Sunday, July 30, 2006

The perils of sloppy filekeeping

You know it's bad when you're going through your Sibelius scores folder and you come across fragments you don't remember writing. I discovered a rather long-winded overwritten melody I (apparently) concocted while in high school that I'd long forgotten. There's some promise in there, I think... but I don't remember its inspiration or context at all. Very strange.

I made a new run to the CD section of the Grande Bibliotheque again. The selections on this occasion:
Billy Preston: The Ultimate Collection. I knew various songs on this anthology, but not Billy's versions of them ("Will It Go Round In Circles?," "You Are So Beautiful"). His cover of "Blackbird" might be the best of them all.
Gil Evans: & Ten; The Individualism of Gil Evans. I heard some of these pieces when Christine Jensen did her Master's composition colloquium on Gil's music, but not the full records. Both records feature Steve Lacy, but Individualism features a host of fantastic bassists (PC, Gary Peacock, Ron, Richard Davis), a rotating reed section with Wayne Shorter, Eric Dolphy, and Phil Woods (among others), and Elvin Jones in a much different atmosphere than his usual 1964 surroundings.
Anthony Braxton Quartet (Dortmund) 1976. Haven't listened yet.
Art Ensemble of Chicago: A Jackson In Your House/Message to Our Folks. Interesting to hear how they function in their earliest incarnation without Don Moye, but I'm not impressed by it. The out-and-out racial politics of "Get In Line" (from Jackson) are supremely dated. Message to Our Folks fares better, with a rollicking take on "Dexterity."

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Your mind has turned to applesauce

Fagen and Becker never cease to impress: Don & Walt's open letter to Luke (and by extension, Owen) Wilson. Kudos to the Dan for eloquently (in a faux-Californian slacker kind of way) tearing the Hollywood establishment a new one.

Edited to note that this is intended to be humourous, not an actual calling-out of the Wilson clan.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

It seems the hot topic of jazz journalism, circa 2006, is the "invasion" (as DownBeat labelled it a couple of months ago) of young European upstarts into the North American jazz consciousness. Francis Davis has launched a recent volley through hijacking his own review of a new ECM release, and Mwanji responds quite eloquently here.

As I've seen it, the contentious issue regarding the acceptance of European approaches to jazz music is the non-linearity with which many European musicians regard the jazz tradition. Much like Westerners have incorporated various ethnic musics into jazz or rock, Europeans take what they like out of the jazz tradition and use it accordingly. Their distance (both geographically and figuratively) allows them the freedom to operate outside the jazz history as espoused by [insert highly-touted American traditionalist writers here]. This brings up the two recurring themes of the America-vs.-Europe diatribes:
  • It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing. Europeans are either regarded as inherently incapable of swinging, or of willingly ignoring it as an essential part of jazzdom.
  • Europeans, by virtue of their non-American status, do not understand the jazz tradition at all. According to certain critics, it is impossible to gloss over the bebop section of the history, and equate the early jazz and Dixieland with the avant-garde rumblings of the late '60s. (Edited for clarity after Mwanji's post here.)
The indefatigable Jack Reilly ties both these points together in his letter to DownBeat: "Without the blues, boogie-woogie, ragtime and stride, we would not have the jazz foundation. Europeans bypassed the building of this foundation, therefore they don't swing. The results are clear [...] their insularity oozes out of their music."

I must take issue with this. As always, it's those who stubbornly cling to the status quo that are insular. Exhibit A: The Trondheim Jazz Orchestra with Chick Corea at the IAJE in New York this past January. Erlend Skomsvoll and company trot out quite imaginative arrangements of Corea classics like "Crystal Silence," "Windows" and "Matrix," with the master at the keyboard. Scripts are flipped entirely: Reich-esque sax ostinatos as backgrounds, high brass comping for the tuba, free interludes alternating with exquisitely intricate composed passages. And how they swung when they wished to! What was liberating to me as a North American musician and listener was that they didn't try to imitate Corea's classic renditions of these pieces and fall short. They put their own distinct fingerprint on each piece. As well, the aforementioned free interludes were not mere wanking, but attuned communication on a rather high level. The American conservatory/music school mindset, which even seems to plague the professional scene, is that if you play tunes you cannot play free, and vice-versa. How quickly we have forgotten Keith, Paul Bley, Derek Bailey, and even Corea himself. The "European" attitude (which I first refreshingly experienced at the Banff Centre last year) is that it's all music, and as musicians we should be able to play tunes (both originals and standards) and to improvise freely with equal conviction, if not capacity. EDIT (08/06/2006): after an e-mail exchange with Dave Douglas, he makes the very valid point that there are North American artists who practice this as well. I refer to it as a "European" attitude mostly for the purposes of the dichotomy being treated here, and partially for the fact that I've seen this more consistently manifest in European conservatories.

Europeans are not alone in drawing from the wellspring of non-jazz music, and this has been going on for the past century. I'm surprised that critics and some musicians alike still regard the treatment of repertoire from artists like Bjork, Paul Simon, Radiohead or Nick Drake (to cite only the people I've covered in my own groups) as mere novelty, and that the inevitable next step - to write music evocative of these artists - is considered as some sort of jazz heresy. I recall what Vijay Iyer said about his use of Indian music, explaining that his concern is not whether said influence is apparent in the end product but how it functions in the generation of pieces. My added interpretation of that statement is that it's yet another piece of his personal musical puzzle, as important as Monk, Andrew Hill, Coltrane and the AACM. For my part (and for many others), I'm a gringo looking to Brazil and other parts of Latin America for inspiration. I don't claim to play the various folkloric music from that region authoritatively or authentically, but I do know I've been motivated and impressed by modern music from there and that it serves as impetus for my own progression. And who's to dispute the validity of the music that henceforth flows?

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Return to the radiowaves

Just a quick note for the handful that follow this blog: I'll be hosting CKUT (90.3 FM)'s Jazz Euphorium show (for the first time in a long while) tomorrow (Wednesday, July 19) evening at 8-10 pm EDT. For those not in the Montreal area, you can tune in by clicking the link above.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

The night the lights went out sur avenue du parc

This is what I get for not checking my Hour newsletters. I am stunned that Cinéma du Parc is going under. It's been a cornerstone of my life in Montreal, and more than that, it's usually been packed. Located right beside the New Residence of McGill University, and a very short walk away from the rest of the campus, it's in a central location of the city, easily accessible by metro and/or bus.

According to the press release on their site, it seems like it's yet another case of the multinational Goliaths devouring the hipper, trendier, smaller Davids. Never mind that AMC is a bigger business with comfier chairs, I've never really dug the atmosphere there. It's a legendary hockey stadium converted into a mall, complete with glaring fluorescent lights. There was always at least one movie that overlapped between AMC and du Parc, but I'd choose du Parc any day - it was more conducive to a student budget, for one, and it felt like you were sitting in your movie geek buddy's basement.

This doesn't rid Montreal of its rep cinemas, despite with the Hour article and the comments imply - it does rid Montreal of its Anglo rep cinema. It appears that CdP's sister theatre, Ex-Centris, will continue to be alive and well, and there's also le Parisien on Ste. Catherine.

The final screening at du Parc is scheduled for August 3. Fittingly, the film scheduled to be shown is The Corporation (which I never saw during its first run, anyway). I will do my damnedest to be there... for old times' sake.

Back to terra firma

My Cruise Ship X experience is behind me, and it has been populated by a spectrum of events that span from sheer misery to pure ecstacy. The last couple of weeks of my contract left me rather ambivalent about my departure - we had some personnel changes that raised the calibre of the band rather drastically, and I wish I was given more than two weeks to work with these colleagues.

Instead of discrediting the entire journey, I will say it has illuminated what I need out of music. I cannot abide by anything musical becoming merely a paycheque or a "job" - I'd rather take a day job and work on my personal endeavours on the side. I need to know who I'm performing with, especially when it's a nightly gig, and the unfortunate reality of pick-up bands is that the mystery is only revealed upon embarkation - which is a little late to back out. I have been spoiled by the music school opportunities of having colleagues consistently interested and capable of performing new music. And I have learned what it is to be a mentor to people, which was a very strange transition for me. I've always been the mentoree, the kid receiving and gleaning advice from my peers. To accept that I am now out of school and possibly have valid information to disseminate to other musicians is a very new concept to me.

Despite the realization of what I want out of music, I'm now staring down the crossroads of exactly how I wish to achieve it. Jazz is my primary love and the lens through which I view all other music (even those that I discovered before jazz), yet jamming out the R&B and funk with one of the mid-lounge bands was as thrilling as improvised music for me. And while I could never totally leave playing behind, composition is increasingly moving to the foreground of my interests. I don't believe I could follow all these paths and do each of them justice - there's just not enough hours in the day - so a choice must soon be made.

My last port before sign-off was Jamaica, and eleven of us made the pilgrimage out to Bob Marley's house in St. Ann. I'm not a rabid Marley devotee, but I felt very strongly that his house is vital to the history of music and of Jamaican culture and I would never forgive myself if I had missed the opportunity to pay respect. The drive was roughly an hour, through the hills of Jamaica, filled with both some gorgeous scenery and harrowing snapshots of the unfortunate reality of the Caribbean regions that are not the beneficiaries of the tourist dollar. Living in North America, we are often sheltered from the extreme economic stratifications that affect most of the planet. The excess of luxury vacation, and the sheer luck of being able to have any sort of decent employment (never mind whether it's what one loves to do) stood in stark contrast.

The first room one enters in the Marley complex is an open and bare one, with only a plaque commemorating the Legend compilation hanging from the wall, and his Witameyer upright piano sitting against another wall. My roommate had taken video on his first visit to Marley's place, and one clip showed a tourist plinking on the piano. I was unsure of whether I actually wanted to play that day, but between my own irresistible urge and the egging on of my friends, I sat down and played "Redemption Song." The piano was seemingly guarded by two Rastafarian men, but as I started playing, they started singing along, as did some of the other tourists. After the tour was over, a bunch of us hung around the bottom of the complex and listened to a guy playing "Three Little Birds" on banjo. I heard more piano tinkling from that same room, and went back to see what was going on. Those same two Rastas were still there, and they asked me to play again. After muddling through a little bit of "Lively Up Yourself," I started into "No Woman, No Cry." I immediately had goosebumps as everyone started singing along. The last time I had a similar experience was playing tunes at Banff that had any association with my friend Chris. As cheesy as this sounds, one can still feel Marley's energy emanating from that room.