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.

Sunday, September 10, 2006


I've tried to keep this blog apolitical (especially due to my lapse in staying informed on various issues), but certain events permeate society and humanity so deeply that their political ramifications are an inextricable part of current environmental fabric. Of course, September 11th, 2001, was the date of one such event.

As I check my TV listings and flip through newscasts for the days preceding and following this "milestone" anniversary, there are countless memorials, more than one can possibly watch, even with the aid of TiVo. I'm sure they'll run the gamut from heartfelt and sincere to jingoistic chest-thumping (ABC's controversial mini-movie aside), but I honestly don't much care to find out. The cynical side of me wonders how much of this remembrance is really just a ploy of manipulation - not just to manoeuver the ratings, but the public's views itself: staying the course, and all that. Unlike the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the media bravado surrounding 9/11 is not just limited to its commemoration; it is uttered and debated, directly or indirectly, every day.

Five years later, the question every news anchor has asked is are we any safer, and the obvious answer is a categorical no. 9/11 manifests itself in every war-mongering diatribe, every speculation about the upcoming elections, every meandering yet flawed security check, every confiscated toiletry. And what's to show for it? Ravaged nations, more fledgling cells than before, an Al-Qaeda and Taliban renaissance, deeply rooted Western partisan divides -- oh yeah, and everything in Iraq. As Jon Stewart noted, Thomas Ricks' book Fiasco might well be an understatement.

Nearly everyone remembers where they were that day -- I was in high school, with the most brilliant professor I've ever had sitting at his desk dumbfounded, listening to CBC. But I'd rather that we be able to pursue our remembrances in peace, than be bludgeoned with the gawdy replays of the harrowing images that I'm sure will ensue.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Playing catchup, part 2

As promised, here are my blog musings of what's been going on the past few weeks:

August 18 - Matt Haimovitz (cello) and Patrick Wedd (organ) celebrated the life and music of György Ligeti as part of the Jusqu'aux Oreilles festival here. Due to circumstances, I walked in late, just at the end of a new piece written as an homage to Ligeti (I don't remember the composer's name). Whether Matt commissioned it or not, I do not know, but the end section seemed tailor-made for his strength: expressive, dynamic, and utilizing the harmonics of the cello. Also on the program were the sonata for solo cello, a spoken eulogy to Ligeti (author unfortunately forgotten, as well), Harmonies & Coulée (the two études for organ), Volumina (for organ), and Artikulation (a tape piece, created while Ligeti was studying and living with Stockhausen). Prior to my arrival, they had already performed Ricercare: Omaggio a Frescobaldi, as well as Frescobaldi's original theme. My lasting impression is how the electronic music influenced the acoustic music (especially the organ pieces), and how Artikulation, created mid-century with tape and razor splices, sounds as modern, if not more so, than current pieces being created by advanced software capabilities. Ligeti had classical piano training but never felt himself capable enough on the instrument to perform on it, and thus dedicated himself to composition. In doing so, it seems like he spent his time learning the functionalities of every instrument he wrote for, and figured out ways to challenge the performer without writing anything technically "unplayable."

As I attended the concert and read Richard Steinitz's book on Ligeti, Music of the Imagination, it struck me that as much as I appreciate and enjoy Ligeti's work, I'm in doubt as to whether he's an influence on my music or whether I even want him to. I admire his precision and calculation, and it serves his music well, but such structures (and his adamant stance against programmatic music) don't play into what I wish to achieve at this point. Give me ten years and I may have changed my mind.

August 20 - another installment of Dan Thouin's improvisation night at Divan Orange, entitled Sprung. The lineup: Thouin (Rhodes/fx), Martin Lizotte (synthesizers/fx), François Lafontaine (organ), Robbie Kuster (drums), Jean-François Lemieux (electric bass) and Stéphane Boucher (trumpet/spoken word/sampler). My immediate impression was "Three keyboardists! Let the games begin!" My second impression was "Holy shit, this is loud!" It got pretty wacky - the loudest, outest moments of Live/Evil Miles, with a little bit of Prime Time, post-rock, and bilingual slam poetry courtesy of Boucher. It was a great little party, and getting to see three of the best keyboardists around town whose main gigs don't allow THAT much improv: Dan, though a great improvising keyboardist, has become first-call among the Francophone art-pop circuit, playing with Ariane Moffatt and Fred Fortin; François plays in Karkwa, a band that I caught by pure chance at Francofolies a couple of years ago and that has become one of my favourite bands in the city; and Martin plays with world-skipping percussionists/chanteuses Dobacaracol.

August 30 - The premiere of Jon Day's Exhibit A. Now, like most, I know Jon as a fantastic pianist and composer. I also knew he had sung in Effusion before (and was actually a founding member), and had told me a little about this project in conversation. Therefore, I had an inkling of what was bubbling here, but had no idea of the scope or skill of this project. Six singers, including Jon, and five musicians, creating this jazz-gospel-nouveau-Broadway sound. Utterly huge textures, and Jon is a surprisingly good singer, with a very spastic, almost Scott Weiland-esque stage presence. I look forward to what he does with this project.

Grande Bibliotheque acquisitions:
: Haruki Murakami - Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World; Phil Lesh - Searching for the Sound; Ian McEwan - Saturday (in progress).
Music: Osvaldo Golijov/Kronos Quartet - The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind; Fela Kuti - Expensive Shit; Wilco - I Am Trying to Break Your Heart DVD; Henry Threadgill - When Was That?; John Adams - On The Transmigration of Souls.

Note: I'm hosting Jazz Euphorium again this Wednesday (September 6), tag-teaming with the wonderful Andy Williams, whose record collection may just stand up to Ethan Iverson's for battle.

RIP Dewey Redman

Opening up my blog feeds just now, I see three entries: Dewey in memoriam. I'm sitting here somewhat stunned. Contrary to what Pat writes, I didn't see this one coming. Dewey played at the Jazz Fest a couple of years ago, and by all reports was in decent health and more than decent sound.

The three entries above have covered all I could write about Dewey. I had heard of him peripherally up until Momentum Space came out - an intriguing record, featuring Cecil Taylor and Elvin Jones (upon typing this I realize Cecil's the sole living member of that group now...), which may not be any of their strongest recordings but still a solid outing, and may have been the record that started the gradual opening of my ears to avant-garde sounds. I remember putting on New York Is Now! for the first time, and Dewey's howling entry on "The Garden of Souls," foreshadowed in the liner notes and highly esteemed by the Bad Plus, knocked me on my ass.