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.