Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Squirrel Nut Zippers: Inevitable, Perennial, Timeless Bedlam


“Ain’t a man alive can shuck and jive better than Grandad can!”

Unless, of course, we include Jimbo Mathus and his merry mix of Squirrel Nut Zippers, who were kind enough to visit Houston a week or so ago.

This here Grandad may not know a chord of music from a cord of wood – that has something to do with sixth grade, Sister Perpetua and a pitch pipe.

But he does notice when his toe starts to tappin’. That discerning digit first happened upon the SNZ sound nearly 20 years ago on the small slice of commercial radio that still housed jazz, jump blues and the Great American Songbook.

The random radio offerings – from old-school DJ’s such as Paul Berlin and Scott Arthur – introduced bands like the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies and Brian Setzer Orchestra, spurring the never-ending discovery of numerous others, from the Jive Aces and Bellevue Cadillac all the way to Straight No Chaser and Zazu Zazz.

I even got to gush live and in person at Houston’s Toyota Center when the Royal Crown Revue’s incomparable horn section performed with Bette Midler during her aptly-billed “Kiss My Brass” tour along this path of mine to musical discovery.

Just followin’ my toe.

As I recall, it was SNZ’s “Put a Lid on It” that was deemed to exude enough sass and brass to fit the Classic Cool radio format … and the vocal stylings of Katherine Whalen certainly stand out in any crowd.

Over those many years, I’ve stumbled upon and procured most (perhaps all) of the band’s catalog. The “sound” features a variety of string-play (guitar, bass, banjo, mandolin, fiddle, you name it – current fiddle man Justin “Dr. Sick” Carr plays a saw on a couple of numbers) – accented nicely by set of horn players plenty able to swing when the occasion arises, for example “Got My Own Thing Now.”

Fittingly, the band’s irreverently clever lyrical wordplay might best be displayed in the title of a bouncy instrumental called “The Flight of the Passing Fancy.” And it certainly takes a little brass to revel in the notion that “The Suits Are Picking up the Bill.”

Despite some apparent squabbling among the group’s original members, Jimbo’s re-tooled unit – only he and percussion man Chris Phillips are originals – has deftly replicated the Zippers’ sound and feel. In particular Ingrid Lucia, who had the toughest pair of boots to fill  Ms. Whalen’s voice has been described somewhere as “Betty Boop Meets Billie Holliday.”

Ingrid’s got the Holliday end of that challenge covered quite nicely (e.g. “Good Morning, Mr. Afternoon), but the Boop-ing that fits so snugly into a tune like “Prince Nez” is unlike Lucia’s more subtle playfulness in the iconic “Mr. Zoot Suit” or her gentle irreverence in a standard like “I’d Rather Be in New Orleans and some others.

In some video from early in the project, Ms. Lucia seemed an artist still struggling with how best to allow her skill set to convey the spirit of the original – a raised eye-brow seemed to accompany some of the remarks in Comment sections.

Nonetheless, when a Houston date – a free show at an easily accessible venue, to boot – was announced a while back …

… well, Put a Lid on It!

I’d decided not to seek out any more video, current or old. Nor in the interim did I listen to any of the band’s music on CD.

I was gonna give my music-lovin’ toe an uninfluenced opportunity to experience the sound of what my mind had begun to think of as the “Zipper-trinos.”

Grandma, who at the last minute chose to tag along on the trip, seemed amused by Kevin Russell’s Shinyribs show which ventured from James Brown to David Bowie. But a tough week of third grade caught up with JJ during the opening act and he curled up, head in my lap.



Perhaps abetted by the pleasingly icy chill of a cherry snow cone on a muggy mid-September evening, Little Man perked up to the richer, bouncier tone of the swing music, quite fittingly initiated with “Good Enough for Grandad.” Ol’ Jimbo (or whoever laid out the playlist for what had been advertised as an all-ages show) even seemed to position the cartoon that accompanies the bands performing of “The Ghost of Stephen Foster” with the young-un’s in mind, as my re-focused, eight-year-old running buddy responded to it with a sincere “That was Cool!”

The virtuosity of Miss Ingrid, now comfortable with all this material written for another voice, really shone through, most enjoyably to my ear during her “Evening at LaFitte’s.”

As the nice lady from the Miller Outdoor Theater was reading her Zipper-intro, I turned to Jayden Michael, sitting between his grandparents and attending his first-ever concert, and said:

“Get ready, dude! One day a long time from now, when you take your own grandson to a concert, you’ll be able to tell him about the time your Grandma and Grandpa took you to see the craziest band you ever did see. This is gonna be good.” 

Our progeny just looked at me, but GG gave Popi a smile and a nod.

“All the good times that we had,
They were good enough for Grandad,
They’re good enough for me.”

Sunday, September 11, 2016

WNBA: “20”16 12-Week Progress Report


Here’s a head-scratcher for ya – in three fewer games played this season, Elena Della Donne has two more defensive rebounds than Brittney Griner. In an average 2016 game, a team will miss 36 or 37 field goal attempts. Griner is corralling just under five opponent misses per game – which has pretty much been the story of her WNBA career.

While a blocked shot can be intimidating, strong consistent defensive board work that leads to a string of one-and-done possessions will break a team’s spirit. Just imagine if BG were to get eight or 10 defensive rebounds in a regularly!

Curiously, while the league’s overall FG shooting slipped a bit -- .437, compared with .442 prior to the Olympic break – the ladies were more accurate (.369, up from .338) on long balls

On average through 175 games, a team scores 81.1 points, making 29.73 FG’s on 67.45 attempts (.441), 5.39 for 15.72 (.343) on treys, and converting 16.95 of 21.17 (.801) free throws. Teams snatch 35.74 rebounds, of which 9.07 come off the offensive glass, and commit 12.93 TO’s. A team endures 41.58 empty possessions each game and posts a SPOR-t score of 550

The following data reflects play through Tuesday, Sept.6.

[Clerical Note: The post-Olympic schedule covers 24 calendar days, so I’ve split this portion of the season into two 12-day, 29-game segments.]

We’ll rank the teams from 1 to 12 in all criteria and simply add up the rankings. Low score wins, naturally.

Progress Reports for 2-Weeks, 4-Weeks, 6-weeks, 8-Weeks and 10-Weeks are also available.

(The criteria is explained below.)

No. 1 Los Angeles Sparks, 24-6 (12)
[10-week Abacus rating: 1
8-week Abacus rating: 1
6-week Abacus rating: 1
4-week Abacus rating: 1
2-week Abacus rating: 1
2015 Abacus rating: 10]

KK:  +10; (12 Road Wins – 2 Home Loss) / No. 1 overall
Flow:  +3.73; (41.90 stops OF opp [No.5] – 38.17 stops BY opp [No.1] / No.2 overall
Striping:  +0.47; (+0.98) conversions [No. 6] – (+0.52) opp conversions [No. 5] / No. 5 overall
SPOR-t:  +28; (562 [No. 5] – 534 [No. 3]) / No. 4 overall

Abacus Revelation: The Sparks post-Olympic scoring has dropped to 76.2 points per game, down 9.6 from the league leading total after 10 weeks.

No. 2 Minnesota Lynx, 25-5 (14)
[10-week Abacus rating: 2
8-week Abacus rating: 2
6-week Abacus rating: 1
4-week Abacus rating: 2
2-week Abacus rating: 2
2015 Abacus rating: 2]

KK:  +9; (11 Road Wins – 2 Home Loss) / No. 2 overall
Flow:  +6.07; (45.33 stops OF opp [No.1] – 39.27 stops BY opp [No.2] / No.1 overall
Striping:  -0.80; (+0.08) conversions [No. 10] – (+0.88) opp conversions [No.9] / No. 10 overall
SPOR-t:  +139; (614 [No. 2] – 475 [No. 1]) / No. 1 overall

Abacus Revelation: Only the ninth-best three-point shooters after 10 weeks, the Lynx drained 38.2% of their August treys, best in the “W.”

No. 3 New York Liberty, 20-9 (19)
[10-week Abacus rating: 3
8-week Abacus rating: 3
6-week Abacus rating: 4
4-week Abacus rating: 4
2-week Abacus rating: 6
2015 Abacus rating: 1]

KK:  +6; (11 Road Wins – 5 Home Losses) / No. 3 overall
Flow:  +2.34; (44.34 stops OF opp [No.2] – 42.00 stops BY opp [No.7] / No. 3 overall
Striping:  -1.17; (-0.22) conversions [No. 11] – (+0.95) opp conversions [No. 10] / No. 11 overall
SPOR-t:  +79; (575 [No. 3] – 496 [No. 2]) / No. 2 overall

Abacus Revelation: New York’s three-point defense, among the league’s best pre-Olympics, fell to No. 10 (.377) since then.

ABACUS INFOMERCIAL

Masters of the Craft (Part 1)

Which teams are performing the rudimentary skills of the game most proficiently at both ends of the floor? Let’s consider six elements of play: FG shooting, three-point shooting, Points per Game, Offensive Rebounding, the matter of turnovers and the SPOR-t score of our ratings. These teams hold a Top Four rank offensively and defensively:

FG%: Chicago, Los Angeles, Minnesota
3FG%: Los Angeles, New York
PPG: Los Angeles, Minnesota
OR%: Minnesota, New York
TO%: Minnesota
SPOR-t: Chicago, Minnesota, New York


No. 4 Chicago Sky, 15-13 (21)
[10-week Abacus rating: 4
8-week Abacus rating: 6
6-week Abacus rating: 3
4-week Abacus rating: 3
2-week Abacus rating: 6
2015 Abacus rating: 3]

KK:  0; (6 Road Wins – 6 Home Losses) / No. 4 overall (tied)-3
Flow:  +1.75; (41.57 stops OF opp [No.7] – 39.82 stops BY opp [No.3] / No.4 overall
Striping:  -0.48; (+0.63) conversions [No. 7] – (+1.11) opp conversions [No. 12] / No. 9 overall
SPOR-t:  +76; (617 [No. 1] – 541 [No. 4]) / No. 3 overall

Abacus Revelation: In Weeks 11 and 12, the Sky committed a turnover on just one of ten possessions (.094).

No. 5 Indiana Fever, 14-15 (24)
[10-week Abacus rating: 5
8-week Abacus rating: 4
6-week Abacus rating: 9
4-week Abacus rating: 7
-week Abacus rating: 5
2015 Abacus rating: 4]

KK:  0; (8 Road Wins – 8 Home Losses) / No. 4 overall (tied)-3
Flow:  -2.07; (39.66 stops OF opp [No.10] – 41.72 stops BY opp [No.5] / No.9 overall
Striping:  +0.98; (+1.14) conversions [No. 4] – (+0.16) conversions [No. 3] / No. 3 overall
SPOR-t:  -11; (537 [No. 8] – 548 [No. 5]) / No. 7 overall

Abacus Revelation: The Fever’s respectable 45% FG shooting has tumbled to 41%, second-worst in the league, since the hiatus.


ABACUS INFOMERCIAL

Scoring Pace, Weeks 11 & 12 (29 games)

100+ points: 0  [11 overall – 3.1%]
90-99 points: 12  [76 overall – 21.7%]
80-89 points: 18  [108 overall – 30.9%]
70-79 points: 20  [112 overall – 32.0 %]
60-69 points: 8  [39 overall – 11.1%]
<60 points: 0  [4 overall – 1.1%]

No. 6 Phoenix Mercury, 13-17 (27.5)
[10-week Abacus rating: 8
                                                          8-week Abacus rating: 10          
6-week Abacus rating: 10
4-week Abacus rating: 11
2-week Abacus rating: 12
2015 Abacus rating: 4]

KK:  -2; (4 Road Wins – 6 Home Losses) / No. 7 overall (tied)
Flow:  +0.27; (42.07 stops OF opp [No.4] – 41.80 stops BY opp [No.6] / No.6 overall
Striping:  -0.12; (+1.13 conversions [No. 5] – (+1.02) opp conversions [No. 11] / No. 6 overall
SPOR-t:  -56; (509 [No. 10] – 565 [No. 8]) / No. 8 overall

Abacus Revelation: During Weeks 11 & 12, the sloppy Mercury committed a TO on one out of every five possessions.

No. 7 Atlanta Dream, 15-14 (28)
[10-week Abacus rating: 6
8-week Abacus rating: 7
6-week Abacus rating: 6
4-week Abacus rating: 4
2-week Abacus rating: 3
2015 Abacus rating: 8]

KK:  0; (5 Road Wins – 5 Home Losses) / No. 4 overall) (tied)-3
Flow:  +0.79; (42.93 stops OF opp [No.3] – 42.14 stops BY opp [No.8] / No.5 overall
Striping:  -1.43; (-1.48) conversions [No. 12] – (-0.05) conversions [No. 1] / No. 12 overall
SPOR-t:  +4; (564 [No. 4] – 560 [No. 7]) / No. 6 overall

Abacus Revelation: The league’s worst three-point shooters stroked their long balls at an impressive 36% during Weeks 11 and 12.


ABACUS INFOMERCIAL

Scoring Differential, Weeks 11 & 12 (29 games)

1-5 points: 7  [48 overall – 27.4%]
6-10 points: 9  [61 overall – 34.9%]
11-15 points: 7  [30 overall – 17.1%]
16-20 points: 0  [13 overall – 7.4%]
>20: 6  [23 overall – 13.1%]

No. 8 Seattle Storm, 12-17 (29.5)
[10-week Abacus rating: 11
                                                           8-week Abacus rating: 9        
6-week Abacus rating: 8
4-week Abacus rating: 8
2-week Abacus rating: 10
2015 Abacus rating: 11]

KK:  -3; (4 Road Wins – 7 Home Losses) / No. 9 overall (tied)
Flow:  -1.07; (40.07 stops OF opp [No. 9] – 41.14 stops BY opp [No.4] / No.7 overall
Striping:  +1.19; (+1.91) conversions [No. 1] - (+0.72) opp conversions [No. 8] / No. 1 overall
SPOR-t:  -90; (500 [No. 11] – 590 [No. 11]) / No. 12 overall

Abacus Revelation: The league’s worst rebounders have been showing some life, averaging nine OR;s during Weeks 11 and 12.

No. 9 Connecticut Sun, 11-18 (30.5)
[10-week Abacus rating: 9
8-week Abacus rating: 11
6-week Abacus rating: 12
4-week Abacus rating: 12
2-week Abacus rating: 8
2015 Abacus rating: 9]

KK:  -3; (5 Road Wins – 8 Home Losses) / No. 9 overall (tied)
Flow:  -1.86; (41.66 stops OF opp [No.6] – 43.52 stops BY opp [No.11] / No.8 overall
Striping:  -0.34; (+0.10) conversions [No. 9] – (+0.45) conversions [No. 4] / No. 8 overall
SPOR-t:  +12; (561 [No. 6] – 549 [No. 5]) / No. 5 overall
Abacus Revelation: The Sun forced a TO on 21% of opponent possessions during Weeks 11 & 12.
No. 10 Washington Mystics, 11-17 (31)
[10-week Abacus rating: 9
8-week Abacus rating: 8
6-week Abacus rating: 7
4-week Abacus rating: 8
2-week Abacus rating: 9
2015 Abacus rating: 7]

KK:  -2; (7 Road Wins – 9 Home Losses) / No. 7 overall (tied)
Flow:  -2.14; (40.29 stops OF opp [No.8] – 42.43 stops BY opp [No.9] / No.10 overall
Striping:  +0.50; (+1.16) conversions [No. 3] – (+0.66) opp conversions [No. 7] / No. 4 overall
SPOR-t:  -58; (513 [No. 9] – 571 [No.10]) / No. 9 overall (tied)

Abacus Revelation: During Weeks 11 and 12, the Mystics were best in the league (.217) in defending the three-ball.

ABACUS INFOMERCIAL

Masters of the Craft (Part 2)

Are not the exceptionally inept worthy of some recognition? Here are the teams that hold a Bottom Four offensive and defensive ranking in our key elements of play: FG shooting, three-point shooting, PPG, Offensive Rebounding, Turnovers and SPOR-t..

FG%: Dallas
3FG%: Connecticut, Indiana, San Antonio
PPG: N/A
OR%: San Antonio, Seattle
TO%: New York, Seattle
SPOR-t: San Antonio, Seattle, Washington

No. 11 Dallas Wings, 9-21 (34.5)
[10-week Abacus rating: 7
8-week Abacus rating: 4
6-week Abacus rating: 5
4-week Abacus rating: 6
2-week Abacus rating: 4
2015 Abacus rating: 6]

KK:  -6; (4 Road Wins – 10 Home Losses) / No. 11 overall
Flow:  -4.47; (39.57 stops OF opp [No.11] – 44.03 stops BY opp [No.12] / No.12 overall
Striping:  +1.12; (+1.18) conversions [No. 2] – (+0.07) conversions [No. 2] / No. 2 overall
SPOR-t:  -58; (546 [No. 7] – 604 [No. 12]) / No. 9 overall (tied)

Abacus Revelation: The Wings gave shot 38% from the field in their last ten outings.

No. 12 San Antonio Stars, 6-23 (41)
                                                         [10-week Abacus rating: 12           
                                                          8-week Abacus rating: 12             
6-week Abacus rating: 11
4-week Abacus rating: 10
2-week Abacus rating: 10
2015 Abacus rating: 12]

KK:  -8; (2 Road Wins – 10 Home Losses) / No. 12 overall
Flow:  -3.55; (39.48 stops OF opp [No.12] – 43.03 stops BY opp [No.10] / No.11 overall
Striping:  -0.17; (+0.36) conversions [No. 8] – (+0.53) opp conversions [No. 6] / No. 7 overall
SPOR-t:  -81; (487 [No. 11] – 568 [No.8]) / No. 11 overall

Abacus Revelation: In a statistical oddity, the Stars and their opponents have each attempted 1897 field goals in 29 games.


The Grading Scale
“Flow”: this calculation puts a number to a team’s unsuccessful possessions (i.e. the other guys’ “stops”). Just take their missed field goals (attempts minus makes), subtract the offensive rebounds, and then add the turnovers. The “scores” represent per-game performance.

“Striping”: this calculation measures the impact of missed free throws and made treys. By subtracting the former from the latter [3’s minus missed FT’s], we identify a team’s gain or loss in points through “specialty shooting.” Again the “scores” are per-game. (A further division by two converts “points” to “conversions” – thus they can be combined with the “Flow” score.)

KK: Karl Kount – named for George Karl – is a way to measure a team’s grit and savvy through its ability to defend its home court and win on the road, a simple calculation for generally reliable info.

 “SPOR-t”: SPOR-t stands for “Shooting Plus Offensive Rebounds minus turnovers.” Add a team’s FG percentage and its offensive rebounding percentage (o. boards divided by the sum of those o. boards and the opposition's d. boards). Then subtract the percentage of a team’s possessions lost to turnovers. For example, a team shoots field goals at a .488 clip, offensive rebounds at a rate of .199, and commits a turnover on .143 of its possessions. So its SPOR-t is (488+199-143) or 544. Once again, our measurement will be the difference between the SPOR-t scores of a team and its opposition.