What We Are Reading Today: ‘Less,’ by Andrew Sean Greer

Updated 21 April 2018
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What We Are Reading Today: ‘Less,’ by Andrew Sean Greer

“Less” won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction last week and was a surprising choice because few comic novels have won the prestigious award.

The judges’ citation describes it as “a generous book, musical in its prose and expansive in its structure and range, about growing older and the essential nature of love.”

The book follows Arthur Less, a failed novelist about to turn 50.

When he receives a wedding invitation from his boyfriend of nine years ago, he decides instead to run away from his problems by attending a few half-baked literary events around the world.

He will almost fall in love in Paris, almost fall to his death in Berlin, barely escape to a Moroccan ski chalet from a Saharan sandstorm, accidentally book himself in as a writer-in-residence at a Christian retreat center in Southern India, and have a chance encounter on a desert island in the Arabian Sea.

Andrew Sean Greer began this comic masterpiece as a very serious novel about being gay and aging.

“But after a year, I just couldn’t do it,” he told The Washington Post. “It sounds strange but what I was writing about was so sad to me that I thought the only way to write about this was to make it a funny story.”


Gulf-inspired Chip Wickham ushers in winds of change on the jazz scene

Updated 22 May 2018
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Gulf-inspired Chip Wickham ushers in winds of change on the jazz scene

  • “Shamal Wind” takes its name from the Arabic Gulf’s primal weather patterns, and there’s a distinctly meditative, Middle Eastern vibe to the title track
  • There’s rather less goatee-stroking to be found across the four further up-tempo cuts, which swap soul-searching for soul-jazz, soaked in the breezy bop of a vintage Blue Note release

PARIS: The hotly hyped “British jazz invasion” has been the toast of international scenesters for some months now, with breathy adjective-heavy sprawls penned on both sides of the Atlantic paying tribute to a fresh generation of musos who grew up not in the conservatoires but the clubs, channelling the grit and groove of grime into a distinctly hip, 21st century strain of freewheeling, DIY improvised music.

Now the Arab world has its own outpost in the form of Chip Wickham, a UK-born flautist, saxophonist and producer whose second album grew out of extended stints teaching in the GCC. “Shamal Wind” takes its name from the Arabic Gulf’s primal weather patterns, and there’s a distinctly meditative, Middle Eastern vibe to the title track, a slow-burning, moody vamp, peppered with percussive trills, with hints of Yusef Lateef to be found in Wickham’s wandering woodwind musings.  A similar spirituality drifts over “The Mirage,” another probing eight-minute dirge, featuring rising trumpet star Matthew Halsall, which sways with the languid trot of a camel crossing a desert plain.

There’s rather less goatee-stroking to be found across the four further up-tempo cuts, which swap soul-searching for soul-jazz, soaked in the breezy bop of a vintage Blue Note release. Recorded over a hot summer in Madrid, a heady Latin pulse drives first single, “Barrio 71” — championed by the likes of Craig Charles — with Spanish multi-percussionist David el Indio steaming up a block party beat framing Wickham’s gutsy workout on baritone sax.

Having previously worked with electronic acts, including Nightmares on Wax and Jimpster – and been remixed by US producers Andrés Carlos and Niño – one imagines the dancefloor was a key stimulus behind Wickham’s rhythmically dense, but harmonically spare compositional approach. Phil Wilkinson’s sheer, thumped piano chords drive the relentless nod of second single “Snake Eyes,” Wickham’s raspy flute floating somewhere overhead, readymade to be skimmed off for the anticipated remix market.

In truth, Manchester-raised Wickham is both too thoughtful, and too thoughtless, to truly belong to the London-brewed jazz invasion — Shamal Wind yo-yos between meditative meandering and soulful strutting with a wilful disrespect for trend.