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.