Saturday, August 26, 2006

Playing catchup

I haven't exactly been blogging at the speed of life lately - I've been immersed in writing new music for the Indigone Trio + Strings project. Last week I saw Matt Haimovitz and Patrick Wedd play the music of Ligeti as part of Jusqu'aux Oreilles (Up To Your Ears), followed within a couple of days by Dan Thouin's improv project, Sprung. More detailed posts on those to follow.

Ethan Iverson responds to the post-Vietnam War jazz history discussion with a fantastic list. Most of his list are records I have not yet heard, or have not listened to in a long while. I would add the following entries:
1974 - Keith Jarrett: Belonging (the first record by the European quartet, alternating between his dual lexicons of driving melodic vamps and ethereal open space).
Herbie Hancock: Thrust (though Headhunters was the shot heard 'round the world, I find Thrust grooves harder and hangs together better as a full record).
1976 - Anthony Braxton: Creative Orchestra Music 1976 (as Darcy commented in an earlier post mentioning this album, it's "fucking amazing," and still stands as the weirdest group of personnel I've ever seen on paper).
Jaco Pastorius: s/t (versatility, virtuosity, and the juxtaposition of Bird with Sam & Dave in the first two tracks).
1981 - Chick Corea: Trio Music (Now He Sings, Now He Sobs group revisited with free improv and Monk tunes).
1988 - Motian/Frisell/Lovano: Monk in Motian (Monk music with proper irreverence, with guests Dewey Redman and Geri Allen).
1990 - Kenny Wheeler: Music for Large and Small Ensembles (I for some reason thought this was done sometime in the mid-'80s; "Gentle Piece" is stunning).
Pat Metheny: Question and Answer (Pat's trio records are always his strongest, I find).

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Pressure on people, people on streets

A couple of weeks ago was the 11th edition of Under Pressure, a weekend-long celebration of graffiti, primarily, but all facets of hip-hop culture, culminating in a day-long block party behind Foufounes Electriques. There was the usual b-boy/b-girl battle (and I second Scott's request for better sightlines somehow) and the skateboard competition (which I missed out on - it ran simultaneously against the breaking, on the other side of the parking lot), two DJ tents, and a hell of a lot of paint. The highlight for me (and many others, I'm sure) came post-battle, when DJ Kool Herc got behind the turntables, and actually extended the honor of WeFunk's own Professor Groove to split the decks in a sure-shot selection battle. Kool Herc, for a large part of his set, played the original songs fabled hip-hop breaks and samples come from; another highlight was hearing him spin a Mary J. Blige album track.

Like so many other events in Montreal, Under Pressure has this communal vibe and energy that amplifies the enjoyment of the music. It was only disrupted once, with one b-boy talking a little too much trash, I think - I couldn't see what was going on, I just heard the MC calling him out and telling him to chill. I can only imagine that Under Pressure is close to the old-school block parties (and with Kool Herc's presence, I would think that comparison is more than apt). It's fulfilling to see the history of this culture appreciated and continued, and to hear how it grows out of all the African-American music that came before it. There were some little kids getting down to James Brown, and in some small way that gave me hope for the future.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Points of business

RIP to Duke Jordan (an underrated and versatile pianist; much like Mwanji, I didn't realize he was still around) and Anga Diaz (a far too premature loss, whose only work I know is his participation in Roy Hargrove's Habana).

Pitchfork has an interview with Thom Yorke up, including some passages that neatly tie into this whole idea of "Who needs record labels?" Yorke raises the point that the internet isn't necessarily as universal as we'd like to believe, but it's becoming clear that the balance of power is being placed into the hands of technology-savvy artists and inventive independent labels. I can count on two limbs the record labels I would actually desire to be associated with.

Monday, August 07, 2006

World Skip The Beat playlist

*Autorickshaw - "Purvi Tillana" (Four Higher)
Tabla Beat Science - "Palmistry" (Tala Matrix)
Mystère des voix bulgares - "Erghen Diado" (Le mystère des voix bulgares)
Septeto Roberto Rodriguez - "Hadida" (Baila! Gitano Baila!)
Ivo Papasov & His Bulgarian Wedding Band - "Marika Duma Pro Duma" (Orpheus Ascending)
Babatunde Olatunji - "Gin-Go-Lo-Ba" (Drums of Passion)
Fela Ransome-Kuti and the Africa '70 - "Egbe Mi O" (With Ginger Baker - Live!)
Angélique Kidjo - "Voodoo Child" (Oremi)
Konono No. 1 - "Kule Kule" (Congotronics)
*Chango Family - "La Cocaracha" (Babylon Bypass)
Toots and the Maytals - "We Shall Overcome" (54-46 That's My Number: Anthology 1964-2000)
*Luck Mervil - "Piwouli" (Ti Peyi A)
Bebo Valdes - "El guajeo de Rickard" (Bebo de Cuba)
Susana Baca - "Guillermina" (Travesías)
*Eliana Cuevas - "Luna Llena" (Ventura)
Caetano Veloso - "Na Baixa da Sapateiro" (Best Of)
- "Samba Japa" (Achados e Perdidos)
Bill Laswell - "Chaos In The Heat (Last Transmission)" (Imaginary Cuba)
Marc Ribot - "Aqui Como Alla" (Y Los Cubanos Postizos)
Maria Bethania & Gal Costa - "Sonho Meu" (Beleza Tropical 1: Brazil Classics)
Gilberto Gil - "Eu Só Quero Um Xodó" (Beleza Tropical 1: Brazil Classics)
Manu Chao - "Clandestino" (Radio Bemba Sound System)
Marc Ribot - "La Vida Es Un Sueño" (Y Los Cubanos Postizos)

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Both sides of the station

The now contentious era of jazz history, post-1967, is one that fascinates and eludes me. As my cameo on the Greenleaf blog has made clear, my knowledge of that period is quite limited. What I do know of it comes at the hands of my experience at CKUT, my time at the Banff Centre, subsequent discussions with my piano teacher, Jeff Johnston, and the unexpected finding of Gary Giddins' Rhythm-a-Ning: Jazz Tradition and Innovation in the '80s (discovered used in Key West on the Cruise Ship X run). Giddins' book is revelatory not only for the reasons I mention in the Greenleaf e-mail, but also because its columns end in 1984 - the year before I was born.

My relationship with the avant-garde has been a slowly developing one. I had cultivated the idea somehow (probably through my young interpretations of DownBeat articles) that avant-garde = free = anarchy. This conclusion was mightily shattered over the course of high school and university. When the high school band trip invaded Symphony Center in Chicago for Medeski Martin & Wood, nobody knew who the opening act was - a Chicago group called 8 Bold Souls. In their bio, I saw the letters "AACM" - an acronym I had seen in the magazines, but never fully explained, and always used in conjunction with those dreaded "free" groups. But Ed Wilkerson and company lured me into their music, a blend I'd never heard before, and with instrumentation that perfectly suited the quirkiness of the compositions. It may have been avant-garde, but there was certainly a lot of structure to it. MMW were more chaotic - and sailed over my early adolescent ears. Of course now, their acoustic album Tonic has high standing with me, after a rather epiphanic listen in my first year of university; I wish I had a tape of that concert to go back to.

Maturity is relative; and with my ears and self having been developed over the intervening years (and having actually listened to the music), I no longer fear the avant-garde. However, the old adage comes into play here: we fear what we do not know. In my high school music classes, the "classical history" section of the course treated 20th-century music - twice. Ravel's Chansons madécasses, Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire, Berg's Wözzeck, George Crumb's Ancient Voices of Children - not light fare, by any means. Our jazz history went from ragtime to Blakey, and maybe a little bit of fusion. University was not much better: two semesters of classical history, from Gregorian chant through Joan Tower. Jazz history was crammed into one, and much like the Ken Burns' series, we ran out of time to properly address the various factions of the music that sprout after 1960. And as much as I detested being subjected to Sprechstimme at 9 am, I appreciate the sentiment of the classical history and analysis classes I took: you may not like Berio or Boulez or Messiaen, but they are important, and this is why. To our jazz history professor's credit, he put on a lot of earlier jazz that gets written off as well, and is as equally important as the post-1960s music, and it legitimately was a time factor that prevented our treatment of modern subject matter. Yet even still, the post-60's stuff was the standard scenario: Ornette goes free; Miles, Wayne and Herbie go electric. My arranging and composition classes were open forums, and we were allowed and encouraged to do whatever we liked; but the models we looked at were, again, the usual suspects: Brookmeyer, Kenny Wheeler, Thad Jones, Maria Schneider, Wayne, Sammy Nestico. Not to disparage the contributions of the above, nor to disparage my education entirely, but it's obvious that there's a large section of the history missing here.

Then again, it seems like many music schools are divided, in both classical and jazz - you either have to be forward-looking at the expense of acknowledging the past; or learn the tradition without jumping into new water. Some of my classical composition colleagues report that it's anathema to even so much as hint at tonality. Bebop, swing, and the blues are either the Holy Trinity, or dusty relics that are relegated to their time in history. I prefer to subscribe to the cliche that you have to know where you've been to know where you're going. It's one thing to willingly choose not to swing, or to be atonal, or (insert artistic aesthetic here); it's entirely another to shut out those worlds completely. I was fortunate enough to have Jeff as a teacher and mentor, and we often talked about avant-garde/free music; I got a balanced education that way.

Luckily, I got involved with CKUT my second year of university, and their library houses a whole world of improvised music not much discussed in the faculty: Ken Vandermark, Anthony Braxton, David Murray, William Parker, Tim Berne, Wadada Leo Smith. (To be fair, the music library holds gems such as the out-of-print '70s Braxton quartet sessions on Arista, and other like-minded albums from the period, most of Jimmy Giuffre's catalog, as well as a good amount of modern jazz based on student and faculty requests.) Through CKUT, I had (and have) the opportunity to hear music I otherwise wouldn't find, either because of availability issues or personal taste. Jazz Euphorium is a collective show, and the hosts' tastes run the gamut of the jazz & improvised music spectrum. By co-hosting with my colleagues, I've been hipped to music to which I normally wouldn't give the time of day. And I'm grateful for that.

And this treasure trove at CKUT has led me to identify with the "European attitude" I mentioned here: "'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." The more we know about music - any music, all music, all manners of creation and performance - the more compelling our own work will be.

Broadband PSA

I'll be hosting two vastly different radio shows on CKUT (90.3 FM) in the space of three days:

Monday, August 7, 12:00-14:00 EST - World Skip the Beat. "Imaginative international music" is the tagline, and I'll go on a truly globetrotting journey.
Wednesday, August 9, 20:00-22:00 EST - Jazz Euphorium. My usual haunt on the airwaves, with a mix of old and new, in and out.

Also, later in the month, on August 27, I'll be filling in for Agent Munkyhed and his cohorts on The Hearing Trumpet - a freeform, cross-genre extravaganza. Playlists will be posted here after the fact, and you can tune in online by clicking above. If you miss it, archives are up for about a week in high-quality, longer in lower quality.