Monday, December 25, 2006

Diggin' on James Brown

RIP Godfather. Questlove drops some heavy retrospective on one of the most influential contributors to 20th century music. And all the Montreal coverage on his show, scheduled to have taken place January 3 of the new year, has turned into a timely eulogy for a master.

Where to begin? I guess I became truly conscious of James Brown in high school. I can't exactly remember the first time I heard his music - "I Got You (I Feel Good)" and "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" were always around - but I became aware of his groove and his style when I started investigating funk more seriously. It may have been when the guitarist in my high school stage band hipped me to John Scofield's A Go Go record, and the handwritten lead sheet for "Chank" (which I later covered in another high school era band) had the instruction "'Cold Sweat' beat." The discovery that Miles and Herbie's fusion explorations were fueled by the effect Brown had on '70s America increased my respect for him in the midst of an adolescent jazz snob phase. Back in the day when CIUT's What Is Hip radio show was 3 hours on Tuesday afternoons, split into an hour-and-a-half each of jazz and then other groove music, the "bridge" between the two was initially Steely Dan, and later James Brown. It meant every Tuesday at 4:30 one could get on the good foot.

It's hard to overstate the importance of James Brown. I don't necessarily listen to his records regularly, but between all the people he influenced, all the artists and genres his music helped to exist, he's definitely a staple of my musical diet. Most recently, on my Cruise Ship X, the drummer admitted - confessed may be the proper verb - to having never checked out James Brown. Immediately, I knew there was a problem.

The Hardest Working Man in Show Business, Soul Brother Number One, is no more. RIP James.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Dobbin's Den - Christmas Eve '06

*Oliver Jones - "Len's Den" (From Lush to Lively) [Dobbin's Den theme]
New Birth Brass Band - "Santa's Second Line" (Putumayo Presents: New Orleans Christmas)
Sphere - "The Surrey With the Fringe on Top" (Sphere)
Kenny Wheeler - "Gentle Piece" (Music for Large and Small Ensembles)
Gil Evans - "Stratusphunk" (Out of the Cool)
*Elizabeth Shepherd Trio - "Roots" (Elizabeth Shepherd Trio)
Kurt Elling - "Nature Boy" (The Messenger)
Don Byron - "Marc Anthony Speaks" (Do the Boomerang)
Paul Motian - "Hot House" (The Electric Bebop Band)
*Antoine Berthiaume - "Mr. Suozzi" (Ellen's Bar)
Steve Slagle - "Nostalgia in Times Square" (New New York)
Joe Lovano - "Big Ben" (Streams of Expression)
Fred Hersch Trio - "I'll Be Seeing You" (Live at the Village Vanguard)
John Hicks - "My Conception" (Music in the Key of Clark)
Von Freeman - "What is This Thing Called Love?" (The Improvisor)
Marty Ehrlich - "Dance No. 2" (News on the Rail)
Eric Dolphy/Booker Little - "Miss Ann" (Far Cry)
*B3 Kings
- "Dance O The Sugar Plum" (A Cellar Live Christmas)

* = CanCon

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Making a list, find the cost of opportunity

Hanukkah is over, Christmas and Kwanzaa are 'round the bend, and everybody's making lists of what went down this year. For my part, this is the first year in a long while where it would be entirely fallacious for me to generate my favourite releases of this year, never mind an overview of the year in general. Early in the year, with the strings project, I inhabited my own personal bubble, checking out a vast heritage of music otherwise unknown to me. Thanks to the blogosphere/Behearer movement, I spent a healthy amount of time in libraries digging for Threadgill, Hemphill, and others, instead of paying attention to charts and release listings. My big discoveries of the year were John Hollenbeck, Guillermo Klein, and Osvaldo Golijov. It's been a year of surprising experiences - I certainly never expected to commute between Montreal and New York on a regular basis, sit at the same table as Ethan Iverson and Adam Cruz watching Grimes, Cyrille & McHenry, nor did I ever envision myself playing Bob Marley's upright piano on my last port day of a cruise ship contract.

2007 will be a promising year, with the completion and fruition of BMI alone. Who knows what else it will bring. I realize I didn't blog about the reading session earlier this week; I find it difficult to write about it accurately, not knowing the names of most of the musicians who played our music, nor what the other composers intended in their work. There's some very interesting stuff going on, though - and I'm starting to become familiar with the various styles in the group of writers. More than the range of influence (which is large enough, I suppose), it's the multitude of ways similar influences can manifest themselves, and the infinite number of variations on a theme one can construct.

Happy holidays to all. I'll be on the air quite frequently the next few weeks, starting tomorrow morning, filling in for the esteemed Len Dobbin on Dobbin's Den (11 am-1 pm EST), and then three weeks consecutively of Jazz Euphorium (Wednesdays 8-10 pm EST).

Monday, December 18, 2006

NY travel journals - December, part 2

Friday, I took the time to actually play tourist, although once again in a non-standard fashion: I convinced a hostelmate to trek with me up to the Bronx to explore the Bronx Museum of the Arts and the Tropicalia exhibit they have running. I’ve been on a Brazil kick of late, but have been interested in the history and culture since high school. The tropicalia period coincides with Brazil’s rule by military regime in the late 60s and early 70s, and a lot of the work displayed this undertone of political commentary: partially due to the forced censorship, artists had to go over the heads of the government officials, but it’s this subtlety that gives the art its dimension. There was very little way in the way of traditional painting – many pieces were more involved with structure, the juxtaposition of media, and interactivity. The most intriguing piece was called Eden, a walkthrough installation with different compartments and rooms with wildly varying sensory experiences, from the dull to the completely deprived, with two caged parrots greeting you at the entry. Truly amazing in its scope. There was also a work involving porcelain bowls with coloured liquids the intrepid visitor was invited to taste. (I didn’t taste – there were no eyedroppers to use as per gallery instructions, and that’s a level of interactivity I don’t exactly desire).

I later indulged in two sets at Tonic. First up were Susie Ibarra and Roberto Rodriguez – collectively Electric Kulintang. The set opened with a video of Susie and Roberto’s travels to the Philippines, and their exploration of Filipino culture and the role of music within it. I’m always fascinated and humbled by the value of music in so many traditional cultures. There was a scene of a family ritual, with members young and old playing various sizes of Filipino percussion and gongs, and the sense of unity and celebration that it brought to the family was astounding. There was also a small children’s choir in a Filipino church that were wonderfully talented and emotive.

At the conclusion of the film, Susie sat behind a glittering pink drum kit, and Roberto sat on his cajon and manned the laptop. Over the course of the set, Susie would move from kit to kulintang (the traditional set of Filipino gongs) and keyboards/vocals, and Roberto would run from the cajon back to the kit. The juxtaposition of drumming styles defined their roles in the group, more generally: Susie the colourist, with immaculate touch and delicacy, but not afraid to cut loose when needed; Roberto the groover with a similar ear for nuance. The music was drawn from their new record, Dialects, and merged the traditional music they discovered with electronic flourishes. I’d never heard Roberto play kit before, but his Bonham-esque breaks made total sense to me knowing his postizo drum style; nor had I heard Susie sing before, and she has a very fragile, delicate voice (as she does when speaking).

The second set was Droid, a band I’ve heard of through ye olde MySpace. The only player whose rep I knew beforehand was keyboardist Adam Holzman, and it was a treat to see and hear him. It was kind of surprising that the keyboardist in a live-tronica band would be the one with the least amount of gear. Jordan McLean had a regular trumpet, pocket trumpet, and some weird trumpet-with-French-horn-valve-system hybrid, as well as an arsenal of pedals; Kyoshi Matsuyama had a cabinet taller than he; and ringleader/drummer Amir Ziv had a startling array of cymbals and cowbells, including a large garbage can lid converted to a ride.

It took me a while to figure out what they were going for, and to hear what the concept of the band was. I felt at times that the soundscapes Holzman and McLean created were separated from each other and conflicting, while it seemed to take a while for Matsuyama and Ziv to lock in. There were moments of development, and then when Holzman decided to unleash, Jan Hammer style, on his Moog Voyager, everything else seemed to gel for the rest of the set. I understand the desire to not groove outright for an hour, and to take listeners on a journey via subversion, but I think they could have been more effective. The other problem was sound, not in the house but on stage – they had a very brief and limited soundcheck, which is never a good idea with that amount of gear and processing.

Last night was (as titled by Joshua Sneider) the Pulse Hanukkah Slam. After once again walking the wrong damn way out of the Lower East Side subway, I made my way to the hallowed Poetry Club. It was great to be able to actually hear the music of BMI alums, as I always miss their bands otherwise (a tradition that seems to continue into 2007). All the pieces were strong and utilized the unique instrumentation to its fullest. I was surprised that, armed with a digital multifx pedal, Pete McCann got as warm a tone as he had last night. I finally had a chance to hear the acclaimed John McNeil, whose vulnerable tone imbued everything with melancholy. In one piece (can’t remember whose, sorry – maybe Joe’s) he was demanded to play a triumphant, very trumpet-y part, and he executed it well – the triumph wasn’t just musical but also physical as well, it seemed. The lighting in BPC made it difficult to see the details of many of the photos, and the mix wasn’t especially kind to the strings or reed doubles.

And on a tangentially-NYC-related note, RIP Ahmet Ertegun. Andy's got a short and sweet eulogy.

Friday, December 15, 2006

It's an invitation across the nation

Oh, what the hell. Here's my two cents in the Bad Plus survey extraordinaire:

1. Movie score. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Jon Brion).
2. TV theme. Animaniacs.
3. Melody. "Oceano" (Djavan); "No Surprises" (Radiohead); "Better Git Hit In Yo' Soul" (Mingus)
4. Harmonic language. "El Espejo" (Guillermo Klein - go bitonality); "My Funny Valentine" (arr. Brookmeyer - go chromaticism!)
5. Rhythmic feel. "Who's Gonna Help Brother Get Further?" (Lee Dorsey - Allen Toussaint and co.)
6. Hip-hop track. "Paragraph President" (Blackalicious); "Elektro4 for President" (Elektro4 & Bombay Sapphire feat. illyB)
7. Classical piece. The Miraculous Mandarin Suite (Bartók).
8. Smash hit. "Layla" acoustic version (Eric Clapton - a lot of people dislike this version, but I think Chuck Leavell is killing, and the laidback, rolling blues groove is great).
9. Jazz album. Speak Like a Child (Herbie - a front line of doubles, fantastic harmonies and textures in great compositions. One of the discs I never leave home without.)
10. Non-American folkloric group. Soweto Gospel Choir, Mystère des voix bulgares.
11. Book on music. A Cure for Gravity (Joe Jackson).

A) Name an surprising album (or albums) you loved when you were developing as a musician: something that really informs your sound but that we would never guess in a million years: The most formative record may be the least apparent one - 52nd Street (Billy Joel). Also, A Go Go (John Scofield with Medeski Martin & Wood).
B) Name a practitioner (or a few) who play your instrument that you think is underrated: Uri Caine; Fred Hersch.
C) Name a rock or pop album that you wish had been a smash commercial hit (but wasn’t, not really): Spirit Trail (Bruce Hornsby).
D) Name a favorite drummer, and an album to hear why you love that drummer: Tony on Herbie's Maiden Voyage. Honourable mention: Joey Baron on Dave Douglas' Soul on Soul - the disco 4-over-3 break on "Waltz Boogie" cracks me up every time.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

NY travel journals - December

Monday's train got in at a relatively decent hour, surprisingly. I went up to Smoke, as per routine, and the guest was once again Dr. Eddie Henderson. It was quite the humbling opening set - his flugel feature on "Portrait of Jenny" was sublime. Jeremy Pelt was there again, and blew well on Mike LeDonne's set-closing shuffle blues.

Tuesday was a scramble, trying to complete my piece before the BMI meeting, and then getting gouged by Kinko's printing rates. The meeting was co-led by Jim and Mike, although Jim really had the reins for most of it. I made a novice transposition error in my cut-and-paste haste, and the problems in the excerpt I brought were rather obvious, but it helped to focus the rest of the chart. I'm looking forward to the reading next week.

I finally set foot in the hallowed 55 Bar, and checked out the David Binney group who had just returned from Montreal. Mark Turner had fallen ill on Monday in Montreal, so skipped the New York gig. It was revelatory to hear Binney in an exposed quartet setting - my familiarity lies with his larger bands (South, Balance, and Welcome to Life) as well as his work with Michael Herring's sextet. I think I prefer the larger bands, because the blend of piano with guitar, and tenor with alto, gives a lushness to Binney's work, and softens some of the rough edges in his sound. The edges and angles were on full display last night, with Craig Taborn coaxing some roaring, beating textures out of the low end of the Rhodes, and Dan Weiss' scruffy percussion (including brushes on a copy of the Village Voice - quite possibly all that it's good for anymore - and drumming with what looked to be butter knives). Thomas Morgan's amp was running afoul with all sorts of buzz and hum, but he was sonically present - hammering out the odd-meter ostinati and unleashing quadruple-stop strums on a pedal-based tune, and weaving this beautiful solo on the closing ballad of the set (sounded like "Our Time Together," but I wasn't positive).

Today was spent making progress on the piece, and procuring a new NYC cell phone. It's been dark and gray all day, and I haven't been able to properly sleep - I found myself in a strange mood during dinner. The piece started life as a reflection on the ability to be in a large city, surrounded by stimuli and other people, and yet feel completely solitary, which seemed to be a very apt reflection of the day. I am meeting up with old friend Gordon Webster later tonight, so I'm not turning into a hermetic composer bug... yet.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Back on the tracks

I'm in the midst of the final preparations for this trip down to New York, wondering how the train will feel after a month of reprieve. I'm also looking forward to staying for an extended interval, getting to see people I haven't yet seen; having some actual time to explore and breathe instead of trying to pack it all into 30-odd hours.

My deadline-oriented nature became very clear recently. Because the November BMI meeting conflicted with my Toronto visit and Alex's final recital, I went a good month or so without a meeting, and therefore without an impetus to write. I've never been the disciplined composer - I need to be staring down a deadline (be it artificial or real) to really get the ball rolling. The past two weeks, I've been developing fragments towards various stages of completion, including one that's halfway done (and I hope to finish on the train). I admire those who can sit down every day and just write something. I don't have a codified compositional approach yet - each piece, for me, has its own methodology and its own life and timespan. Sometimes it'll come out by hand in one fell swoop, sometimes it'll take weeks or months moving things around in Sibelius. Sometimes I just have to abandon the whole damn thing because it doesn't work, or because I can't access that headspace anymore. I have unfinished ideas, written at a very tumultuous and angry time, and I can't find any solutions for them because I'm, thankfully, no longer angry in that manner.

My plans as they stand now (aside from tentative, unscheduled get-togethers with friends) (i.e. gigs you should go to):
Monday - Smoke jam whenever I get in
Tuesday 12 - BMI meeting; David Binney @ 55Bar
Sunday 17 - conflict: Pulse @ Bowery Poetry Club/Peter van Huffel @ 55Bar
Tuesday 19 - BMI reading

Recommendations - gigs, bars, cafés, print shops that won't mind flustered composers rushing out parts - are always welcome.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Industry Rule Number Four Thousand and Eighty

Pat has a rundown of the 49th annual Grammy Jazz nominees. I too am glad to see Ornette, Brookmeyer and Jim McNeely nominated (and, like last year, the Large Ensemble field is a tight one), but I'm not really sure that this award, such as it is nowadays, matters much to many of those nominated. The Latin Jazz category is solid as well; and I was actually very surprised to see Sex Mob nominated in the Contemporary Jazz category, which is usually where all the smooth cats go. Ideally, it's a battle of the trumpets: Bernstein vs. Christian Scott. The Flecktones will probably walk away with it.

When I was a young lad, I used to follow the Grammys, AMAs, and even World Music Awards fairly religiously, to keep my stock of useless music trivia up to date. As I grew up, my tastes changed, my involvement in music and awareness of the music industry expanded, and my interest faded to indifference, and finally, by senior year of high school, apathy. I came to realize that the awards I really cared about were handed out the night before in the untelevised ceremonies, and that I didn't have to suffer through three hours of televised pomp, circumstance and saccharine - I could just check the Internet. My bewilderment at the criteria for choosing the nominees still exists, though I realize it's an exercise in futility. The only really "new" artists in Best New Artist are Chris Brown and Corinne Bailey Rae; haven't Carrie Underwood and James Blunt been out for years now? My hopes for the category: Rae or Imogen Heap. Neither of them will win, I don't think.

The NARAS committee has officially jumped the shark with this category, though:

Category 7

Best Pop Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocal
(For established duos or groups, with vocals. Singles or Tracks only.)

  • My Humps
    The Black Eyed Peas
    Track from: Monkey Business [A&M Records] (ow, my brain... this does not belong here, on so many grounds)

  • I Will Follow You Into The Dark
    Death Cab For Cutie
    Track from: Plans [Atlantic Records] (these guys are pop now? Alright...)

  • Over My Head (Cable Car)
    The Fray
    Track from: How To Save A Life [Epic] (Is this the Gray's Anatomy theme? If not, then I have no clue who they are.)

  • Is It Any Wonder?
    Track from: Under The Iron Sea [Interscope Records] (Keane put out a new record?)

  • Stickwitu
    The Pussycat Dolls
    Track from: PCD [A&M Records] (Well, at least there's a discernibly, sung melody on this)
I look forward to the Gummys and the Idolator Jackin' Pop results.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Apt timing

Today markes the 17th anniversary of the Ecole Polytechnique Massacre, in which a gunman murdered fourteen women, in the name of protesting affirmative action, which he felt kept him out of engineering school, and feminists. December 6 has become a day of remembrance in Canada, especially in Quebec, and marks the culmination of the White Ribbon Campaign, to combat violence against women.

Memories of the senseless shooting were evoked a few months ago with the incident at Dawson College, in which a gunman wounded many and fatally shot freshman Anastasia De Sousa. Tomorrow, at Metropolis, a benefit concert will be held for the Anastasia De Sousa Memorial Fund and Kids Help Phone/Jeunesse, J'écoute. Performers include The Stills, Fred Everything, D-Shade from Shades of Culture, Heavy Traffic, Broken Palace, DJ Majess, Schmelvis and Soulvation
. Full disclosure: my friend's band, The Beautiful Unknown, is also on the roster. Regardless of music taste (of the bands I've heard of, most are hard rock or hip-hop), it's a worthy cause. If you can't make the concert (or choose not to), at least donate to the fund above. I didn't know Anastasia, and never went to Dawson, but that doesn't matter at all. It's important to remember, and take steps towards moving forward and trying to prevent similar scenarios.

On a lighter note, I'm hosting Jazz Euphorium tonight. CKUT, 8 pm EST.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Just the facts and pass the bucket

The hivemind has spoken, and the infamous "list" has been turned into a Wiki-powered website, called The Behearer (in honour of the late Dewey Redman). It's still in a relatively skeletal stage, so all you Wiki freaks and jazzheads, help flesh it out.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Buzzing in the hivemind

December has announced its arrival rather forcefully - freezing rain and black ice here, storms in the Midwest. Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.

Blogdonia's own DJA, along with fellow big band explorers Sherisse Rogers and Charles Waters, are featured in this NewMusicBox feature. Kudos to all three, and especially Sherisse for her upcoming IAJE premiere. I am now green with envy over Darcy's record collection, visible in the video feature. Charles' music is the least familiar to me of the three, but sounds very much in line with the oft-talked-about '73-'90 list and the music stemming from that. Rife with CEF, I tells ya.

It seemed the end was nigh for the Village Voice's renowned Pazz and Jop Poll, especially with the dismissal of the esteemed braintrust Robert Christgau, but it has been resuscitated by Idolator, and is open to various contributors (pending editorial approval). I look forward to the inaugural edition. [via Zoilus]

Helen Spitzer offers a reflection on the social aspects of radio. The joy of discovery is wonderful (and all-too-rare in a time of cultural monopoly and predictability), and there is something special about sitting in front of one's receiver, perhaps sipping a hot beverage, and not knowing what will pour out of the speakers next. I try to convey the elation that comes from digging through the CKUT library and other resources, finding previously unknown-to-me gems of music, whenever I program radio. I have nothing against the "simultaneous futurepast" that allows me to catch WeFunk after my own Friday night commitments (gigs or sleep, normally), or the series of tubes that let me tune into CIUT's What Is Hip? while I'm hundreds of kliks away.

And for the Montreal ex-pats that haven't yet heard, here sounds the death knell for Avenue du Parc. My opinion of this whole debacle is here (scroll to comments), and is now flushed out with a long list of bilingual expletives for this bunch of municipal politicos. Aside from the cultural importance of Parc, it's really the initial lack and subsequent dismissal of public consultation that enrages me. 40K signatures to the contrary and the motion still gets a governmental green-light? And we have the audacity to consider ourselves democratic? Come on...

Monday, November 27, 2006

I want you to believe every word I say

A long week ahead, in the midst of applying for my Master's at various different schools. I have an overnight session booked on Wednesday for the pre-screening tapes. Yeehaw. I'll be elated when all the apps are in and December 1 has passed.

Also: I'm playing with the boys at the Brutopia Bistro (i.e. the basement, also accessible by 1215 Crescent) jam tonight, as I have for most of November. Tonight's lineup will be sax superhero Colin Power on alto; myself on keyboards; Jim Bennett, returned to us from BC, on bass; and our gracious host, Dennis Lee on drums.


In my Monday haze, I introduced World Skip the Beat as Jazz Euphorium. Playlist:
Bembeya Jazz - "Sanfaran" (Bembeya)
Ali Farka Touré - "Mahini Me" (The Source)
Richard Bona - "Dina Lam (Incantation)" (Munia/The Tale)
Daara J - "Si la vie n'est pas belle" (Boomerang)
Ihashi Elimhlophe - "Kulukhuni" (A Taste of the Indestructible Beat of Soweto compilation)
Oumou Sangare - "Ya La" (Mali Lolo! Stars of Mali compilation)
Carlinhos Brown - "Bog la Bag" (Alfagamabetizado)
Trio Mocoto - "Kibe Cru" (Samba Rock)
Manito - "Na Baixa da Sapateiro" (Black Rio compilation)
*Moksha Ensemble - "Paan-masala" (Lady Sun)
Zakir Hussain/John McLaughlin - "You and Me" (Making Music)
Kumar Sanu - "Ed Ladki Ko Dekha" (Bollywood compilation)
Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan - "Mera Sonha Sajan" (The Rough Guide to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan)
Taraf de Haïdouks - "Duba, Duba...Si Hora" (Honourable Brigands, Magic Horses & Evil Eye)
Señor Coconut vs. Koçani Orkestar - "Usti, Usti Baba" (Electric Gypsyland compilation)
*Jeszcze Raz - "Ostatni Dzien (la dernière valse)" (Balagane)
*Luck Mervil
- "Ti Peyi A" (Ti Peyi A)
Amadou et Mariam - "Artistiya" (Dimanche à Bamako)
Felix Baloy - "Baila Mi Son" (Baila Mi Son)
*Roberto Lopez Project - "Oye Latino" (Qué Pasa?)
Cheikh Lô - "Bambay Gueej" (Bambay Gueej)
*Roberto Lopez Project - "Resistencia" (Qué Pasa?) [under talk]
Mariza - "Por Ti" (Fado: Exquisite Passion compilation)
Orchestra Baobab - "Sutukun" (Specialist in All Styles)
Toots and the Maytals - "Funky Kingston" (The Very Best of Toots and the Maytals)

Monday, November 20, 2006

Reflections on Toronto

First, the setlist of the Tranzac gig:

Set I:
As of Now (David Ryshpan)
Dupla Traição (Djavan)
First Mentor (Michael Herring)
Solar (Miles Davis)
Transit Memory (David Ryshpan)

Set II:
Way to Blue (Nick Drake)
Kwela P'Kwana (Misha Mengelberg)
Settled in Shipping (David Ryshpan)

Thanks to the small few who came out, including Nate. It was a pleasure to play with Michael and Nick. The Tranzac is an intimate room, with a sectioned layout that reminds me vaguely of Café L'Utopik here. I can see why many improvising musicians gravitate towards the space.

I will say my ambivalence in the previous post has faded. Driving through the city, especially Thornhill (the suburb I grew up in), had a very foreign air about it. I mean, I haven't been away that long, yet it seems every open space that once existed now has or will have a building or many. And what the hell are they doing to the Royal Conservatory of Music, on Bloor? On the drive back from Tranzac, we passed Remenyi's piano store on the left, and the atrocity on my right appalled me. Gone is the majestic church whose doors I passed through every Saturday for four years, and transformed into some sort of modern black-and-white spiky vomit - the excremental crossing of Frank Gehry with a molecular model.

Yes, there's lots of great musicians there that I wish I got to play with and hear more often, and I truly do miss the Rex jam sessions and Jim McBirnie's Saturday living room hang. But unless I was going to return to playing rock with guys like Muzo or Derek and live in Kensington Market or on College Street, there's really not much there for me to return to. And if Toronto insists on aping NYC, with its attempt to turn the Eaton's Centre into Times Square North, I'd much rather live in NYC. All the theatre ads in the Star proclaim the departures of shows, and the runs of the newcomers aren't as long as they once were. Nate said that the one-two punch of 9/11 and SARS really hit the city hard, and the cultural environment hasn't recovered; but there seems to be a complete sea change away from live music, across the board. In New York, Detour has changed hands, and I've heard rumours of other venues there either temporarily suspending music or rumbles of worse news. Maybe one of the NYC bloggers can expand on this.

But riding the 80 up Parc (and it will damn well remain Avenue du Parc, no matter how much posturing our municipal politicos put up) with Alex and Ben today, post-rehearsal, on the way for some Indian food, I realized just how much I love this city.

Friday, November 17, 2006

A homecoming... of sorts

In a matter of hours, I'll be heading to Toronto, mainly for a family event but also to play a gig at Tranzac Friday evening at 7:30, with my friends and accomplished musicians Michael Herring and Nick Fraser. It's an evening of firsts: my first time at Tranzac (as an attendee or performer); my first time ever playing with Nick, though I've seen him play so frequently these past few months I feel as though I have; the first time a lot of this music is going to be played in my "hometown."

It'll be an interesting visit, as I haven't been back in about two and a half years, a rather tumultuous time period in the city's cultural agenda. Toronto has its own indie-rock boom going on, thanks to, among others, the Broken Social Scene, and finally musicians like Herring, Fraser, and Joe Sorbara's Association of Improvising Musicians of Toronto are gaining a foothold in the arts circles. There's also this whole buzzword of "Torontopia" which sounds nice, but I don't really understand what it's about. Yet two of the legendary jazz institutions have shut their doors, for better or for worse (and there's valid arguments on both sides), and I've heard off-and-on reports of artistic stagnation.

I've always felt that Toronto is a city far more accommodating of insularity than Montreal -- it's possible to function in a bubble. In Montreal, I'm not a film buff, but the Film Festival shuts down the city. Jazz Fest in Toronto was limited to Nathan Phillips Square and a handful of other venues, and it really was possible to ignore its presence. (I use the past tense because I haven't really been paying attention since I've lived here in Montreal.) On the other hand, Toronto always seemed to have a more consistent, if smaller, audience for creative music, whereas Montreal composer Charles Papasoff can rightly proffer the song title "You Only Love Me Two Weeks a Year."

I harbour ambivalence about Toronto - Kensington Market's cool, and there are some wonderful musicians there, a list of friends and colleagues too long to enumerate here. But, as of my last visit, I still find it overbearing, cold, and sterile a lot of the time. Maybe on this visit, that will change.

Monday, November 13, 2006

World Skip the Beat playlist - November 13, 2006

Curumin (feat. Lino Crizz) - "Vem Menina" (Achados e Perdidos)
Susana Baca y Gilberto Gil - "Estrela" (Travesiás)
Tribalistas - "Passe em Casa" (Tribalistas)
Daara J (feat. Rokia Traoré) - "Le Cycle" (Boomerang)
Soweto Gospel Choir - "Vuma" (Voices From Heaven)
*Alpha Yaya Diallo - "Politik" (Djama)
King Sunny Ade - "Afai Bowon" (The Best of the Classic Years)
Hossam Ramzy - "El-Hawzi" (Egyptian Raï)
Le Mystère des voix bulgares - "Mur Stho Sme Se Razigrali" (Ritual)
Kálmán Balogh and the Gypsy Cimbalom Band - "Hora de la Bim-Bim" (And the Gypsy Cimbalom Band)
Balkan Beat Box - "Ya Man" (Balkan Beat Box)
Tabla Beat Science - "Sacred Channel" (Live in San Francisco at Stern Grove)
*Afrodizz - "Face" (Kif Kif)
*autorickshaw - "Ganamurthy" (Four Higher)
Orlando Cachaito Lopez - "Tumbanga" (Orlando Cachaito Lopez)
Gilberto Gil - "Zumbi" (Z300 Anos de Zumbi)
Spanish Harlem Orchestra - "Un Gran Dia En El Barrio" (Across 110th Street)
*Galitcha - "Chuk Dhay" (Blé d'Inde: Celebration)
Interview with Kuljit Sodhi of Galitcha
*Galitcha - "Blé d'Inde" (Blé d'Inde: Celebration)
*Galitcha - "Ik Mela" (Blé d'Inde: Celebration)

* = Canadian content

Friday, November 10, 2006

Jazz Amuck playlist - November 10, 2006

I had some issues with the mic mixer, which accounted for the super-long opening set. No one likes to hear that much talking, anyway...

Kyle Bruckmann's Wrack - "The System Cannot Withstand Close Scrutiny" (Intents and Purposes - 482 Music)
Mark Feldman - "Father Demo Square" (What Exit - ECM)
Farina/Gray/McBride - "Heart of Mica" (Out Trios Vol. 4: Almanac - Atavistic)
*Ken Aldcroft's Convergence Ensemble - "A Refreshing Night/A Union Theme" (The Great Divide - Trio Records)
Sun Ra - "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" (Springtime in Chicago - Leo)
Rudresh Mahanthappa - "The Decider" (Codebook - Pi)
*Quinsin Nachoff - "There and Back" (Magic Numbers - Songlines)
*Thom Gossage Other Voices - "February" (5 - Effendi)
Chick Corea - "Matrix" (Now He Sings, Now He Sobs - Blue Note)
Thomas Chapin Trio - "Ticket to Ride" (Ride - Playscape)
Whit Dickey - "Vortex" (Sacred Ground - Clean Feed)
Skidmore/Osborne/Surman - "Where's Junior?" (SOS - Ogun/Disk Union)
Vandermark 5 - "Aperture" (A Discontinuous Line - Atavistic)
*Lina Allemano Four - "Concentric" (Concentric - Lumo)
Art Ensemble of Chicago - "Odwalla" (Non-Cognitive Aspects of the City: Live at Iridium - Pi)
Jane Ira Bloom - "Monk's Rec Room" (The Red Quartets - Arabesque)

* = Canadian content

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Hosting duties

Here's my on-air schedule from now 'til the end of 2006 (all times EST):

Friday, November 10 (i.e. tomorrow) - Jazz Amuck (9-11 am)
Monday, November 13 - World Skip the Beat (12 noon-2 pm)
Wednesday, November 15 - Jazz Euphorium (8-10 pm)
Monday, November 27 - World Skip the Beat (12 noon-2 pm)
Wednesday, November 29 - Jazz Euphorium (8-10 pm)
Wednesday, December 5 - Jazz Euphorium (8-10 pm)

Playlists will appear here, except for JE playlists which will be posted on the blog, linked above. And of course, feel free to tune into all these shows when I'm not hosting, as well.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Talking points

I've finally tracked down Graham Lock's book Forces in Motion, which I suppose is generally regarded as an easier entry into Braxton's universe than the Tri-Axium Writings or the Composition Notes. I'm about halfway through the book at this point, and while I appreciate Braxton's work (at least, the little I've heard), I'm not really finding anything I want to take away from it and incorporate into my own music. I do admire his honesty and diplomacy, though I find he, much like Ornette, couches his processes behind dense terminology. The book reinforces my belief that, regardless of whether you like Braxton's music (and this applies to other neglected masters like Cecil Taylor, Henry Threadgill, Sun Ra and others), his importance cannot be swept under the rug, and to come to terms with creative music, as it stands now, is to come to terms with his contributions to the continuum. Braxton's also vastly grown in the intervening twenty years; I'm curious to read newer texts, should they exist.

Having recently read Howard Mandel's Future Jazz as well, it seems like neither the AACM and its offspring (the Art Ensemble, Threadgill, Braxton, Wadada Leo Smith) nor its satellites (St. Louis' Black Artists Group, Horace Tapscott's efforts out west) have really influenced anyone outside direct contact with it, and I wonder why it hasn't affected a larger scope. Braxton seems to hint at some controversial attitudes within the AACM which may have been a factor here.

Zoilus points out that the newly elected governor of Massachusetts is the son of Arkestra vet, Pat Patrick. It's after the end of the world... don't you know that yet?


I'll be filling in for john b on CKUT's Jazz Amuck Friday (11/10) morning, 9 am EST. As always, you can tune in online or download from the archives later. I'll also be hosting World Skip the Beat (Mondays, 12 noon-2) and Jazz Euphorium (Wednesdays, 8-10 pm) this month as well. Dates to come shortly.


About to run out and check out the Lina Allemano Four (Lina - tpt; Brodie West - alto; Andrew Downing - bass; Nick Fraser - drums) at Casa tonight. My friend and colleague Gordon Allen (who, like Lina, also appeared at FONT this year) is debuting a new project, wherein he plays pocket trumpet and duets with soundscape artist Esther B. I've never heard Lina live, so this should be an eventful evening.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

BMI/NY travel journals: episode 5

...or, Bang on a Cantaloupe.

Monday was notable, not only for the longest and most confusing US customs stop to date, but also for Dr. Eddie Henderson's appearance at the Smoke jam session. I made it in time for the majority of the opening set, and had the honour of hearing Henderson weave his way through "Surrey With the Fringe on Top" on crisp, Miles-ian harmon muted trumpet, marvelous flugelhorn on Larry Willis' "To Wisdom the Prize" and his ballad feature (I forget which tune it was), closing with a relatively obscure Wayne Shorter tune, "Edda." Jeremy Pelt was there, once again, and was obviously appreciative of Henderson's playing. The jam was populated mostly by singers - I was one of three or four piano players in the house. It was cool that I got to play a lot - and to an extent I miss playing with singers, as I've done it with decreasing frequency over the past few years - but I was totally fried by the trip down.

Tuesday's meeting was spent looking at Jim McNeely's music from some recent records, and him talking about his background and development. As he tells it, composition was a secondary pursuit for him and he only really started taking it seriously after working with Brookmeyer in Mel Lewis' band. That inspired me, as a pianist-composer still a little unsure of the order and emphasis of that hyphenate.

I then headed down to the Cantaloupe Music showcase as part of CMJ. R. Luke DuBois opened the show with a "DJ set" that alternated spacious waves of processed piano and keyboards with more electro-based rhythmic work. His mini-sets were interspersed throughout the night, almost as intermission music, I suppose. I found it so captivating that the soundchecks for the upcoming artists irritated me, to a degree. The first band up was Gutbucket, a four-piece band featuring outgoing Cantaloupe honcho Ken Thomson on alto. It sounded very Zorn-influenced to me, with its mix of punk, metal, screech-and-squeal, and Balkan dances gone awry. It was unrelenting, almost to the point of being monotonous, and Ken's spaz-dancing appeared to get in the way of his sound; the ballad of the set, a really great piece, was marred by an overly squawky tone and intonation issues that may have been avoided if he moved around less. Then again, I couldn't get into Keith Jarrett for a long time due to the duck-calling vocalizations and the body movements. There was a fair amount of rock-star posturing involved - maybe I missed the irony, but it didn't always mesh with the music. Visiting the Gutbucket MySpace, I liked the tunes there.

Gutbucket were followed by guitarist/composer Dominic Frasca. The "virtuoso" label applies here - utilizing tapping and other techniques associated, in my mind anyway, with Stanley Jordan, Michael Hedges and Kaki King, Frasca performed hypnotic pieces that grew in a minimalist way, and were entirely musical. I'm not sure what purpose the Roland gear and the laptop served - and that's a compliment, for the technology to be that transparent. The first piece (of two) ended in an uncharacteristically violent slapping of the guitar, but the sound was still pure and relatively calm - just louder than what had preceded it.

The centerpiece of the show were "special guests" Ethel, a string quartet initially known to me through their collaborations with Joe Jackson and Todd Rundgren. They epitomized the idea(l) of rhythmic authority, laying back on the bluesy phrases, attacking the Celtic/bluegrass sections with gusto, and just in general being one of the groovier string quartets I've heard. The pieces composed and/or arranged by members of the quartet demonstrated their intimate and idiomatic knowledge of not only their instruments, but their ensemble, and their familiarity with genres outside of classical music aids their musical sense tremendously. Don Byron's "Four Thoughts on Marvin Gaye" was also a highlight, with its second movement not hiding its debt to "I Heard It Through the Grapevine."

So Percussion (who I missed when they were here as part of Pop Montreal) played music from their new album, Amid the Noise. I was taken by the way they seamlessly incorporated electronics into their setup, their stage and sonic presence. They mentioned one piece was referred to as "drum-tronic," with its out-of-phase d'n'b beat, but the idea of percussion-tronic sums up the aesthetic they presented quite well. There were some instrumental combinations providing effects I'd never thought of before - the mixture of triangles and vibes sounding like a glockenspiel's big brother, for instance.

Due to my early train and lack of sleep, I skipped out on 1-Bit Music. I'm sure it was fascinating - it sounds like an intriguing concept, one that can be hit-or-miss in a live setting. Besides, the argument that broke out on the 2 express train, post-Halloween parade, was a lot more humourous. There seems to be a need for a Miss Manners for the MTA (or métro, or other alliterative public transit system).

I'm not back in NYC until December; while I'll miss the creative music that gets presented there, I welcome the chance to re-appraise my Montreal cohorts with new perspectives and fresh ears.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Off my beaten path

My fortress at Yellow Door: accordion, piano, shakers, melodica, and the Yellow Door gnome.

Last night's gig with singer-songwriter-guitarist Michael Reinhart was a real pleasure. Having focused on composition so intensely the last little while, it was a nice balance to play stripped down music. What was truly revelatory was that the songs bear many of similarities to each other, but can be vastly different; it's the little variations within a more macro structure that reflect the true art of songwriting. It also marked my debut on accordion - Michael studied the instrument for eight years, and what I had been playing on melodica in rehearsal evoked faint reminders of it in Michael's ear. I asked him if I could try the accordion (a beautiful Randall), just for kicks, and it wound up meshing with the sound of the songs better than the melodica did. (No left-hand buttons were harmed in the performance of this material. I'm not that adventurous.)

We were joined on the set by two wonderful singers, Robin Gorn and Sarah Wendt. When the music is so sparse, any addition of texture and colour stands out, and these two tender voices enhanced the music perfectly. The rotating guests (and, in my case, rotating instruments) kept things interesting musically. Solo singer/songwriters (and solo instrumentalists, for that matter) can sometimes get bogged down in monotony. Sarah also sang and played French horn with opener Matt Tomlinson, who has great energy and humour in his writing. I look forward to hearing, seeing and playing with them all again.

Off to New York again tomorrow. Hopefully no ghouls will plague the train ride. On the last return trip, a nun (presumably - she was wearing a very similar habit to Mother Teresa) was removed from the train at the Canadian border, and no one was very sure why. Dr. Eddie Henderson's the special guest at the Smoke jam on Monday night, and there's all manner of events All Hallow's Eve - if I can still score a ticket, I'd like to check out the MMW/Sharon Jones bash at Hammerstein, but I may just head over to Tonic for the CMJ Cantaloupe showcase, featuring R. Luke DuBois, So Percussion, Ethel and more.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Mojo malfunction

I'm at home, listening to the CBC broadcast from the tribute to Jimmy Smith concert at la Maison de la culture Frontenac, featuring Vanessa Rodrigues, Martin K. Petersen and Kevin Dean. Kevin is currently at the organ, playing and singing "Got My Mojo Workin'." And the visual I have in my head is rather disturbing.

(Kevin was my composition prof at McGill, and during our final class concert he was sitting at the back of the club in a sweater, drinking port and smoking a cigar. He often regaled us with various stories of growing up in Iowa... he's got sort of that congenial fatherly vibe about him, and this sounds more comedic than lusty, thankfully.)

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Shades of jazz

Last night I trudged out in the downpour to witness the legendary Andrew Cyrille and Henry Grimes with younger master Bill McHenry. After walking in, dripping wet and having the Standard folk ask me if I needed a napkin to dry off, I spotted Ethan Iverson towards the back of the bar. We chatted for a little while before the set started, as the muso hang expanded to include Adam Cruz and Chris Higgins.

I came in with some preconceptions based on my limited knowledge of these' musicians output. Between Grimes' work with Sonny Rollins and Albert Ayler in the '60s (and his revisiting of Ayler's material with Marc Ribot a couple of years ago), and Cyrille's associations with Cecil Taylor and David Murray, I was expecting a decent amount of firebreathing. Instead, I marvelled at the juxtaposition of Grimes' hellbent-for-leather approach and Cyrille's restraint, only really uncoiling in the final tune of the night, Keith Jarrett's "Shades of Jazz." His touch and conception on the set harkened back, to my ears, through Billy Higgins and Ed Blackwell to Max Roach and even Baby Dodds and early New Orleans second-liners. Somewhere in "Evidence," I believe, he covered the whole area of the snare drum, much in the New Orleans style. I only know Bill McHenry's work on the Guillermo Klein Live in Barcelona record, so to hear his large and dry tone in person was a revelation. Throughout the set, McHenry executed some astounding tonguing and alternate fingering combinations - as if his sax were being routed through an Ableton Live repeater.

All the tunes followed a macro structure of head-solo-head, but the improv was largely gestural and sonic, especially in the original compositions. Grimes largely relied on arco bowing and torrents of overtones, but when it came to walking (as on "Evidence") he did so with ferocity and dedication. It looked like one big paw just walloping the strings. Cyrille swung his ass off, too. Truly a special evening - I won't forget the final sparring in "Shades of Jazz," with McHenry standing in the middle of a musical tennis match between Grimes and Cyrille.

Setlist: The Son of Alfalfa (Grimes - an Ornette/Rollins-ish head); Fish Story (Grimes - very open, dark piece); Evidence (Monk); Aubade (Cyrille - a song to be played in the morning, apparently, though it seemed equally suited for the grey weather last evening); Shades of Jazz (Jarrett - presumably in tribute to Dewey Redman?).

Ethan has more.


A footnote to my NYC travels: the buskers and beggars in the subway are a lot more colourful and talented than the ones here in Montreal (never mind their prevalence in NYC - I think I've only had one interruption-free ride). Of note: the Mahavishnu-esque violinist in Penn that seems to be playing every Monday night; the panhandler that broke out into "Ain't Too Proud To Beg" with decent delivery; and a long-winded fellow who tried to muster a Grandmaster Flash-style rap at two in the morning with inadvertent humour.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

BMI/NY travel journals: episode 4

live-blogged from the hostel, Tuesday afternoon, as others are watching some crappy Adam Sandler movie (50 First Dates, maybe?)

morning, while waiting in line at Gare Centrale, I heard someone call my name. I looked up and saw Jason, former Effusion beat-boxer, getting in line for the ride as well. It was cool to be in a friend's company for a change, and we talked about our music projects, modern dancers, and various other things. The border officers seemed a bit puzzled that we knew each other but weren't travelling together.

After checking into the hostel, I changed my routine and went to the Cutting Room jam, led by Richie Cannata. It's a nice room in Chelsea - the layout reminds me a little bit of the lower level of Spectrum, but not as big. The house band opened with a two song set - "Mr. Magic" (oh, the cruise ship memories) and some Jeff Beck tune I didn't know the name of. The house band was good and tight, but everybody's bag of tricks became evident pretty quickly. Usually it takes more than two solos to figure out everybody's licks and become able to guess where they're going.

The jam started with a singer who sounded like an incarnation of Janis doing "Piece of my Heart" and "Respect," and some neo-soul-looking (skullcap - check; shades - check) and sounding dude doing "Sir Duke." As the horn line started I audibly lamented that the tunes I wanted to play had already been done. I was called up, but the tune chosen was one I didn't know - "Baby I Love You" (and not the Andy Kim tune... anyone know the original artist?). Sat it out, though I figured it out in one pass of verse/chorus. The next tune was "Me and Bobby McGee" which I got to do the country-rock piano stuff on. Of course, next thing I know, Richie calls the house band back up and they proceed to do "Superstition/Sex Machine." Of course, I'm sitting there thinking, That's what I wanted to play! I kind of got the feeling that, like many other jam sessions, if they don't know you they're not going to do you any favours, which now leaves me wondering how much time I actually want to invest in cultivating relationships in the Cutting Room scene when the vibe at Smoke is a lot more enjoyable and conducive to what I want to be doing.

Today was the first reading session for BMI, and I was excited - both to hear the work of everyone else in the group and to have my music read by musicians of very high calibre. Aside from a "harmolodic" mixup of the flute part being played on alto, it went pretty smoothly (and sounded pretty much how I thought it would, thankfully). The BMI group is a great hang, and I'm really happy to be involved with it.

Tonight - a cross-town adventure to check out Henry Grimes, Andrew Cyrille and Bill McHenry. More to follow.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

BMI/NY travel journals: episode 3

The train to New York on Monday was packed. This was the first time in three weeks that the threat of a sold-out train was actually true. In fact, someone was even in the seat next to me. Luckily, it was Peter Nevins, graphic artist for Gillian Welch, among others, and a quirky singer-songwriter (utilizing bouzouki in lieu of a guitar). We swapped music and stories the entire ride down, which made the ride - at certain points - seem faster. At others, like the common waiting-for-every-other-train-to-pass-us-on-the-single-track, it was as interminably slow as ever. I was so fatigued from the gig at Upstairs, or rather the lack of sleep between the end of the gig and my hour of arrival at the train station, that I managed to doze off at certain points during the trip, which only made me feel worse as we pulled into Penn, twelve hours later. I checked into the hostel with absolutely no inclination of going out, even though one of my roommates tipped me off that KRS-One was playing at SOB's. I had to skip out on it and get some sleep.

Tuesday, pre-meeting, was the usual breakfast at Lenny's, although accompanied by being accosted to buy some woman a bagel. This was the first meeting that Jim McNeely has run this year. I really appreciate the open workshop aspect of it, and Jim facilitates discussion quite well. Watching him read the hell out of transposed scores and grab some massive trombone voicings with his left hand alone was pretty impressive, too. I'm really excited for next week's reading session - not only to hear my music played but to hear what everyone else is doing, too.

I headed down to Tonic (after waiting forever for an F train - Steve Wilson was right when he said at IAJE in January, "Man, we've had a transit strike and we still can't get these F trains to run on time!") to see Floriculture play. It was great to see Aryeh, Jacob, Melissa and Natasha again. The set started late as Joan As Police Woman went overtime. The show began with a duo between alto saxophonist Chris Mannigan and violist Stephanie Griffin, which then led to a chamber work for two sopranos and string quartet, all by the same composer, Tony Prabowo. The text was in Indonesian, but its setting was for the most part in line with many Western composers and would have fit well in the Sirius program from a couple of weeks ago. Pitch ululations hinting at exoticism only appear in the second soprano's part, and were beautifully executed. One of the recurring motives of the piece is the use of artificial harmonics, which at points reminded me of the "difference-tone" movement of Ligeti's Ten Pieces for Wind Quintet.

There was then a collaboration between Momenta String Quartet and Floriculture, written by pianist Carl Maguire, who prepared the Baldwin baby grand to alternately create noise effects
or emulate kalimba and balafon textures. I unfortunately didn't catch much of Floriculture's proper set because I was fading fast; though in the time I spent waiting for yet another F train, I could have stayed and heard more music. What I did hear of Floriculture was fascinating - Chris Mannigan was able to make his saxophone sound as if it were being played backwards; Aryeh and Dan Weiss hook up fantastically - no surprise given Aryeh excelled with Vijay Iyer's music out at Banff, and Dan's facility with Indian music and odd meter is astounding; and Carl's got a really intriguing compositional voice, which I look forward to hearing more of.

Wednesday's train was rather empty, and as such, ran on time - it only took ten hours from Penn to Gare Centrale, and border officials were only on the train for about half an hour.

Next week, there's quite a promising show I'm hoping to make: US FREE - Andrew Cyrille, Henry Grimes and Bill McHenry - at the Jazz Standard.

RIP Bernard Primeau

On the train back home yesterday, I found out Bernard Primeau died at the age of 67, from cancer. I had seen him in the spring, on a panel at McGill about the Quebec music business, and he looked as robust and as strong as ever.

I knew Bernard more through reputation than through his music, to be totally honest. I don't think I've ever seen him play, and if I've heard his music it's only been in passing. I did meet him at a couple of Jazz Fest press conferences I attended through CKUT, and he was always smiling and cracking jokes. The trio of him, the late bassist and Montreal jazz institution Charlie Biddle and pianist Oliver Jones were always in great spirits. I always thought of Bernard as the Montreal equivalent of an Art Blakey - he was always taking in new talent into his bands, usually fresh out of one of the universities here. When he spoke at that panel about the music business, he was honest and frank, and I appreciated that. He just won the Prix Oscar Peterson for contributions to Canadian jazz at this summer's Montreal Jazz Festival. What timing.

Rest in peace, Bernie.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Setlist October 8, 2006

What an exciting gig. Upstairs was packed for all three sets, and the crowd was quite responsive (except for the usual handful of loud talkers). My MiniDisc for some reason ran out of battery, even though it said it was fully charged, so I only got the first set recorded. As Alex and I work together and our musical personalities grow, the similarities and differences become more apparent, and that is one of the most important aspects of the band, I feel.

Set I:

Settled In Shipping (David Ryshpan)
'Round and Round (Alex Mallett)
Bella (David Ryshpan) [premiere - this piece is a setting of a Pablo Neruda poem from The Captain's Verses]
Love Is the Reason (Alex Mallett)
Dupla Traição (Djavan) [premiere - I fell in love with this song from the solo guitar/voice version on the Ao Vivo DVD]

Set II:
Erghen Diado (Peter Lyondev)
Blues for Claude (Alex Mallett) [premiere - atmospheric mood interlude] -->
Law Years (Ornette Coleman) [premiere] -->
Pleasure Is All Mine (Björk)
Make Me an Offer (Alex Mallett) [premiere - Alex wrote this out at Banff this summer]
Enumeration (David Ryshpan)

Set III:
Solar (Miles Davis)
The Boxer (Paul Simon)
Ramblin' (Ornette Coleman)

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Future of Music Coalition summit - Day 2

I started Friday with "The New Deciders: Metafilters, Blogs, Podcasts" panel, which I suppose was a little redundant given the blogger panel that concluded Thursday's session. Of course, a lot of mention was made of Pitchfork Media, their infamous ratings and their taste-making ability, but Patti Schmidt did a great job of keeping the conversation open. The panelists agreed that maybe there aren't any "new" deciders but that the proliferation of blogs and 'zines are necessary to sift through the sheer amount of stuff that is out there.

After lunch, the panel "Young Musicians" congregated Torquil Campbell (Stars, Memphis; much more affable than I've previously heard or read from him), Win Butler of Arcade Fire, Toronto composer Brian Current, and Bernadette Houde of Lesbians on Ecstacy. Lawyer Chris Taylor was a bit of a dry moderator, but did keep the flow of discourse going. Mostly the granting programs of Canada (FACTOR, Canada Council) were addressed, and the sort of catch-22s that arise from them: when you really need the money, when you're first starting out, you can't receive a grant, and then once you start being able to finance yourself on your own terms, grants start coming your way. Current mentioned the other problem that often plagues Canadian artists - it's only after one receives attention abroad that one garner praises at home, but opportunities abroad will not present themselves without some level of status at home. A lot of jokes were cracked - the most memorable anecdote being Bernadette's band being forced to open a bank account under the name Lesbians in Ecstacy. Sex prevails once again in Quebec.

The best panel, by far, of the conference, was the DIY online distribution panel. Carl puts it very well, indeed:
But I was really really glad to have caught the panel on "DIY Online Distribution Models," which may sound dry but actually included a group of people more inspiring than any other at the Future of Music event - people who are actually using new media to do great things for artists, rather than fretting about "monetizing" something they don't really get.
I was most intrigued by Bryna Gootkind, Melissa Ferrick's manager, who proved that the somewhat isolationist model can work; Shannon from Magnatune, whose site facilitates a lot of services that are usually filled with paperwork and headache; and of course Brian from ArtistShare, because a) he's a musician and composer and understands what musicians and composers do; and b) he's one of the few non-rock/pop/indie/alt-whatever people talking at the conference.

I'm bailing on this morning's copyright/p2p panels because I find it redundant, and as the DIY panel proved yesterday, I'm much more intrigued by people presenting options and positing new ways forward in this brave new world than trying to fit square pegs into round holes. I'm looking forward to the Bob Ezrin string session this afternoon, as well as the indie label summit - Ninja Tune, Arts & Crafts, and others.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Future of Music Coalition Summit: Day 1

I'm not sure why I can fall asleep at a moment's notice in a car, but locomotive slumber seems near impossible for me. I recharged myself this morning and missed the first half-hour of the introductory Future of Music Coalition panel, "State of the Nation." Featuring a panel of collective association representatives, the segment I caught was rather unimpressive and unmemorable. I recall a bunch of banter about the need for collective management in the changing music industry, the homogeny and hegemony of corporate music channels, and the two catch-phrases of the morning: "loss leaders" and "DRM (digital rights management)." I stayed in Pollack Hall for the "Revenue in a Digital Age" roundtable, which also fell short of my expectations. There was a lot of lamenting about how these new digital avenues of distribution don't compensate the artist properly, and how this transition from a physical, brick-and-mortar model to a solely digital one will continue to be direly protracted for years to come. Instead of suggesting ways to generate income digital music (which is what the title indicated to my eyes), the panelists seemed to indict the current model with no solid ideas of reform.

Maybe I'm just young and impetuous, but it seems that for music with a modicum of improvisation (anywhere from jambands to the toothiest musique actuelle), albums serve a different purpose than in the popular music world. Recordings are a "loss leader" to book gigs, sell off-stage at said gigs, and to attract audiences to said gigs, and continue a touring cycle. Many bands have cultivated strong followings solely from their live shows and constant road-tripping. Another example I think of is Darcy, who attracts traffic to his blog for a variety of reasons and readers/listeners can listen to his music - which he offers for free, unrestricted download. I would imagine that he garners a much larger audience this way than he otherwise could through NYC-area big band residencies alone. There's two attitudes to making records: the snapshot idea, where it's an aural capture of one band at one given moment in time; or the actual production of a work which is a proper entity unto itself, and whether it can or will be replicated live is not the primary concern. I think both have their place, and I appreciate both, but obviously the former works as a better, and often cheaper, loss leader for gigs.

And as far as DRM goes, the history of it to me seems a bit fuzzy in terms of both chronology and logic. The 1990s were supposedly the last thriving decade for music sales - the grunge revolution, the bubblegum pop resurgence, young lions in jazz, etc. Out comes Napster and discerning, exploratory listeners discover a boon - try-before-you-buy (which later turned into "if you buy"). So, to counter this, the major labels: a) start signing less musically relevant acts and b) impose more hassles and headaches upon the music they distribute. Gee, no wonder CD sales are in decline.

There was a lot of talk about the "long tail" of the industry (initially brought to my attention through this post by Dave Douglas), and how the saturation of catalogue and legacy items crowd the marketplace. I have to categorically disagree with that statement: the mergers of major labels have seen tonnes of catalog discs pulled from circulation, and if the "long tail" as posited by the speakers today - all music ever recorded, available at all times - were really true, then sites like Destination: Out would not need to exist, and the mighty list would never have had to have been compiled; the records would be common knowledge and readily available.

Anyway, I had foolishly scheduled Indigone Trio's rehearsal during David Byrne's talk, as previously mentioned. I know FMC was recording most of the panels and hopefully Byrne's speech will surface soon. It's hard to state how much I appreciate and enjoy working with Alex and Liam; the gig on Sunday will be a lot of fun, and in rehearsal we're continuing to explore and expand, not only with new repertoire but revamping old pieces. Very excited.

After rehearsal I caught most of the "What's Wrong with Music?" panel, led by the curmudgeonly Sandy Pearlman, and indulging in the "things-ain't-what-they-used-to-be" attitude of stasis. Thankfully, some of the panelists rebuked this idea in part (mostly Dan Levitin). I agree that the use of music as sonic wallpaper has reduced its impact, and that very few people have the attention span to listen to music as foreground anymore, but I don't know that this is really any different than in eras of yore. There have always been inattentive audience members, "listeners" in name only who know precious little about the music they like (the famous American Bandstand quote: "it's got a good beat and you can dance to it" - anyone know the year of that old chestnut?), and those who wish to reprogram and reuse music for their own purposes. I missed the part about overcompression and reduced audio quality - again, I agree with the notion that there's really no point in squashing all audio to within an inch of its life, but it's all been argued and whined about before.

The panel that was the most interesting to me was the blogger summit with Zoilus, Fluxblog, Said the Gramophone, MCTurgeon and cleverLazy. Maybe it was the most intriguing because I'm a neophyte to the music blogosphere in general and mp3 blogs and indie-leaning blogs in particular, but it didn't seem to chase itself like the rest of the panels did, though it did prove that you can't please everyone all the time. A lot of the panel dealt with mp3 blogs and the attempted co-opting of indie blogs by promo flunkies and other insidious industry insiders, though the notion of a community of music bloggers and re-contextualization of music through blogging did arise. I talked a little bit with Carl (Zoilus) Wilson after the panel and it is a blog I will have to investigate more thoroughly. All of the panelists' sites are, actually.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

BMI/NY travel journals: episode 2

(liveblogged Tuesday night, posted Wednesday night upon my return to Montreal)

So I can live-blog, as I've discovered the hostel's Wi-Fi capability. As I type from the guest lounge, some British mates are chilling on the balcony blasting Radiohead and some grimy hip-hop, and I'm about to head out to the jam at Cleopatra's Needle. My first choice would have been Curumin at NuBlu, but an 11:35 pm start time and an 8:15 am train are highly incompatible.

Hindsight edit: I should have just sucked it up and battled the sleep deprivation to go to NuBlu. While there were some really fantastic players there - Jeremy Pelt showed up again and just kicked every tune into a higher gear, and the rhythm section I got to play with showed signs of a hook-up - there were some others there that were more about showboating and vibing other people than actually making music. There was one guy who was obviously trying to display his dexterity, without even worrying about changes or groove, and yes, such a player maybe deserves to be chastised or reined in. But the way it was done - an abrupt "Take the 'A' Train" ending, stop-time entry of the new soloist, all delivered with a rather snotty "Welcome to New York, asshole" attitude - didn't sit right with me.

The train yesterday (Monday) was much better than last week - customs was entirely more expedient; we even arrived at Albany in daylight hours! This ride clocked in at 11 hours, rather than 12, and it's funny how just one single hour makes a world of difference. Went to Smoke again, played a couple of tunes and hung out. Yuengling is surprisingly decent beer, though I'm missing my Quebec brews - MacAuslan Apricot ale, or even just a good solid Boreale or Griffon Rousse.

The BMI meeting was led by composer/arranger Dave Matthews, in lieu of Mike and Jim's absences (both are in Europe right now). We looked over music from the other composers, and I'm really humbled to be in such company. We also took a listen to a couple of Dave's Bach2000 charts, "Siciliano" and the Toccata and Fugue in D minor. He managed to make them swing - at the moment I prefer them to Jacques Loussier's take on Bach - and also managed to have such a bottom heavy line-up (bass clarinet, bass trombone AND tuba, and bass) not turn to gelatinous mud. We talked a lot about climactic points in pieces - the golden mean, how to generate momentum and create high energy, which seemed to amount to "loud, high trumpets." And while Matthews does that well, and it serves his music, it's gotten me thinking about how one can achieve a similar effect in different ways. Loud high brass is thrilling, but it's also a specific sound and I don't know that it belongs in every single piece.

I've also been added to the blogrolls of The Bad Plus and Destination: Out. Now that I'm in NYC more often I'm going to have to catch TBP's next hit (so long as it coincides with my time here).

Coming up upon my arrival back in Montreal: the Future of Music Coalition summit (and I stupidly booked a rehearsal during David Byrne's keynote speech...whoops), and Indigone Trio regroup and hit Upstairs (1254 Mackay) SUNDAY at 8:30.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Episode 1 addendum: Sirius String Quartet mini-review

I apologize to Jenny Choi, Gregor Huebner, Ron Lawrence and Dave Eggar for the disservice I'm about to do to their Stone hit last week, but time and brain cells are running short right now.

They played a programme focusing mainly on "Downtown Composers," including their own Huebner, Fred Frith, Elliott Sharp, and Billy Martin. (I feel like I'm missing one composer...) This interview with Sharp seems rather aptly timed. The usual string-effect suspects were present: scratchy, unpitched sul ponticello bowings, and harmonics used for varying effects. Though these colours were prevalent, the pieces didn't sound the same. It does beg the question as to whether such widespread use renders the phrase "extended technique" obsolete.

My favourite pieces were those by Hueber - mostly because they were the closest in line to what I've been trying to achieve with my own trio + strings project. I definitely got some new ideas for revisions to that material from listening to his music. The chorale textures and harmonies he sets up are wonderful. The miniature Bulgarian violin duet (with Lawrence and Eggar frantically clapping the odd meter towards the end) was great fun, as well.

Friday, September 29, 2006

BMI/NY travel journals: episode 1 which our protagonist often finds himself walking in the wrong direction, but at least taking the right subway trains.

Monday: awake at the foreign hour pre-7 am to catch the train at Gare Centrale. After arriving much earlier than expected, I go to the beloved Tim Horton's for some caffeine and a blueberry muffin. Upon my return I see a long line already formed to board the train to New York. Though the train was supposedly sold out, I had two seats to myself for the entire ride. My attempts to sleep were to no avail, so I resigned myself to working on some pieces to ultimately present to the BMI folk, listening to music (Guillermo Klein and John Hollenbeck to get in the big band mood, The Roots and Billy Joel to keep me pumped), and slogging through Steppenwolf. Delays at the border (which I thought undue at first, only to be surpassed in length and bureaucratic bumbling on the return trip) and a stretch of single-track along Lake Champlain resulted in an ultimate trip length of 12 hours.

Once in Penn Station, I walked through the corridor to the 2 express train and rode up to 96th and Broadway. After a rather tiring walk up Amsterdam Avenue, I realized I had written down the address of a different hostel than the one I was staying at. Retraced my steps and finally arrived at my destination, checked in, dropped my luggage off in the room and immediately proceeded to the jam session at Smoke. Talked to some of my fellow musicians, listened to Jeremy Pelt blow the hell out of his horn (fresh off his hit at Dave Douglas' FONT), got up and jammed on "What Is This Thing Called Love?," reunited and reminisced with old Rex cohort Josh Brown, satisfied the drink minimum with a couple of Yuenglings and returned to the hostel.

Tuesday: When you start the day off with a NY bagel with raisin and walnut cream cheese, it's bound to go alright. I'm still loyal to St. Viateur bagels, though. Hop on the subway and proceed to wander around Midtown and Times Square on a rather long and protracted search for a Village Voice. Stops include a browse through the Virgin Megastore and Colony Music, and I'm stunned at the sheer proliferation of Starbucks. I didn't realize they truly are on every corner - sometimes twice. Lunch at a deli on 55th, a detour to Patelson's to purchase Alban Berg's piano sonata (an overdue fulfillment of one of my teacher's many recommendations), and park myself in the Starbucks beside the BMI building to kill time before the meeting.

Mike Abene led the meeting, and initiated all us newbies into the BMI Workshop's process. As Jim McNeely wrote in an email, "Don't make the music so goddamn hard!" Discussions ensued about the clarity of music (in presentation and in composition), a BMI Workshop MySpace or other mailing list, Finale vs. Sibelius vs. pen and paper, and all sorts of other composerly geekiness. Thankfully I'm not the only long-distance commuter - another participant is flying in from Florida for the meetings!

After the meeting, I had dinner at the West 53rd deli, much emptier this time than during the madness of IAJE, and then made my way to Sam Ash to indulge in gear lust. Wound up helping a singer looking for a keyboard to improve her piano chops, as the salesman assisting her at the time was more of a production type than a player type. I don't know if she bought anything, but it was nice to just talk shop.

Hopped on the F train to check out the Sirius String Quartet at the Stone, and wound up walking the wrong way for about five blocks until someone redirected me. I knew the Stone was small, but I didn't realize how small - nor did I know that there's no address or signage to speak of. I saw an open door and heard some string music and assumed correctly. (A better review of the concert to follow shortly, after some sleep. Suffice it to say that I was quite inspired to keep doing the Strings project.)

Wednesday: Another ungodly arising, another breakfast of sugar and blueberries, another 12-hour train ride back home, in which we were inspected by both US and Canadian Customs, and everything that could go wrong at the border did - travellers without papers, without good reasons for entering Canada, with criminal records they didn't immediately admit to.

I do this all again for the next three weeks. And I don't mind.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Don't know how to act

Quite possibly the most disturbing scenario I've witnessed this week: two pre-pubescent boys, earbuds firmly plugged in, singing along to "SexyBack" on the bus.

Happy Rosh Hashana to those celebrating.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Hit the paper

Now that I've confirmed travel plans and such, I figure I can make a blog posting about it:

I've been accepted into the BMI Jazz Composer's Workshop led by Jim McNeely and Michael Abene, and will be commuting back and forth from Montreal to NYC to participate. It's a great honour and I'm thrilled to be involved with it -- and to have my butt royally kicked. Obviously, I see a lot of writing in my future.

The first meeting is next Tuesday, September 26th. I'm coming in Monday evening and leaving Wednesday morning. Ideally, I'll be hitting the Smoke jam session on Monday, and going to see the Sirius String Quartet at The Stone on Tuesday night at 8. Plans, however, are subject to change.

On Wednesday night, even though I'm leaving, there are two great gigs featurning many friends of mine: guitarist/composer Lily Maase premieres her reDisconnect project at the new Roulette Performance Space on Greene between Canal and Grand, with a whole host of musicians (including fellow McGillians Adam Kinner and Evan Smith on reeds, and Banff colleagues Ryan Kotler on bass and Fred Kennedy on drums); and after Lily's 8:30 show, trek over to Barbes and check out the Peter van Huffel Quintet at 10.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Do away with the nonsense

I picked up The Roots' Game Theory earlier in the week, and it may well be their strongest effort to date, and definitely their best work of this century. They've tightened the beats up, and provided some melodic and otherwise memorable hooks - compared to The Tipping Point's choruses which were led by a tripped-out Sly Stone, Martin Luther lamenting "Why?" ad nauseam, and BT's rhythmic mumbling on "Don't Say Nuthin'."

?uestlove's beats encompass not only the history of hip-hop but also his well-known omnivorous musical appetite - "Atonement" jacks Radiohead's "You and Whose Army?," and "Livin' In a New World" would not sound out of place on a Beck album. The most impressive developments come courtesy of Black Thought: he takes the wordplay wizardry he's mined on previous tracks like "Thought @ Work" and "Web" and actually puts them to the service of commentary and observation on "False Media," "Don't Feel Right," "Take It There" and "Clock With No Hands." He seems to have outgrown the self-referential posturing that run throughout so many Roots albums (and plague other MCs, as well). This step forward for Black Thought takes the wind out of what would otherwise be a momentous occasion in hip-hop: the return of co-MC Malik B. Whereas on Things Fall Apart, the two MCs were equal, Malik's efforts on Game Theory pale in comparison to Thought and even other guest MCs like Dice Raw. Malik resorts to gangsta stream-of-consciousness rants that lack cohesion either as individual verses or with the other MCs on the track. I will admit that Malik's syncopated flow provides more surprises than Thought's more straight up-and-down delivery.

There are some weak spots on this record - the pacing of the back end of Game Theory is heavy on the slow tunes ("Clock With No Hands" --> "Atonement" --> the Dilla memorial "Can't Stop This") and kills the forward momentum of the disc. "In The Music"'s only redeeming quality is BT's opening verse; the hook (delivered by a new-to-me MC with the moniker Porn) is a throwaway; and then Malik steps up with lines about "bitches in Bonnevilles" and addressing some adversary named "Och." Conspicuously absent from the liner notes this time around are the in-depth ?uestlove annotations and diaries. Much like Tipping Point, the lyrics seem to have been transcribed by a clueless intern, and run without proofing by the MCs.

Even with these shortcomings, the Roots have finally delivered on record the promise of their live shows - killer beats, lacerating insights, and a handle on the history. They've raised the bar for hip-hop and Game Theory is easily in my top list for the year.

NB: This review is not affiliated with the Roots, Def Jam, Okayplayer, or any other publication. Portions appear as comments on The Roots' MySpace and as a comment to Brendan Murphy's review of Game Theory in Hour magazine.


In other news, music journalist and author Ann Powers has, apparently, relocated to L.A. (replacing Robert Hillburn at the Times) from Seattle and joined the blogosphere (well, she's been blogging for a year. I'm late on the uptake, I suppose.). Probably best known as the co-author of the Tori Amos autobiography, Piece by Piece, I met Ann at the McGill Joni Mitchell symposium a couple of years ago where she delivered a stunning paper about the importance of Blue. She joins the blog roll today.

Reflections on the Dawson College shooting

Ignorance is bliss. Consolation comes in the form of delusion - "it can't/won't happen here." How much harder the blow, then, when it does happen here.

My mother called me on my cell to notify me of the shooting. My entire family commutes through Atwater metro (the station Dawson is adjoined to). I had been on the train, on my way to a rehearsal, not a half-hour before the gunshots rang out. I proceeded to the Music Library where students were logged onto computers, rapidly refreshing CBC and CNN trying to find more details. Lack of information and crossed wires led to confusion about how many gunmen there may have been and if any were still at large. Speculation ran rampant - Drug dealers spilling over from Cabot Square into Dawson?

As we now know, there was no such motive - just another loner, ignored by his family and community, finding solace in dark imagery and weaponry. One promising student's life has been truncated, and at least one other victim remains in a coma.

The media's been quick to, once again, implicate the external factors: the video games, the Goth subculture he became attracted to, and the website he posted on. Thankfully, at least one broadcaster noted that "it's the player, not the game, that is the issue." Six years after Columbine, and seventeen after the Ecole Polytechnique massacre, and we still have trouble identifying warning signs and high-risk behaviour. It really does all come back to the parenting and attention: the gunman had quite the artillery, and I'm alternately surprised and saddened that it would go unnoticed by his parents - he still lived at home.

My thoughts are with all those affected by this tragedy. Luckily, my friend's father, who teaches at Dawson, is unharmed. That's my closest connection to this event.