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.

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