Thursday, May 31, 2007

Sounds for the people

For concert blogging, please direct your browser to PanPot where I will be one of their many correspondents for the 7th annual Suoni Per Il Popolo festival throughout the month of June. I did a preview show last night on Jazz Euphorium, and of the three jazz festivals in town (FIJM, Off, and Suoni) its lineup has me the most consistently excited. For PanPot, I'll be reporting on:
Rob Brown Quartet (June 5, La Sala Rossa)
William Parker/Hamid Drake duo (June 6, La Sala Rossa)
Matana Roberts' Coin Coin (June 13, Casa del Popolo) [featuring three members of A Silver Mt. Zion - should be interesting]
The Goods f/ Recloose (June 23, La Sala Rossa) [protégé of Detroit house guru Carl Craig]
Louis Moholo/Dave Burrell/Kidd Jordan (June 27, La Sala Rossa)

I'll also be attending Marc Ribot's solo show at Sala on the 4th. Watch for a report here (another PanPot correspondent will be attending as well). Unfortunately, I'm in New York when the ICP Orchestra invades Sala with their chaos, but if you're within reasonable driving distance of Montreal, go. (As a consolation, Han Bennink will be playing duo with Anthony Coleman during JazzFest if you miss ICP.)

In other mini-festival news, tomorrow is the St. Viateur street festival sponsored by Ubisoft Montreal, with musical entertainment provided by Socalled and Patrick Watson among others. A Mile-End block party that's been sidelined for the past couple of years, it's the first I've heard about it and I'm excited to see Watson, our local ethereal singer-songwriter done good, again.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

This week we're gonna party like it's 1999

As has been noted pretty much everywhere, D:O is repping the 90s this week, with admirable assistance. Like Dan, I'm at the young end of the age bracket here. Though I became exposed to jazz in the 90s, my first years of exploring the music were decidedly repertory-based, leafing through DownBeat and acquiring as many classic albums as I could on a schoolboy budget. I guess I became more aware of new releases and artists towards the end of the decade, but really, not until the early Oughts when I was headed to university.

In playing along with the game and trying to come up with my own list, I don't really associate that many discs with the '90s. I don't remember when a lot of them were recorded (I almost forgot that Mehldau's Art of the Trio run with Warner Bros was in the '90s), unlike most of the stuff in the Behearer and pre-Behearer era which has been indelibly stamped with a time frame upon it in my head. I'm unsure whether it's because these discs were sort of running parallel with my development and so they're contemporary to me and not historical documents, or whether there's not really a cohesive set of '90s aesthetics to evaluate them on. Or maybe I'm just too young.

All this to say, go read the lists, listen to the music, and check out the reflections. Some album citations may surprise you - I didn't expect Nate Dorward to shout out Ruby Braff, for instance.

NYC diary May '07

While the space to stretch out en route is welcome, sold-out trains always wind up being more eventful. I wound up sitting beside two raucous teenagers, one of whom is a budding actor, who obsessed over their vices of smoking and drinking. In the café car, I overheard a loud gaggle of girls gossiping over their lives, and one of them asking if Canadians spoke English (because Mawntreawl is French). To which one replied, “Yeah, like Celine Dion. She’s French but she speaks English too.” The train wound up taking twelve hours instead of ten, and then we all had to get to where we were going. I felt too tired to haul out to NuBlu and check out Butch Morris’ conductions.

I wound up staying at a different hostel this time, in the East Village, a few blocks from Union Square. The immediate area didn’t really suggest anything to do – either walk the few blocks to Union Square or down to the Lower East Side. The vibe in that area was a little strange – it indeed felt like a village with all the small storefronts and restaurants, but it also felt a little lifeless compared to a few blocks down. As I returned to the hostel from the BMI meeting, a guy flew in front of me and wrestled down the guy attempting to steal his bike.

I was able to maintain my Tuesday morning bagel routine, at David’s Bagels on 1st Ave. Afterwards, my friend had asked me to go pick up some coffee for her at Porto Rico on Bleecker Street. I walked the wrong way out of the subway, again, and wound up standing in front of Bleecker Street Records, a very very dangerous record shop with tons of hard-to-find (in my experience) R&B/soul compilations. In the tradition of many Montreal used book stores, a cat slept beside the entryway to the poster department. My coffee mission took precedence and I forced myself to leave empty-handed. I am convinced that Heaven must smell like the entrance to Porto Rico, with the various rich aromas of their fresh beans mingling together wonderfully.

Mike Holober ran the BMI meeting this time around, and once again gave very specific guidance and places to revisit. It was great to see everyone after my absence, and to hear what they’re working on, from revisions to new pieces. We seem to be having trouble securing a venue for our year-end concert, as Merkin Hall is under construction and some of the rental fees for other halls are astronomical. Watch this space, and/or MySpace, for more information. Given the calibre of stuff I’ve heard in the readings, the concert promises to be a strong one.

In my perusal of All About Jazz-New York, trying to figure out what to do this week, my first NYC visit post-Tonic, one listing jumped out at me: Eli Degibri, Mark Turner, Ben Street and Jeff Ballard at Louis 649 in the Lower East Side. Walking distance from the hostel, one of my favourite drummers ever who I’d had yet to see live, and a killer chordless quartet. I made sure to go. I got there early to secure a seat, which proved to be a truly wise decision, as Louis is smaller than anything I expected and was crammed to standing-room-only capacity. I only stayed for the first set, which consisted of an abstracted “Bye Bye Blackbird,” a backbeat tune (possibly original) that I didn’t know the name of, and a scorching “Walkin’.” Eli Degibri was listed as the leader, whose work I only know from one Herbie Hancock DVD he’s on. He’s a typical post-Coltrane, post-Henderson, post-Brecker modern tenor, with the requisite grasp of false fingerings and multiphonics. He was just flying all over the horn all set, and though there were moments that were interesting and promising, usually during trades with Mark Turner, I found myself paying more attention to Ballard and Street’s hookup. I’ve never heard Jeff Ballard play standards and swing for that amount of time, and he’s a monster at it. The second tune allowed him to unleash his modified Latin-influenced “Poinciana” beat that he does so well, and at one point he hinted at the drum ‘n’ bass groove he’s so adept at (Mehldau’s cover of “Knives Out” or Ben Allison’s “Riding the Nuclear Tiger”) but never went the whole way. Ben Street was really solid, and made walking solos sound interesting. I was fascinated by Mark Turner’s playing; in stark contrast to Degibri, the editing and process he went through was visible and audible, and the precise, intervallically diverse lines he played had such strong conception and conviction.

I ended my stay in New York by speaking a lot of French. At Louis, I was sitting beside one woman who lived in Montreal for a few years, along with two of her college friends from France. Back at the hostel, two French girls had checked in, in addition to the Franco-Ontarienne. There was a lot of confusion over sleeping accommodations, to the point where we addressed another roommate (a guy presumably from the South or Southwest, by his accent) in French out of habit.

PS: Happy belated birthday to Darcy. I arrived in town two days after his concert (which I am about to go listen to) and unaware it was his birthday.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Shutting the lid

In another crushing blow to the independent proliferation of creative arts, has been banned from streaming to various countries, including Canada (as of today). I'd gone through a love/hate relationship with the site. The idea, for those who haven't used it or heard of it, is to create custom streaming stations based on artists or songs with similarities determined by a bunch of music theory geeks in a back room. It can be further refined by user ratings. The concept is great, and has parallels with or Yahoo!'s LaunchCast, but it has a vast database of music and may be the only one to purportedly deal with music on theoretical terms. My only qualm with it is in the results, and granted I'm a little picky. It takes a lot of tweaking because the areas isolated by the theoreticians may not be the common threads I hear. (It's also a bit disingenuous to claim all Brazilian music is related because it has Portuguese lyrics.) I had greater success with more minimal and popular forms of music, like the last station I created, seeded from the Jimmy Castor Bunch's "It's Just Begun."

According to founder Tim Westergren, the issue at hand is that Canada does not have an adequate license to cover what they do - it would need to be a nearly exact counterpart to the DMCA/SoundExchange combo in the States. That claim leaves me dumbfounded; between CRIA, CMRRA and SOCAN, we don't have adequate licensing for something like Pandora? My initial feeling is Westergren and co. just didn't know where to look.

The fact that Pandora only recently acquired the ability to associate IP addresses with locations not only befuddles me (as my blog's SiteMeter's been available for free for a long time now), but also raises the question: how does Pandora's service differ from's radio features, or David Byrne's radio stream (or Kyle Gann's, or any number of streams I can get through iTunes), or the fact that I can listen and watch webcast material from various NPR affiliates across the US?

I've never come across an industry so entirely out of touch with the desires of its consumers as the music industry. As someone commented on the Pandora blog, "Other industries can only *dream* of treating their customers with the contempt that the music industry does." I've said it before: as a musician and composer, yes, I'd love to be compensated adequately for my work, but as it stands right now, the attention I would garner through having plays on MySpace,, Pandora and various college/community stations internationally would only result in further compensation through gigs, potential album sales, etc etc. As a journalist and broadcaster, I get a kick out of programming music for whoever may be listening, and as a music fan I'm always into that one killer track someone sends out over the airwaves that is entirely new to me.


I'm going to New York next week after another protracted absence due to prior commitments and inclement weather. Monday the 21st is an embarrassment of riches that I won't be able to catch because of my train's arrival time: Montrealer Francois Bourassa is at Dizzy's with guest David Binney; Butch Morris does a conduction at Nublu; Ingrid Jensen's at 55Bar and Noah Jarrett & Todd Sickafoose's bands are at Bar 4. Depending on what time my train gets in, I may check out Ingrid or Butch Morris, or maybe just head on up to Smoke's jam session as per usual, with special guest Jim Rotondi on trumpet. With the closure of Tonic, I'm at a loss as to what to do on Tuesday night. All About Jazz-NY shows that Eli Degibri is playing with Mark Turner, Ben Street and Jeff Ballard at Louis 649 and Binney is hitting 55Bar again. I may trek over to Barbes and check out Slavic Soul Party.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Tactical manoeuvers

Professor Gann has an intriguing article on the vagaries of teaching and studying composition. He has described my sort of undisciplined nature quite aptly:
Typically, I think - and I ask this as a question - college age composers tend to have tremendous bursts of inspiration, and be almost incapable of composing when not inspired. As your psychology changes in your 20s, you start thinking less of individual moments (or melodies, or motives) and more about strategies for entire pieces (like chord progressions or rhythmic structures). Then it becomes easier to just sit down and start writing, inspired or not, and at some point inspiration creeps in and lifts the piece off the ground.
I tend to start with some sort of catalyst, some sort of initial inspiration, usually a melody or more abstract notion. Once that first melody is generated, then I can work away at it with a little less inspiration. I often find it difficult to return to pieces, especially if I've listened to a lot of music in the intervening time between sittings - my headspace and my relationship to the music is different. One piece of advice I've taken to heart is something Dave Douglas advised me at Banff a couple of years ago: never assume that because it's already on the page it's completed and set in stone, and that the best way to re-evaluate one's decisions is to re-copy the piece by hand. Re-writing it forces a re-thinking: do I really intend this? or is there another, a better way to achieve this effect?

In some cases - more and more frequently, actually - I try to set out objectives for myself to achieve in a piece. Sometimes it is a strictly musical challenge - writing reggae-influenced pieces without resorting to one-drop or dancehall in the rhythm section; sometimes it deals with a sound world or mood I want to achieve; sometimes I try to write a piece the entire opposite of everything I've written, like the one I'm working on now for BMI - uptempo and rocking. The success rate varies, and at certain points the music takes on a life of its own and may move away from the initial concept. I'm alright by that.

Gann wonders if it's even possible to teach composition, and the most successful composition lessons I've had dealt with process and headspace more than anything else. Usually it's one very simple piece of advice that opens a new door of perception. I very rarely write at the piano, or on any instrument, simply because I was advised to write as much as I could in my head and on paper and then move it to the piano if necessary. Later on, I found that if I write directly on Sibelius, I wind up taking the easy way out, whereas with pencil and paper the music is a lot more intentional. Michael Mossman, Don Byron, and Dave Douglas all advocate demanding certain questions of a piece before it is written, and by doing that one narrows down possibilities. I don't always start with those questions, because unlike Douglas I still do hear melodies in my head and indulge them, but once I hear those melodies I try to discover their universes.

I have had some very nuts-and-bolts composition lessons at BMI, courtesy of Jim, Mike Abene and Mike Holober, and usually it's more to do with the "lost in translation" pitfalls of orchestration than anything to do with the structure of the piece itself. Forcing myself to bring in substantial amounts of new material has made me aware of my clichés/formulas/preferences (the term varies depending on how self-critical I'm feeling), which is possibly the best composition lesson of all. I'm starting to self-identify as a composer though not solely so; I love playing too much to ever entirely leave it behind.

Lately, I've gotten into drawing inspiration from literature and film. Not by necessarily writing programmatic music, though. One piece I wrote for the trio, "Bella," was inspired by hearing Caetano Veloso's voice singing the Neruda poem (from The Captain's Verses) in my head. I "transcribed" the first stanza and worked from there. I guess one could call it a text setting, except it's not for voice. I had a similar sensation when I read Jorge Luis Borges' "Heraclito." I still need to set that.

I'm also tempted to try and utilize an organizational process I discovered by reading Murakami's Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, a desire buttressed by watching David Lynch's Inland Empire last night. Both Murakami and Lynch set up organizational structures that initially seem fragmented, but as they progress the reader/viewer becomes aware of their properties, and some sort of unity is achieved at the end. Well, not entirely - the clues are fairly obvious in both Murakami and Lynch, but they still wind up being complete mindfucks.