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The Trumpeter Adam O’Farrill’s Art of Avoiding the Obvious – The New York Times



The son and grandson of Latin jazz royalty is releasing a new album with his quartet Stranger Days, and it’s their most melodically engaging yet.

If you pay close enough attention to jazz, Adam O’Farrill might have landed on your radar about a decade ago, when he was still an adolescent. His last name is immediately recognizable — his father and grandfather are Latin jazz royalty — but he stood apart even then, mostly by hanging back and letting his trumpet speak for itself.

Since his teens, O’Farrill has prioritized restraint, so that his huge range of inspirations — Olivier Messiaen’s compositions, Miles Davis’s 1970s work, the films of Alfonso Cuarón, the novels of D.H. Lawrence, the contemporary American-Swedish composer Kali Malone — could emulsify into something personal, and devilishly tough to pin down.

“I don’t really feel the need to pastiche too heavily,” he said in a phone interview last month, while visiting family in Southern California. “The point is really how you digest it — and in letting that be its own thing, and letting the influences sort of surface when you least expect.”

That, he said, feels “more exciting than trying to prove that you’re coming from somewhere” in particular.

Now 26, O’Farrill this year was voted the No. 1 “rising star trumpeter” in the DownBeat magazine critics’ poll, and there’s little disagreement that he is among the leading trumpeters in jazz — and perhaps the music’s next major improviser.

For the last seven years he has led Stranger Days, a quartet that also features his brother, Zach O’Farrill, on drums, as well as the bassist Walter Stinson. Until last year, its tenor saxophonist was Chad Lefkowitz-Brown; after a brief hiatus, the band recently returned with a new saxophonist, Xavier Del Castillo.

On Nov. 12, Stranger Days will release “Visions of Your Other,” its third album, and O’Farrill’s most melodically engaging effort yet.

Camilo Fuentealba for The New York Times

With its spare lineup, the band has given O’Farrill ample room to play around with dimension, scale and tension in his compositions. He thinks of Stinson’s bass as the group’s sonic center, and challenges himself to orient his layers of dynamic melody around that point, even if it’s constantly shifting.

Near the end of “Visions of Your Other” comes a standout, “Hopeful Heart,” a neatly balanced tune in an odd meter. O’Farrill begins his solo about halfway through the track, and it sounds as if he’s starting a conversation with a stranger, tentative and broadcasting caution. Then the harmony shifts, and he seems to find a riverbed coursing through the chord changes: His improvising begins to roll down easily, as simple and elegant as the trumpet playing on an old Mexican danzón record.

But that flood of momentum only lasts a few bars; soon he pulls back again, holding his notes longer, and subtly gesturing at the influence of the contemporary trumpet star Ambrose Akinmusire. He alternates between beautifully diatonic notes and more worrisome ones, asking you to notice both.

O’Farrill grew up enmeshed in New York’s jazz and Latin music scenes, and was mentored by the musicians around his father, Arturo O’Farrill, a Grammy-winning pianist, in whose Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra he still occasionally plays.

He started out on piano at age 6, and was almost immediately composing tunes of his own. He took up the trumpet two years later, and started to learn the art of improvising.

Anna Webber, a rising saxophonist and composer, has worked with O’Farrill in various situations since he was in high school — though she didn’t realize then how young he was. “He just had this patience and maturity and confidence to his playing,” she said. “Even when he was I guess 17 or 18, it felt like it was already there.”

O’Farrill is an expert at “not throwing everything you have into a particular solo,” she said, “always trying to find something new in a given piece, but always letting the music choose which direction you go in.”

Camilo Fuentealba for The New York Times

Webber recently invited him to be a part of the band that recorded “Idiom,” her album of dense and rigorous experimental compositions. As she prepared the music, she had one-on-one conversations with each of the group’s 13 members, to ensure the ensemble would feel like an organism in motion, not a firing squad of hired guns. (That band will perform music from “Idiom” on Sep. 23 at Roulette.)

Moved, O’Farrill said he was inspired to bring this approach to his own large-ensemble project, Bird Blown Out of Latitude, a nine-piece group for which he wrote a suite of electroacoustic music that surges with rock energy and toggles, sometimes abruptly, between borderline over-spill and near-total silence.

Thinking about his son’s sense of efficiency and control, Arturo O’Farrill acknowledged that training in Afro-Latin music forces a trumpeter to learn the importance of precision and leaving space. But he also touched on another of Adam’s childhood pastimes: video games.

“The golden rule of video games is that you don’t look at the avatar, you look at the shadow,” Arturo O’Farrill said. “It’s about not declaring. Not stating the obvious, not following the avatar.”

It’s through video games that Adam first found out about Ryuichi Sakamoto, the Japanese musician whose old band, Yellow Magic Orchestra, planted the seeds in the 1970s and ’80s for what would become chiptune, or early arcade-game music. “Visions of Your Other” opens with a restive, cycling cover of Sakamoto’s “Stakra.”

“He’s a real master of taking a lot of pillars of musical convention — whether it’s pop or more Romantic, Schumann-esque things — and both respecting and dismantling them,” O’Farrill said, explaining what he loves in Sakamoto’s music, though it sounded as if he could be describing his own work. “That’s what’s so brilliant about his voice: It’s both deeply individual and very grounded in musical history, and relatable.”

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The art of making art: Chuck Larson – Evanston RoundTable



Ornamental walnut bowl (submitted photo)

As a tree grows, its trunk gets wider and longer. Chuck Larson’s interest and energy in wood craft has grown over time as well but is now narrower and more focused. Now that he is retired, he is spending time spinning his wood lathe making beautiful bowls, vases, and candleholders day and night.

While growing up, Chuck worked with his father using woodworking tools to make a wide variety of functional items, large and small. Over the past 15 years through YouTube videos and other media, along with his own experimentation, he has focused on the challenging craft of creating wood products using a lathe. He notes, “It is fun to be creative. It’s why I do this, and I take pride in what I do.”

Chuck’s wood passion took over his garage. He bolted his lathe—a motorized piece of heavy mechanical equipment for turning wood—to the floor and now heads to the garage to work on his creations whenever he feels like it throughout any given day. He can start and stop at will, leave the work as is, and pick up exactly where he left off without a lot of extra putting away and cleaning up.

What is woodturning? It is the process where raw, dried wood is placed and secured on a lathe. Then the lathe spins the wood at high speed, and an operator presses the edge of a metal gouge—a chisel with a shaped cutting edge— into the spinning wood which carves out portions of the wood to create symmetrical shapes. A common example of an item created on a lathe is a decorative table leg. But turning the wood is just one of the middle stages in Chuck’s overall process to complete a new wood craft.

His first step is to procure wood. He might find a fallen log near his home. He paints a waxy substance on the ends of the log to protect the open surface and sets them in his yard to dry for a few years. Chuck buys other wood pieces from a lumber company that specializes in global hardwoods. His favorite wood to use is walnut, but he has developed “a real fondness” for cherry. Oak is another wood he often uses, prized for its rough and sturdy nature.

Platter (Submitted photo)

When he chooses a fallen log for a project, it is usually in “terrible shape.” He typically must round it off a bit with a saw before it is put on the lathe. The danger of splintering wood is ever present when shaping wood, so a face shield is a must. Once on the lathe, it will stay there until the entire lathe operation is complete. As a result, Chuck only completes one piece at a time.

Segmented bowl (Submitted photo)

If he starts with purchased wood, he will cut flat layers and shapes of different woods and glue them together into patterns, like checkerboard, before he puts it on the lathe.

Whether a single, dried piece or a piece made up of glued layers, once it is on the lathe, Chuck turns the piece to make it smooth. His pieces are up to 12 inches wide which is the size limit of his lathe. It is only at this point, after smoothing the item down, that he decides what he will make based on the unique features of the wood that are revealed. If the wood is long, it may be a vase. If squat, a bowl. Using a variety of gouges, he shapes the wood inside and out as it turns on the lathe.

The next stage is to sand the item with an increasingly fine grit sandpaper while still on the lathe. Then, it is polished with a paste that has grit in it to make it ready for a finish. Chuck does not stain the wood so the natural colors will glow through the finished piece. He creates a hard finish with two to three coats of a wax emulsion with drying time between each coat. Finally, Chuck removes the piece from the lathe. It is complete and ready to add a little beauty and utility to someone’s home.

When you purchase any of Chuck’s wood craft products, you know it has received his undivided attention as he makes just one at a time with each unique in style and wood features.

If one were to look around his studio right now, you would see items in several different stages of the process. He has some new wood that he is prepping for vases and bowls for upcoming art fairs and Etsy. While some items take longer to create, he can usually complete one item a day in a good week. And if one were to look in Chuck’s kitchen, you would see his wood bowls being using functionally, not simply sitting on a shelf.

Bowl with checkered inlays (Submitted photo)

If you are interested in wood craft by Chuck Larson, look for him at

This article first appeared on the Evanston Made website.

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Angela Merkel and the art of being ordinary –



German photographer Herlinde Koelbl still remembers her first photo session with a shy and awkward young woman named Angela Merkel back in 1991.  

“I was struck by her power even though she was an inexperienced woman at that time,” said Koelbl.  

“She was a scientist and then switched to politics. But even so, she already had a strong individuality and also a strong will. She already knew what she wants and doesn’t want.” 

Koelbl, now in her 80s, was starting a project to document the impact of power on people over time. She would continue to photograph Merkel, who’s stepping down as German chancellor, on and off over the next 30 years.  

German photographer Herlinde Koelbl photographed Merkel on and off for three decades, including in 1991, left, and 2008. (Herlinde Koelbl)

When they started, Merkel was 37 and had been a member of Germany’s first post-unification parliament for just a year, and recently appointed minister for women and youth in the cabinet of Helmut Kohl, the father of German unification. 

Other politicians in the project included Gerhard Schroeder, who was chancellor from 1998 to 2005, and his foreign minister, Joschka Fischer, in the late 1990s.

Schroeder is pictured with his trademark cigar while Merkel said she didn’t know how to sit or where to place her arms, recalled Koelble, who gave her subjects no direction beyond a request to be “open.” 

But it is Merkel who has stood the test of time, rising to become one of the world’s best-known political figures, but also one of its most enigmatic. 

German Chancellor Helmut Kohl chats with Merkel, the newly elected minister for women, during a Christian Democratic Union party meeting in 1991. (Michael Jung/DPA/AFP via Getty Images)

That’s what makes Koelbl’s series of portraits so interesting: searching for the thread linking the awkward MP in her 30s to Time Magazine’s Person of the Year in 2015, with a cover headline that read: “Chancellor of the Free World.”

By then, Merkel had already been at the helm in Germany for a decade, and Koelbl had started taking her picture more regularly, every year she served as chancellor.    

“She really learnt to wear, in a certain way, a mask,” said Koelbl. “She talked about this in the interviews I did with her.  That she had to learn it. And I think she learnt it very well.”  

Critics and advocates alike will say that Merkel’s poker face and a calm exterior when confronted with more combustible figures has stood her in good stead. 

Think former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi or former U.S. president Donald Trump.  

Merkel and other world leaders deliberate with U.S. President Donald Trump during the G7 summit in Charlevoix, Quebec, in 2018. ‘Her method [for] dealing with those macho politicians is to be very patient,’ says biographer Ralph Bollmann. (Jesco Denzel/Bundesregierung via Getty Images)

“If you want an ingredient of her success, it has been that she’s a very guarded person,” said Klaus Goetz, a specialist in European politics at Munich’s Ludwig Maximilian University.  

“It’s very rare that anything slips out. And she’s not like Boris Johnson or some very sort of impulsive people. She’s very controlled. She’s controlling and controlled.” 

‘There is no secret’

“The only secret is that there is no secret,” said Ralph Bollmann, author of a recently published Merkel biography called The Chancellor and her Time.  

“She is like she is. And I think only people who have in mind an image of a macho style, a traditional politician’s politician, are wondering if there is something [else behind it].” 

Bollmann’s theory is that Merkel learned to keep her own counsel as a young girl, growing up in former East Germany as the daughter of a Lutheran minister. 

“As a pastor’s daughter in a communist regime and afterwards as a woman, and as an East German in Western [male-dominated] politics, she always had a good sense of resistance, of not ceding.” 

Merkel studied quantum chemistry at the University of Leipzig before moving to East Berlin for work. She was there when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989.   

“In politics, there are very often situations where there is only the alternative to go out or go up,” said Bollman. “She didn’t want to go out.”  

Only two other German leaders have served longer in office than Merkel: Prince Otto von Bismarck and Kohl.

Goetz said Merkel stands up poorly when placed against leaders like Kohl, calling her a manager and the latter a visionary. 

Seeking compromise

“Under Helmut Kohl, we had the Maastricht Treaty with the introduction of the euro. We had the opening to central and eastern Europe. We had German unification.”

Merkel’s advocates say it is her skill as a manager that has defined her premiership: an ability to seek compromise into the wee hours and present a steady hand at the helm during times of crisis.  

In 2015, when hundreds of thousands of mainly Syrian refugees arrived in Europe, Merkel was criticized for leaving Germany’s border open. Her response to worried Germans was “we can manage.” 

Syrians now settled in Germany call her the “mother of refugees.” 

WATCH | The legacy of Angela Merkel:

The legacy of German Chancellor Angela Merkel

2 days ago

After 16 years as German chancellor, Angela Merkel doesn’t leave behind a legacy of change or innovation, but one of managing the situations at hand. 5:22

But the turmoil of their arrival also provoked anti-immigrant groups and it was on her watch that a far-right party was elected to the German parliament for the first time since the end of the Second World War.  

Bollmann believes her motives were both personal and pragmatic. 

“She was a citizen of the former communist eastern Germany. She didn’t want to build new walls in Europe. And she wanted Germany as an open society, as a liberal society to preserve liberalism against populist uprisings.”  

Now that Merkel is leaving, the political autopsy on her tenure has begun, one line of criticism being that she has failed to “future-proof” Germany or to leave a vision of where the country should be headed.  

A popularity boost 

“I think she’s been a stabilizing force there, but she’s definitely not been innovative in any way,” said Travis Todd, a dual U.S.-German citizen who runs a campus for start-ups in Berlin.  

COVID-19 gave Merkel another crisis to handle, and another boost in popularity. But it also exposed Germany’s out-dated bureaucracy, still relying on fax machines and regular mail.

“I mean, I think it was maybe last year or the year before we could finally book our train tickets on the public transport via an app, which was mind-blowing,” said Todd.

But despite the criticism, voters have kept her in power for 16 years, choosing her even when the enormity of her imprint blurred the lines of the coalition governments she’s led.  

Herlinde Koelbl has been photographing Merkel since 1991. Koelbl says during their first sessions, the new politician was ‘a bit awkward, a shy person really.’ (Lily Martin/CBC)

“Germany has loved Angela Merkel,” said Manual Manzor, a member of the Social Democratic Party that managed to edge ahead of Merkel’s Christian Democrats, now led by Armin Laschet, in this week’s election.  

“And she was accepted in the whole world as a woman leader, so I think we’ll keep her in mind. But it’s good to have a change now.”  

Where did the sparkle go?

So what about that thread linking the young Merkel to the woman stepping down after 16 years in power?

“I could see that she had a moral guiding line,” said Herlinde Koelbl. “And I think she kept it through all these years. 

“She kept herself as a human being and I think she is a great politician and a great woman.”

A favourite photo of Koelbl from 1998 shows Merkel holding her hands in the shape of the ‘Merkel diamond.’ Koelbl says at the time, the gesture ‘was just her private behaviour … later on she used it in public all the time.’ (Herlinde Koelbl)

One difference in the Merkel of today, Koelbl noted, is the loss of what she calls a sparkle in Merkel’s eye. 

“I think that’s the price you have to pay to be chancellor,” she said.  

Koelbl had her last photography session with Merkel three weeks ago, as yet unpublished. 

“She didn’t love the cameras, but she accepted to be photographed because it’s part of her position and her job. And so in the last sitting it was the same. It was quite normal.” 

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Unmasking the Art and Discipline of Local Illustrator and Printmaker, Mariko Ando – Scout Magazine



Meet Mariko Ando, a Vancouver-via-Japan illustrator with a signature slightly sinister storybook style and an admirable dedication to using old-school print-making processes.

If you missed her at Strange Fellows Brewing and OH Studio’s inaugural ‘Harvst Markt’ earlier this month, then be sure to mark December 3-5th on your calendar, when she’ll be participating in their annual Krampusmarkt. In the meantime, satisfy your curiosity about Mariko’s discipline and story by reading our recent interview with the artist below…

You have been working with very old techniques for many years now. What first attracted you to these processes?

I did Intaglio / Etching printmaking in class when I was an art college student in Japan. It gave me goosebumps. I etched and created grooves on the copper plate. It was so beautiful and magical and, printed on paper, it was so rich and deep. I was excited because that was what I was looking for!

Why, when so many people are using new technologies to replicate old styles, do you continue to do them the old-fashioned way, by hand?

Yes, even 25 years ago, digital printer technologies were amazing, high level quality. However, they were never able to print like hand pulled prints. There is a beautiful embossing and depth of the ink on the paper… Well, the new technologies are probably getting closer in fact. Even so, I respect the old style and someone should keep doing and creating in the old style but with new works. Pretty much the same way and same tools we used in the 15th century, which is amazing. That’s another reason I continue with the old printing style.

I imagine that the process of completing a piece of art is very labour-intensive, but also very rewarding. How long does it take you to complete one print? How does it feel when you are finished?

For creating a plate, it takes 3-7 days for one small 4”x6” plate. Then, the inking and printing for one print takes about 30 minutes. A larger plate will be over 1 hour. It feels so good when I lift up the paper from the plate on the press machine and see if I get what I expected or more! And off course if it went wrong, I’m sad and mad, I feel like a falling down in silence. But I go back to inking the plate again right away. I want to erase my embarrassment quickly.

What was your favourite story or storybook growing up?

“Bedtime For Frances” by Russell Hoban. It’s almost all black and white illustration and it is a little bit spooky, but I loved it. And it was a big, booming “MANGA” comic magazine era when I was elementary school kid in Japan. In “Candy Candy” by Yumiko Igarashi, the heroine loves tree climbing, and it showed forest areas in North America. Also, I loved watching “Little House on the Prairie” on TV. My father gave me the book as well. The beautiful nature and big trees were in my mind always since I was little and it makes me comfortable and calm inside. So now I’m here in beautiful green Vancouver. As a teenager, I respected ‘Osamu Tezuka’ and ‘Luis Bunuel’, ‘Brothers Quay’, and ‘Jan Svankmajer’. I was inspired by these dark side fantasies from amazing film legends. I especially loved their awkward worlds in the stop-motion animations. Many people gave me comments that my work reminds them of “Alice in Wonderland”, illustrated by John Tenniel. However, I was more inspired by Svankmajer’s ‘Alice’.

What role did art play in your early life?

When I was a little, I preferred to stay home alone and drawing forever. My parents were very worried, but I was just a happy girl when I was drawing pictures and living in my imagination. I wasn’t good at sports, studies, and was (maybe still am) shy, but was good at art creation and writing a story. My drawing tells me who I am and I can draw it. I feel I’m lucky because written language is unnecessary. Art is the perfect language.

When and why did you decide to pursue it seriously, as a career?

I don’t believe in prophecy usually but I agreed that Nostradamus said the world will end in 15 years. Then I thought I should be what I want to be, what I can do best. I decided to go to the art college when I was 17.

It looks like you’ve been very productive during 2021, so far! How have the past couple of years during the Covid pandemic affected your inspiration and/or artistic practice?

Most art events have been cancelled or postponed, sadly, but actually my life hasn’t changed much. I feel it was busier than normal because I had a deadline for my book illustration and making props for a movie and preparing for our exhibition. It’s all I can do at home without seeing anybody. It’s a good part about being an artist.

To me, your art is playful, mysterious and slightly sinister! Tell me the story of your latest series of etchings. (Who are the characters? Why are they wearing masks? What games are they playing?)

Thank you. ‘The Mask Girl’ in my new work was born during the pandemic. She is very fragile and shy because she hasn’t seen anybody and lives alone, but she has a strong heart. The bunnies are alway there and supporting her quietly, warmly. I hope she will take off her mask someday in the near future.

What was the last unusual or unexpected source of inspiration that you encountered? How did it influence your art?

I painted a 8’ x 30’ mural recently which was organized by VMF (Vancouver Mural Festival). It was a bit challenging because of the large scale and the hot weather. I had to think about how to transfer my fine line image on to the large wall in the limited time. A needle metal pen vs. a big paint brush = 1:100,0000? I’m not sure how many hairs in the paint brush, but it was no problem! It was a bit hard physically but I really enjoyed painting a giant bunny that was bigger than me. I also had great chats with all the wonderful pedestrians passing by.

Are there any other processes or skills that you would like to learn in the future?

I’ve been wanting to do large oil or acrylic painting these days and the mural was a good experience for finding a new style. I have to finish up my new print editions and meanwhile I would love to try to do more painting and more etching printmaking. I’m looking forward to showing my new work in public!

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