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...