Friday, December 28, 2007

Playlist December 28, 2007

Below is the playlist for my fill-in on Jazz Amuck (Fridays, 9-11 am), plus the additional Oscar Peterson hour. I'm filling in next week as well, also with an extra hour - I haven't quite decided whether it'll be three hours of Amuck or an hour of non-jazz music. I'm also covering Basabasa Soukous Soukous Soundz New Year's Day, 9-11 am, with music from the African diaspora. (* = Canadian Content)

Jazz Amuck
Amir ElSaffar
- "Flood" (Two Rivers)
The Bad Plus - "Mint" (Prog)
*YUL - "Florence" (Departure)
*Geordie Haley's Every Time Band - "Eagle Boy" (The Green Suite + Other Stories)
Steve Lehman Quintet - "Curse Fraction" (On Meaning)
Mario Pavone - "Bastos" (Boom)
Peter Van Huffel Quintet - "Luminescence" (Silvester Battlefield)
Bobby Selvaggio - "Jungle Animals" (Unspoken Dialogue)
*Gary Schwartz - "The Door is Open" (Public Transport Project)
Marty Ehrlich/Myra Melford - "Night" (Spark!)
*Don Scott - "Holding Pattern" (Out of Line)
*François Bourassa - "Fa Do Do" (Rasstones)
Uri Caine Trio - "Snaggletooth" (Live at the Village Vanguard)
Marco Benevento - "Record Book" (Live at Tonic)
Scott Colley - "Window of Time" (Architect of the Silent Moment)
Nels Cline - "Yokada Yokada/The Rumproller" (New Monastery)

Oscar Peterson Tribute Hour
"East of the Sun, West of the Moon" (Beginnings 1945-49)
"Sweet Georgia Brown" (Beginnings 1945-49)
"My Blue Heaven" (Beginnings 1945-49)
"Oop Bop Sh'Bam" (Beginnings 1945-49)
"Oh, Lady Be Good!" (Plays George Gershwin)
"Nigerian Marketplace" (Dimensions)
"Hymn to Freedom" (Night Train)
"Mack The Knife" (Oscar Peterson Trio + One: Clark Terry)
"How About You?" (Tenderly)
"Moanin'" (Exclusively for my Friends: The Lost Tapes)
"Night Train" (Night Train)
"Django" (Eloquence)

Monday, December 24, 2007

Oscar RIP

We have lost our jazz icon. Oscar Peterson has passed on at the age of 82. More at the CBC.

As a Canadian jazz pianist, especially one living in Montreal, Oscar's shadow looms large. Peterson served as the figurehead of all that was right about Canadian jazz and represented the community and talent of its heyday, when clubs were peppered all over the streets of Montreal and Toronto. When I first moved to Montreal and rode the métro through Place Saint-Henri station, the movement from Canadiana Suite popped into my mind. His legacy is continued here by Oliver Jones (who took lessons from Peterson's sister, Daisy) and Wray Downes, who also specialize in fleet, blues-soaked swing.

Oscar was definitely one of my first inspirations when I started listening to jazz - I remember hearing Night Train and marvelling at the power in his hands. The bounce in his comping and the effortless facility of his lines were artistry that I still aspire to. I heard "Hymn to Freedom" before I heard A Love Supreme, and Peterson's solemn ballad was maybe the first piece of music that moved me in such a deep and visceral way. I don't hear much of Oscar in my playing anymore, but he was a primary influence when I was starting and I would still do anything to have his left-hand ability. Even his diminished capability after a stroke in 1993 was a force to reckon with.

I had the opportunity to shake his massive hands when I was still living in Toronto, and the even greater honour of playing his Bosendorfer Imperial when it was stored at Remenyi House of Music. His support of jazz in Canada, and of young pianists in general, is something to be cherished. He will be dearly missed.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Ambushed by art

On my commute today, I walked into a strange métro painted deep ocean blue. There were architectural line drawings on the windows, and various samples played over the PA - voices of old men and children in French, English and Chinese, cows mooing as we pulled into a station, sitar runs evoking clichéd exotica and more. I'm still a little unsure of what this was apparently it was this (French-only); it got me thinking again about the role of art in our everyday lives. The UK's recent No Music Day raised this point as well. We're all surrounded by music all day, but I don't know that I would characterize it all as "art." For me, I'd prefer to make the choice of being immersed in an arts exhibition rather than being bombarded with buskers and inescapable eavesdropping on others' playlists. I suppose I did make that choice by stepping on that car instead of finding another one. (Aside: when did blasting music out of one's cellphone, sans earbuds, become all the rage?)

To me, the argument that being surrounded by music inherently devalues it doesn't hold water for me. I think the opposite is true - the music I devote my time to is imbued with a higher value because I'm actually setting aside space, time and undivided attention for it.


The resurrected Cinéma du Parc is running the first annual Brazilian film festival until December 20. I went to see the documentary on Capoeira Regional pioneer Mestre Bimba. Having little prior knowledge of the subject, it was a highly educational film for me. It was intriguing to learn the roots of capoeira in its Angolan form, as a real, violent and illegal martial art practiced by stevedores. Mestre Bimba was the inventor of Capoeira Regional, the most common form of it today. What was truly fascinating to me was the musical element of it all: the way the berimbau and pandeiro rhythms influence the moves capoeristas improvise; the various mythologizations of Bimba in folk song, MPB and capoeira chants. The influence Bimba had on his students was immensely powerful, and that sense is conveyed in the film. Because capoeira is an improvised art form with an underlying vocabulary and structure, many parallels can be made to jazz. I won't make them until I've seen the film a few more times. Some of the quotes from historians and students of Bimba were quite profound and beautiful, but I can't remember any of them right now.

Dan Levitin, in This is Your Brain on Music, cites the figure of 10,000 hours of practice to make a virtuoso. I wonder if the musicality of certain cultures - definitely Latin America, and to a different extent South Asia - is due to the fact that music isn't a rarefied thing in those regions, but rather part of its lifeblood. Go to Cuba or Brazil and everyone, or almost everyone, can play percussion, or guitar/tres/cavaquinho, or sing; the familial percussion groups profiled in Susie Ibarra's Electric Kulintang are part of a weekly ritual. I would assume that this 10,000 hours of practice is built up a lot faster in these regions than in North America due to mere exposure. This suggests to me that it's not that being surrounded by music is the inherent evil, as above; it's music as wallpaper, rather than actively engaging subject, that's the culprit. And really, isn't that the fault of the listener?

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Snow day!

I don't even think Montreal got the brunt of this nor'easter, but I'm still snowed into my house. Time for warm beverages and YouTube browsing.

The Meters live in 1974, from a Dr. John "Soundstage" special. One of my first exposures to funk in high school, the New Orleans funk sound has a special place in my heart. Sentimentality aside, these guys groove like hell, too.

James Booker's "Pixie," live in 1978. I don't honestly know much about Booker except that next to Professor Longhair he's the most mythical pianist from New Orleans.

Non-NOLA, but amazing nonetheless: The Gadd Gang's version of "Signed, Sealed, Delivered." I can't find the words to describe Richard Tee's playing here (starting roughly at 3:10, for those who want to skip ahead). A master class in two-fisted gospel-derived piano.

Monday, December 10, 2007

It can follow you like a dog

I'd like to direct everyone's attention to the blog of my friend, the Freshwater Mermaid, who has taken it upon herself to singlehandedly advocate against the proliferation of TASERs and the tabled Canadian DMCA bill. While I'm not going to weigh in on the former, because it's not my area of expertise, I will speak to the latter.

This is, honestly, a very scary bill. One of the privileges of being an arts lover and artist in Canada is that our definition of fair use was broad - copying discs for private use was A-OK. And with resources like the Bibliothèque Nationale and the McGill music library at my disposal, it was a veritable treasure trove. BANQ has a wonderful selection of jazz, with a surprising amount of "out" and out-of-print material. It was there that I discovered the Braxton gems Creative Orchestra Music 1976 and Dortmund, which have proven to be my points of entry into his astonishing world. McGill's classical collection is stunning, and the jazz collection is achieving parity.

Now, the mere act of ripping - even if it's for the purposes of back-up, archiving, or transferring to my own digital device - would become illegal, as would disabling any DRM technology that comes embedded on CDs or other files. This worries me on many levels: as a keyboardist, I have converted my rig to software synthesizers, and my computer is my career. It holds all my sounds and all my scores (thank you, Sibelius!). My father worked in the computer industry for a long while and is vigilant about keeping clean systems. If I want to play a CD while I work on my computer, I don't want to be obliged to install whatever DRM-rootkit-proprietary-player crap. I also want to know exactly what is being installed, and what information is being sent to third parties. If this bill passes, we would not be allowed to spy on the spies. What's more egregious is that in the event one locates the hidden DRM files on one's computer, the proposed software would be regenerative - delete it, and not only are you a criminal, the software reinstalls itself. Never mind the fact that as an artist, I'm still paying copyright levies on blank CD-Rs so I can send MY OWN MUSIC to festivals, radio stations and other members of the industry.

As an educator this is also disturbing. Music is an aural tradition. I'm not going to insist my students track down x, y and z recordings, and any CDs I'd make for my lessons are protected under fair use for education. How are the powers-that-be supposed to know the difference between ripping for pleasure and ripping for education?

Michael Geist has far more information on his website, and there's even a Facebook group. If you are a Canadian artist or arts lover, write your MP and protest this bill.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Launch post-mortem

The launch gig at Casa went well. We had a small but intimate audience (and still more than I expected given the snow-plowing fiascoes and imposing snowbanks) and the energy was high. The sound balance between the trio and the strings was a lot better than we anticipated, too. This was the premiere of "Indigone Trio Electric," with Alex playing electric bass in addition to my usual laptop gig rig. We opened with a couple of trio tunes, and then brought on the strings to play all the songs from the EP, plus new and reworked pieces.

In other news, my Red Bull Academy Radio mix is now available for your listening pleasure here. We're also on the Facebook band wagon.

Real, pre-Madness blogging to resume shortly.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

We're all here because we're not all there.

I've been cautious about blogging this most recent item, because it's been something I've prematurely hyped before, and the internet is far bigger than just my circle of friends.

But it's finally here - Indigone Trio + Strings has been released by Ropeadope Digital! While oddly not available from Ropeadope's own store, if you can't wait to buy it direct from them you can currently get it from your favourite online music downloading service. A quick Google search tells me we're on iTunes, eMusic, mtraks and Blue Vault Digital.

A final reminder that our launch party is tonight at Casa del Popolo (4873 St. Laurent, corner St. Joseph). A real launch party for a virtual release - how 21st century.

Monday, December 03, 2007

High school revisited

A few months ago, I was called to do a gig where the client requested swing dance music. In preparation for the gig I pulled out a couple of albums I hadn't listened to since high school, and hearing them with new ears was refreshing.

Joe Jackson - Jumpin' Jive (A&M, 1981)
I must have bought this when the neo-swing revival was in full tilt, with "Zoot Suit Riot" and Brian Setzer's version of "Jump, Jive an' Wail" seemingly everywhere. I had just gotten into Joe Jackson, and was impressed that he had done a retro-jump-swing record about 15 years early. The energy is high, sounding like a bunch of guys at a pub reminiscing about their father's records, and the arrangements are actually surprisingly clever (especially "Is You Is or Is You Ain't My Baby?"). It flags a bit towards the end, and Graham Maby's electric bass doesn't have the requisite woody thump of an upright being smacked to hell, but it's an enjoyable listen nonetheless.

Gary Burton - For Hamp, Red, Bags & Cal (Concord, 2001)
My buying habits in high school were decidedly simple: look for players I had heard of and tunes I knew or wanted to learn. More often than not, this worked out. I was obsessed with this record after I bought it, but hadn't listened to it in a long time. I tend to eye jazz tribute and concept records with disdain now, but in the late-90's this seemed to be all the rage at major jazz labels and tended to succeed on some sort of creative level (cf. Herbie Hancock's Gershwin's World). I think my previous exposure to Burton had been the Like Minds supergroup record, which I don't think I ever truly "understood" in a musical sense but appreciated on a surface level. I certainly wasn't aware of his ECM heritage at all.

As for the music on the record, some things were immediately apparent - the burning groove of "Afro Blue;" the incredible unison reading of "Donna Lee" at the end of "Indiana;" and the unexpectedly simple-yet-hip reworking of "Flying Home." That record was my first exposure to Danilo Perez, and while his work on these pieces are nowhere near as creative or overwhelming as his work with Wayne or on his own, it's a treat to hear him sink his teeth into the grooves. Yeah, the marimba and xylophone pieces (in duo with Makoto Ozone) at the end are hokey, but I wouldn't expect anything else from tunes called "Dance of the Octopus."

Thursday, November 29, 2007

House of the people

Next week, Casa del Popolo has a three-night run of fantastic, creative jazz-inspired music.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007 - Indigone Trio + Strings (featuring your humble host)
Thursday December 6, 2007 - Thirteenth Assembly (Taylor Ho Bynum, Mary Halvorson, Jessica Pavone & Tomas Fujiwara)
Friday, December 7, 2007 - The Engines (Dave Rempis, Jeb Bishop, Nate McBride & Tim Daisy)

I suppose this could also be called "Invasion of the Bloggers!" week. No matter.
All shows start at 9 pm. Cover varies - check with Casa.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Tropicalia - my first YouTube blog!

Thanks to Kerry Politzer schooling me on the subject in Banff, I've been on a Brazilian music kick for the past couple of years, especially the whole tropicalia and MPB movements. Hearing Os Mutantes' "Bat Macumba" during dinner last night rekindled the interest, and I decided to do some YouTube digging.

Gilberto Gil e Os Mutantes:

Gilberto Gil, 1979:

Rare Jorge Ben, 1972:

And finally, some new school. Curumin - "Guerreiro" ao vivo!:

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Public Service Announcements

If anyone's wondered where I've been, the answer is - in preparation for the following:

- TONIGHT (November 14, 2007), Dennis Lee's strange brainchild Kids Eat Crayons launches our debut CD, Kids Eat Crayons is for Lovers. We're celebrating at Divan Orange (4234 St. Laurent) with our friends, jazz-rock power trio Sharcut. Doors at 8 pm, $5 entry, CDs and fair-trade T-shirts available as well.

KEC is: Jean-Philippe Major - vox; Steve Reid - alto saxophone; Ben Henriques - tenor/soprano saxophones; Craig Sauvé - guitar; DRR - keyboards; Scott Kingsley - bass; Dennis W. Lee - drums/vocals/compositions/treachery. With special guests!

- TOMORROW NIGHT (November 15, 2007), CKUT celebrates "20 years between your ears" with a birthday blowout at La Sala Rossa (4848 St. Laurent). The evening starts at 9 pm, featuring DJ Tashish, Andy Williams, the WeFunk crew, and turntable scientists Microtone Kitchen. Trumpeter/co-host Sean Winters and I were charged with forming the PHAZZ EUJORIUM Birthday Big Band, featuring Erik Hove, Gary Schwartz, and Jim Doxas, among others.

- WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 5 marks the return of Indigone Trio + Strings at Casa del Popolo (4873 St. Laurent). There will be some new faces and new music, and more announcements involving this group are coming shortly.

- I'm honoured to have a very smart musician ask me to be in even more esteemed company on an IAJE panel regarding jazz and blogs. I've also booked a gig to coincide with it at Trane Studio (964 Bathurst, north of Bloor) on Saturday, January 12, with my "Toronto trio" of Michael Herring - bass; and Nick Fraser - drums.

Nice work if you can get it

The Quartier des Spectacles here in Montreal, known more commonly as Jazz Fest central, has received $120M in funding from the city, province and federal government. While I'm impressed that our leaders have been nudged awake into realizing how important arts and culture is to the identity - and tourism revenue - of Montreal, I can't help but feel that it's too little, too late. The new plan is eerily similar to the old plan of Bernard Landry that, for whatever reason, was forgotten by Jean Charest and swept under the rug, thus contributing to the buy-out and demolition of Spectrum into a big box store and office complex. The empty gravel pit above Jeanne-Mance and Ste-Catherine (officially known as Balmoral Island) will house "Place du Quartier des Spectacles," a building again derived, if not entirely jacked, from the Landry plan that will house a Spectrum-like club. Under the Landry plan it would have also been the new home of the OSM, in a concept similar to Lincoln Center. The other empty lots on Ste-Catherine near Clark will be revamped with cultural exhibition spaces.

It is imperative to the history and character of this city that a room like Spectrum be replaced - not only was it the hub of both Jazz Fest and Francofolies, but it hosted various different artists throughout the year and was easily the best sounding room in the city. Sure, Salles de Gesu on Bleury sounds fantastic as well, but it's tiny compared to Spectrum and it cannot properly deal with electrified instruments. Its central location downtown was accessible to tourists - the only comparable venues in size are out in the Gay Village (Theatre National) or on the northeastern corner of Parc Lafontaine (Cabaret La Tulipe), certainly off the beaten path of most festival-goers.

At the latter venue, I saw Sharon Jones & her Dap-Kings on Sunday evening. Having seen her before on the outdoor mainstage of Jazz Fest and a sweaty, tiny basement club on St. Laurent, I know her vibe and enjoy every retro-soul-revue second of it. As Mwanji commented on her Belgian appearance, Jones is no pretender. She has always been a legitimate heir to the soul throne, and while retro, her sound isn't a nostalgia trip or whimsical props to the masters. The sound is delivered with conviction and strength and therefore rendered current. The theatrical production Mwanji referenced took place here, with the added bonus of some of the dancers Jones brought up on stage being local Montreal b-boys (and b-girl). Sharon was thoroughly impressed and even relinquished the spotlight briefly to showcase these dancers. I have to say though, that sound was an issue all night, with Jones forced to work monitor instructions into her stage banter, and the opening tenor sax solos were all but inaudible. How do you forget to put the horns - in a SOUL BAND - through the PA?

Thursday, October 11, 2007

School's out

I realized I'd fallen behind in my blogging when Scott C came down to Toronto for a couple of days and called me out on it. The truth is, once the Red Bull Music Academy studios got wired up, there wasn't a lot of time left for blogging. Between the lectures and the related gigs, we all tried to cram in as much studio time as possible.

Lots of memories have been made in those rooms: from the live room housing a beautiful Suitcase Rhodes which I played fairly often, to the smaller computer-based studios that hosted all sorts of technological experiments. The final tally of projects I personally worked on over the past two weeks:
- A Milton Nascimento-inspired tropicalia-techno tune with Heliponto
- A droney, noisy post-rock epic with Dead Leaf & Lumi
- Bata meets funk with a "cosmic house" interlude with Sarah Lahey, Torreblanca and Kez on drums (this one was my pet project)
- Mellow soul jazz with Kez, Mara TK on bass, and Randy Muller (Skyy, Brass Construction) on flute
- Laying down Rhodes for a couple of hip-hop beats from Marks
- Playing Rhodes on a multinational drum 'n' bass rave-up from Makoto and Denius, with Om'Mas singing on top.

And there's so many other projects that never got started and people I ran out of time to work with. The sheer amount and quality of music that got produced in those two weeks is stunning. I'm a big fan of Kat! Heath!'s first-ever production with Torreblanca and Sarah ("Que Esperas," on Juan's MySpace) and DJ Shiva's Niagara-inspired "Sunset" (not online yet). The gigs and afterhours parties were equally awesome - Kat's poppy party rockers; Denis' high-octane drum 'n' bass set; Kazuki's musically omnivorous set; Maritina's disco gems; and Mara TK just owning the stage with a guitar and laptop. The biggest surprise was Belfast's Defcon, whose productions run closer to Prefuse 73 and Madlib, going all indie on us with an epic tale of psycho lovers. Never mind the closing night madness with Zinc & Makoto going insane with d'n'b and dub-step, and then moving on to Om'Mas busting out some Sa-Ra joints after a killer DJ set.

It's always a thrill to re-examine how I think about music and to see how others conceive of it. I've come out of this with new friends and new collaborators from all over the world, and I already miss them dearly.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Wheels of Steel

Just a quick update before I go see my fellow RBMA participants DJ Shiva, Tufan Demir (Sensible Sucker) and Kat Heath spin tonight. The Academy's been off to a ripping start, despite the construction and setup still ongoing around us. I jammed on some Stevie Wonder tunes last night with Om'Mas from Sa-Ra on bass; he's part of the Studio Team. All the computer gear is Apple, which is good in one sense because I get to muck around with the Logic plug-ins, Sculpture and EXS24 and the like; and on the other, it's an additional hurdle for me, being a PC boy and not the most music-tech savvy of the bunch.

Premier last night was crazy. He lived up to his lecture and his pronouncements about keeping it real despite the advent of Serato and various virtual turntable software developments. His cutting and scratching was top-notch. The opening DJs (I didn't catch their names) stepped up their game accordingly, and played a lot of great tracks. They dropped Dead Prez's "Hip-Hop" really early in the night, I thought, and they cut to the next song before the second verse.There were a few hip-hop show rituals that didn't sit well with me (i.e. overzealous hype men), but I chalk it up to it being a tradition I'm not totally immersed in.

I don't know when I stopped being able to deal with crowds, but I left around 1:30, before DJ Scratch from EPMD and DJ Dummy did a three-man merry-go-round with Premier. Damn.

PS: Props to RBMA for syndicating this. I'm honoured to be a surrogate member of the Content Team.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Hogtown Syncopation

(blogging from my room at the Gladstone Hotel)

I arrived in Toronto on Friday afternoon, and have spent the weekend before the Red Bull Music Academy kicks off (re-)discovering the city. It's been nearly a year since my last visit, and three-and-a-half had passed before that. I suppose it's technically "home," but it doesn't feel like it. I left when I was sixteen, and therefore always underage, so I never went out on Queen West or in Kensington Market when I lived here. My downtown experience was more around the Royal Conservatory, University of Toronto, the Bloor/Avenue area, with the occasional foray into Steve's. This is a side of Toronto I haven't really experienced in-depth before, and I have to say my feelings on the city are starting to change. I still despise the suburban sprawl of the GTA, but Queen West, College St. and the Market aren't so bad. There's still something about Montreal that serves as an inspiration and muse for me, but I can't really put my finger on it at the moment.

I'm quite excited for the Academy to begin this afternoon; the weekend has been spent meeting and hanging out with my colleagues from all over the world, enjoying the selections of Jake One at Supermarket on Friday night and the organic soul blowout last night courtesy of Georgia Anne Muldrow, Dudley Perkins, and DJs Jason Palma and Sean Sax. I've listened to Palma's show on CIUT for years, and it was a treat to finally see him spin.

I'll attempt to do a fairly thorough live-blog here for the next two weeks, but surf on over to the RBMA website for constant updates on the whole thing. Tonight: the first workshop/meeting and DJ Premier's party at Revival.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Repertory reputation

Dave Douglas, as usual, has posted a thought-provoking blog on the role of repertoire in the pedagogy and history of improvised music. I agree with him that freedom, in musicmaking, is the freedom to pursue a given musical direction at any given time. And while I also hasten to give one methodology be-all and end-all status, I think the idea of "learning tunes" can be broadened. It boils down to figuring out why music works the way it does. One fellow jazz camper many years ago once said that if a certain harmonic progression doesn't appear in the Great American Songbook or the respected jazz canon that follows (Wayne, Herbie, Mingus, Wheeler, etc. etc. etc.) then it doesn't work, and the reason it doesn't work is because it's not there. It's an immature and circular argument, but it leads to analyzing the craft of composition: why/how do certain harmonic combinations work, and why/how do others lead to dead ends?

I don't think it's necessary to be a walking fakebook, either, though having thousands of tunes at recall is useful for some gigs, I'm sure. I do think it's necessary to have spent time with the material - be it the jazz canon, or classical repertoire, or pop music - and check out its elements. That can be done through careful listening or score-reading. What is the Motown sound? Why does Berg sound different than Schoenberg and Webern? I find I often learn more from picking out certain elements from records and pieces than I do from intensive instrumental practice. And whether or not certain musicians know tunes, they've put in the time learning the nuts and bolts of the musical vocabulary. It's very difficult to have a long and creative artistic career without really knowing, even on an intuitive level, what you're doing.

Pat Donaher provides an intriguing tangent, reminiscent of something Greg Osby said at Banff - the idea that music should be a communicative practice, and that there's something alienating in the machismo of inserting the Countdown matrix or chromatic 2-5s everywhere. Osby used the example of Duke Ellington - if he sat down and played one of his ballads, he could attract women. But "Lush Life" and "Sophisticated Lady" are not simple tunes. Sexist framing aside, this hinges on the balance of accessibility manifest in some musical form, and fulfilling, satisfying artistic practice. On a local level, there's a vast audience for someone like Patrick Watson or a band like Karkwa, and the fact that the songs can be in 7 or 15 doesn't put the audience off. Because the songs aren't about being in 7 or 15.

Pat and Kris Tiner thus lead to the identity of an improvising musician. Some practitioners shun the term "jazz" because they find it limiting. I'm not going to argue with Duke or Mingus. Myself, I embrace the term "jazz" and proudly call myself a "jazz musician." Even though I play other genres and do approach them on their terms, I still view everything through the lens of my jazz training. The way I hear harmony is coming from a jazz background, and is different than if I had spent more time playing in rock bands. The way I feel a groove comes out of my jazz rhythmic practice and training. I don't intuitively structure music the way a house producer like Osunlade does; I still like to hear song form, or at least two distinct sections of verse and chorus.

Tiner mentions the crossover word, and I think the best "crossover" projects arise out of a true respect for all the stylistic elements involved. With Indigone Trio + Strings, for example, I dove into the Debussy, Ravel, Bartok and Beethoven string quartets, as well as some of Arvo Part's music, the Mark Feldman/Sylvie Courvoisier duo recording of Masada Book Two, and the string arrangements of Paul Buckmaster on the early Elton John recordings. I wasn't trying to write strictly classical music; I wasn't trying to get the strings to swing, either. the goal was to write music that embraced the strengths of our trio and the strings, individually and as separate ensembles, and then pushed our collective comfort levels. It's not so much an act of crossing over as it is trying to locate the common ground.

Remembering Zawinul

I'm late on the Zawinul memorial train, but as a keyboard player it's hard to avoid his influence. I've never been a huge Weather Report fanboy, but I remember when I bought 8:30. I was blown away by the orchestral scope of sound four musicians created live, and attracted by the balance of strong melody, lyricism, and almost pop-like triadic harmony with intricate rhythmic interaction. Zawinul's choice of synth patches always struck me as more vocal (even leaving his penchant for the Vocoder aside) than Chick or Herbie which, as great as they are, reflected a sort of guitar envy. I still can't fathom playing a keyboard backwards; Zawinul's WR rig famously contained an ARP 2600 with a reversed voltage control to allow him to play the keyboard backwards.

Given the majority of his reputation was made in his electric settings, it's a pleasant surprise to listen to his early work with Cannonball, before the Rhodes and Wurlitzer made an appearance on his frontier. His accompaniment work on the Nancy Wilson/Cannonball Adderley record is sublime.

As usual, Darcy's got the compendium of tributes. My heart sinks for Zawinul's family, and for Wayne Shorter.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Indigone Trio Setlist - Diese Onze 09/05/2007

(Sorry for the belated update... the setlist was fairly fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants; this is a rough idea of what we played)

Set I:

First Impressions (David Ryshpan)
Solar (Miles Davis)
Pleasure is all Mine (Bjork)
Round and Round (Alex Mallett)
Enumeration (David Ryshpan)
Dupla Traição (Djavan)
Erghen Diado (Peter Lyondev)

Set II:
Bella (David Ryshpan)
Visions (Stevie Wonder)
Law Years (Ornette Coleman)
Love Is the Reason (Alex Mallett)
As of Now (David Ryshpan)
Ramblin' (Ornette Coleman)
Encore: The Boxer (Paul Simon)


Apologies for the slow blogging around here, but life's been getting pretty hectic. There's been many things to prepare for, including Indigone Trio's hit at Diese Onze (4115-A St. Denis) tonight. We'll be playing two sets of our usual mix of originals by myself and bassist Alex Mallett, and selected covers. Phil Melanson plays drums. The setlist will go up here after the gig for all the long-distance readers. We haven't played together in a long time, and it felt quite refreshing to get back to playing trio after a year of writing for big band.

It's back-to-school time, which at McGill means the return of Open Air Pub (OAP), two weeks of frosh delaying their transition to university life and upperclassmen reliving their frosh years. There's also music provided by DJs and live bands. Kids Eat Crayons will unleash our madness on an unsuspecting Lower Field Thursday September 6, at 6 pm.

At the end of the month, I'll be headed back to my old stomping grounds of Toronto for two weeks to participate in the Red Bull Music Academy. It's a workshop generally geared towards producers and DJs, I guess, though past lecturers have included arranger/composer David Matthews, drummer Bernard "Pretty" Purdie and the production team of the Mizell Brothers. I don't really have much specific information about this edition, aside from the fact that there will be producers, musicians, DJs and MCs from far-flung nations, and that it'll be a hell of a party. Check the RBMA site for a whole host of goodies including archived lectures from years past and streaming radio shows. I especially enjoyed this master class from producer/keyboardist Mark de Clive-Lowe. It's not everyday a broken-beat legend name-checks Mark Levine's Jazz Piano Book, and then gets into an improvised hip-hop frenzy with Jneiro Jarel.

There's other, bigger stuff under way for the winter. But that shall be revealed later.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Innumerable losses

It's the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, and while the news networks play for ratings with commemorative specials and pay lip service to the victims and survivors, very little is actually being done (except providing shelter with toxic chemicals). I hope there's a large turnout at the Essence-organized Day of Presence. My heart goes out to all those who have been and still are affected by this disaster. I never got to visit NOLA pre-Katrina, and as the mecca for most of my musical interests, it pains me that it may never be rebuilt culturally. Structurally it may well be impossible to build a city on that ground again, but to me it's the cultural environment that defines New Orleans, and the fact that artists are scattered with no means to get back or places to return is a travesty.

My friend, the great organist Vanessa Rodrigues has passed on word that Canada's Dr. Music, Doug Riley, has passed. For anybody who loved straightahead jazz in Canada, Doug was one of the leading figures in the national scene. His tremendous musicality and great spirit was evident at every gig he played. I never officially "met" him, though I saw him play both piano and organ a few times, and I was always incredibly humbled. Playing B-3 with Alex Dean's "Tenor Madness" band (5 tenors, Doug, bass and drums), he could have easily indulged in Hammond tricks and upped the showboating ante, but each solo was well-crafted and wonderful. His contribution to the Canadian jazz landscape will be missed.

More from the Toronto Star and blogger Mark Federman.

Tonight I'm hosting Jazz Euphorium on CKUT, and the plan is now to feature music from NOLA, music from Doug, and an interview I did with Kurt Rosenwinkel during Jazz Fest (which I had been previously planning to air tonight). The Rosenwinkel interview may have to wait.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

RIP Max Roach

Steve Smith broke the news, at least in my blog reader. One of the last living connections to the bebop era, the last surviving member of the Massey Hall Quintet, has passed. He, Kenny Clarke and Roy Haynes laid the groundwork for all drummers after them, much like Bud Powell is the root of most pianistic developments.

I don't have much Max in my personal collection, but I've heard what must be a small sampling of the classic records countless times, and his sound is quite clear in my head. The Clifford Brown records offer definitive, textbook versions of tunes that have been studied by countless musicians. Money Jungle is an underrated piano trio recording of the highest calibre. The legacy and discography are too numerous to detail here - WKCR will have a marathon starting at noon EST. His willingness to embrace the developments of new music and of African music, his exploratory nature, is something we should all cherish and adopt.

I can't say I'm stunned - his health had been in question for some years, going back at least to his last appearance at Massey Hall commemorating the historic concert.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Under Pressure 2007 photoblog

Scaffolds and murals
Originally uploaded by Dr Keys
The 12th edition of Montreal's Under Pressure block party/festival was as colourfully vibrant as ever, and better organized, with caution tape designating a clear area for the b-boy battles. For whatever reason, the crowd didn't seem to be as hyped as last year. It was also fascinating to see the changes in DJ technology, from WeFunk's Professor Groove and godfather DJ Kool Herc rocking 45s, to CDJs and now the world of laptop DJing with time-coded vinyl systems like Scratch, which DJ Mana used for his set.

More photos here, with more to be added to the set in a short while.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Pouts' Over (and the Day's not through)

On a whim today, I picked up the Keith Jarrett 1968 record Somewhere Before, one of the early trio sessions with Charlie Haden and Paul Motian. Jeff Johnston had recommended this to me while I was studying with him (along with Life Between the Exit Signs) but both had been relatively hard for me to track down. This album is the one with the relatively incongruous cover of Dylan's "My Back Pages," a repertoire choice that fits in with the folky Jarrett that was to follow in the next decade, but the idea that Jarrett ever got anything out of Dylan baffles me somehow. For someone that disdains the Montreal Jazz Festival for all the extraneous noise and belligerently insists on perfection, the rough-hewn nasal delivery of Dylan seems at odds. Ah well.

I suppose this is a good entrée for me to comment on the recent Umbria hoopla that has circled the interweb. I had a similar discussion with guitarist Greg Amirault during the festival, when our beloved Mr. Jarrett unleashed a similar tirade (equally unfounded and unprovoked) in Place des Arts. Greg went to the show, and even with my press pass I bowed out of requesting the ticket. I saw the trio at their last appearance a couple of years ago, when Jarrett was the recipient of the Miles Davis prize. It was sublime, save for a buzz in the PA which occasioned an abrupt start to intermission, and served as the butt of a recurring joke through the second set. But given the standard behaviour of a festival audience and Jarrett's reviled temper, I have very little interest in going to see him live again. I'm not willing to shell out that kind of ticket price ($80-$100, depending on the seat) and risk an uninspired set, a walk-off, or an extemporaneous rant. Especially not when Jarrett records almost exclusively live these days (save The Melody At Night With You). I would much rather remain in the comfort of my own home, put on Whisper Not and bliss out, not worrying whether some schmuck is going to turn off his cell phone or not, cough, sneeze, or whip out his digital camera.

Some argue that we should separate the artist from the individual. And I have no problem doing that in some cases - Elton John's past addictions and recent tantrums don't detract from my enjoyment of his early records. Miles' carefully cultivated "fuck you" attitude and history of usurping credit and publishing from his collaborators doesn't diminish the masterpiece status of his work. However, Sir Reg keeps his temper in check onstage, and doesn't unleash on the audience. Jarrett's forums aren't punk rock, with mutual abuse between performer and concert-goer; he has long abhorred the give-and-take of performer and audience. He doesn't thrive on the audience's adrenaline or reaction for his creative consciousness, and it's really the audience member's privilege to watch Keith work. External reaction doesn't filter into his equation. So I think it's kind of disingenuous for him to dismiss the role of the crowd, and then go postal when one person in the crowd is doing something that could potentially, maybe, be distracting.

Again, it's not like I'm about to go torch all the Keith that I own - once I warmed to him, he has been a key influence on my playing and is quite rewarding to listen to. I just have no desire to be in the room when he detonates - I know that the magical moments will be captured by ECM.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

We be blogrollin'

Some really belated additions to the blogroll:

Taylor Ho Bynum's SpiderMonkey Stories
Jeff Chang's Zentronix
Aurgasm (mp3 blog without your usual indie leapfrogging)
Oliver Wang's Soul Sides

Under Pressure's 12th edition is this Sunday in the alleys behind Foufounes Electriques. Expect the usual mind-bending graffiti, killing b-boys and b-girls, and killer tracks galore from the likes of The Goods (Andy Williams & Scott C), WeFunk (Professor Groove & DJ Static), Mossman, DJ Mana, and the one and only Kool Herc. 11 am-10 pm, free. Afterwards the party moves inside with Narcicyst, Accrophone and other hip-hop talent from across the country.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Funky Revolutions playlist

August 4, 2007. Due to some miscommunication, the mighty Moonstarr dropped in to spin a set as well. Good hang, good times, and a couple of tech glitches in the beginning.

Rahsaan Roland Kirk - "Volunteered Slavery"
Antibalas - "Battle of the Species"
Gil Scott-Heron & Brian Jackson - "Third World Revolution"
Positive Black Soul - "Boul Ma Mine"

Moonstarr takes over...
Bill Cosby - "Get Out My Life, Woman"
Lowell Fulson - "Tramp"
The Meters - "Ease Back"
Eddie Bo - "Hook and Sling"
Bill Doggett - "Honky Tonk Popcorn"
Vanessa Kendrick - "90% of Me is You"
Marlena Shaw - "California Soul"

The Pride set
Lila Downs - "La Cumbia del Mole"
Nina Simone - "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood"
Meshell Ndegeocello - "Love Song #1"
Scott Free - "Another Day of the Cruelty"
Femi Kuti - "Beng Beng Beng"

Linton Kwesi Johnson - "Di Eagle and Di Bear"
K'Naan - "Soobax"
Stainless Steele/DJ Image - "Salt Water"
Blackalicious - "Paragraph President"
Vijay Iyer/Mike Ladd - "Cleaning Up the Mess"
Bernard Purdie - "Hapnin"
Les McCann/Eddie Harris - "Compared to What"
Roy Ayers - "Funk in the Hole"
Charlie Parker f/ Miles Davis - "Moose the Mooche (Quantic remix)"
The Ravens - "(Give Me A) Simple Prayer"
Domenico +2 - "Telepata"

Friday, August 03, 2007

Chaque petit cerveau a son propre château

Firstly, my condolences to anyone affected by the collapse of the Minneapolis Bridge. A similar incident occurred in Laval, just north of Montreal, a few months ago and has resulted in an investigation and repair of many overpasses and bridges across the province. One structure that has been earmarked is an entrance to the Ville-Marie expressway, the main highway to downtown Montreal. Very frightening, indeed.

I just came from seeing Ariane Moffatt at FrancoFolies, and she never ceases to impress me. The last time I saw her was about three years ago, while she was still touring Aquanaute, a record of textural, albeit comparatively one-dimensional, trip-hop. Live, the music started to expand, with various English-language covers. The newer disc, La coeur dans la tête, and the live show, sheds the trip-hop for house, glitch, and chirpy faux-reggae on the single "Montréal." The latter has become ubiquitous; I remember the first time I was in a pharmacy and heard that song come on the radio. Tonight, the tune dissolved into a feature for drummer Jean-Phi Goncalves. I was struck by the balance Ariane and her bands have achieved between improvisation, tight pop songcraft, and inventive electronic textures and production. No surprise, given that both Goncalves and keyboardist Alex McMahon are in electro-whiz trio Plaster, and Ariane has collaborated with bands like Motus 3F and Karkwa. The electronic touches enhance the songs, as opposed to defining them - the tunes themselves are often strong enough to exist even in a bare piano/voice setting. Moffatt & co. are not beholden to definitive versions of songs, either, as evidenced in a radical electro-dancehall-funk revisioning of "Fracture du crâne." Apparently, the tour for this record is winding down, and I look forward to what she offers us next.

Various announcements:
- I'll be filling in for Funky Revolutions on Saturday, August 4, 2 pm ET on CKUT. Per regular host Khalid M'Seffar's request, there will be a portion of programming surrounding Montreal Pride (Divers/Cité).
- Spectrum officially closes its doors Sunday, August 5th, with a free bash featuring Michel Rivard and DJ Ghislain Poirier. It'll be a strange evening for sure, with dancing feet and a few wet eyes. I'm still in shock that it will no longer be the nexus of Jazz Fest, or anything else, for that matter.
- ElectroJazz Spaceship touches down again at L'Absynthe Monday, August 6. Expect originals, a couple of covers, and open funky improvisations.
Ben Henriques - saxophones/effects; Olivier René de Cotret - guitar/effects; David Ryshpan - keyboards; Nicolas Bédard - electric bass; Kevin Warren - drums/percussion.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Step into the realm

I was browsing around the Columbus Circle Borders last night when an announcement came over the PA that there was an event. Singer Chrisette Michele would be performing songs from (and signing) her new CD, and Dr. Michael Eric Dyson would be speaking. I didn't know Michele, but I've leafed through some of Dyson's books and heard him on various talk shows, and he's a very strong orator with an eloquent analysis of current hip-hop culture.

Michele exceeded my very low expectations. Despite various mix issues between her vocals and the tracks she sang to, it was obvious she was actually singing, and singing well. A very charismatic performer, she engaged the audience and retains an air of humility despite her limelight associations with Jay-Z, Nas, Beyoncé, et al. She brought to mind early Erykah Badu, with that hint of gravel that most automatically associate with Lady Day. Her melismas never overwhelm the song, and I feel that her shortcomings - mic technique, most prominently, and lyrical prowess - will be eclipsed as she matures. (And she hinted at her lyrical ability with a verse she spit, a cappella, during the Q&A.)

Dyson's turn quickly became a symposium of the elite black intellectuals, as Tavis Smiley, Roland Martin, Cornel West, Marcia Dyson, and Susan J. Taylor each took the microphone and gave persuasive, provocative speeches on the state of the Black community in various forms. There was an additional speaker, a professor from some established university, whose name, position and institution escape me. It felt very much like being in the church ceremonies I've always dreamed of witnessing, with audience/congregation hollering in response to each turn at the pulpit. Unsurprisingly, Dyson is an ordained Baptist minister. I didn't always follow the threads of each speaker; West, though compelling, was the most obtuse to me, but then again I'm completely unfamiliar with his work. One of the overarching themes of the evening, and the gist of my question, was the relationship between artist and community. Speakers emphasized the duties of love, leadership and service (Smiley especially so), and I believe that artists must be entrenched in their communities (be they artistic, cultural, financial or otherwise) not only to make distinctive art but to affect change.

My question, which spurred Dyson on a great monologue but didn't conclude in the answer I'd sought, was: Given the cleavages within it, what is the state of the hip-hop community? And what is the artists' responsibility to it? It amazes me that gangly kids from Switzerland know more and respect more of the tradition and history of hip-hop than many kids in the actual community. And the communal nature of hip-hop seems to be dwindling - Chappelle's Block Party and the annual Under Pressure convention in Montreal are anomalous; and aside from shouting out one's crew on every single track (which Dyson seemed to think is an acceptable substitute for real community...), a large majority of hip-hop is focussed on strict individualism and self-gratification. But hip-hop at its best, in my mind, is indebted to a community, or at least a collective.

A couple of causes were brought up by the speakers and by audience members, which deserve broader attention:
- Essence magazine is a driving force behind a New Orleans Day of Presence on August 29, 2007. Excerpts from an e-mail from Ms. Taylor follow:
[A]s the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina approaches, the situation in New Orleans remains dire. Some 250,000 people are yet displaced throughout the nation, unable to return because they have no homes, no jobs nor the financial means to rebuild. Two years later, 70 schools in Orleans Parish are still closed. There are no mental health services and no hospitals to serve the uninsured poor. The $1.175 billion in federally appropriated funds for the Katrina rebuild and relief effort are being held up by FEMA.

Enough is enough! It's time for our community to stand up and take action. There must be a national outcry, a day of outrage, a day of protest, prayer and possibility that the media cannot ignore; a day on which we demand that our national decision makers redirect our tax dollars away from war and war profiteering to create a regional Marshall Plan that restores New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.

This is our call to action:

1. We demand our national leaders redirect tax dollars away from the war to create a regional Marshall Plan that restores New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.
2. We demand funding for the rebuilding of the levees, for the safety of the people of New Orleans.
3. We want to return to New Orleans and need expeditious housing and job assistance to come back home.
4. We demand adequate health care. No displaced child or adult should go sick, untreated or without medication because his or her state-based medical insurance is not valid in the state where they've been temporarily relocated.
5. We need government funding for mental health counseling and support services for those dealing with the aftermath of their loss.

This is what we're asking you to do:

1. Stand with us on Wednesday, August 29th, in New Orleans as we take to the streets for a massive demonstration and march, 10 AM - 4 PM, on Convention Center Blvd, directly across from the Morial Convention Center's Hall D.
2. Call your congressional and state representatives and the White House to demand the immediate restoration and betterment of New Orleans, Gulf Port, Biloxi and the entire Gulf Coast region. The toll-free number for the congressional switchboard is: (888) 226-0627. You can also email your Congressmen and women and senators by logging onto and, respectively.
- Old news in the hip-hop community, new news to a dabbler like me: The birthplace of hip-hop, 1520 Sedgwick in the Bronx, is the latest victim of gentrification in the Big Apple. More at NYT. Someone announced there would be a demonstration to protect it as a cultural landmark. Hip-hop is more NYC's cultural export of the last 30 years than new music and avant-jazz (even if the latter is closer to my heart), and 1520 Sedgwick is as much worth protecting as Tonic. We must prioritize the rejuvenation and protection of culture.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Yoron Herman/François Bourassa (07/01/2007)

I walked into Spectrum as Israeli-French pianist Yoron Herman, framed in an often angelic lighting scheme, was in the middle of an exploration of Monk’s “Bemsha Swing.” He played with a strong, insistent left hand pattern and marvelous invention in the right. His hand position was almost Jarrett-esque, not to mention his posture and intermittent vocalizations. He continued with a rendition of Bill Frisell’s “Throughout,” a piece that is far too dear to my heart for me to comment further. Suffice it to say that if I were to play it solo piano, I’d want it to be done the way Herman did it. He started his version of “You Don’t Know What Love Is” inside the piano, strumming and plucking the strings with great precision, knocking the lid and playing the soundboard much like a conga drum. After an unknown ballad, he played Sting’s “Fragile” with a sing-song quality over highly powerful bass, which evolved into a vibrant montuno towards the end. He closed his set with the Israeli national anthem, “Hatikvah,” over an incredibly powerful D minor drone. It was transcendent and delivered with massive amounts of emotion. Herman had said earlier in the night it was his first visit to Quebec and, ill at ease on the mic, he’d much rather play. His sentiment and pride of performance came through in those moments.

It is always fascinating to hear an instrumentalist whose playing is inextricably tied to his writing to play other people’s music. This describes both local pianist François Bourassa and alto saxophonist David Binney who joined forces for a tour de force set. Bourassa started with his usual quartet of saxophonist André Leroux, bassist Guy Boisvert and drummer Greg Ritchie. They started with a Monk-ish original of Bourassa. It was my first time hearing the huge tenor tone of Leroux, a gruff post-Trane tenor who was also impressive on flute and soprano throughout the night. The first guest Bourassa welcomed, before Binney, was an African percussionist who contributed well on djembe and talking drum. The constant dialogue between all the members of the band brought to mind Wayne Shorter’s current quartet, though Bourassa’s band was more beholden to his compositional forms. Bourassa’s tunes were immensely energetic, getting a rise out of the Spectrum crowd unlike any reaction I’ve heard for a local artist at Jazz Fest. Boisvert switched to 5-string electric for the funky “Fa Do Do.”

It’s easy to hear what unites Bourassa and Binney – a penchant for driving, odd metered, ostinato driven pieces. But what’s more fascinating are the differences – Bourassa’s penchant for swinging melodies with large intervallic ranges and leaps and a sense of off-kilter phrasing; Binney’s space and airiness inherent to his chord voicings and melodies. There’s a sense of atmosphere around Binney’s music; a sense of space even in his densest moments. Binney really dug into Bourassa’s music, and the bass-heavy ostinati served as launching pads for highly creative solos.

(An abridged version of this review appears at Panpot. Tickets provided by FIJM.)

Antibalas/Femi Kuti (06/30/2007)

Antibalas’ set was drawn mostly from their album Security, though they did end with a Fela Kuti cover that I couldn’t place. They’ve grown musically over the years, pushing the boundaries of what Afrobeat can contain – there were moments in the solo spots that so captivated my attention that I had to momentarily stop dancing. Victor Axelrod’s keyboards channelled Congotronics-esque lo-fi experimentation as much as classic Afrobeat organ. They grooved at lower dynamic levels, which is quite the accomplishment. The horn mics didn’t cut over the drums and bass enough, and I found myself wanting Antibalas to have a more uniform stage presence – Amayo’s a very strong frontman, but the rest of the musicians (especially the horns) had such disparate stage behaviour.

Femi Kuti’s band, Positive Force, came out blazing, with a five-man horn section and ample rhythm section, clad in blue, red and white gowns, complemented by three dancers/backup vocalists. The band has obviously checked out Earth Wind & Fire and James Brown, not solely through Afrobeat’s assimilation of those rhythms but also through their choreography and horn riffs. I thought I heard some elements of new American gospel, like Kirk Franklin, in the mix as well, though that music is also a derivative of EW&F big band funk. Kuti has grown greatly as a musician, playing saxophone with far more confidence than on record. He’s also a charismatic showman and bandleader, cueing the band at all times. The band attacked the rhythms and syncopations with drive, authenticity and fervour. I left after the band’s outstanding cover of “Water No Get Enemy,” as the relentless groove and stifling temperature of Metropolis became too much to handle.

(An abridged version of this review appears at Panpot. Tickets provided by FIJM.)

Medeski Scofield Martin & Wood (06/28/2007)

A far better example of integrating a guitarist into a pre-existing trio is the addition of John Scofield into Medeski Martin & Wood. The quartet’s relationship has vastly grown over the years. 1998’s A Go Go saw MMW functioning as the Booker T. & MGs to Scofield’s dominant frontman to becoming a group of four equal partners with a symbiotic relationship as documented on 2006’s Out Louder. To my ears, Scofield has rarely sounded more inspired; his usual bag of licks and tricks of string raking and muted strumming were noticeably absent – he was truly engaged and imaginative. The phrasing between Sco & Medeski tight on the unison passages were exceedingly tight.

The trio of MMW themselves have matured a great deal since I last saw them – Chris Wood’s stage presence has become more active and brighter, replete with impromptu James Brown footwork. Billy Martin is still the groove machine he always was, with an ear for the right percussive touch at the right moment. Instead of constantly subverting the groove as in years past, the balance was far better – tunes were separated by interludes of brilliant open improv and colour. It was a treat to hear Scofield in this freer setting, rarely documented in the past.

Last time I saw Sco, with the Uberjam band, he was in the teething stage of incorporating additional pedals and effects in his rig. He has since learned the tricks of his pedals and how to use them effectively. Most tunes in the set were pulled from Out Louder. Late in the set, though, Scofield started the signature strumming pattern of “Chank,” from A Go Go. This was a far dirtier and funkier version, with everybody digging in for a more aggressive rhythmic feel. Sco kicked in an envelope filter, further colouring his sound, and Medeski’s Hammond drawbar manipulations are unparalleled. His new combination of Hammond and a small Wurlitzer organ were great complimentary sounds. The tune ended with a series of killer punches. For a respite from the hardcore jam, the quartet indulged in their cover of the John Lennon tune “Julia.” Medeski showed his understated gospel side, reminiscent of his early century work with The Word and Dirty Dozen Brass Band. I’ve rarely heard Scofield play ballads and his melodic phrasing was truly gorgeous. The encore was a darkly funky version of “Hottentot,” from A Go Go, delivered in a manner similar to Miles Davis’ funkier ’70s moments or even those of P-Funk keyboard wizard Bernie Worrell.

(An abridged version of this review appears at Panpot. Tickets provided by FIJM.)

Mike Stern & The Bad Plus, 06/28/2007

I made my way inside for the first concert of the Invitation series: guitarist Mike Stern temporarily joining the ranks of the Yellowjackets and The Bad Plus. I was skeptical about this concert, as collisions between disparate bands look intriguing on paper and result in disaster. TBP opened with “Mint,” from Prog, a demented, swinging line courtesy of pianist Ethan Iverson. Having never seen TBP live, I was struck by the facility of each player. David King gets a bad rap for being a loud drummer, and while he can unleash the holy power of John Bonham, he’s also got great touch and an ear for the whole kit – rims, shells and all. Iverson has incredible technical prowess and independence of hands, with boundless harmonic knowledge and imagination. Bassist Reid Anderson is the glue of the band, and an unabashed melodicist. It became clear during the set why Ornette Coleman has shown his appreciation for the band, and how TBP is a fairly direct descendant of the “harmolodic” lineage, from Ornette through the Keith Jarrett American Quartet of the ‘70s.

Mike Stern came out and immediately the set became awkward for me. He has no pick attack in his tone; it’s all note, which wouldn’t be so bad if his sound wasn’t drowning in chorus and delay, inviting comparisons to Andy Summers. Starting with his tune “Play,” Stern unleashed a solo full of pentatonics, string bending and a few closing choruses with trebly distortion, an archetype for many of his solos to come. He trampled over the solos of each member of TBP, though it was fascinating to hear the band play on more standard forms – Iverson’s version of “crazy experimental freedom” “funnelled” into the context of a minor blues, for example. King has a tremendous swing feel, putting him in the line of that generation of drummers around the NYC club, Smalls, during the mid-to-late ’90s (Ari Hoenig, Jeff Ballard, etc.) Jazz Fest has a history of doing a disservice to pianists, and this night was no exception. The piano sounded boxy in the house, almost as if it were a bad digital keyboard. Ethan's body language seemed especially disconcerting, often standing up while playing, or sitting on the bench, laying out during the first choruses of Stern's solos. It boiled down to the fact that Stern’s vocabulary is entirely different from TBP – made especially evident when he tackled one of their tunes – and a consensus wasn’t reached.

(An abridged version of this review appears at Panpot. Tickets provided by FIJM.)

Friday, July 13, 2007

Royalties killed the radio star

It's a brilliant time artistically to be a musician, but not only are venues closing, the organizations that are supposed to protect our interests (copyright organizations and musicians unions) are aiming to kill off one of the only avenues available for the dissemination of creative music: Internet streaming radio. SaveNetRadio has lost their stay.
"This is a setback, but it is certainly not the end of the road. More than 70 million Americans listen to internet radio and tens of thousands of artists depend on webcasters to promote their music; webcasters aren't going to simply give up the music they love without a fight," [a spokesperson] said.
I hope he's right.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Shattered dreams and shuttered doors

Well, it seems no city is safe. In addition to the pending closure of Spectrum to make way for a Best Buy, it seems that Main Hall (Mile End Cultural Centre) could be slated for the chopping block as well, due to permit issues and noise complaints.
We have been informed by the City of Montreal that our existing “Salle De Reunion” permit for the Main Hall does not allow for the usage of “Spectacles” and or ticketed concerts events. As of immediately, we have been told to cease all events for such usages. We must adhere to the city’s request otherwise we will face a review, and possibly a cancellation of our liquor permit by the Regie des Alcool cours et Jeux.
To be an affordable arts venue for Mile End and Montreal artists of all disciplines, our Centre relies on beverage sales revenues from music events. With the cancellation of events over the summer Mile End Cultural Centre’s survival is in jeopardy. ...
Unfortunately, the recent opposition to our request for the Salle de Spectacle permit by principally one local resident is causing our existence as a cultural centre to be called into question. We believe, as the issues regarding noise leakage have come only in last month, we should be allowed some weeks to correct the problem.
Noise complaints on St Laurent are fallacious, to me; if you have a place on St Laurent, you should know what that entails. Peace and quiet are to be found on many other streets in the city; The Main isn't one of them. I had some musician friends who lived across the street from the Fringe Festival, on St. Laurent & Rachel, and were victims of frequent noise complaints when they weren't louder than the Fringe Pop stage, or the hundreds of Portuguese soccer supporters honking incessantly during Euro Cup 2004.

The only show I've seen at Main Hall was Jason Sharp's Mobius CD release with People for Audio. I hope that won't be my last visit to the club. It's described as a loft-style room, similar to La Sala Rossa but a bit smaller, and one of the better mid-size venues in the city. The booker and soundman is Matt Lederman, of Moondata Productions fame - to have a room with a soundman who knows what they're doing is a rarity, and to have a booker who's also a musician and intensely supportive of the local scene is a treasure we must preserve at all costs.

Montrealers, ex-Montrealers, and anybody who cares about the protection of culture in North America, sign the petition to save the Mile End Cultural Centre here.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Many streams to cross

Dave Douglas has responded to Ethan Iverson's astute jazz in the '90s essay. While I earlier wrote that my perspective on jazz in the '90s is a little skewed and out of sorts, I agree with both these essays in different ways. My following opinions are coloured by the fact that I worked with Dave out at Banff a couple of years ago - easily a watershed moment in my musical development that still heavily influences my work today. I also recently interviewed Ethan and his TBP cohorts during the Montreal Jazz Festival.

Ethan's main point, for those late to the party, is this:
I believe that the tributaries that these two trios from 1996 represent are equally important considerations for the young improviser today. It hasn't really happened yet -- Joe Lovano comes closest -- but when players can eat up "Cherokee" with Jeff Watts and create free harmony with Barre Phillips at an equal level, that will really be something.
Ironically enough, both Dave and Ethan are too close to their own music and possibly too humble to state it, so I will: they are embodiments of authenticity in both streams. I mentioned this in my forthcoming review of TBP with guitarist Mike Stern at the Festival, but it was really fascinating to hear them go beyond their usual setting and work with new musicians and new forms. Ethan mentioned during the interview of having an identity crisis in soundcheck, of being principally a member of TBP or principally playing with Mike Stern. I'd argue he split the difference admirably. My respect and awe for Dave escalated tremendously after his appearance at the on-campus pub jam session at Banff, blowing the shit out of bebop changes and on sax faculty Mike Zilber's Coltrane-matrix-laden tunes on the weekly concert.

Dave is right that a musician bases their sound on choices of context, but his catalogue is proof that choosing a context can vary from project to project (and ideally should). What I think both of them try get at is that many artists choose a context in exclusivity, and throw other practices out with the bathwater. In the dichotomy Ethan presents, there's often a hesitancy among younger musicians delving into the other "stream" (for lack of a better term here), and in the surge of institutionalized jazz education, the free-harmony side of the spectrum gets short shrift. In practice, I find more and more musicians addressing free music and composition-based music equally, in interesting ways. There are still those who choose one over the other.

One musician who is an astonishing practitioner of both is Toronto guitarist Reg Schwager. When I was growing up in Toronto, Reg was the straight-ahead player par excellence, with a sweet, warm tone and heavy swing. He toured with George Shearing for a while (and still might, I don't know.) Then, through Panpot, a disc arrived in the mail: Québécois saxophonist François Carrier's entirely improvised Noh, with drummer/percussionists John Heward and Michel Lambert (another player equally at home swinging like mad or abstractly contributing to new musical conversations), and Reg. As I mentioned in my review of Ribot, my knowledge of the avant-guitar spectrum is limited at best, but Reg fit amazingly well with the rest of the musicians. Unlike some other, more "energy music" style releases I've reviewed, Reg and the others are listening as much as they are playing - and that seems to be the key skill that's often missing in a player's formation. We all study how to play, but rarely do we study how to listen. (Turns out he's also an aficionado of Brazilian music.)

There's any number of musicians who are equally at home playing free or playing tunes (many of whom appear on Ethan's post): John Hollenbeck, Jason Moran, Benoit Delbecq, Ben Monder, Vijay Iyer, and locally, fellow Banff alums pianist Marianne Trudel and bassist Miles Perkin. In my own musical life I've found it necessary to be involved with a number of disparate musical genres at any given time - writing for big band one day, playing free in a William Parker workshop the next, and gigs with R&B and jambands in the offing. When any one of those elements is missing from my schedule, I feel somewhat incomplete.

NB: Banff marked the first time I had ever played free with any sort of consistency or duration. While I may not be the next rising force in the actuelle scene, free improvisation has definitely informed how I approach the rest of my music and figured heavily in the Indigone Trio + Strings project.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

In the company of strangers

Parc des Festivals

My apologies for the backlog of blogging - I arrived back from New York on the eve of Jazz Fest, which I am as usual covering for both CKUT and Panpot. Look to Panpot for more general "week-in-review" writings to be supplemented here with longer reviews of more significant sets.

This past Tuesday marked the final reading session of the BMI Jazz Composers Workshop. I can't believe I've essentially been commuting between the two cities for eight months. It's been quite the honour to be surrounded by a completely new group of musical minds - I've had the opportunity to gather a new perspective on my music, by virtue of not having to play piano on my own tunes, but also by interacting with musicians I've long respected and admired. Our year-end concert is July 19 at Christ St. Stephens (120 W. 69th, between Broadway and Columbus) at 7:30 pm. I'm immensely thrilled to announce that my piece, "Blue Hole," will be premiered that night, along with work by brilliant composers and new friends, including Earl MacDonald, Jeff Fairbanks, Michele Caniato and others that don't have web presence.

After the final reading and a hang at some bar on Broadway & 46th which had Magic Hat #9 on tap, I headed over to a concert presented by the River to River festival at the World Financial Center. The Living Room was co-hosting a songwriters night headlined by Chris Thile and Martha Wainwright. Thankfully it was outdoors and the lamented air conditioning system of Darcy's Bang On a Can liveblog was nowhere to be felt. I got there as The Bees were playing. They were a fairly standard pop-folk-rock group, with solid vocal harmonies but rather stagnant song structures.

Fellow BMI composer Volker Goetze had accompanied me out to the WFC, and stuck around to check out Chris Thile on my urging. I guess most people know him as "the mandolin player from Nickel Creek," but he first came to my attention as a heavy newgrass instrumentalist in his own right and in his jaw-dropping duos with Béla Fleck. I had never seen him live but had meant to for years. Immediately after the first few notes of his opening instrumental, Volker said to me "This is already far more interesting." Hints of jazz harmonies crept into his strong songs that walk the line between alt-country, traditional country, indie rock and pop. His lyrics were at turns witty and tender. He had the WFC audience silent with only a mandolin and his voice, and with a stage presence far more confident than the normally awkward singer-songwriter rapport. At one point he said, "And now it's the point in my set where I like to play some Bach. Oh wait, this is a songwriter's night, I shouldn't have told you who wrote this." He then proceeded to nail the Gigue from the Partita in Dm for solo violin. Volker and I were stunned. Truly inspiring music as the sun was setting over the Hudson. Martha Wainwright followed, with her gruff, sardonic tunes. They were ruminative and rubato, delivered in a cracking voice somewhere between Janis Joplin and Tom Waits. It was a good way to wind down after Thile's tour de force.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

"We don't play jazz, we play vision!"

So sayest Lewis “Flip” Barnes, the trumpeter/MC for the opening night of Vision Festival XII. That statement was realized to varying degrees of success by the five groups on Tuesday night at the Angel Orensanz Foundation, a converted synagogue in the Lower East Side, mere steps away from Tonic.

The concert opened with an invocation of sorts by poetess and vocalist Patricia Nicholson, William Parker on an African(-derived? -inspired?) box-like bass and Hamid Drake on frame drum, delivered while people were still filing in. Nicholson’s poetry was delivered with sincerity, but the smiles/raindrops/rainbows imagery rang a little forced and dated to me. The instances of her speaking in tongues and waving her arms in a neo-tribal hippie fashion seemed, in the wake of Matana RobertsCoin Coin performance at the Suoni festival, a little hollow. Parker and Drake exhibited their unique hook-up, but in one of the many sound problems to plague the evening, Drake’s frame drum was ill represented sonically.

William Parker followed up with his large ensemble commission and premiere, Double Sunrise Over Neptune. After having heard him quite recently in duo with Drake, I was extremely curious to hear what he would do with a much larger group. The piece consisted of three bass ostinati, played dutifully by Shayna Dulberger, the first of which I felt lasted far too long. While I loved the hypnotic grooves of the duo, in the large ensemble they felt ponderous and I longed for some more change-ups, if not in material than in texture. On the other hand, much of the initial string writing seemed underdeveloped, fleeting motives that would repeat twice and then move on to something only tangentially related. I was struck at how all the different cultures represented – the Indian vocalist Sangeeta Bannerjee, Bill Cole’s Eastern reeds, Joe Morris’ banjo, Brahim Fribgane’s oud – blended far better than expected. Much of the solos were in overlapping dialogues, many of which were tremendous – Morris’ flurried guitar with Mazz Swift’s soulful violin, Rob Brown’s hard-edged alto and responsive interaction with Bannerjee, “Flip” Barnes’ cogent trumpet logic, Jason Kao Hwang’s beautiful singing tone, and the combination of Drake and Gerald Cleaver was mighty indeed. Sabir Mateen indulged in his squeaking and squawking, in tandem with baritone saxist Dave Sewelson, and I longed for the opportunity to hear him do something – anything – else. Jessica Pavone was completely buried for her otherwise great viola solo, Bill Cole was generally too loud for the duration of the piece, Parker’s bass kora was mostly inaudible, and while the saxes’ first entry was overwhelmingly loud, their chorale parts were lost in the mix.

The ending of the piece arrived as a non sequitur, with Bannerjee abruptly starting to sing English lyrics in place of her earlier vocalise. Once it settled in, it was beautiful, and Parker’s string writing had vastly improved, with some gorgeous string quartet passages over Parker’s bass kora. Cole’s shakuhachi punctuations seemed out of place here, but it was a minor interruption. Double Sunrise could have been more effective in many ways, but even still was fairly successful. It was hard to tell who was responsible for the sonic clutter – the soundmen or Parker. I want to give Parker the benefit of the doubt here.

By contrast, the collective trio Fieldwork were all quite audible in the system. Vijay Iyer’s a fascinating pianist and composer – his hand position is like a tarantula traversing the keyboard, grasping odd intervals. Drummer Tyshawn Sorey looks like a Buddha behind the kit, embracing both the hip-hop machine-like grooves of Marcus Gilmore but with a looseness and fluidity of Dan Weiss, peppered with drum ‘n’ bass references. Saxophonist Steve Lehman dug into the Carnatic-influenced rhythmic patterns, sounding less brittle than I’ve usually heard him, and less edgy than Iyer’s usual alto cohort, Rudresh Mahanthappa. (My neighbour, DJA, felt differently.) At one point, through his phrasing and extended technique, he sounded like a human sampler. There was a cinematic quality to the music, with its dark intervallic harmony and the sonorous overtones from the Steinway. Iyer’s created a language for himself – his rhythmic conception and line construction are different from most, and quite systematic. He’s brilliant, and I appreciate his work, but I can’t say it often gets me on a visceral sort of level.

I’m still trying to figure out how to parse Cooper-Moore’s Keyboard Project. It was too insistent upon itself to be taken purely as farce, but too broad to be effectively subversive. Cooper-Moore spent most of his time ranting how “Jazz ain’t got no mama,” jazz being an orphan, whore and prostitute, and all he needed was some sort of punchline to complete it. When he wasn’t doing that, or singing in a gruff theatrical tenor, he was playing some hokey Hammond patch from an M-Audio keyboard controller. Dancer Marlies Yearby was nothing but distracting, ranting along with Cooper-Moore without even so much as a body mic. Her writhing about on the floor didn’t have any sort of direction to my eyes. The set was saved when they finally got into some music, with Darius Jones, Assif Tsahar and Willie Applewhite blowing hard over Chad Taylor’s propulsive groove straddling uptempo Latin, funk and Philly Joe Jones-style swing. The duo between Tsahar and Taylor was especially killing. Yearby confined herself to the wings and started truly dancing, out of the way of the band. This was fantastic “energy music” with momentum and dynamic. The soundmen seemed unprepared for the set: Nioka Workman’s cello was inaudible for most of the set, even while Cooper-Moore barked for cello; and there quite obviously should have been a vocal mic somewhere. It was irreverent, sure, and created a vastly different mood than the heaviness of Fieldwork, but without an obvious conceit, it was a hard world to enter. Lester Bowie’s commentary on some Art Ensemble tracks is irreverence done right.

Having seen Marc Ribot in an intimate solo setting a couple of weeks ago, it was truly spectacular to experience Spiritual Unity, his Ayler tribute project with Chad Taylor, trumpeter Roy Campbell Jr. and bassist Henry Grimes. Again, I admit my ignorance with Ayler’s music so I can’t provide titles, but there was such a power and passion to this music that automatically engaged me. The intriguing aspect of that project is how Campbell and Ribot translate Ayler’s sax skronk to their respective instruments – Campbell through a massive range from pedal tones to whistle tones, and Ribot through a fluidly distorted guitar with spiky, punky energy. Ayler’s music is essentially joyous, and the joy was contagious here. The intent with which this quartet performed and inhabited the music was really quite astounding to me. Chad Taylor exhibited his groove side with Cooper-Moore, and on the free ballad played here, he demonstrated his touch and sensitivity. The sound gremlins got in here, too: Grimes provided a resonant foundation for the band, but the pitches he played weren’t delivered through the system. I only heard him clearly when he soloed or played arco, unleashing the upper partials of the strings and driving the band forward. Hearing Grimes’ bowing again reinforced the debt William Parker owed in his own arco statement a couple of weeks ago at Sala. After seeing Ribot twice and hearing his love and admiration for Albert Ayler come through his music. I am now going to thoroughly investigate the original recordings.