Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
The Twin Cities are immensely fortunate to have two superb jazz clubs: St. Paul's Artists' Quarter and the Dakota in downtown Minneapolis. Both offer a steady stream of local talent, in intimate settings that encourage easy mingling of patrons and artists. So what puts the Dakota over the top? First, the club is regarded as one of the premier jazz clubs in the world, which means its rep is as solid in Stockholm, Sweden, as in Stockholm, Wisconsin. Second, the breadth of artists visiting the Dakota is often breathtaking (many never playing rooms so small elsewhere), the sound is always first-rate, and its friendly confines are classy without being ostentatious. And third, the Dakota's kitchen consistently produces top-notch, creative cuisine while making even the lowly burger something special. In recent years, the Dakota's lineup has expanded beyond the boundaries of jazz. But considering the bevy of jazz artists regularly moving through the Dakota, that's a minor quibble. Besides, eclecticism has yielded myriad rewards: Lucinda Williams's recent solo gigs, Rosanne Cash's intimate shows last summer, Booker T and the MGs' always incandescent performances. Plus, chief Dakotan Lowell Pickett has presented an array of New Orleans artists—from Allen Toussaint to clarinetist Evan Christopher—virtually unrivaled this side of Lake Pontchartrain. And then there's the late-night gigs featuring such up-and-coming treasures as the subcontinent bop of Denver's Aakash Mittal Quartet. World class all the way.
In today's screwed-up world, we need good investigative journalism more than ever. It's a shame, then, that these deep-dive stories seem to be the exception rather than the rule. That's why we appreciate Mark Albert from KSTP. He may look like a nice enough guy, but don't be fooled. He is one cold-hearted dude. Albert recently won a Peabody Award for his investigative report about a soldier who was electrocuted by a faulty shower while serving in Iraq. The story unearthed damning evidence against the soldier's commanders and has changed how the military keeps tabs on soldier deaths. Albert has taken on lawless cab drivers, politicians, welfare recipients, homeless sex offenders, and more. He holds people accountable, and that's just the type of journalism we need these days.
Okay. We admit it. Every time KARE 11's weather stud Sven Sundgaard appears on camera with his spiky blond locks standing at attention in Norse-god glory, we want to reach through the TV screen in a moment of virtual ecstasy and just muss the heck out them. It's distracting, really, and it leaves us consumed with guilt. Shouldn't we be admiring his acumen with all those dancing icons and animations on the weather map? Shouldn't we be tuning in to see him brave real Minnesota weather? Yes, we should. And we tune in for another reason, too: Sven is so utterly and completely the embodiment of those myths we keep telling ourselves about who Minnesotans are supposed to be. He grew up in St. Paul and the suburbs. He went to college in St. Cloud. He got his first job in Duluth. He vacations in Scandinavia. He speaks Norwegian. When he warns us about a twister or impending Snowmageddon, the guy practically oozes lutefisk.
In a carousel category that has revolved between four men over a decade or so, it's been far too long since WCCO's Mark Rosen has been recognized as the lead rider among TV's sporting thoroughbreds. To be sure, TV newscasts afford little time for sporting pith, which is why the long-running Rosen's Sports Sunday should be appreciated. The program allows enough time for guests to actually talk, and Rosen continually proves both a quality listener and a formidable sounding board. His show runs concurrently with ESPN's Sunday night SportsCenter, and the two programs are an ideal clicking complement of national and local sports. And while Rosen has been a station stanchion since working with 'CCO as a high schooler in the late '60s, he has accepted the evolution of new media with a Twitter account (@WCCORosen) that isn't afraid to mix it up with a younger set that generally favors smarm over charm. Rosen's radio work and foray into movie reviews can prove challenging at times in their geniality, but the Sunday night show is a consistent reminder that nice guys can finish well while serving as more than just another talking head.
It seems that almost every discussion of public TV eventually devolves into talk of highbrow snobbery, pledge drives, and the always-popular subject of Caucasian corniness. But let's throw all that aside to take note of how much TPT has done for our state with the Minnesota-centric offshoot of the PBS affiliate. While the mothership station offers the internationally focused news, education, and entertainment programs that have defined public television since the '60s, TPT MN's local variation serves up close-to-home programming that spotlights everything from indigenous politics (Native Report) to outdoorsy travelogues (Venture North) to showcases for area music and art figures (Minnesota Original). And if you want to get a direct line to what's going on at the Capitol, the station's weekday feed of the Minnesota House of Representatives and State Senate is our very own C-SPAN analogue.
Getting up in the morning is a little easier since the advent of the Current's regular morning team, especially with the addition of Steve Seel (co-host Jill Riley is no slouch either). Seel brings decades of experience in radio and has a deep passion for all types of music—he cut his teeth as a classical music host in the 1990s—and tempers that with an equally deep knowledge of the music, musicians, and even instruments behind the songs that are played. Want to know how Keith Emerson achieved the whirling keyboard solo at the end of "Lucky Man"? Seel is your source.