Wednesday, February 28, 2007


Ethan's interview with Stanley Crouch, David R. Adler's review of Crouch's compilation Considering Genius, and various other bits and pieces spurred this line of thought.

Much has been made of the Internet bestowing the privileges of mass media to anyone who has the mere seconds it takes to register an account, especially in the wake of Idolator's rogue Jackin' Pop extravaganza. Much of it has been a pity party from mainstream media, decrying the fact that indeed everyone now has the power to be a critic, or gatekeeper, or kingmaker, or whatever self-inflating pundit term may be coined the future. But when many mainstream critics have ossified in their tastes, is it really such a bad thing to have a burst of new voices?

Reviews should take the music (or film/production/play/etc) on its own merit, and the ideal critic is one who is as transparent and as catholic as possible. Much of music has a goal, whether it be programmatic music or a concept album (or both), and the best reviews should aptly demonstrate whether it succeeds or fails at achieving said goal. Nate Dorward's rules of reviews are ones I attempt to follow. In my small portfolio of published reviews, I think I've only ever panned a couple of artists here, and I view those as neophyte and immature mistakes. (I still stand by some of the opinions though - you can't call twenty minutes of the same damn thing two different tunes, unless they're parts I and II. Sorry.)

But it's scathing diatribes that bring the audiences and sell the magazines, which is why IAJE will intentionally pit Bob Blumenthal against Christian McBride; it's why people still talk about Pitchfork's over-the-top reaction to a mundane album; and it seems to be the only reason Down Beat still has the Hot Box. Anyone who's read DB for any length of time will know that John McDonough usually doesn't want to have anything to do with free improvisation or electronics (heaven forbid it should be free improvisation WITH electronics); and that John Corbett will praise anything with hefty amounts of "crazy experimental freedom." Jim Macnie and Paul de Barros are the more moderate voices in the box. But as a reader, I don't even look at McDonough's and Corbett's reviews for substance anymore: I know their tastes and I can tell just by the artist and/or label whether they'll like the record or not. Arthur Kaptainis of the Montreal Gazette makes it abundantly clear, in nearly every new music review he's forced to pen, that he feels it's a chore to attend concerts made up of music post-Schoenberg. Again, as an educated reader, I know exactly what to expect if it's a new music review with his byline. And I feel sorry for the readers whose only exposure to this music is through superficial tripe.

Writers like Crouch, whose biases precede them, get in their own way and in the way of their subjects. Crouch's reputation for "driving the thresher," and his acute ability to entirely miss the point, overshadows the majority of his contribution to the critical canon. And I welcome the opportunity blogging has given the unexpert critics, in the form of passionate listeners and musicians, to level the playing field, so that if major critic X didn't like this weekend's new music premiere, there's just as much of a chance via one's search engine of choice to find a review that maybe, for once, addresses the music. Blogs (for the most part) don't have to answer to editorial mandates or advertising dollars, and that's truly liberating for honest and respectable criticism.

The not-quite-excellent adventure

Commuting's a bitch. The upshot of delayed flights: complimentary drinks.

After scrambling all weekend to find a flight to get to the BMI reading yesterday, I received a call Monday night that my 6:30 am flight (Trudeau to Toronto's Pearson, connecting flight to LaGuardia) was cancelled, and luckily rescheduled for a 10:30 am flight direct to LaGuardia. So far, so good. Having no checked bags was a welcome bonus - I deplaned and immediately caught a shuttle into Manhattan.

I grabbed some lunch from the deli across the street from Local 802, and frantically set about taping the rest of my parts together. The piece I brought in is easily the longest piece, in terms of paper, I've written - nearly 60 pages of score, and parts ranging from 2-6 pages, depending on intricacy and formatting. No horrendous train wrecks, and I got a good idea of what needs to be fixed or kept in the piece. Mike Holober guest conducted the piece, as Jim came in late, and looked rather worse for wear - I guess he caught something from the flight back to NY from his latest European voyage; he missed the meeting last week as well.

Volker Goetze's piece brought a cameo from Lenny Pickett on Eb clarinet. Pickett played with a lot of slap-tonguing (whether by choice or by instruction, I'm not sure) and it sounded rather like Nintendo music sitting atop this lush orchestration. I had to leave early to catch a shuttle back to LaGuardia, and this is where it all went wrong.

I missed the 4:30 shuttle by 7 minutes (though the other person in line said it never showed up), and for a minute the 5:00 looked like it was going to blow by Grand Central Terminal. Upon arrival, I'm told all flights to Toronto are delayed by a ripple effect caused by an earlier mechanical failure and ensuing ground crew issues, and that the flights direct to Montreal are oversold because they downgraded the aircraft. Long story short, my 7:30 flight to Pearson was pushed back to 8:15, and the 10:30 connection to Trudeau was postponed till 11:20, which was further postponed to accomodate another late flight from Cancun. Didn't get back home until 1 am, all for a three-hour reading session in NYC.

The added benefit of the flights were that none of them cracked the 30,000-foot ceiling, above which my ears get horribly blocked. Given that I've got a final recording session with Kids Eat Crayons tonight and the start of an Indigone Trio residency tomorrow, I'm quite happy.

Linkage (which has already gone across the blogosphere): Ethan Iverson and Stanley Crouch. Darcy and Pat have cogent analysis; my only addition would be the irony of Crouch lambasting Leroi Jones' black-nationalist transformation into Amiri Baraka while he insists upon trotting out racially-fuelled perceptions of the jazz world.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Indigone Trio happenings

In March, Indigone Trio will be playing every Thursday from 6-8 pm at Le Parc des Princes, a new bistro up in the Mile-End neighbourhood (5293 Parc, in the area I once saw La Presse refer to as "le quartier de bagel"). The manager, Fred, is really keen on having this room be equal parts restaurant and venue. The ambience is quite nice, with large windows looking out onto Parc. For us, it's a great benefit to be playing every week, integrating new drummer Phil Melanson into the band.

Our gig last Friday, the first with Phil, showed quite a bit of promise. Though the crowd was small, it was populated by people we'd never played for, and they thoroughly enjoyed it. It was the first time "As of Now" and "First Impressions" have been played by Indigone Trio, though I've performed them in other settings.

Set I:
As of Now (D. Ryshpan)
Pleasure is All Mine (Björk)
Ramblin' (Ornette Coleman)
Love Is the Reason (A. Mallett)
Erghen Diado (Peter Lyondev)

Set II:
First Impressions (D. Ryshpan)
Law Years (Ornette Coleman)
Round and Round (A. Mallett)
Enumeration (D. Ryshpan)
Dupla Traição (Djavan)
One Finger Snap (Herbie Hancock)

Friday, February 23, 2007

No one is life itself

For the Montrealers that read this blog (and those that are coming here via Panpot), I hereby welcome you and remind you that I'm playing tonight (February 23, 2007) with the reworked, revamped Indigone Trio. Tonight we welcome drummer and avid bicyclist Phil Melanson into the trio, with Alex Mallett holding down the bass, as always. We hit at Les Conneries (2037 St. Denis), at 8:30 pm.

NB: Please take careful note of the address - 2037 St. Denis - as that's the only marking on the door. It's the door beside venerable punk bar Café Chaos. I nearly missed it myself on the way to Groove Night. Again, that's 2037 St. Denis.

More Indigone Trio news to follow shortly.


Mwanji and Pat have already picked up on this - Dr. Jazz has graciously posted a transcript of Ornette's untelevised acceptance speech. As I read it, I was reminded of Ornette's address at IAJE 2006. Much like his music, it was a powerful speech as he made it, and had some sort of inner logic to it, though when I tried to repeat it to others who weren't there it lost all its meaning and effect.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

In pursuit of enlightenment

My apologies for the protracted absence here. I've been preparing for these past five days of auditions, lessons, and travel. Between some serious catch-up time at the piano, heavy-duty revision and extension of a piece, and tearing my hair out with travel plans, blogging's been low on the list of priorities.

Saturday I flew out to Boston, for my second-ever visit. The first was with a band called Atomic Brothers a couple of years back, and none of us really knew the city that well, resulting in us getting irreparably lost around the Common trying to remember where we parked. This visit was more streamlined - staying with a friend in Hyde Park as I auditioned for NEC. I must have gone through Trudeau at an off-peak hour, because there were minimal line-ups for customs and security, and everything moved quite efficiently. The customs agent even threw me for a loop - after I told him I played piano, he asked me, "So where's your piano?" I got flustered and after a minute I offered a sheepish "at home," in response.

Thankfully we didn't suffer any delays of JetBlue proportions, but as my seat on the flight was directly behind the cockpit, I got wind of pieces of disconcerting information before announcements were made to the baker's dozen of passengers. First, we were without a captain, then without a flight plan. Once we received the revised flight plan, the ground crew decided to disappear. In all, we spend an hour and a half on the tarmac and twenty-seven minutes in the air. The upshot of it was the booze was made complimentary. Just enough time to have a Sleeman's to take the edge off.

After a welcome Indian dinner at Rangoli in Allston, I got some rest before the big audition day on Sunday. I was taken aback by the lack of anything (aside from Symphony Hall) within short walking distance of NEC's campus. The rest of the surrounding area is swallowed up by Northeastern. I realized later if I had walked further up Mass Ave I would have hit the Berklee area. But from Huntington to Tremont there isn't really all that much in the way of music stores or breakfast joints. I did have some pretty decent Thai food at Pho & I, across the street from NEC.

Jordan Hall, the building, is essentially a big semi-circle. I didn't get lost, exactly, though I think I may have taken the longest route to get to where I wanted to go. Jordan Hall, the hall, is astounding. It's almost like walking into a cathedral, with its high ceiling and ornate woodwork. I was grateful for the thorough tour and the opportunity to talk to some current students before my audition. I don't really know much about the current state of NEC - what I know of it is from alums like Darcy, Pat and Joe Sullivan (a McGill prof) - so it was nice to get some more up-to-date information. The audition went well - the setup in Keller had my back to the judging panel, so it's not like I had to stare down Danilo Perez for twenty minutes.

On Monday, after Pat had tipped me off to the latest Fung Wah accident and a Greyhound deal, I hopped on the Greyhound to NYC. I dozed off for a significant portion of the ride, making it seem shorter than it was, though we spent a healthy chunk of time crossing Connecticut, including some strange little detour in New Haven. I checked into my hostel of choice, where my roommates were a bunch of Swiss graffiti artists. I was impressed at their knowledge and appreciation for the entirety of hip-hop culture and tradition. I then met up with Pat to go to Cleopatra's Needle. Between it being President's Day and school vacations, the turnout was pretty low. There was a 13-year-old drummer from New Jersey, who knows far more about the current state of jazz than I did at his age, and a 6-year-old pianist who could barely reach the pedals but didn't do a bad job on "Now's The Time." I played a healthy amount of tunes because aside from the host, Roger Leit, who's also a trumpet player, there weren't that many other pianists there. Roger hosted the last time I went to Cleo's as well, in December, and he runs a good session. My opinion of Cleo's has changed since my first, flawed visit in October.

The BMI meeting was led by Mike Holober, whose name is probably most familiar to jazz blog readers through his membership in DJA's Secret Society. He's also a fantastic composer in his own right, and brought some acute insight into the charts presented. There were a few instances in my chart where the effect I wanted on paper probably wasn't going to come off in reality, so we discussed different ways to achieve a similar sound. I'm still really impressed by the variety of styles in the group - from more traditional, Thad Jones-inspired writing to stuff that bears the mark of Reich and Adams. There's some rhythmic stuff going on that I haven't even begun to address in my own work.

I ran from BMI to catch the airport shuttle at Grand Central, and just barely made it. My first visit to LaGuardia was fairly smooth, although the delay of flights to Toronto did fill me with dread. Everything went so well until we hit Trudeau, where the ground crew wasn't ready for us and we had to wait a good twenty minutes for our luggage. In a few hours, I'll be auditioning at McGill, which is a strange feeling. I'm used to their audition process, having played on auditions almost every year of my undergrad, but it's been five years since I was the one auditioning.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

More odds and ends

- My review of Steve Lacy's Esteem, Live in Paris 1975 is up at Panpot.
- I wouldn't consider myself part of the Justin Timberlake convert crowd - "SexyBack" still leaves quite a bad aftertaste - but damn if his band isn't tight in the neo-soul fashion. The link is a French television clip of his new single, "What Goes Around Comes Around," played live, with JT on Rhodes. Impressive not only for the playing and the subtle rearrangement, but also for the fact that this sort of playing and groove was televised somewhere.
- Groove Night will probably be recorded. I'm really excited to be playing with Jim and Kevin again, as well as with Yanick and Olivier. Stay tuned for details.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Odds and ends

Just before another excursion to New York, I'm drowning in new music. CKUT was selling off extra copies of discs to raise money at an open house, and at the rate of four CDs for $5 I procured:

- Larry Goldings Trio: Sweet Science
- Steve Swallow/Chris Potter/Adam Nussbaum: Damaged in Transit
- Mario Pavone: Boom
- George Schuller: JigSaw

I haven't listened to the last two yet. It's been hard to pull that Swallow disc out of the player - it's a suite of pieces created as an exercise to write for two voices. It's rare that there are chord changes on the provided lead sheets, and even with Swallow's rather plastic and thin sound, the trio is surprisingly full. For a piano player it's quite the learning experience to listen to pared-down records, and following music in horizontal (linear) terms as opposed to vertical (harmonic/chordal) terms. Addressing Mwanji's recent criticism of Chris Potter, there are a few instances where he adds empty ornaments, but for the most part his virtuosity is focused.
The Goldings disc is impressive - I've dug Larry's playing for a while and I admire how he elegantly sidesteps B-3 clichés while still acknowledging the tradition.

I've also got a stack of CDs I'm reviewing for a relatively new Montreal-based experimental music site, Panpot, including the 3rd and 4th installments of Vandermark 5's Free Jazz Classics series, about which Peter Breslin already blogged. While I'm familiar with Vandermark's playing - and it took me a long while to warm to it - I haven't listened to this record yet; I'm eager to engage Breslin's incisive questions on the music.


A couple of new names will appear on the blogroll. Craig "Suave" Sauvé is everyone's favourite raging NDP metalhead bartender. He's also the guitarist in Kids Eat Crayons, and a great mimic of accents. Daniel Melnick is a friend living in Chicago, and an astute commentator on all things musical, in addition to being a killing guitarist as well.


Thanks to everyone who came out to the Kids Eat Crayons show at Barfly on Friday. If anyone can verify the rumour that a speaker was sparking at some point during our set, please let me know. The Kids wreak havoc in the studio once again this week, and I continue to marvel at the brilliance of Dennis' compositions and how different this music is from anything I've ever participated in before.

A reminder that Groove Night featuring Yanick Coderre, Olivier René de Cotret, myself, Jim Bennett and Kevin Warren is this Saturday.