Brilliance Walks Through The Halls of Baruch College

Le Blanc in a Conference

Walking now through the Halls of Baruch College and teaching at some of the school’s classrooms is the great writer Adrian Nicole Le Blanc. The author of the book “Random Family” which chronicles the lives of a family she followed for 10 years, has been this semester’s writer in residence, expanding and sharing her knowledge with some lucky students.

I had the privilege of attending her conference, despite the tiresome day I had. I was dreading the whole idea of attending a conference that would discuss a book I had not read, especially after such a hectic day. However, I put my responsibilities ahead of me and attended the conference and I have to admit I am glad I did. I left the conference feeling highly encouraged and grateful for the best advice she gave, “always have a plan A and behind that, have a plan B.”

Le Blanc started her writing career as an intern at Smith College and freelancing at the New York Times. I look forward to reading her book during my free time. Sometimes, putting our responsibilities first, even after stressful days, actually pays off.

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Music Cover Takes Over J&R

Left to Right: Megan Thomas, Shannon Conley, Steph Paynes

It was 15 minutes to 3 and I found myself running late for the event. Splish Splash, Splish, Splash, my pants was drenched wet, my socks soaked in rain, and my umbrella destroyed halfway battling against a 14 mph wind. I should have stayed in bed but instead I was rushing to see Lez Zeppelin.

Lez Zeppelin, the all female tribute band, not to be confused with Led Zeppelin, the all American male rock band from the 60s, performed at J&R music store on April 16. The band staged at the $5.99-$19.99 CD sections and was supposedly set to perform at 3pm.

A small crowd of 35 started to form, pre-dominantly middle aged males and a few families. I was lucky enough to get a close spot near the stage. However, it was unfortunate that the band didn’t show up on time and I was stuck in between aisles breathing in dust from the plastic wrap of the CD’s and the smell of unflattering cologne from the guy next to me.

The band setting up

The band arrived 45 minutes late and the crowd was less than welcoming after having their patience tested. The 4 band members, minus one group member, immediately set up and apologized for the delay. They started the event off with a song from their recent released album, Lez Zeppelin 1, track 2, “Baby, I’m going to leave you.”

“Baby, I’m going to leave you,” can be described as a drug, a repeating trance with a smooth calmness to the ear. When the chorus hit, it gets your head rocking wildly back and forth with the beat of the guitar.  Compared to the original version, Robert Plant, lead vocalist, sang it with soul while Shannon Conley sang it with a country, hippie accent that puts you into a dazed and relaxed the mind. I personally like both and applauded Steph Paynes, founder and guitarist of the group, for her amazing rock and roll solo. She rocked it out like Vinnie Moore. The riffs of her electric guitar quickly stirred up the ground, the vibrations crawled up my spine and spiked into my chest.

In unexpected times, Paynes slowed down the pace of her strumming and Conley comes back in with her trance-like vocal and ended it with a stretched. “It’s calling me, it’s calling me back…home…..” Megan Thomas sat there giving her support.

The band started out in New York in 2004. They devoted their performance to the original works of Led Zeppelin and within a year, they started to get more media attention. They appeared on Spin magazine, Chicago times, and CBS Good Morning America. They have toured in Europe, Japan, and the US. Right now, they are planning to do an extensive tour on the east coast.


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Video Daughters Makes Noise Become Music

Video Daughters takes you on a trip to the world of noise

If you don’t like noise, stay away from Video Daughters. Because if there is something this experimental band is good at, it is creating noise.

It is drums and hums turning into industrial noises, taking you into dark street corners. It is cars speeding on a highway. Its equally poppy and hard. And it is definitely not always rhythmical, but then again, clearly never boring.

Video Daughters, a Brooklyn based group of four is not a band that could step up on stage at Madison Square Garden. But in a place like Public Assembly in Williamsburg, an old factory building transformed into a popular performance space, Video Daughters fits perfectly. Dressed in plaid-shirts, with their long and unbrushed hair, the four members succeeds with the rough-enough-but-still-cute look, that easily attracts young hipsters from the neighborhood. This Sunday the 17th of April a crowd of about fifty, both female and male youngsters, gathered to nod their heads and swing their bodies to Video Daughters electric rhythms.

While setting up their gear on stage Mike Green, lead singer, guitarist and on-and-of drummer announced that there was a new addition to the band: Randy Riback, taking care of the drums. Prior to this new member,  all the other three musicians used to rotate back and forth between the drums and their main instruments. Now John Creedy stays steadily behind the guitar, Scott Townsend jams the base and Mike Green plays around with the keyboard and computer. But despite their more steady roles, the members are not afraid to use their energy, encouraging the crowd to follow their jumps and shaky dance.

Video Daughters starts of strongly, with their newest song “Get Me A Body.” This poppy song definitely brought out some smiles, and in my head it painted up a scenic view of a bike ride in the summer-time. The downside of this tune was its strong remembrance of  the experimental rock band Animal Collective’s music. Off course a band can have influences from other musicians, but “Get Me A Body” lacked something different and personal, and could easily have been mistaken for a Animal Collective song.

The show continued with older beats, and Video Daughters balanced the songs well. The longer and more repetitive songs could easily have put anyone to sleep after ten minutes, but just at that moment Mike Green gave out a loud shout – and everyone was awake.

One of the bands most popular songs, “Wild People,” explains itself in the title, and both the band and the audience definitely went wild to this simultaneously steady and off killer beat. It was adrenaline, sweat and beer all over.

The energetic performance of the band was admirable, but it had its downsides. While the lead singer Mike Green shone as a performer, dancing along while banging on the keyboard, the vocals suffered. Throughout the performance it was hard to hear the lyrics, and sometimes the loud instruments made the vocals entirely disappear. But then again, once caught in the electrical waves of Video Daughters, you don’t really need those words. It is all about noises and movement.

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MVP, Still a ‘Baadasssss’

Melvin Van Peebles is cooler than your grandfather.

Case in point, the controversial 78 year old singer/director/actor/writer still regularly performs with his band, cheekily named Laxative (because, according to their Facebook page, “they’re a crew of musicians who make sh** happen and get sh** done”).

The show opened with a masterful  jazz-funk cover of the song “Won’t Bleed Me” from Van Peebles’ notable 1971 Blaxploitation film, Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song.  Armed with a large book, literally of Biblical proportions, Van Peebles took the stage.

Laxative provided smooth (pun slightly intended) background music complimentary to Van Peebles’ contrasting raspy vocals. Using a sprechgesang style of performing, each song was like an intimate storytelling session with a respected elder.

Encouraging audience participation and often referring to his band members as “brothers and sisters,” Van Peebles created a sense of community while sharing songs about relatable struggles such as heartbreak and financial hardships. The venue, Zebulon, instantly transformed from a standard Williamsburg bar into what felt like an intimate gathering in someone’s living room.

Though Earth, Wind, and Fire famously performed the soundtrack for Sweetback, Laxative does not possess their same finesse. While including a similar fusion of funk, soul, and blues, the band is more subtle and consists of a calculated roughness.

Performing regularly at local venues such as Zebulon, Laxative also plays internationally, having recently done a show in Paris in February. The audience consisted  mostly of 30-somethings and hipsters who just happened to stroll into the bar.

During intermission, Van Peebles mingled with members of the audience and his girlfriend, who, he joked on stage, was not his niece, but his “squeeze”.

A true character, Melvin Van Peebles himself is almost more entertaining than the band’s music.

During one of the songs, the band crooned, “We’re all just actors in life’s play” and going to see Laxative is like being a part of an underrated off-Broadway play- unexpectedly fun and entertaining.


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Tengo hambre, dame Quimbombo

Normally, I’d say Quimbombó tastes great but in this particular case, I say Quimbombó sounds wonderful. The former Quimbombó is a Latino gumbo, the latter a Cuban musical group specializing in Son Cubano. This group performed at the BAMCafé in my borough of Brooklyn to celebrate the citywide ¡Si Cuba! Festival.

The inside of BAMCafé is a claustrophobic’s worst nightmare. Every square inch of the already cozy space was occupied by a body. The air is dense as dozens of people patiently draw their breaths in anticipation for the performance. Downstairs the situation was even worse. Scores of poor, unfortunate souls waited there as if trapped in purgatory, unable to ascend the café’s escalator into its crowded heaven.

Though I’ve never had the pleasure of listening to this group perform before, when they hit the stage I was greeted by very familiar sounds. Son Cubano is a relative to Salsa, a musical style I’m quite familiar with. When they played, percussion of African origins filled the air. It resonated throughout the walls and into the body like a stylishly rhythmic heartbeat. This clearly African beat melds with the Spanish guitar and lyrics reflecting a society established by Spaniards centuries ago; a meeting of two very different cultures that invigorates. You needn’t take my word for it; one glance at the audience would tell you all you need to know. Excitement and passion replaces the discomfort. Hips undulate rhythmically, feet shift side to side despite the lack of space and even those who don’t know how to move like a Latino, move their bodies to the beat anyway. Yes, this is Son Cubano. All it needed was some more brass and it would be just like the very same music I grew up listening to. Of course, this doesn’t surprise me, both Cubans and Puerto Ricans are the result of the melding of Spaniard, Taíno and African peoples.

The excitement and desperation to see this band perform is well deserved.

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A Feeling of Home With A Twist

 David Burke Townhouse has been described in an array of word choices; whimsical, playful, elegant and even visionary, yet to my father Massimo Rossi, a devoted captain at the restaurant for the past seven years, his favorite adjective used to describe this four-star restaurant is simply “interesting.”

True, it is possible that Rossi has become jaded by the individualistic style choices made by David Burke on this unique restaurant, but he continuously gives credit where credit is due by insisting that Burke is his most favorite chef. “The innovative style that David uses in his food ideas is really mesmerizing,” Rossi begins “The cuisine choices that David makes really represent his personality, which is rather extravagant.”

Interior of David Burke Townhouse

The restaurant, located in an actual townhouse, provides a home like comfort while still remaining ornamental and focused on detail. Rossi says that the restaurant can relate to a broad variety of customers because the food itself is “accommodating to all tastes.” Rossi’s favorite meal is the cavatelli with shortribs. This platter consists of mushrooms, truffle mousse of course all over braised short rib. Rossi says the short rib is never short of “perfect”, always being tender, hearty and satisfying.

The Catavelli with Braised Short Ribs

 One perk of visiting my father at work is to be reunited with my favorite dish, the Cheesecake Lollipop Tree

It is one of the treats that the restaurant is most famous for. Each lollipop is elevated on a stand and when eaten enriches ones mouth with a different flavor, whether it be chocolate crunch cheesecake or regular with strawberry creme on top, each flavor is sure to please. To add to the creativity behind this dessert, The tree also comes with bubble gum whip cream. The Cheesecake Lollipop Tree was featured on The Best Thing I Ever Ate on The Food Network.

The Cheesecake Lollipop Tree

One cannot help but be mesmerized at Burke’s decorative, original and delicious creations while also being captivated by the modern art shown throughout the restaurant. The pieces he selects to be shown bring about a discreet yet glamorous aura to ones dining experience. One collection of drawings Burke has showcased is called The Key to the Kingdom created by Tony Meeuwissen. The drawings are fantastical and bring a artistic ambiance to the Townhouse that make it more like a gallery that happens to have amazing food. The balance between art and cuisine is shared perfectly in David Burke Townhouse.

Interior to David Burke Townhouse

Burke also combines his interests in cooking and art while remaining a true entrepreneur and inventor. David Burke Townhouse has been critically acclaimed. It won New York magazine’s Critics’ Pick, A 24 food rating (meaning very good to excellent) from Zagat 2011 Edition, and Time Out New York’s Critic’s Pick. “At this theatrical little restaurant … it’s a pleasure to watch the restaurant’s staid Upper East Side clientele gawk at Burke’s decorative and generally delicious creations as they go by.” Said New York magazine and Time Out New York commented “David Burke, the culinary merry prankster that knows how to cook.”

David Burke has made himself one of the leading pioneers in American cooking. He grew up in Hazlet, New Jersey and has always been inspired by French chefs and their techniques. He has a fascination with the power that individual ingredients have over the entire meal and the components he puts into his meals to turn them into works of art. Burke has a career fueled by creativity that provides him to have revolutionary products and cooking techniques. He has been featured on Iron Chef America and has opened seven restaurants throughout America.

Winning numerous awards for his culinary skills, it is understandable why David Burke is considered one of the best modern American chefs by one glance at his menus. Ranging from pretzel crusted crab cakes to tuna burgers with lemon French fries and spicy mayonnaise show how avant garde Burke can get with his meal choices.

Massimo Rossi has had prior experience as a captain at Le Cirque 2000 when it was at the Palace Hotel. With these duties, it is Rossi’s responsibility to not only direct but to supervise and train the fellow servers in the restaurant. He monitors their work habits in the dining room while handling the seating arrangements for the guests. He will at times serve tables to which he suggests food courses and appropriate wines to ensure that the guest has an amazing dining experience.
Rossi always knew he wanted to be in the restaurant business. He left his small hometown in Italy and went to the Culinary school in Switzerland when he was 16. Since then on he has worked on world-wide cruise liners and top of the line restaurants but claims that working for Burke has been one of his favorite experiences “I have really watched the restaurant grow and develop into this amazingly elegant yet casual restaurant that is nothing like anything else around. I also think its great how accommodating the food is to every palate, it makes me feel good that what I have invested my life in what can make a lot of people happy.”

Posted in Food, restaurant reviews | 4 Comments

The Little Band That Could…

The number one rule for a free concert by a band that you barely know anything about is to not arrive a few minutes before the concert starts. You could be in for an unexpected surprise.

As we walked up the escalators into the dimly lit, intimate BAMcafe, the place was already packed at least an hour before the show. The tables in the front were filled, those who could not get seats stood in groups at the sides or in the back around the bar and others who were just coming in tried to squeeze themselves into whatever space was available. By the time the main attraction arrived, the room was at full capacity with a long line of people waiting downstairs hoping someone would leave so they could enter.

Inside Bamcafe

Then Quimbombó hit the stage for their second appearance at BAM, and the discomfort of the crowd slowly faded away. The Afro-Cuban band, which actually has eight members, only had five Friday night: two Conga drummers, two guitarists and a trumpeter. However, the size of the band did not stop them from filling the entire cafe with excitement, laughter and joy with its smooth, lyrical melodies and lively, danceable rhythms.

As part of the ¡Si Cuba! Festival, a New York celebration of Cuban arts and culture from March to June, the legendary band, whose name is Spanish for “okra” or “gumbo,” specializes in the Afro-Cuban style of Son. The genre of Son, which Black Cubans developed in the early 20th century, mixes together the guitars from Spanish culture and the percussion, and vocal and musical rhythms (ex. call-and-response, syncopation) from African culture.


The freedom and sensuality with which the band plays and sings stems not only from that mixture, but also the history of the genre, which was illegal in Cuba before 1925 in an effort to suppress black culture. Quimbombó definitely follows in the tradition of other Son bands, like the innovators, the Sexteto Tipico Habanero band from the 1920s, and stands with the genre’s derivative, Salsa, including musicians like Tito Puente and Celia Cruz.

Audience members, some from the Brooklyn area and others who traveled from as far as Cuba to see the band, could not resist the band’s grooves, especially in songs like “Con El Trapo Rojo.” Couples found whatever space they could to dance with each other. One man loosely glided across the floor, embarrassing his friend, who eventually got up to move herself. Two old ladies joined in on the fun and shook their hips. Even the rhythmically-challenged could not help but bop their heads.

Quimbombó played an acoustic set with the guitars playing sweetly and softly against the slightly forceful pulsating drums, and although the trumpeter only had a few parts, his sound added flavor to the other instruments by giving the band a bigger and fuller sound. The singers flowed with the instruments, falling somewhere between rhythmic rapping and singing with their call-and-response technique.

Since the band’s formation in 1995, Quimbombó has released two albums, Quimbombó (2004) and Conga Electrica (2008), both of which received critical acclaim. Currently they are touring the city, playing at various venues and answering booking requests.

Which brings us to rule number two: have a party coming up, book this band!

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Now back when I was young and dumb but thought of myself as the sharpest tool in the shed, I had a deep seated hatred of reggaeton. It was the new music genre of my people and although many will argue that originated elsewhere, it was undoubtedly popularized by Puerto Ricans. Yet, I hated it. The lyrics were dumb, every song used the same beat and it was only about one thing: sex. Oh how I would berate those who danced to it, those poor morons with terrible taste in music. These teenagers, these children, these peers of mine, how could they possibly enjoy that rubbish? And the dancing! How could my friends possibly enjoy having girls grinding on them…wait.

Well fortunately I grew up and saw the error of my ways. There is really good reason for why the music became so popular and why you can still hear it played in Latino-centric dance clubs and on Spanish radio stations. It’s the raw sexuality it exudes that gives it the appeal and raw sexuality is what many of us Latinos excel at for whatever reason (I blame the Spaniards). When I came to finally accept my fate as a papi chulo, as a Don Juan (you see the Spaniard connection?), as a vessel for the steamy Latin passion my culture and stereotypes in the media say that I possess, I found myself falling in love with reggaeton. No, it isn’t intellectually stimulating like say classical music nor does it require the technical skill of heavy metal and it certainly isn’t about real life issues like old school rap. It isn’t even as sentimental as more traditional Latino music but it does excel at one thing that no other genre can even come close to. Reggaeton makes both genders go into heat like horny dogs. It’s a primal return to our roots. Through reggaeton, you can become closer to our animal brethren. You can make like a bonobo [CAUTION: THIS LINK IS VERY EDUCATIONAL] and bump your sexy bits. The only real reason I hated it was because I thought the hypersexualization was immature and uncivilized.

Well, whether or not reggaeton appeals to you really depends on how conservative you are. As for me, I learned that being civilized is overrated.

Dame lo que quiero.

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A cup of coffee and live music soothes the soul

When under-the-radar, folk and pop artist Brooke Campbell took her corner of the modern art deco 92YTribeca Café to perform a free show,  I didn’t know what to expect. Listening to a few of her tracks online didn’t prepare enough for the mesmerizing performance I later heard in person.

Artist Brooke Campbell belts out a soulful lyric.

Settled with a coffee at my own high chair corner beside glass windows overlooking Hudson street, I was mere feet from the performer and instantly taken by both what I saw and heard. Performing with only a dark mahogany varnished guitar accompanying her soothing vocals, Campbell’s voice was nearly bare but beautiful. The singer opened her set to an audience of barely ten with a few soft words and soulful music and lyrics that had me moments from slipping into a dream and focused on the reality outside my window.

Hailing from the small coastal town of Whiteville, North Carolina, Campbell’s soft, southern drawl and clear folk music influences peeked out from below her voice. Her folksy yet jazzy and soulful pieces were laced with melancholy lyrics and breathless vocals reciting the trials of life and love. More than once, her crooning made me turn to look at the nighttime view outside and reflect on my own trials as the day looped to her soundtrack.

That soundtrack included tracks like “Sugar Spoon,” “Why,” and “Please Go,” off of her second, most recent release, Sugar Spoon, songs from her first album, Better, and covers of a few unknown folk songs. (Here’s a listen- Stretched Towards You)

One was based on a poem about Civil War soldiers returning to the women who had been doing their jobs in the mens’ absence.  Mentioning that she liked singing this especially because her brother had just safely returned from the war, Cambell allowed me to see a genuine personality to match her almost vulnerable voice.

With a sound similar to pre-pop Jewel and Ingrid Michaelson’s, Campbell voice was easily likable and her set pleasing to the ear. My only gripe might be that her music lacked variety. Theresa Roca related to this.

“Although Campbell clearly possesses the qualities of passion and talent, when on stage, she sings in the same quiet tone, lacking energy.” Roca said.

Campbell’s songs differed mainly in range. Some, she sang in a consistently mellow tone. On others, she reached for especially high notes that sounded a depth of feeling from more than her diaphragm. It was easily visible that these songs were being delivered from the heart from the way Campbell closed her eyes in intense focus on her vocals and guitar strumming. Similarly critically acclaimed by bloggers like The Wall Street Journal’s Terry Teachout, and playing a constantly changing calendar of live shows at similar venues, Campbell did her reputation and her music justice.

Share the love for a Better, Sugar Spoon

Those as captivated as I was by this promising artist could purchase either of her albums for $10 at the cafe. Diners I bumped into by the milk and sugar generously shared their positive critiques and I was positive Campbell had made such an impression that these might sell quick. It was a short and sweet performance for nothing but a coffee.

A sentimental and cautious musician with a well of emotion seeping through her words and vocal chords just like the lyrics to “Sugar Spoon” suggests; “Never felt more happy, or in control/ bouncing off the wall and into a dark hole,” Brooke Cambell is definitely an artist with great potential. With a little word of mouth, I think it’s only a matter of time until this artist gets a taste of her sugar spoon.

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Brooke Campbell proves to be a quiet storm at 92Y Tribeca’s Cafe Series

In a near empty room at the 92Y Tribeca cafe, there she stood calmly, clasping onto her guitar as if it was her shelter, eyes closed as if she was escaped, and voice soothing the air softly yet distinctly. As Brooke Campbell ended her first number, and from every number then on, she would say “Thank you very much,” in an unmistakable southern accent. Comforting the quiet room with a soft smile, she poured herself into another song, once again, escaping into a place where no one else was present. The world consisted of she and her guitar, and the crowd willingly watched her live in it.

Campbell defines herself as a folk-pop singer. Yet, her quiet, feather like tone rides the edge of soft blues, while drops of country itch out without knowing. It is a beautiful combination, paired with her guitar and innocent nature. She sings as if music is all she has left, sounding almost weak from her past endeavors. Blending in perfectly with her essence was the environment: the dim, red-lighted setting combined with the small yet homey art space of the café invited her voice right in. If a crowd member closed their eyes, they might just get lost in a world of their own.

Her music is somewhat on the sad end, a pro or a con depending on one’s mood. Singing lines such as, “Soon I’ll be just another girl. Soon it won’t matter that we loved,” her voice screamed of helplessness, while barely being loud of enough to catch the words.

Campbell performing at 92Y Tribeca.

After singing a few songs from her latest album, Sugar Spoon, such as Why?, Sugar Spoon, and Please Go, she sang covers of other artists, such as Willie Nelson’s Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain. If unfamiliar with Nelson’s music, the song could be mistaken for one of her own. Her distinctive nature is present in every song she sings—she simply does not try. It is who she is.

After her hour-long performance, her genuineness shined as she came and shook the hand and spoke to everyone in the crowd. Stating she originally is from North Carolina, her welcoming personality is now understood. She is a Southern belle at heart, and it shows throughout her music.

With the natural talent she holds, it is disheartening to see such a few number of people in the crowd, especially at a free event; there were no more than 15 people present. But like many other musicians, Campbell is working to make a name for herself. She has had three albums, the latest being Sugar Spoon which was released in 2009. She has gotten some attention from press, including the Arts Journal, but beyond that, she has a long road to travel before she claims any true acclaim.
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Nonetheless, regardless of anonymity or fame, Campbell is a talented musician who’s voice provides emotional relief from current troubles. If her next performance costs, it would be well worth the pay.

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