Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Montreal Sessions December 30, 2008

Free-for-All #2

*Sam Davidson Group - "Seven and Three" (Perceivable Changes)
James Davis Quintet - "For Another Time" (Angles of Refraction)
*Namedropper - "Beginner's Hoot"
Oliver Nelson - "Hoedown" (Blues & The Abstract Truth)
Wayne Shorter - "Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum" (Speak No Evil)
Herbie Hancock - "Eye of the Hurricane" (Maiden Voyage)
*Turtleboy - "Drug of Preference" (s/t)
Interview with Jon Lindhorst (Turtleboy)
*Lindhorst/Ryshpan - "Invaders from the Deep" (live on air!)
*Turtleboy - "Etude for Right Hand" (s/t)
Todd Sickafoose - "Warm Stone" (Tiny Resistors)
*Sara Latendresse - "Why?" (Naked)
Darcy James Argue's Secret Society - "Transit" (Live at Le Poisson Rouge)
John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble - "Folkmoot" (A Blessing)
Azymuth - "Os Cara La" (Butterfly)
Ed Motta - "Coincidencia" (Poptical)
Curumin - "Mal Estar Card" (JapanPopShow)
*Indigone Trio & Strings - "Smacked" (Cycles)

Monday, December 29, 2008

RIP Freddie Hubbard

Another master gone. I thought Freddie might have been able to battle back from his most recent bout of illness.

Ethan's already got a great post up in remembrance. Hubbard's moments on Blues and the Abstract Truth and Maiden Voyage were intrinsic parts of my formative jazz years. When I went through my adolescent jazz snob phase, with an avid interest in 1960s Blue Note albums, Hubbard was the beacon of what the trumpet could do in forward-thinking jazz. As I explored the various albums Ethan mentions (many of which I haven't listened to in their entirety, shame on me) Hubbard was one of the first musicians I consciously recognized as breaking the sub-genre "boundaries" that are purported by certain jazz historians and journalists. When I finally listened to Red Clay and the later CTI recordings. the energy and creativity lurking even in the most tepid of settings was fascinating and inspiring. I'm going to go (re-)visit some of those albums in the coming days and weeks.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Montreal Sessions December 23, 2008

Viva Brasil!

Airto Moreira - "Zuei" (Promises of the Sun)
Azymuth - "Partido Alto" (Light as a Feather)
Banda União Black - "Abelha Africana" (s/t)
Caetano Veloso & Banda Black Rio - "Odara" (Bicho Baile Show)
Arthur Veroçai - "Presente Grego" (s/t)
Jorge Ben - "Pais Tropical" (1969)
technical difficulties: when trying to ground oneself from static electricity, don't do it near the DJ mixer. Also, avoid wearing wool sweaters when dealing with electronics...
Djavan & Chico Buarque - "A Rosa" (Djavan)
3 Na Massa - "Estrondo" (s/t)
*Monica Freire - "Beira" (Na Laje)
Jackson Conti - "Berimbau" (Sujinho)
Curumin - "Compacto" (JapanPopShow)
*Monica Freire - "Todo Dia" (Na Laje)
Edmilson do Pifano - "Forró de dois amigos" (Soprando no Canudinho)
Jackson do Pandeiro - "Cabo Tenorio" (O rei do ritmo)
Jean Rohe - "Eta Baião" (Lead Me Home)
Forró in the Dark - "Riacho do Navio" (Bonfires of São João)
Luiz Gonzaga & Camargo Guarnieri - "Paraiba" (s/t)
Ivan Lins - "Formigueiro" (A noite)
*David Ryshpan - "Oceano" (live on air!)
Kiko Continentino - "Soul Niteroi" (El Pulo de Gato)
Interview with Samito Matsinhe
Arthur Maia - "Cama de Gato" (Planeta Musica II)
Mu Carvalho - "Acenda e Fogueira" (Ao Vivo)
Zimbo Trio - "Bebê" (s/t)
Hermeto Pasocal - "Papagaio Alegre" (Lagoa da Canoa...)
Milton Nascimento - "Raça" (Milton)
Timbalada - "Ginga pa Balé" (Rough Guide to Bahia)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Montreal Sessions December 16, 2008


*Moonstarr - "Broken Bossa" (Instrumentals Forever)
Heliponto f/ David Ryshpan & Mara TK - "Algodão Doce" (Eletronia)
Kez YM - "A Cup of Ocean" (Sweetly Confused)
*David Ryshpan - "Serpent's Cave" (BNL MTL remix)
*Arch_Typ - "3333" (Next Stop)
Ron Blake - "Tom Blake [DJ Spinna RMX]" (Sonic Tonic)
Kat Heath/Torreblanca/Sarah Lahey - "Qué Esperas?" (Various Assets 2007)
Luis Davis f/ Ben Lamar - "Hype Clouds" (Peace Love and Sound)
Sly & the Family Stone - "Sing a Simple Song" (Stand!)
Medeski Martin & Wood - "Think" (Shack-Man)
Herbie Hancock - "Watermelon Man" (Headhunters)
Stevie Wonder - "Creepin'" (Fulfillingness' First Finale)
*GrooveAttic - "By My Side"
Interview w/ Dali & Metik
*Dali/Metik/The Doctor - "Use Me" (Live on air!)
*Dali - "How Sweet it Is"
Electric Wire Hustle - "Perception"
Flying Lotus & Andreya Triana - "Tea Leaf Dancers" (Various Assets 2006)
Pat D & Lady Paradox - "Summertime [Think Twice rmx]" (Kind of Peace)
Elektro4 & Bombay Sapphire - "Elektro4 for President" (Drop the Needle vol. 1)
*Dali - "New Beginnings"
Radio City f/ Bajka - "The Hop" (Music is my Art)
*Incubator - "Dakar Pockey" (Next Stop)
Peixe Kru - "Nostaugia"

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Attention fellow Brazilian fanatics

As many of you know, I've been heavily into Brazilian music for the past few years, to the point of starting a trio to play my favourite tunes. More on this project to come in the next year. But this post is to share a link I just discovered, a fantastic site created by a team of Brazilian music fanatics (including Zecalouro, the force behind Loronix): Musicos do Brasil. At the moment, it's only in Portuguese (and mine isn't very good) but it seems to be easy enough to navigate.

Muito obrigado to everyone involved. We need more of this stuff. What's always impressed me about Brazilian music is how keen certain people are to preserve and disseminate it. At Upstairs, we premiered a new tune called "Keeper of the Flame," which I wrote as a tribute to Almir Chediak. He took on the project of collecting the music of the great bossa and MPB songwriters and putting them into accurate songbooks, working alongside them to make sure everything was correct. If only somebody would do that for Stevie Wonder and Paul Simon - all the stuff I've ever seen is full of errors.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Montreal Sessions December 9, 2008

The record is out, and winter is here with a vengeance. Time to warm up with music by some influences, colleagues, and friends. A big hello to those coming here from Ropeadope and the Red Bull Music Academy sites. Click around and make yourselves at home.

Theme: Free-For-All #1

Guillermo Klein y Los Guachos - "El Espejo" (Live in Barcelona 2005)
FLY - "JJ" (s/t)
Alison Wedding - "This Fear" (Sometimes I Feel)
Jean Rohe - "Lead Me Home" (Lead Me Home)
*Sienna Dahlen - "One Man" (Off the Floor...Into the Garden)
*Jon Day - "Cantilever" (Exhibit B)
*Ben Hammond - "What I'm Supposed To" ([Reasonably] Honest)
*D.W. Lee Trio - "Speaking Voice" (Somnambulist Love)
*Nista - "Water" (s/t)
Lumi - "Staying Here" (Two Tears in Water)
*Ndidi Onukwulu - "Move Together" (The Contradictor)
*Fieldtrip - "The Lioness, the Hunter and the Wal-Mart"
Interview with Colin Power (Fieldtrip)
*Common Thread - "Gnawa" (The Guessing Game)
Ablaye Cissoko/Volker Goetze - "Faro" (Sina)
Bill Frisell - "Baba Drame" (History, Mystery)
Gilfema +2 - "One Mind's Eye" (s/t)
Punch Brothers - "Punch Bowl" (Punch)

* = Canadian Content

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Montreal Sessions December 2, 2008

Music for Strings

*Indigone Trio & Strings - "Driscollage" (Cycles)
Quatuor Enesco - Debussy's String Quartet in Gm, op. 10, 2nd mvt. (Debussy/Ravel)
Bournemouth Sinfonietta - "Summa" (Arvo Part: Fratres)
Quatuor Enesco - Ravel's String Quartet in F, 1st mvt. (Debussy/Ravel)

Edo de Waart (San Francisco Symphony) - "The Chairman Dances" (The Chairman Dances)
*Byproduct - "Erostratus" (Le Mur)
Interview with Chet Doxas
*Chet Doxas/David Ryshpan - "Eighty One" (live on air!)
*Byproduct - "Le Mur" (Le Mur)
*Quinsin Nachoff - "A River Remembers Rain" (Horizons Ensemble)
The Beatles - "Eleanor Rigby" (Revolver)
Elton John - "Sixty Years On" (Elton John)
Djavan - "Agua" (Djavan)
Ethel - "Arrival" (Light)
Mark Feldman/Sylvie Courvoisier - "Azriel" (Malphas: Masada Book 2)
Osvaldo Golijov/Kronos Quartet - "Tenebrae II" (Oceana)
*Indigone Trio & Strings - "Shahgely" (Cycles)

Monday, December 01, 2008

Notes on Cycles

From the Maria Schneider interview that's been circulating amongst the blogs, this is her perspective on sharing the stories behind compositions:
I like it when people get it because I think it helps bring people inside the music and relates the music to their own worlds. They kind of dive into it as a story, especially people who aren't musicians.
I agree. The majority of my music is programmatic to an extent, be it a full-on tone poem, or merely that the catalyst for the piece comes from something I've experienced or read. Much of the music on the album, Cycles, is coming from a very specific emotional place. Consider these the program notes.

1. Driscollage - Named after our friend, drummer Chris Driscoll, who passed away in January 2005. After former Indigone Trio drummer Liam O'Neill called me to tell me the news, this melody popped into my head. I was thinking of the music Driscoll loved, especially David Binney. He and I shared a love for bad puns in song titles. I wrote the majority of it on the bus to Prince Edward Island for his funeral, finished it at the house where I was staying, and it was premiered at a memorial concert for Chris, in PEI.

2. Bella
- A text setting of a Pablo Neruda poem from The Captain's Verses. It was the first Neruda poem I read, and as I was reading it I immediately heard the voice of Caetano Veloso singing the words, which is the bass solo at the beginning. The rest came from there.

3. Shahgely
- Bassist Graig Earle brought this traditional Egyptian melody into our ensemble at the Banff Centre, and the group, led by Dylan van der Schyff, came up with an arrangement that juxtaposed a drone with burning free-bop. This arrangement is very similar.

4. Love is the Reason
- Written by Alex Mallett for his girlfriend, Lina. As he writes, "When I was in my third year of college, I was exchanging e-mails with my good friend in New York, Dave Moore. Lina had recently moved to Montreal and (as always) I was having trouble balancing everything. I wrote him that things were going well, but I was finding it distracting having Lina around. Dave wrote me back, 'Love is never, never, never a distraction. Love is the Reason.'" Lina's been a great supporter of the band - that's her cheering on the live EP.

5. Smacked
- I wrote this at the Banff Centre, and was really stuck on it. I met with Dave Douglas, and he shared some sage advice that I rely on to this day. But even after the meeting, I was still stuck. I left to go to the club, and while putting on my sweater outside, a bird flew into my head. Once I got to the club, the tune wrote itself. I'm never sure whether to credit Dave, or the bird. Michael Bates came up with the idea for the backgrounds.

6. Piece for Open Strings
- Alex's experiment with minimalism, exploring the basic texture of a string group based on rhythm and timbre, rather than pitch. It was originally written for just strings and bass, but Alex later revised it to have Phil and I improvise texturally to contrast with the strings.

7. Heraclito
- A tone poem based on the Jorge Luis Borges poem of the same name. I was taken with the structure of Borges' poem, and allowed that to guide my writing. I assigned musical phrases to the phrases that repeat in the text.

8. Visions
- All this music grew out of an assignment in advanced arranging class to write for trio and string orchestra. I couldn't decide which song to use, so I booked the recital (which later became the EP) as an excuse to write all the arrangements I had in mind. This was the assignment. Stevie Wonder's melody is gorgeous, and though we're working on achieving the vision in our mind, we're not quite there yet.

9. Erghen Diado
- Dave Douglas gave a lecture on his work with odd meters and Balkan music at the Banff Centre, and gave the names of artists I'd never heard of before, like Le Mystère des voix bulgares. When I got back to Montreal, I found their first record, and this song immediately captivated me. I had a visceral reaction to the music, similar to the first time I heard A Love Supreme. It's really a simple song, and its power and beauty lie in that simplicity.

10. Throughout
- This Bill Frisell song has become incredibly important to me. It was played as part of Driscoll's funeral; saxophonist Becky Noble and I performed it in Banff; and that summer I got to meet Frisell at the Montreal Jazz Festival. The song in all its contexts came to epitomize the cycles of life and death, and provided a means of closure. On another level, it was the last piece on the recital, which was the last concert of my undergraduate studies. In French, undergraduate and graduate studies are sometimes referred to as cycles. I feel that this is my best string writing on the whole album.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Expozine Set (Nov. 29, 2008)

My first real DJ set (not counting radio) was today at Expozine. I was astounded by the amount of indie 'zines, postcards, posters, CD/record designers and others that were exhibiting: the quality of the work was uniformly excellent. The crowd that turned out to support these underground, fiercely independent artists was heartwarming, though one exhibitor joked, "They're just here working off their hangovers."

Beck - "Black Tambourine"
Jamie Lidell - "Little Bit of Feel Good"
Herbie Hancock - "Actual Proof"
Ed Motta - "Eu Avisei"
Curumin f/ Lino Crizz - "Olhando De Lima Janela, No Centro Da Cidade"
Lekan Babalola - "Elegba (Bob Sinclair RMX)"
The Cheebacabra - "Sneak Attack"
Gilfema +2 - "Question of Perspective"
Fly - "JJ"
Joel Miller - "Cabeza de Vaca"
The Bad Plus - "Flim"
Floratone - "Floratone"
Makoto, DJ Zinc, Denius & Om'Mas Keith - "Close to Me"
Mara TK & Jake One - "Look What You've Made of Me"
Me'shell Ndegeocello f/ Sabina Sciubba - "Aquarium"
Jaco Pastorius f/ Sam & Dave - "Come On, Come Over"
Shuggie Otis - "Inspiration Information"
Stevie Wonder - "Creepin'"
The Roots - "Long Time"
Bad Medicine - "Trespassin'"
Blackalicious f/ Chali 2na - "4000 Miles"
Karma & Lotus - "Monk Swing"
Juba Dance - "We Will Wait for You"
Flying Lotus f/ Andreya - "Tea Leaf Dancers"
Elizabeth Shepherd - "Start to Move"
Kate McGarry - "The Target (Miracles Like These)"
Medeski Martin & Wood - "Pappy Check"
Bruce Hornsby - "Big Swing Face"
Domenico +2 - "Te Convidei Pra Samba"
Elton John - "Out of the Blue"

Monday, November 24, 2008

Radio Residency

First of all, thank you to everyone who donated to CKUT during our past funding drive. I think the final tally was somewhere around $32,000 - a bit shy of our $50,000 goal, but we'll take it. Of course, you can still donate online.

To celebrate the release of the new Indigone Trio & Strings record, and to motivate me to stay out of hibernation mode, I will be curating a show called The Montreal Sessions on CKUT which airs every Tuesday from 3-5 pm EST. Each show will feature an interview and a live performance, as well as music from my friends, colleagues, and the records I love. The themes and guests will be:

December 2 - Music For Strings w/ Chet Doxas (whose group, Byproduct, has released their own fantastic album with strings, Le Mur)
December 9 - Freeform Free-for-All 1 w/ Fieldtrip
December 16 - Electro-Soul w/ Kweku
December 23 - Montreal Brasileira w/ Robin Gorn
December 30 - Freeform Free-for-All 2 w/ Jon Lindhorst of Turtleboy

Of course, if you can't tune in live, there's always the CKUT archives. And the playlists will go up here after the shows. Tune in!

Blogroll Update

A couple of additions to the sidebar:

- Montreal DJ Cheeba Cheeba Kid is a crate digger par excellence and has his own little web warehouse at Soundological Investimagations. Big ups for representing Henry Threadgill and Monty Alexander in the same space.
- New reader and commenter Amanda maintains her own ivory-centric blog at My Piano Friends. It looks to be in the starting stages but there is some promising work over there.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Big shoes to fill

I'll be subbing for my former teacher, Jeff Johnston, at Upstairs November 16, in a group led by drummer Karl Schwonik. Karl's a good friend, and we've played together as sidemen for vocalists May Cheung and Julie-Claire Carter. This is the first opportunity I've had to play his music, and his composing shows a similar musicality to his wonderful playing. Joel Miller is on saxophone, someone whose music I've long admired and advocated, but we don't play together often enough. The always solid Adam Over is on bass. We hit at 8:30.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Sound System, or CKUT needs your help!

Most of you know that I've been an avid volunteer at CKUT 90.3 FM for five years now. I'm part of two of the music collective shows, Jazz Euphorium (Wednesdays from 20h00-22h00) and World Skip the Beat (Mondays from 12h00-14h00). I've also done numerous fill-ins, sat on the Programming Committee for two years, and co-organized a big band (with Sean Winters) for their 20th anniversary. I'll also be hosting The Montreal Sessions every Tuesday in December.

Being involved at CKUT has fostered my love for radio and music journalism, but more importantly having the access to the amazing library, production and control studios, and fellow programmers has made me a better musician. I've grown to love so much music I wouldn't have otherwise discovered; programming radio has made me acutely aware of how to present my own music on record and in concert. CKUT is the only English-language community station on the island of Montreal that serves so many diverse cultures - not only musical but ethno-cultural, GLBT, and many more.

For the next week (Nov 13-23), CKUT is asking for your financial help. The goal is $50,000, which covers the maintenance of the facilities, the upkeep of our stellar library and our newly renovated studios to keep bringing you the tuneage and the non-mainstream news. $50 is the cost of one hour of airtime. I know the economy is tough right now, but please pledge what you can to keep this vital pillar of Montreal culture on air. Check the funding drive page for gift lists, prize draws, and more! I'll be co-hosting both World Skip and Jazz Euphorium this week, so tune in and PLEDGE!

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Make this moment sweet again

Last week I had the great honour and privilege of working with vocalist, improviser and teacher Rhiannon. Her group of students, called the Vocal River, were in town for their third and final retreat of the year, giving various performances around the city. On Tuesday, at the Yellow Door, I was more of an observer, watching the various improvisational scenarios Rhiannon set out for her students. Rhiannon and I did a duet, with myself on melodica.

Friday's performance, more of an open rehearsal session at Studio 303, was thrilling. Four instrumentalists - myself (piano, melodica, accordion, percussion), Michael Reinhart (guitar, accordion, percussion), Vovô (percussion) and Sarah Wendt (French horn) - joined the choir, and Sarah, Katie Ewald and Lin Snelling danced on a couple of pieces. This concert was a fantastic learning experience on so many levels. Rhiannon and her students embody a truly "anything-goes" philosophy of improvisation - from the full choir building McFerrin-esque circle songs, to soloists varying from spoken word to various vocal traditions from around the world to incorporating standards on top of improvised backgrounds. As Dave Douglas said, "'Free' means having the freedom to make any musical decision in real time."

Contexts were shattered among the instrumentalists as well: I've only ever played Michael's songs with him, with minimal improvising, and when we do work together I play his accordion. Friday marked the first time we had improvised together, and the first time he had ever really heard me play piano. Not only did I have the opportunity to use different musical vocabularies - from dissonant tone clusters to two-fisted gospel piano to re-interpreting standards - I got to work on a variety of different instruments. It was really a mental and aural workout. I only know Vovô from Estação da Luz, his batucada here in Montreal. As an improviser he is truly responsive, and of course, any time we locked onto a groove it was stunningly tight.

Experience in free improvising lends a certain openness to all the music I play, whether it's through-composed, semi-composed, or completely free. All the singers in the choir were fantastic, and I look forward to hearing their own music. Here's three of them: Alison Wedding; Katia Leonardo; and Patti Shaffner.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Sky of memory and shadow

Just briefly - watching Obama's acceptance speech tonight reminded me of the feeling I had the first time I heard Oscar Peterson's "Hymn to Freedom." Both are emotionally stirring in the most powerful way, life-affirming. Hopefully, we truly are on the verge of a new world order. May Obama be able to really usher in the era of change he has campaigned on, that he has come to symbolize, and that a hell of a lot of us have been hoping for.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Calendar addenda

Guitarist and composer Michael Reinhart has invited me once again to join him in some musical adventures. He and his partner, Lin Snelling, have brought up the great improvising vocalist Rhiannon for a week of workshops and performances in Montreal. I had the distinct honour of improvising with Rhiannon and Ruth Zaporah during their last Montreal visit a year ago; it was a thrilling ear- and eye-opening experience. As always whenever Michael asks me to join him, I'll be playing accordion.

Rhiannon & the Vocal River
October 28, 2008 - The Yellow Door Coffeehouse (3625 Aylmer)
7:30 pm - $8/$5 (students)
October 31, 2008 - Studio 303 (372 Ste-Catherine W., 3rd floor)
8 pm - $12
I'll be playing accordion, melodica, and perhaps piano at the Yellow Door, maybe some percussion if the mood strikes.

Michael Reinhart & Friends
November 1, 2008 - The Yellow Door Coffeehouse
8:30 pm - $8
Jérémi Roy (bass), David Ryshpan (accordion), and more.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Pushing towards the end of the calendar

Here's a quick rundown of what's on my agenda for the coming months:

Tonight, October 16, I'll be indulging my addiction to musica popular brasileira (MPB) with singer Juana Lepine at Centre St-Ambroise (5080-A St. Ambroise). Yes, the McAuslan brewery is home to a small music room, a cozy space for intimate groups. As they say, "it's like a coffeehouse, with beer!" Opening the evening is beatboxer extraordinaire Jason Levine. $5, starts at 8:30 SHARP! Incidentally, you can check out the new Brazilian trio featuring Nicolas Bédard (bass) and Mark Nelson (drums) here.

I'll be back on the airwaves of CKUT this week, filling in for Jazz Amuck at 9 am October 17, and hosting Jazz Euphorium Wednesday, October 22 at 8 pm. CKUT will be starting a fall Funding Drive shortly, check their site for details.

Starting October 30, a bassless trio of myself, Dave Goulet (guitar) and Maxime Bellavance (drums) will be supplying the groovy tune-age at Casa Luna (2077 University) on Thursdays.

Finally, December 2, 2008 marks the release of the full-length Indigone Trio & Strings album, Cycles, on Ropeadope Digital. We recorded this in March at the beautiful Studio 270 with Hendrick Hassert behind the board. There will be a limited number of hard copies pressed, available at gigs. Many of you know we released a live, self-titled EP on Ropeadope last December. It was surprisingly well-received, so we re-recorded the six tunes from the original EP, plus four additional compositions by myself and Alex Mallett. I'll be celebrating the launch by performing at Upstairs Jazz Club (1254 Mackay) on December 7, 2008, with Indigone pinch-hitter Sebastien Pellerin on bass, and Mark Nelson on drums. We hit at 8:30 SHARP, $10.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Mission statement

POP Montreal is far from my natural habitat, and while I ran into people I knew, it was more often the case that I made new acquaintances. It's been a while since I had to tell people what it is I do, and questions that came up from both the film score and improvising panels sparked some reflection.

Much was made at the improvising panel of genre-specific labels, and dealing with genre-specific traditions. I remember at Banff, Vijay Iyer asked whether most people at his master class would call themselves jazz musicians. Many, including Dave Douglas, adamantly did not raise their hands. Vijay later qualified it as being a musician who has intensively studied and dealt with the jazz lineage, and most raised their hands. I don't really have a problem with the "jazz" label, at this point. Jazz is the music I've spent most of my life studying, both officially and not. It's the root of how I've learned how to play my instrument, and how to think about music. My sense of groove, time, harmony, melody, phrasing, inter-band communication, development, etc. is all influenced by jazz. Maybe "jazz-trained" is a better phrase, the same way many musicians, whether they pursue the concert path or not, are "classically trained." Matana said on the improvising panel that she often tries to push against the jazz tradition; I endeavour to find my own little nook within the tradition.

Yet I understand the desire not to be boxed in by a genre label; not to be confined to only jazz. A fellow panel attendee asked me what music I would like to score for film. My answer was whatever the film required. If it calls for a jazz score, I'll be happy to compose in that vein. If it calls for more electronic elements, or a chamber ensemble, or whatever, I'll be happy to oblige if I have the requisite tools to do so. Obviously, my composition for any instrumentation belies my jazz roots and my other stylistic predilections, but I'm not limited to writing spang-spang-a-lang, nor do I really want to. I find my music, and the music I love most, sits at the apex of multiple styles and influences.

I have a complex relationship with the term "authenticity." In some cases, I demand it of myself and my colleagues. In others, it's the least of my worries. If I'm playing in an R&B band, I'm not going to load up my comping with dissonant extensions and blow bebop all night long. There is, however, an element of bebop and post-bop that's inherent to my improvising language, and so when I step out for a solo, it'll probably come through in some way. When Indigone Trio plays "Erghen Diado," I have absolutely no pretension that we're a Balkan band, and I have no desire to be authentic in that case. The tune is our canvas to paint on, and it just happens to be a folk song. I suppose it's the divide between my music and other people's music. I strive to make my music on my terms - music that is personal, and I don't really care which traditions it draws from and how loyal it may be to them. When I am involved in other people's music, though, I do my best to maintain my own personal character while devoting my creative energy to their ends.

My feelings may, and probably will, change in five or ten years, but this is how I feel now. I'm truly curious to read what other musicians think of their own creative roles and approaches. It always forces me to re-evaluate my own.

POP Saturday 2008 - 10/04/2008

The only day I really explored POP Montreal was Saturday. Taking a cue from festivals like Canadian Music Week, North by Northeast, and a Montreal visit from the Future of Music Coalition a couple of years back, there was a Symposium element to this year's festival. I unfortunately missed the international festival panel, and Andy Williams' two-hour interview with Irma Thomas earlier in the week.

The day began with the Film Score as Genre panel, featuring filmmakers Jem Cohen (Instrument) and Matt Silver (Who is KK Downey?), Mirror film critic Mark Slutsky, former McGill professor Jamshed Turell and Alicen Schneider from NBC Music Services. I was hoping for some shop-talk discussion about what makes the best film scores work, and why, and how filmmakers and composers interact. For the most part it was a more philosophical discussion of the role of music in film, and the requisite discussion of whether licensing one's music to film, television, or advertisements constitutes "selling out." Cohen stated that in his view, films should be able to function without music, and too often, there's more music than necessary in a film. That started a discussion of great films without music (or with very little music). I would have preferred to discuss what makes film music effective.

Following that was a history lesson with doo-wop masters the Persuasions, led by Nomadic Massive's Butta Beats. The elder statesmen of the Persuasions treated the crowd to snippets of various songs, all of them in fine voice, with Butta beatboxing to fine effect and the delight of the group. I missed their show at the Portuguese Association that night, which was stellar by all accounts. I'm glad I got a taste in the afternoon.

While waiting for the Improvising and Community panel to get started, I checked out a roundtable called the Herstory of Hip Hop, featuring reggae pioneer Sister Nancy with young guns Eternia and Tali (also of Nomadic Massive). Sister Nancy didn't seem very talkative, sticking to curt answers, and attempts to really get some cross-panel discussion seemed to flounder, everyone deferring to the woman who paved the way for all female MCs (DJ in Jamaican parlance).

The Improvising and Community panel featured some of the usual suspects: the always intriguing Matana, McGill's Eric Lewis, painter/drummer John Heward, Suoni's Peter Burton, and a couple of new faces to me in percussionist/electronics manipulator Lisa Gamble, and cellist and moderator Mark Molnar. The usual topics of dealing with the jazz tradition, ego in improvising, the role and treatment of the audience, etc arose, but I always find such panels make me re-evaluate my stance on the music. I'll deal with that in another post.

Having missed his last large ensemble outing at this year's Suoni, I checked out Sam Shalabi's POP-commissioned suite, Symbols of Egyptian Light Spectrum at the Masonic Temple. Performed by a very large ensemble with reeds, strings, keyboards, two bassists, multiple percussionists, and a cast of 6 singers, led by Shalabi's oud and laptop, the hour-long piece melded North African motifs with slamming rock drums, brilliant free exchanges featuring baritone saxophonist Jason Sharp and violinist Josh Zubot among others, a litany of vocal techniques from operatic caterwauling to tender folk singing (courtesy of our own redheaded siren, Katie Moore), and the computerized robot voice spewing dirty pillow talk. An epic piece, to be sure, and while it took me a while to get into it, Shalabi and friends won me over in the end. In the dark room on the top floor of the temple, with low-lit Masonic artifacts adoring the room, the piece took on Easily one of the best concerts of the year.

Monday, September 22, 2008

RIP Earl Palmer

The founding rock 'n' roll drummer is gone. Earl Palmer, the New Orleans drummer on the seminal Little Richard and Fats Domino singles, as well as lesser known New Orleans R&B tunes of the period, died this weekend at the age of 84. The jazz blogosphere has often dealt with the issue of groove, rhythmic authority, etc.: Palmer wrote the modern book on it. The early rock 'n' roll groove, a derivative of New Orleans second line drumming in Palmer's hands, is semi-swung and semi-straight. Many younger drummers miss this nuance, playing straight eighths and the groove is robbed of its momentum. I could listen to, and play, that feel all night.

I can't even remember the first time I heard an Earl Palmer beat; my parents raised me on the "oldies" station and so the classic Little Richard and Fats Domino sides were etched in my memory from an early age. When I started getting into New Orleans R&B in high school, and first heard the name Earl Palmer as dropped by Stanton Moore of Galactic, I found him on various Allen Toussaint and Dave Bartholomew tunes, too. I gained an entirely new level of appreciation for songs like "Tutti Frutti" and "Long Tall Sally," whose rhythms I had taken for granted. May Mr. Palmer's beats live on in eternity.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

More stolen goods

When I was going down to New York, great players would drop by the jam sessions at Smoke & Cleo's. One night at Cleo's, the sharp-dressed and sharp-playing Wayne Escoffery showed up. It pains me to pass this along:

...On Thursday (September 11, 2008), we - in a rush - hailed a white Lincoln gypsy cab in front of our Harlem apartment at 153rd and Saint Nicholas Place, packed our son and my horn to go downtown for some family time while I brought my saxophone in for some quick repairs. Two minutes after exiting the cab in midtown, we realized the unthinkable had happened! We had left my irreplaceable 1951 Super Balanced Action Tenor Saxophone in the trunk of the car--a car that had no company name or any identifying logos. The only details of note were that the car was an older white Lincoln and the driver was female.

Because no two horns are alike, the instrument a musician chooses to use becomes an indispensable part of his or her sound. It is impossible to re-create the horn, especially one that is as old as this particular saxophone. It's value therefore is not only monetary, but artistic. My #9 NY Otto Link mouthpiece was also in the case.
This is the only instrument I have used for the past 8 years, and I have used the mouthpiece for as long as I can remember. The saxophone and piece are an indispensable part of my sound and now they are gone. But I truly hope and pray they might be returned.

We got the car at 153rd and Saint Nicholas Place and took it to 50th street and 7th ave. at 1pm on Thursday September 11th 2008. We have spent the last days reaching out to drivers and dispatchers in our neighborhood in the hopes of locating the driver and retrieving the horn, but have had no luck. Please keep a lookout and any help you can offer is much appreciated - and will be rewarded!

Thank You,

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Remember Griffintown

Griffintown is the name given to the area of Montreal west of Old Montreal, south of downtown. Historically it's been home to immigrants - first the Irish, and later Jewish, Italian, and African-Canadian communities (the last probably due to spillover from St-Henri and Little Burgundy). In the 1960s, it turned into an industrial ghost town, the facades of which still remain. Nowadays it's home to artist loft spaces and low-income housing - some reports place half the population of Griffintown under the poverty line.

At some point in 2007, Devimco thought it would be a good idea to uproot the entire Griffintown community to make way for strip malls, chain cafés and other markings of suburbia. My biggest issue with the whole process is that the residents of Griffintown were never consulted in the process; the Tremblay administration rubber-stamped Devimco's plans, hoping nobody would get wind of it, or at least that nobody would mind. It doesn't make much economic sense either - Devimco's last project, the Dix30 in Brossard, is just barely complete and finding its feet; and the western edge of downtown, from Guy over to Atwater, has been in dire straits for years. The neighbourhood wouldn't be able to sustain the development planned for it, and it would wreak havoc not just on Griffintown but on the aforementioned strip of Ste-Catherine.

A couple of Concordia students, in conjunction with Indyish, threw a protest/awareness festival called Remember Griffintown this weekend, with walking tours and scavenger hunts through the hood, gumboots demonstrations, a makeshift art gallery in a dilapidated cave, and stellar indie artists in the tent. Luckily, Devimco has been struggling to find investors for the project which has bought residents and protesters some time. And while the neighbourhood is maligned as a somewhat sketchy and low-rent part of town, it holds some of Montreal's most colourful history. I cringe to see it steamrolled by a half-baked development project.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Cinematic Orchestra - Club Soda, 08/30/2008

Jason Swinscoe and his band of Brits touched down at Club Soda, appropriately enough, during the final weekend of the World Film Festival. I'm not that familiar with their music, having only listened to Man With a Movie Camera a couple of times, but I'm always curious how electronic musicians transfer their creations to live settings. This is especially heightened with Swinscoe, whose productions are reliant on jazz samples and live vocals.

Opener Grey Reverend, by his own repeated admission, had had too much to drink on the short flight from Brooklyn. I wouldn't mind seeing him again in a more sober set to make a fuller judgement. He's a solid guitar player, though I found his lyrics to be overly wordy and filled with self-conscious attempts at abstract imagery ("cauliflower girls and olive-skinned boys" was the only line I remember, and actually not quite as fraught with word games as the opening tune). His vocal delivery tempered an indie-folk style with the laidback drawl of Jack Johnson. The best song of the set, to me, was a tune called "Belafonte," with a strongly delivered melody, great rhythm guitar playing, and a rein on the Reverend's lyrics.

Once I got over the punishing subwoofer volume, with the kick drum and electric upright vibrating my chest and teeth, the details of the Cinematic Orchestra were quite provocative. Many of the tunes were started by Swinscoe, triggering a loop or arpeggiated figure from his laptop, and he'd be joined in the build-up by the rest of the band, who would gradually overtake him. It was really a case of presence being emphasized by absence - Swinscoe didn't feel the need to trample over the high-calibre band with his electronics. Nick Ramm's Nord Lead, Stuart McCallum's guitar ambiences combined with Swinscoe for lush textures. Featured vocalists were Reverend, Heidi Vogel with her soulful, honeyed alto, and "surprise guest" Patrick Watson. Watson was a guest last time the Cinematics rolled through town, and has a spot on the album Ma Fleur, and unleashed his delay-laden falsetto to heartbreaking effect, as usual. The highlights, for me, came when the band broke down to the quartet of Ramm, McCallum, bassist Phil France and drummer Luke Flowers. Saxophonist Tom Chant had a couple of solos, but his role was mostly blending in with the horn samples on the heads - he seemed content to let Ramm do most of the heavy improvisational lifting.

The fact that many of the tunes were in 5/4 or 7/4 with tremendously strong melodies called to mind jazz performer/composers that deal in similar sensibilities - Aaron Parks' Invisible Cinema, for one, and David Binney's work on Balance, South and Welcome to Life. I wonder what kind of overlap exists there - whether Swinscoe was inspired by Binney, or vice-versa, or whether they exist independent of each other and it's just artistic coincidence.

Other observations:
- To the very eager, older gentleman behind me who insisted on being conspicuous in his applause, his adulation for Patrick Watson, and incessantly repeating "My hands, my hands" during Grey Reverend's tune of the same name: I'm happy you're in late middle age, know who the Cinematics are and still go out to shows, but chill out. Please.
- A note to promoters and venues: it's nice to let journalists, especially photographers, know the rules of engagement before the set starts. My show-partner was repeatedly questioned as to why she had a camera, and unflinchingly gave her name and her outlet. She was escorted into the foyer of Club Soda by security to prove her identity, missing Patrick Watson's guest spot. If you're only allowed to snap the first three songs, it's nice to know that before the first three songs.

Friday, August 29, 2008

More on the cuts

Peter Hum of the Ottawa Citizen on how Canadian jazz musicians have been affected by the PromArt cuts.

The funding cuts have opened the whole can of worms on whether government funding for the arts should exist at all or whether the market will bear the support of art. One letter-writer to the Gazette seems to think that the free market will support worthy artists and that those of us who apply for grants are a bunch of mooches. (L. Ian MacDonald's article tries to temper Harper's machete-wielding with the fact that a Conservative government created the CBC - never mind the fact that their orchestra has been cancelled and that Brave New Waves is a thing of the past.) I've submitted a letter to the contrary: no point sharing it here, just read my last post.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Your life may mean nothing if it's only been spoon-fed

The big cultural news in Canada is that our wonderful Conservative government has axed two major arts funding initiatives. The first, PromArt, is (was) a $4.7-million fund to promote Canadian artists abroad. It's now being revoked, partly because past recipients have included Holy Fuck, former CBC journalist Avi Lewis and Tal Bachman (son of Randy). A week later, cuts to film and video funding were announced as well. Depending on who you talk to, as many as five arts funding programs have been cut, and/or future cuts by Harper's government may come to a total of $48.5 million.

These funding cuts hit very close to home, given my involvement with the Montreal Biennale. Two major partners with the Biennale have suffered greatly from these announcements: the SAT will lose up to 25% of its budget, and INIS' is set back nearly $900,000. The organizers behind the Biennale have been frantically scrambling to cobble together alternate sources of funding so that the event can go off in May 2009 without any hitches. Needless to say, Harper's cuts have thrown a major monkey wrench into the proceedings. Claudio Marzano assures me that the silver lining in all this is that the Biennale team has arrived at the "big picture" earlier than expected and are pleased with what is in store over the next few months. However, the two aforementioned organizations aren't just partners with the Biennale: the SAT is a key venue in the city for all sorts of forward-thinking multimedia projects, including the MUTEK festival; and the INIS has long been a training ground and immensely valuable asset to the health of Québécois (and Canadian) cinema and television.

There was a protest/conference this morning at the SAT, with many luminaries of the Montreal arts scene including the Biennale's Claude Gosselin, Spectra's André Menard, Walter Boudreau from the SMCQ, and Michel G. Desjardins from INIS. Estimates have the audience around 3000 - and the SAT was packed. Sure, it got political, with anti-Conservative and pro-sovereignist strains abounding -- Boudreau even riffed on the cuts being similar to Hitler's Final Solution. And while there were many sentiments that I agreed with, I'm not sure that the more "radical" testimonies did anything to sway those that think artists are a bunch of lazy parasites on hard-earned tax dollars, and that the market will support the best art. I was happy to see representatives from the business and administration community, to temper some of the flaming lefty artist statements.

It should be abundantly clear that arts and culture are the lifeblood of civilization, and I agreed most with the business representative (whose name I forget) who said that the promotion of arts, culture and tolerance is Canada's trademark to the world which must be promulgated and protected. Another panelist gave the figure that culture accounts for 8% of Canada's GDP. I know that the majority of Quebec and Ontario tourism money comes from cultural events - festivals and the like. To quote yet another panelist, at a time when many European countries, as well as Australia, are dumping money into cultural exchange programs, Harper's massive cuts place him in stark contrast with the rest of the cultural world. Yes, Harper and his crew are eminently out of touch with the role culture plays in Canada, especially Quebec, and abroad. But it must be made clear to those who share Harper's views that artists are not merely leeches on the government system. It is funding from organizations like PromArt and training from INIS that allow Canada to be a player on the world's cultural stage. Federal arts funding is no place for censorship - grants are awarded by panels who evaluate all eligible and qualified candidates. If an expletive in a band name doesn't ruffle the adjudicators' feathers, then it shouldn't make any difference to the government or the general public.

I will readily stay out of politics if Harper and his cronies keep their noses, and their budget scissors, away from deserving artists and organizations. Until then, it is essential that us artists band together the way we did this morning. I wish interdisciplinary artist unity occurred more often and under better circumstances. At any rate, nous vaincrons!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Turn and face the strain

Bloody hell. Muxtape is down, courtesy of the friendly folks at the RIAA. Just another installment of old media having jumped the shark and scared out of its wits by new media.

Muxtape was a service that allowed users to post 12-track mixes for anyone to listen to - a digital version of the mixtape or a low-tech podcast, however you want to view it. Andrew Durkin of IJG did it. Scott C did it. I never used it, but appreciated the idea of it. Sure, it's copyright infringement - but so were making mixtapes back in the day, taping tunes off the radio or LPs. And how many people, after hearing something on someone's m(i/u)xtape, moseyed over to the record store or to iTunes and put down cold hard cash? Or better yet, went to go see the artist live?

Why the RIAA continues to get its panties in a twist over file-sharing astounds me: it has minimal effect on sales. It's a fallacious claim, assuming that all downloads are of artists that the downloader would have otherwise bought. I've heard tons of new, or at least new-to-me, music over services like Muxtape and Pandora that I never would have purchased beforehand. I've also downloaded tunes to learn for auditions or gigs, which fall under fair use (educational). And what of sites that post long out-of-print gems that are unlikely to ever be reissued? Perfect example: in the golden days when Pandora existed in Canada, the first station I created was Maria Schneider radio. One of the first few related tracks to pop up was track one of Anthony Braxton's Creative Orchestra Music 1976. I'd have never thought to check out that record otherwise, and now I'm willing to shell out big bucks for the upcoming Mosaic set because I heard that music over ye olde interwebz.

And what of artists like Durkin who were using Muxtape to extol the virtues of their own art in the context of a mix? And what if Professor Gann had posted a Muxtape of post-minimalism - his advocacy of "new music" brings composers to my inbox that I'd never hear of. And if a muxtape, or a web radio station, or a blog leads to commissions and gigs, what does the RIAA have to say to that?

RIP Jerry Wexler

Via James Hale, I read that the third member of the Atlantic Records triumvirate, Jerry Wexler, has passed at the age of 91.

His tombstone will read "He Changed the World." (He once stated he'd like it to read "More Bass.") And far from being hyperbole, he was truly responsible, along with the brothers Ertegun, for unleashing some of the most influential music - if the list stopped at Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin it would be enough - upon the public. Additionally, he gave engineer extraordinaire Tom Dowd the chance to showcase his craft and bring in cutting-edge technology to the Atlantic studios. Dowd mentored an engineer/producer named Phil Ramone. It all comes back to Wexler.

With the death of Wexler, joining the Ertegun brothers, we have lost a rare breed: a record label executive with big ears. Even though he was not a musician himself, he had cultivated his tastes and was willing to take chances on artists he believed in. Anybody who is still on the business side of the music industry should tip their hat to Wexler - he is the standard by which I wish they all were measured.

Save vs. Death
Owen Adams (The Guardian)
Nick Hornby

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Good things come to those who wait

8 CDs worth of good things, in fact. Via WFMU (via Destination: Out), Mosaic is putting together a box of Anthony Braxton's Arista Years, for release in October.

What made his output at Arista (1974-80) so unique was the range of projects he was able to realize thanks to the supportive budgets of a major label. This 8-CD set rescues his entire 13-LP Arista output from forgotten vaults. From live and studio recordings with his quartet (with Kenny Wheeler or George Lewis, Dave Holland and Barry Altschul) to solo alto excursions to a duet with Muhal Richard Abrams to Creative Orchestra Music to trios with Roscoe Mitchell/Joseph Jarman and Henry Threadgill/Douglas Ewart to his thoroughly composed pieces for two pianos and for four orchestras, Braxton explored every aspect of modern music through his own creative vision with astonishing results.The 13 LPs are:
Arista AL-4032 New York, Fall 1974 - 1 LP
Arista AL-4064 Five Pieces, 1975 - 1 LP
Arista AL-4080 Creative Orchestra Music 1976 - 1 LP
Arista AL-4101 Duets 1976 - 1 LP
Arista AB-4181 For Trio - 1 LP
Arista AL-5002 The Montreux/Berlin concerts - 2 LPs
Arista A2L-8602 Alto Saxophone Improvisation 1979 - 2 LPs
Arista A3L-8900 For Four Orchestras - 3 LPs
Arista AL-9559 For Two Pianos - 1 LP

About damn time!

Monday, August 11, 2008

This is ourselves

It's been an arts-community filled weekend for me. Saturday night was Indyish's second anniversary, an occasion calling for a "Mega" installment of their Monthly Messes. Mega it was, with 60 performers and artists contributing to the marathon interdisciplinary evening. Before going any further, Indyish is a Montreal-based independent artists network and cyber-boutique. Co-founder Risa Dickens has a great post on the impetus behind it. I know people who have been involved with them for a long time, though I'm a more recent disciple. What they're doing, and what Risa hints at in her post, is very important in the current arts climate.

First up was author Jeff Gandell who read an excerpt from his autobiographical novel dealing with jellyfish stings in sensitive regions while in Florida. In true Al Gore fashion, the reading was enhanced by a deftly programmed slide show. He was followed by Tribal Ethereal Dancers, an idiosyncratic belly-dance troupe. I made their acquaintance a couple of months ago at the last Indyish marathon mess, co-produced by the Fringe Festival and Suoni Per Il Popolo, with the Sun Ra Arkestra jam. Anybody who can improvise belly-dancing to Ra's "Carefree" scores major points in my book. They performed two pieces to pre-recorded music this time, but it was just as stunning as their improvised work.

Next up was my friend Elizabeth Bruce, now transplanted to Ottawa. The last time I saw her was one of her first gigs at The Yellow Door, and her confidence has grown by leaps and bounds. She only performed four songs but they were really strong. Her self-accompaniment was fairly intricate at times too, matching well with Melody MacIver on drums and violin.

Fellow CKUT-er Paul Neudorf got a Bravo!FACT grant to produce a short video called "Refractions." Equally inspired by dance, the warehouses of St-Henri, Rainer Maria Rilke and Isaac Newton, the screening was preceded by a gang of improvisers, including the film's composer Gabriel Dharmoo, interacting with two dancers including the film's "star," Jonathan Turcotte. Both the live set and the film are stunning. I stuck it out for a couple of songs from local rockers Magnetic Hill, mashed up with half of the country band Orillia Opry, but fatigue won out. I really wanted to see ex-Dear Patrick Krief and his new band, Black Diamond Bay, collaborate with the female avant-choral institution of Choeur Maha. Alas. I'm sure video will be up on Indyish soon.

Sunday was the 13th edition of Under Pressure. I've blogged the last two years in greater detail, as I didn't have my camera on Sunday and not much is different in terms of what I think of the festival (short hand: it rocks). The b-boy/b-girl battle was changed to an individual battle instead of a crew battle like in years past, and while it improved the sightlines of the cipher, it created a fiasco in the final round when dancers got out of order. Big ups to all the organizers and all the DJs, as usual.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Keep your eyes open

There's way too many posts about stolen instruments. It always sucks to write them and read them. After rocking Osheaga, Iggy Pop & the Stooges had their entire truck jacked from outside their hotel. Read it and weep...


all equipment was in a rented penske 15 foot yellow truck with u.s. (michigan) license plate number AC46493 and the theft had to have happened in the morning, between 6:30 and 7:30 am. there's a web page at: that will soon have pictures and updates to more stuff found missing (DRR edit: pictures are now up, check the page for the full list - it's unfortunately very, very long).

if anyone has information, ANY INFORMATION! please, please, PLEASE as soon as possible contact Eric Fischer at:
cell phone: +1 646 932 1907

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Shine your light on the world

I'm late, way late on this, but I wish I had been there. Chris "Daddy" Dave and Friends (including Robert Glasper, Casey Benjamin, Derrick Hodge and Mos Def) rock a Dilla joint at the Blue Note. This was the afterparty for the Mos Def Big Band (!) show at Carnegie Hall during the JVC festival, featuring a guest appearance by the legendary Gil Scott-Heron.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Boban Markovic Orkestar - La Tulipe 07/22/2008

When I first heard that the Boban Markovic Orkestar was coming to town, I thought La Tulipe was a strange choice of venue. A rock club on the northeastern edge of the Plateau district, it's in a largely Francophone neighbourhood and at the outskirts of the venue districts. It's also fairly big, but it has good sound and decent sightlines. Much to my surprise, La Tulipe was full - not Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings full, but full enough. DJ crew Royal Air Togo started the evening off with the requisite Electric Gypsyland vibe. I only caught about 20 minutes of their set.

Once the Orkestar hit the stage, 12 strong (two drummers and ten brass), it was clear that it was party time, even on a Tuesday night. Balkan music, to my ears, is a music of extremes - alternately fantastically joyous and heartwrenching. Markovic focused on the joy, though the slower moments had that keening, sorrowful quality that imbues much Rromani and other Gypsy music. I am assuming that a lot of what was played was traditional, as I was standing beside a crowd of girls who were screaming the words to every piece. (For my part, I only recognized two tunes - "Chaje Shukarije" and, oddly enough, "Hava Nagila.") Apparently Marko Markovic, Boban's son and trumpet phenom, couldn't make the tour; nor could their tapan player, so Aaron Alexander was admirably subbing on kit. Even with problematic monitors, nothing seemed to hinder the Orkestar's powerfully engaging two-hour set.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

All up in your mind

- Most of the Suoni Per Il Popolo reviews are up at Panpot. I also reviewed the Roswell Rudd/Mark Dresser and Hard Cell Suoni concerts for Coda, and they should be appearing in the upcoming issue.

- I will be hosting World Skip the Beat on Monday, August 4 @ noon EST. I'll also be hosting Jazz Euphorium on Wednesday, August 6 @ 8 pm EST. As always, you can tune in live or listen from the archives.

- Indigone Trio FIJM video is up on YouTube on my brand spankin' new channel. For your viewing pleasure, I am embedding a newer piece called "Tonglen," inspired by Andrew D'Angelo's marvelous post on the Buddhist practice.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Speak to it

The discussion that Darcy has prompted from this post is a debate I've had internally and with colleagues for many years. What is the role, the point, the function of music (or art in general)? Is it supposed to be communicative in nature? I don't intend the following to be the final word on the subject - it's merely a description of where I'm at in my music-making process and what my goals are.

I had an epiphany about this in 2005. When Chris Driscoll, a fantastic drummer and inspiring human being, passed away, the family of his best friend, bassist Pat Reid, chartered a bus out to Prince Edward Island so that Chris' McGill friends and colleagues could attend the service. The Reid house became Ground Zero for coming together, grieving, and jamming. It was in that week of non-stop music, culminating in a seven-hour marathon concert at a local church, that I rediscovered what music can do, and ideally, should do.

Immediately after I heard the news, this fragment of melody popped into my head and wouldn't go away. I didn't have time to write it down before taking the bus the next morning, so I kept repeating it to engrave it in my memory. I wrote a first draft on the 12-hour bus ride from Montreal to Charlottetown, and finished what is now called "Driscollage" in the living room of my wonderful PEI hosts. The origins of "Driscollage" were, in a sense, purely selfish - I wrote it for me as a way of coping, and paying homage to the memory of a colleague for whom I had the utmost respect. (It would be too much to say Chris and I were close, but the last thing we said to each other was that we should play together more often.) But after we played the piece at the PEI concert, Chris' father came up to me and thanked me for the tune, and "Driscollage" now has a whole new meaning for me. I may write more intricate, developed, complex and/or creative pieces in the future, but none will occupy the place of importance and honour that "Driscollage" has.

I strive for a sense of connection and communication in every piece I write, in every gig I play; a lack of it is what turns me off at gigs. Darcy sums it up thus:
Well, first and foremost, ["meeting the listener halfway"] means playing the music like it fucking means something to you, and you desperately want us all to understand exactly what it is that it means to you, because these sounds that you are making are the most important sounds in the world, and if you fail to persuade us just how important these sounds are, you'll die.
This sense of connection doesn't have to lie exclusively in anthemic, accessible pieces (although the soaring melodies of David Binney, Roberto Fonseca, Djavan and Milton Nascimento do this quite often). There was a moment - a single moment - where drummer Paal Nilssen-Love bowed a cowbell, and trumpeter Magnus Broo landed on the same note at the same instant, holding for another moment and then moving away; this was the highlight of the entire concert for me. The Sun Ra Arkestra, in their densest, knottiest segments, has a manner of captivating the audience. All the aforementioned artists, even in their most "accessible" moments, are not writing simple tunes - there's a high level of sophistication in the musical information. But they're not focused on musical one-upsmanship on the bandstand. It's the "Hey! marvel at our rhythmic complexity and overwhelming ingenuity" attitude that leaves me out in the cold, vs. Darcy's sentiment above.

Most professional musicians wind up taking gigs that do not showcase their main creative outlet - playing repertoire we wouldn't select ourselves, in settings that are less than optimal. However, we are (or should be) still attempting to make music. The easy way out is to slag it off and phone it in. The bigger challenge is to actually be musical and engage with one's partners on the bandstand. Honesty goes a long way - someone in the audience will pick up on it. It only takes one person to give sincere thanks for our music, to have been genuinely affected by it, to change the outlook of a gig.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Jazzfest 2008 - Days 7 & 8

Day 7
2 pm: Press conference with Jim West, head of Justin Time Records, Oliver Jones, and Trevor Payne, leader of the Montreal Jubilation Gospel Choir. In honour of their 25th anniversary, they've put out a two-disc compilation, and have a closing concert tomorrow night at Place des Arts.
5 pm: Papagroove launch their new record, We're Not Blind. Haven't listened to the disc yet but the bits I've heard at the conference are very promising, befitting a band featuring ex-members of Montreal worldbeat collectives La Chango Family and Dobacaracol.
7 pm: Orchestra Baobab @ Club Soda. Grooves can be tight intense without walloping bass and high volume. There's a whole new vitality to their tunes live that can't be captured in a studio.
9:30 pm: Dirty Dozen Brass Band @ Theatre Maisonneuve. Came out with some greasy funk, but went from funky sloppy to just sloppy in parts. Not sure if that was due to the sound issues, with the drum mixes fading out and seemingly turning the time around, and a whole host of monitor issues with the sousaphone. The experience was also dampened by the nitwits behind me who insisted on talking throughout the entire show.
10:30 pm: Blind Boys of Alabama. When the three elders sing, it's a chilling, stunning harmony that seems to grow straight from the ground. Jimmy Carter still has a huge voice and great presence. The rhythm section was in step the whole way, especially on the cover of Tom Waits' "Way Down in the Hole." They did two songs with the Dirty Dozen horns - and given its apparent spontaneity, they were unfortunately poorly miked.*
12:30 am: Headed over to Brutopia, the third venue change for Vanessa Rodrigues' annual B-3 jam. I love the mighty beast, but let's just say I'll stick to piano for the near future.

Day 8
Spent the afternoon wandering through the SIMM (Montreal Musical Instrument Show), which is seemingly smaller and less crazy than last year. I overheard Roland reps saying the same thing. Pianos Prestige has the Steinway Rhapsody piano up for show, and what a gorgeous instrument it is: never mind the artwork, the way it sings on a ballad and barks when I dug in on "I Mean You" is just phenomenal.
6 pm: Steven Bernstein's Millennial Territory Orchestra @ Theatre Jean-Duceppe. The small audience and technical glitches didn't faze Bernstein, whose scores to three Laurel & Hardy films were imbued with the same humour and struck a balance between Carl Stalling-style composition and space for the band to just play through the film. The encore, with Bernstein on slide trumpet, grew out of an ominous F minor vamp into a romp through "St. Louis Blues."**

* Note 1: What is with white people and the overwhelming instinct to clap on 1 & 3? Especially on gospel music where the backbeat is so damned obvious? I actually felt sorry for one person I saw at the Orchestra Baobab show who was earnestly trying to clap in rhythm and it was just so difficult for her.
** Note 2: Sound people who drown horn sections in reverb should be fined, or possibly subjected to some sort of corporal punishment. Cutoffs by the MTO, like Mario Allard's band a few days ago, were left dangling, swimming in artifical 'verb.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Non-Jazzfest notes

Yesterday was Canada Day, also known in Quebec as Moving Day. Thankfully I was not moving, nor was I helping anybody else move.

Via Darcy, may Ronnie Matthews rest in peace. The jazz concert that made me a die-hard convert was the T.S Monk "Monk on Monk" big band, on Halloween 1997. I was sitting three rows from the bells of the saxophones, and Ronnie Matthews was on piano, inhabiting the spirit of Monk without resorting to mere mimicry. I never really heard him on other records after that, but that one exposure alone (and his graciousness in dealing with an over-eager 12-year-old) stuck with me.

Jazzfest 2008 - Day 6

Ain't no party like a Bran Van party 'cause a Bran Van party don't stop. Snagged a sweet spot up on the press patio, not having to deal with the throngs of 200,000 crammed into every nook and cranny of Place des Arts. Like many, I only know Bran Van 3000 from their two or three massive singles - "Drinking in L.A.", "Astounded" (a flip on Curtis Mayfield's "Move on Up") and "Everywhere" (which I recognized but never knew was their tune). The crowd on the terrasse was split between people who didn't know them at all, people who knew "Drinking in L.A" and some die-hard fans who knew nearly everything. It took a while for them to work into it, starting with a couple of slower tunes, but when James di Salvio and company launched into their dirty downtempo Beastie beats and gradually cranked the tempo towards disco-house party, they excelled and won the crowd over. A far better live show than I expected.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Jazzfest 2008 - Day 5

2 pm: Public Enemy press conference. Chuck D held court on the border, the environment, Barack Obama, race in America, the music industry, and much more, while Flavor Flav emphasized Chuck's points, politely disagreed with him on going over to Iraq, and told (possibly apocryphal) stories about chilling with Miles Davis and being namechecked by Obama.

6 pm: Checked out some of Alexis Baro's set from the press room patio. Really groovy tunes anchored by basslines. Baro's a killing trumpeter living in Toronto and his chops were in full effect.

7 pm: Caught some of Mario Allard's set. I've heard their tunes on their MySpace and the band has gotten really tight over the past few months. Too bad the sound guy decided to drown them in reverb - it muddied up the counterpoint and made the solos sound like they were on a bad '90s record.

9 pm: Corkestra @ Monument-National. The subtle mix of free improvisation and three-reed solis reminiscent of eras past was a perfect fit for this small, intimate room.

10:30 pm: Marc Cary Trio @ Gésu. I really wanted to like this, having loved his solo show at Toronto Trane Studio, but I found it needlessly jumpy. Cary himself referred to a segment as the "CD changer." There were glimpses of a tight trio hookup, and drummer/tabla player Sameer Gupta was truly fantastic, but overall it was underwhelming.

Jazzfest 2008 - Days 3 and 4

Day 3
Due to other commitments I could only catch one set of Steamboat Switzerland, a Swiss power trio of Hammond organ, electric bass and drums. I was disappointed that our usual complement of Québécois metalheads and noiseniks were absent from this group's continuous sonic onslaught, a mix of Medeski Martin & Wood, Dub Trio and Naked City. While highly impressive (and spectacularly through-composed in parts), I think this group is best served by a recorded mix so the details all speak clearly.

Day 4
4 pm: Monica Shore Quintet. The festival has launched a showcase series for combos from the four university music programs, and my McGill friends had their turn in the sun, featuring a couple of intriguing originals by guitarist Jordan Peters, a couple of Joni-does-Mingus tunes, and a fifth piece called "Harlem in Havana." Kevin Warren and Nic Bedard have a really strong hookup, allowing Shore, Peters and electric violinist Lisienne Tremblay to float over them in a sweetly textured blend.
6 pm: Roberto Fonseca. Someone who is not afraid of melody and restraint, whose tunes derive their power from their simplicity, and underlining the efficacy of emotion and communication. Wow.
8:30 pm: Continued the Latin party vein with a brief stop at Jose Conde's set, cut short due a torrential downpour. What I did hear was solid pan-Latin funk, greeted by some avid salsa dancers.
9:30 pm: Hank Jones & Charlie Haden. The only show of Jones' Invitation series I could see due to other commitments. I could listen to those two play the heads to tunes all day, never mind their solos. Haden was uniformly brilliant, and Jones, while showing some age, redeemed himself with his incredibly touching readings of ballads, blues, and "Motherless Child." Absolutely stunning.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Jazzfest 2008 - Day 2 (aka SHOWTIME)

2 pm: Hank Jones press conference. I hope to be half as elegant, witty and musical at half his age.
3 pm: Prep charts, warm up, zone in, etc etc. Hang out in press room.
4 pm: Press conference for Francois Richard's Nouvel Orchestra disc on Effendi. Nice chamber jazz with flute, strings & rhythm section.
6 pm: Nordic Connect @ Gésu. Great room for a great band. A bit of a rocky start but once they jelled, they fell into the inspiring beauty I can always get from sisters Jensen.
7:30 pm: Show up early for soundcheck. Meet the technical team and soundman. Fight with the Rhodes pedal that I eventually go without. Breathe.
8:55 pm: Gust of wind blows charts off the piano. Techs run and get extra plexiglass.
9 pm: Hit for the first set. Nerves finally calm down. Music happens. Phil sounds great, Seb sounds great, huge crowd... and competition judges in the second row. Didn't realize the blues stage right behind us would be going on at the same time. Once we started going you couldn't really hear it though.
10 pm: Breathe huge sigh of relief. Mingle with crowd. Congratulate Seb & Phil. Prep for set 2.
11 pm: Launch into set 2. What a difference one set (and one beer) makes. This set is the more late-night groovy, chillout set. More vocal crowd. We all feel more relaxed.
11:58 pm: Done.

I can't really talk about our set in any better detail. Phil said that he finally gets the music now, and it sounds that way. Seb played his ass off and learned this music - which, while not extremely difficult, isn't all that easy - really quite quickly and I'm very happy to work with him. July 5 (next Saturday) they announce the competition winner, and whoever wins will play an additional set that night. Stay tuned to this space.

Set 1: 9 pm
Driscollage [in memory of Chris Driscoll]
As of Now
Dancing Serpent in Dawn's Quiet
Tonglen [for Andrew D'Angelo]
Visions (Stevie Wonder)
Ramblin' (Ornette Coleman)

Set 2: 11 pm
As of Now
Pleasure is All Mine (Björk)
Dancing Serpent in Dawn's Quiet
Dupla Traiçao (Djavan)
Settled in Shipping
First Impressions
Erghen Diado (Peter Lyondev)

Friday, June 27, 2008

Jazzfest 2008 - Day 1

2 pm: Get down to the JazzFest site. Fulfill press room duties. See Gilberto Gil walk by.
2:30 pm: Check out the Djembe jam at the SIMM (Montreal Musical Iinstrument Salon) tent. Play until my hands get a little sore. Walk around the rest of the Festival site, including a Roland/Rock Band/Guitar Hero tent. Fail at Rock Band.
4 pm: Press room hang with usual suspects Len Dobbin & Mike Chamberlain from Hour. See Joe Lovano walk in.
5 pm: Press cocktail @ the Heineken Pavillion with The Lost Fingers. Laugh my ass off at manouche Gypsy swing versions of Technotronic's "Pump Up The Jams" and "Billie Jean." Talk to Stewart D'Arrieta (of Belly of a Drunken Piano) and That 1 Guy.
9:30 pm: Gilberto Gil @ Théâtre Maisonneuve. Got my hopes up from eavesdropping on the soundcheck, in which they played Jorge Ben's "Ponta de Lanca Africano." Highlights were great, but at some points the set dragged. He played one of my favourite songs - "Andar Com Fé" - among other new and old tunes and covers in a 2-hour set.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

You gotta move somethin'

Suoni Per Il Popolo reviews are trickling in over at Panpot. My reviews of Roswell Rudd/Mark Dresser and Hard Cell, earlier in the festival, should be appearing in the next issue of Coda. About 6 hours of respite this morning separates my last Suoni concert - Ken Vandermark's Free Fall, and Magnus Broo/Paal Nilssen-Love - from the onslaught of my next assignment.

Reminder: Indigone Trio hits the Best Buy Stage TOMORROW at 9 & 11 pm. Two sets of music, free, on a Friday night. If you're in town, I'd like to see your face in the audience. Jazz Fest behind the scenes bloggity-blog stuff will go here, the rest (official reviews and such as that) will be reserved for Coda.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Montreal Jazz Fest Podcast

My Ropeadope brethren asked me to do a podcast of my picks at this year's Jazz Fest. I obliged them.

Gilberto Gil - Eu Só Quero Um Xodó (June 26 @ Théâtre Maisonneuve)
Quantic Soul Orchestra f/ Alice Russell - Pushin' On (Alice Russell June 27 @ Club Soda)
Joe Lovano & Hank Jones - Budo (June 27 @ Théâtre Jean-Duceppe; Joe Lovano w/ Saxophone Summit June 27; Hank Jones June 26-29)
McCoy Tyner f/ Michael Brecker - I Mean You (McCoy Tyner July 1-3 @ Place des Arts)
Dave Brubeck - Kathy's Waltz (July 4-5 @ Théâtre Jean-Duceppe)
Charlie Haden - Latin Genetics (June 27-28 @ Place des Arts)
Brad Mehldau - Things Behind the Sun (June 27-28 @ Gesù and Théâtre Jean-Duceppe)
Orchestra Baobab - Bul Ma Miin (July 2 @ Club Soda)
Dirty Dozen Brass Band - I Shall Not Be Moved (July 2 @ Théâtre Maisonneuve)
Steven Bernstein's Millennial Territory Orchestra - Darling Nikki (July 3 @ Théâtre Maisonneuve)
Cassandra Wilson - You Gotta Move (July 4 @ Théâtre Maisonneuve)
3 Na Massa f/ Thalma de Freitas - Enladeirada (June 29-30 @ outdoor stages)
Indigone Trio + Strings - Smacked (June 27 @ Best Buy stage)

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Saturday in the park

To welcome in the solstice, there was a whole lot of stuff happening this weekend in our fair city, all colliding on Saturday June 21.

My day started with Popolo in the Park, the annual picnic organized by the Suoni Per Il Popolo fest. Lake of Stew kicked it off with their traditional-sounding bluegrass songs about armadillos and the Sherbrooke street bus. Andy Williams followed up with a last-minute set, and the highlight for me was Matana Roberts with a group of high school students from NDG (a neighbourhood on the western part of the city) in a mixture of groove-based free improv and a couple of tunes by the students. (I guess I wound up writing about this, Matana!) The students were surprisingly good, considering that they don't have the opportunity to play a lot. The MC they had was actually really impressive. People I was standing with, who didn't know of Matana's work beforehand, were really taken with her playing, the students' playing, and just the idea of workshops and outreach. There was also free food, arts and crafts, HVW8 doing some live painting, lots of kids, dogs and bicycles.

I walked down St-Laurent to check out the annual Main Madness event, closing down the Main between Sherbrooke and Mont-Royal to all manner of street vendors, performers, and terrasses. What a relief - considering the endless construction on St-Laurent that's forced business off that street, done considerable damage to businesses that remained, and pissed off residents, it was nice to stroll down the Main without having to navigate around gravel and potholes. Lots of Portuguese BBQ chicken, noodles, falafel, and cotton candy. I bumped into Michael Reinhart who was doing a solo set at Yellow Door's kiosk, and marvelled at the massive gaming tent Amp Energy had set up.

I headed back north on St-Laurent to catch the Fringe Pop showcase, the usual co-presentation of indie goodness by Pop Montreal and the Fringe Festival. With the festival running late as usual, I caught the tail end of Drag Racing, culminating in the crowning of their first Drag King as best performer. Everyone's favourite St-Henri klezmerjazzpunks, the Youjsh, took the stage to a surprisingly numerous crowd. Sarah and I were amused by the two toddlers that seemed to take to the raucous Balkanized party rather well. Next up were Zeroes, another bunch of former McGill jazzers who have sold their souls to rock 'n' roll (Ben Shemie, also known as Blink Blink Blink; Max Henry; and ex-Indigone drummer Liam O'Neill). Any band with Max and Liam will have electro-disco undertones, and this one lived up to their reputation, along with Ben's thrashing guitar and tender vocals and the more aggressive singing of Joe Yarmush.

I skipped out on the closing Fringe Pop band, Wintersleep, to catch Gary Schwartz's new (Mostly) Ornette project with Chet Doxas on soprano and clarinet, Erik Hove on alto, Zack Lober on bass and Phil Melanson on drums. Gary has arranged some of Ornette's more familiar tunes ("Turnaround," "Lonely Woman," "Peace," and "Broadway Blues" among them) and played them along with his own Ornette-ish "Whatdyasay?" and a free improvisation. The arrangements deconstruct the tunes - on the closing "Broadway Blues" they never played the head fully but used the different key centres as bases for improvisation. There were some three-part solis that I didn't expect to work, but did, and was happy to hear that all the elements of "Lonely Woman" that everyone forgets - the two different time feels, the looming bass figure at the beginning - were prominently incorporated into Gary's version.

Edit: Gary e-mails to say:
You made me realize that I forgot to give credit to the arrangers involved in the project. I need to set the record straight. Lonely Woman and Broadway Blues both came from Alex Côté, Tomorrow Is The Question from Chris Smith and Peace from Chet Doxas. Everything else is basically me.

But still, even after all that music, Darcy can still make me jealous. I will not live down the fact I took a gig the night Stevie Wonder played the Bell Centre last year. I went back and forth on buying tickets - on his last tour he played his (then)-new music from Conversation Peace, and I wasn't really sold on the music from A Time 2 Love - I found out from many people that he played nearly nothing but the old-school, surefire tunes. DAMN.