glitters” by Death in Vegas

I like this tune for intellectual lounging, which has happened on many occasions with friends and bottles of wine over the years.  In this case, the wine did have a sort of “funky light” that was changing as the bottle got lower.

5. “Solid/Liquid” by Motion Poets

Here is my other nod to the Minneapolis jazz scene, this time from a group that has not been around for about ten years.  Songs such as this one represent modern jazz at its best, when it pays homage to its roots but sounds like something that could only be from the present time.

6. “How to Disappear Completely” by Radiohead

Many people have a moment of experiencing a profound connection with music while listening to Radiohead, and mine occurred while laying on my bed listening to this song from Kid A.

7. “Burn” by The Cure

One of the Cure’s darkest and more obscure songs, the opening tune from The Crow soundtrack.  While wine might not be the drug of choice with this song, I think I was at least on track by choosing something unusual and lesser-known to complement it.

8. “First Touch” by Desmond Williams

I may as well have closed my eyes and pointed to any Desmond Williams song for this mix, because his music is quintessential late night fare, and I could think of no more fitting wine than a Pinot Noir, especially as its tannins became more pronounced.

9. “Hey You” by the Pharcyde

If you are not intoxicated, the crescendos, hook, and densely laid-back flow of vocals from this track will take you to another place.  In my case, I was merely going further down the rabbit hole.

10. “Someone Great” by LCD Soundsystem

11.  “Bethe Bethe Kese Kese” by Gaudi and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan

This song kept me from including more than one Jeff Buckley song in the mix, for it was Buckley’s rendition of an Ali Khan song that turned my attention to the rapturous voice of this Sufi mystic.

12. “The Blue” by David Gilmour

13. “Tonight” by TV On the Radio

TV On the Radio’s music had a hypnotic effect on me since the first time I heard them, but this song in particular gave me a similar sensation to the Radiohead song I chose for this compilation upon first listen.  It somehow sounds spare and at once expansive, with layered vocal harmonies and impeccably timed instrumentation.

14. “The Stars are Projectors” by Modest Mouse

15.  “The Dancer” by PJ Harvey

When PJ Harvey makes a good song, I want nothing more than to become its mate for the rest of our lives, for it to never stop playing.  But alas, neither bottles of wine nor musical compositions play eternally, and they will not mate with me.

16. “When I First Get to Phoenix” by Set Fire to Flames

Here is a song that pushed my mental boundaries more than anything else.  “How are they making those sounds?” I remember thinking.  When drinking a bottle of “Jamón” while listening to the mix, I was toward the bottom, where tannins had become most concentrated and I had gone to the kitchen for a button of goat cheese to mellow them.

17. “Paradise Circus” by Massive Attack

18. “Didn’t Leave Nobody but the Baby” from Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?

Emmylou Harris’ unmistakable voice was sending a message to me: “Go to sleep you little babe…”

19. “Memory Lane” by Elliot Smith

Listening to Elliot Smith late at night is not always enjoyable, because his music can be quite devastating and fitting of hard times.  The last verse of this posthumously released piece makes me feel a metaphorical stabbing akin to how he ended his own life.

20. “Mouthful of Cavities” by Blind Melon

21. “Lost Highway” by Jeff Buckley

The best songs on my iPod are the ones I forgot I had or never knew in the first place.  I have no idea how I got hold of this Jeff Buckley cover of a Hank Williams classic, but I remember the moment I heard it, over headphones late one stoned night on my bed in Ecuador.

22. “Mazurka in A Minor, Op. 17, No. 4” by Chopin, performed by Wladyslaw Szpilman

On the soundtrack to The Pianist is one song performed by Wladyslaw Szpilman, played by Adrien Brody in the film.  The mild static of this song gives it a haunting quality.


Waters at the Water

I have been living in Seattle for nearly two months, renting a new house with my girlfriend since the beginning of August.  Last weekend was the first time I put the responsibilities of moving aside and relaxed with old friends at a wedding celebration on Vashon Island.

Taking the Ferry to Vashon Island

The party was scheduled from noon Saturday until noon Sunday, and was nearing its end.  We were packing our belongings, thinking we would soon head back to the ferry, when my friend (and our host) Clark came to us and said “so guys, we were thinkin’ of going to the beach for a little while…”

The first thing I noticed upon stepping onto KVI Beach was endless patches of sea beans.  In spite of my penchant for foraging, I would sooner climb a mountain than lay out on the shore, so I had not seen these salty morsels in their native habitat.

Miniature geysers squirted from the sand, and someone indicated they were clams.   Ever since reading Hank Shaw’s entry on digging for geoducks, I had been waiting for this moment.  A little help from Clark and two sore arms later, I was out of breath and sipping a Syrah from Waters Winery alongside some sea beans as Clark filled a bucket to hold the four large horse clams—at the time we thought they were geoducks—we had dug from the sand.

The bounty of Horseneck Clams

We all gathered on a blanket for a picnic after the dig.

“Guys,” Clark said, “this is Molly and my wedding cake.”  He opened a large button of soft goat cheese covered in lavender, rose petals, and coriander.  “It’s called River’s Edge True Love Chevre.”  Since they had such a small group of people with them when they got married a year ago, a traditional wedding cake was not what they were after.  They had instead chosen something special they could revisit and re-taste.  I cut off a knob using a chunk of bread, and topped it with some smoked salmon and sea beans, then sipped my plastic cup of Syrah.  I could say the marriage of saltiness, lush juicy concentrate, creamy fat, and flowers was an indescribably beautiful taste sensation.  But I tend to believe such ideal pairings achieve greatness because of their setting.  The cool, crisp air and bright, vast landscape of solitude with many of my most cherished companions made a quiet afternoon into a rare weekend’s memorable end.  A cup of Washington’s finest grape is merely the final piece of the puzzle, the one that completes the image so you may begin piecing together the next set of flat jigsaw blocks.