Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Animal Forum - 01/27/2008, Le Cagibi

My first impressions of Le Cagibi were favourable. Having never set foot in this Mile-End institution (formerly called Pharmacie Esperanza before a change of ownership a couple of years ago), it struck me as a cross between Café L'Utopik and Casa del Popolo. The three of them are vegetarian, équitable cafés embracing left-field art and music - Cagibi and L'Utopik share a multi-room structure, as well. The key difference is that Casa is primarily a venue that happens to have damn good food, and L'Utopik in its prime was known as a venue and gathering place for primarily Francophone radicals, gradually infiltrated by the Anglophone jazz community's urban sprawl. Cagibi still seems to have the air of a neighbourhood hang-out - the veggie burrito is stellar, but the support of artists is a little lacking.

Witness Sunday night's show of Animal Forum, a trio of musicians from diverse backgrounds who have convened in the improvising community of Brooklyn: saxophonist Peter Van Huffel, formerly of Kingston, ON; Swiss trombonist Samuel Blaser; and Israeli percussionist Ziv Ravitz. The moment a cover charge was announced, the nearly-full back room fled to the front, leaving only a couple of stragglers who stayed throughout the show, plus Miles Perkin, Brad Barr and myself.

It's a pity, because Animal Forum played a set of three lengthy improvisations that crossed many textures. van Huffel alternated between alto and soprano saxophones, with a warm rounded tone blending closely with Blaser's open horn. Relying on no mutes or other colouristic effects other than multiphonics, Blaser's melodic inventiveness was on full display throughout the set. Ravitz often indulged in grooves, anchoring the lines of the two horns, playing off them, as well as creating soundscapes by using a microphone as a mallet on his cymbals, amplifying overtones, and leading one of the improvisations with glockenspiel. Unfortunately, it was easily one of the best shows no one saw. See Adam Kinner and Kate Molleson's commentary at the Gazette for more of the same - great musicians from here and beyond playing to nearly empty rooms. Peter and I were talking after the gig, and the situation seems to be the same everywhere: as musicians, it's great to have your friends in the audience (and honestly, more often than not, I'm friends, acquaintances or colleagues with someone in most every band I've reviewed here), but a scene can't sustain itself on musicians alone. You need the non-musicians, and the eternal question is how to court them.

Peter is leaving NYC soon to make his home in Brussels, and Samuel Blaser may well be following him to Berlin. They're doing another mini-tour with a group called Hufflignon, featuring vocalist Sophie Tassignon and bassist Michael Bates, which is unfortunately yet unsurprisingly not making a Montreal stop.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Splinter cells

I just realized I didn't blog about Darcy's hit at Sala Rossa last Tuesday, though Juan Rodriguez and Adam Kinner of the Gazette both have done the honours. I was coming at it from a very different place than most of the audience - being quite familiar with his music over the past year or so, I was listening for the differences between the New York and Canadian players and curious how my buddies and colleagues like Joel Miller, Erik Hove, Lina Allemano and Gordon Webster would take on Darcy's music. As opposed to the majority of the room who were experiencing Darcy's music for the first time. So, in the interests of full disclosure: I'm close with a lot of these musicians, and many of them, DJA included, play a big role in my own personal musical development.

The band nailed it. From the opening of "Flux in a Box" to the closing blast of "Transit," it was evident that the long rehearsals had paid off. And even though I'd been listening to recordings of the New York band, hearing that music live had a different power and immediacy that I wasn't expecting. I should have realized this, spending the better part of last year wrangling large ensembles, but it somehow eluded me. Highlights of the set included Hove on "Flux in a Box," Chet Doxas' solo on "Drift," Ingrid Jensen's turn on "Transit" (which is always impressive), Mike Fahie's intensity on "Habeas Corpus," and the beats kicking in on "Ferromagnetic," "Induction Effect" and "Habeas Corpus."

Joel Miller's Mandala is one of my favourite groups around, and the record Mandala (2004) received a lot of play on my personal stereo as well as CKUT. I haven't heard the new record Tantramar yet, but from what they played in their opening set, it deserves all the praise it has received. Some of the new music seemed more directly rock-influenced with unison basslines and hard-driving grooves, but it also retained the youthful levity that characterizes Joel's music to my ears. After the years of playing together, the rhythm section of Thom Gossage (drums), Fraser Hollins (bass) and Kenny Bibace (guitar) have really locked into each other, which showed on tunes like "Rashers" and "Big Tiny." Trumpeter Bill Mahar sounded stronger than I've heard him in the past, and those who saw Altsys at IAJE told me he'd raised his personal bar even higher at that gig. The blend of Mahar, Miller and multi-reedist Bruno Lamarche often creates this bizarre horn section where it sounds like a polyphonic horn.

For those of you who couldn't make it to the gigs, download them from Darcy's site ASAP. And for the non-Canadian readers and listeners who don't recognize any of the names above, make some room in your record collection.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Blogroll Update

A big hello to any of those who are arriving here via the IAJE blog panel and related entries and links. In turn, I have updated the sidebar to reflect many of those new connections, and connections I should have made long ago.

- Howard Mandel, the fantastic author, DownBeat correspondent and burgeoning blogger.
- David R. Adler, co-panelist, jazzbo & politico now living in Philly, whom I met at the Vision Fest this past summer.
- James Hale, who interviewed me at the Kenny Barron master class last year in Ottawa, and whom I've long-regarded as the best advocate of Canadian jazz in the international press.
- Matthew Wengerd, bassist/composer/blogger. I hope to have more interaction with him in the future, and I will certainly check out his music in short order.
- Shannon Butcher, a singer with whom I crossed paths quite frequently at IAJE, though I'm nearly positive we must have met at the Rex when I was jamming there as a kid.
- Amy Cervini, singer/manager, someone I should have met a long time ago but somehow never did.
- Kelly Fenton, composer and coffee lover. Large ensembles and caffeine - a woman after my own heart! I've often been tempted to use the Sibelius graphic of coffee-stained paper, just for continuity's sake with my own notebooks.
- Greg Dudzienski, saxophonist and blogging newbie, but from what he's got so far looks to be a promising contributor.

The Madness '08

I might have been the only blogger in attendance at this year's IAJE conference that didn't make any posts in realtime. Frankly, there were too many things to do than hang at the internet kiosks and try to make cogent updates. Caveat emptor: this will be a very long post.

The conference served as a sort of bizarro world for me, with my Toronto, Montreal and New York colleagues finally getting to meet one another and colliding in the hallways of the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. It was perhaps for this reason that I didn't experience my normal Toronto jitters at all.

Wednesday I got into Toronto after Kurt Elling's pre-conference keynote speech, but with enough time to register before checking out pianist Aaron Goldberg's trio. Drummer Eric Harland was not as fortunate, suffering through a variety of delayed and cancelled flights before walking into John Bassett Theatre right at 7 pm. It didn't audibly seem to faze his playing though, unleashing barrages of strokes in support of Goldberg and bassist Reuben Rogers that somehow never got in the way of the music. Goldberg has a very light touch on the piano, and even when he was visibly digging in, the piano still sounded like it had the soft pedal engaged. His hand independence is astounding, especially when Reuben got out and left Aaron and Eric to interact as a duo. Most of the music was drawn from Goldberg's album Worlds, including his beautiful reading of Djavan's "Lambada de Serpente." Another highlight was the tune "The Sound of Snow" from the Baby Loves Jazz book series.

I tended to skip all the big evening concerts for various reasons. Because Aaron's set started late, it ran into the time slot of the Wednesday evening concert featuring New York Voices and Lionel Loueke, and I just didn't much feel like standing in line for a seat with bad sightlines and worse sound.

Thursday started bright and early for me, with an interview on CBC's Metro Morning. Thanks to Brownman for hooking me up with the opportunity, and for my dad to inform me that we were #4 on eMusic's monthly jazz downloads. (We've since slid down the chart, but it was true at the time. We're still Ropeadope Digital's #1 album.)

My IAJE day started with a Chamber Music America lecture on grants. Unfortunately it was almost exclusively geared to CMA's grants, which are only offered to American citizens. It was helpful to get a sense of how to structure an application and what kinds of proposals have received grant money from CMA in the past, and hopefully that sort of thing can apply to Canada Council grants as well.
Next up, I caught a little excerpt of Bernie Dresel's big band drumming clinic, and then moved to the erroneously listed management clinic (which was supposed to be on Friday, but was in the schedule on Thursday).
I then went down to Constitution Hall to get a seat for the ASCAP/IAJE commissions by Ayn Inserto and Tim Hagans, as performed by Secret Society North. I had heard excerpts of Ayn's piece at Darcy's semi-open rehearsal at McGill. A feature for her mentor and colleague George Garzone, it was definitely a more subdued setting for his firebrand tenor than I'd have expected. When it came time to solo, of course, Garzone let rip in all his glory; at the time, his entrance interrupted the continuity for me, but the solo settled into the piece. Hagans' piece, "Box of Canoli," was described as a crazy love song, which fit. Ingrid Jensen had a tremendous feature in it, and Gordon Webster took a fantastic solo cadenza. I unfortunately missed Wil Swindler's Gil Evans commission, but I have it on good authority that it was killing. I couldn't pass up getting a halfway decent seat for the tête-à-tête with Jon Hendricks and Kurt Elling. Mr. Hendricks regaled us with great stories, and in talking about various people (including the Bush administration) used the phrase, "They wouldn't swing if you hung 'em!" Elling was eloquent and erudite as ever, and almost humourously deferent to Hendricks.
It was followed by another meeting of the minds: legendary jazz historian Dan Morgenstern chatting with Roy Haynes. Morgenstern's knowledge is unparalleled, able to recall the most obscure minutiae instantly, and ... well, Roy is Roy. In an hour, Mr. Morgenstern only got up to his playing with Trane, though his association with Chick was mentioned by way of Bud Powell. I had the incredible honour but somewhat arduous task of interviewing Roy myself just after that talk and a signing of his new boxed set, A Life in Time. I certainly am not the same fount of knowledge as Mr. Morgenstern, and Mr. Haynes was obviously pretty drained. He is, however, inspiring and very cool; I hope to catch him again someday.
Following that, I played merch-boy again outside DJA's official IAJE hit. I was setting up the shirts when guitarist Kenny Bibace ran up to me and told me that Jon Wikan had lost the drum book. I wound up running around the entire convention centre looking for the drum music, to no avail. Darcy wound up finding it Friday, sitting in the production office. I skipped the British jazz showcase to hang out with members of Secret Society North and Altsys at a Front Street pub, and then went back to an "Advanced Student" jam session. I was really quite impressed at the level of musicianship there, from the local Toronto kids to members of the talent recognition programs and visiting student ensembles.

Friday had the first of two Brazilian clinics, this one given by guitarist Thiago Trajano. He was very clear on the relationship between the layers of Brazilian percussion and how the guitar grooves interact with each part. I then went back for the properly scheduled artist management clinic with Gail Boyd and Bill Traut (who will be retiring in March). They were incredibly straightforward and clear, and gave pragmatic, easy-to-comprehend advice about how artists can further their career. Given that previous industry-driven talks I've attended have been needlessly condescending and circular, this was a breath of fresh air.
Friday afternoon was our blog clinic, with David, Carl, Darcy, and Neil Tesser. Carl has already written about it, as has Matthew Wengerd and Greg Dudzienski. I didn't feel it to be as divisive as Matthew felt it was; for me it was really intriguing to find out how everyone else views their blogs. It also forced me to think about my blog and what I want to achieve with it. There were really only two self-imposed guidelines the beginning - no political stuff, unless it ties in with arts and culture somehow; and to take advantage of the fact that I am immersed in the Montreal scene as a practitioner (musician) and advocate (radio host). I don't really think about my writing voice so much, and I'm not so interested in driving traffic here, though I suppose I should be if I want this to serve as a promotional vehicle in any way. I hope to get back into more substantive writing soon, because this isn't really a playlist blog as both Neil and Matthew have characterized it. Ideally, this should be a space that reflects all facets of my musical involvement: pianist, composer, arranger, radio guy, music lover.
Following post-panel discussions with Amy Cervini, Matt Merewitz, and Howard Mandel, I went to the Industry One-on-One session and had ten minutes with Jacqui Naylor to discuss what's worked for her career-wise, and to try and get a decent answer as to what an external publisher is and does. If there's any publishers reading this, please get in touch with me! I then ran to grab a piano-side seat at the Latin Pro Jam led by Hilario Duran and featuring the top Toronto Latin jazz players including saxophonist Luis Deniz and drummer Mark Kelso. Jeff Coffin sat in on tenor, and by the time I had gotten the cojones to work out some white-boy montunos, Hilario called the last tune - "Take the A-Train" as a burning descarga in 7. Next time.
I met up with my friend (and former web designer, pre-blog) Katie Gennaro for dinner before running to Supermarket to do a last minute opening solo set for Elizabeth Shepherd. Also on the bill was Adrian Gibson from London's Jazz Café, and the Jazzcotech dancers. It was just Perry and Kola from Jazzcotech, but even just the duo were impressive. They came out in full 1930s paperboy costume, and cut the rug on some nu-jazz tunes that Adrian spun, as well as Elizabeth's version of "Four." Truly magical, and worth checking out.

Saturday I started to feel "jazz-itis" settling in, finding it hard to truly appreciate (whoops, there's that word) and focus on what was happening. It started with Sergio Gomes' "New Ways of Brazilian Drumming" clinic which was, again, fairly instrument specific, but very helpful in terms of providing variations on samba and maracatu rhythms. The highlight for me was the Grammy Jazz Soundtable with Phil Ramone, Kurt Elling, Al Schmitt, Esperanza Spalding and Randy Brecker. At the beginning, attendance was surprisingly sparse, but it filled up and rightly so. Phil and Al talked about a few of the many important sessions they've worked on and Kurt, Randy and Esperanza spoke to the changes in recording technology and how that affects music. The point Neil Tesser was trying to drive at, and never really elicited from the panel, was how have these changes in recording and listening technology affected the perception of the music? For my part, I cannot listen to classical at my computer, and I find it very difficult to listen to much jazz as an mp3, even though I love Destination: Out! There seems to be a sense of air in the best jazz recordings that gets lost with compression. Esperanza brought up something I've encountered as well: engineers ill-equipped to deal with live-off-the-floor recording, or engineers that can do it but are astonished that young musicians are still asking to record in such a fashion. I did get Neil to snap a photo of Phil Ramone and me - as I said to Phil, I owe him my career. Billy Joel's 52nd Street is my earliest musical memory, and I attribute my choice of the piano after aborted violin and guitar lessons to that record.
The Soundtable was so riveting throughout its two-hour duration that I completely missed the film scoring in Sibelius panel that I really wanted to see. If anybody was there, please send me notes. I got involved in a long conversation with Joel from Upstairs about the state of Montreal's jazz scene and, once again, the "what's a blog? what use is a blog?" mentality. The discussion did end in time for me to catch the end of Reggie Thomas' great odd-meters panel. The fact that the best panels for me, in my IAJE career, have been about time and rhythm (cf. Ronan Guilfoyle's "rhythmic human being" talk in 2006) tells me that not enough is being taught in jazz education about time and rhythm and this needs to be rectified stat.
I caught Marty Ehrlich and Myra Melford duo in the rather bizarre setting of the Intercontinental Hotel bar. Ehrlich joked that they would play "Feelings" to end the set. I love their record Spark! and have consistently played their solo work on Jazz Euphorium over the years, so it was a pleasure to see them live. Ehrlich's control of inflection on clarinet gives it a very vocal quality, not unlike Don Byron in some cases, and his altissimo register on alto goes all the way to the stratosphere. Melford's pianisms range from two-fisted churchiness to two-fisted (literally) Don Pullen intensity, and the trance she seems to enter while playing was hypnotic to me as well.

That marked the end of my official IAJE activity, and I hauled up to Trane Studio to play with my Toronto boys: Michael Herring on bass and Nick Fraser on drums. I don't have an opportunity to play with them often, so when we do play it's quite special. In the six-degrees-of-separation that often marks the music world, the soundwoman at Trane is Zoé Johnson, whom I met through the Red Bull Music Academy. She gets a great sound in the room and I wish there were more soundpeople like her, who actually know the room they're working in and know how to get various different styles of music to sound equally good in the room. We were followed by a Sudanese/Canadian experimental jazz-funk group, which sounded as clear and clean as we did. Zoé also saved my hide when my laptop crashed halfway through the head of "How Deep is the Ocean?" by running down and grabbing the Trane's house digital piano. I was flustered, but we finally settled into a groove around "3 4 You." The highlight for me was our version of "Law Years." Thanks to everybody that came out!

Setlist: How Deep is the Ocean; First Impressions; Settled in Shipping; Dupla Traição (Djavan); 3 4 You (Gary Schwartz) --> Law Years (Ornette Coleman); Way To Blue (Nick Drake); Hivemind (me - first performance ever!).

Saturday, January 05, 2008

The calm before the storm

A bit of a posting hiatus here, until The Madness (term hijacked from Darcy) is over. Here's where you can find me:

Tomorrow, January 6 - Trumpeter and Jazz Euphorium colleague Sean Winters is leaving town for a bit, and I'm playing on his farewell show at Diese Onze (4115-A St. Denis). The quartet is rounded out by Benoit Coulombe on bass, and Matt Vorzimer on drums. Lots of special guests will grace the stage, too.

January 8 I will be the friendly doorman at the Mandala/Secret Society North hit at La Sala Rossa. I will reprise that role in Toronto at the Tranzac on the 11th.

January 9-12 I will be navigating my way through the IAJE conference, soaking up new music, schmoozing, and even speaking on a panel about The Blog! with truly top-notch company.

January 12 I'll be hitting Trane Studio (964 Bathurst, Toronto) with my hometown friends Michael Herring on bass and Nick Fraser on drums. We start at 8 pm, two sets, $10. It's a real treat to play with those guys. It's my first time even setting foot in Trane, a club that really started to take off after I moved to Montreal.

Expect full reports upon my return.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Playlists, Jan 4/08

Jazz Amuck
Erik Friedlander
- "Prowl" (Prowl)
Keefe Jackson's Fast Citizens - "Blackout" (Ready Everyday)
Wayne Horvitz Gravitas Quartet - "Way Out East" (Way Out East)
Joe Morris/Ken Vandermark/Luther Gray - "Rebus 3" (Rebus)
Michael Musillami - "The Treatment" (The Treatment)
Amir ElSaffar - "Diaspora" (Two Rivers)
*Gary Schwartz - "What'dyasay?" (Public Transport Project)
*Don Scott - "Amasa" (Out of Line)
*Geordie Haley's Sea of Song Trio
- "C'est bon des pop tart" (Blue)
*Lina Allemano Four - "Vesper" (Concentric)
*Ingrid Jensen's Project O - "Dilemma" (Now as Then)
*Arkana Music - "Ontology (Keep Thinking)" (Hyprovisation)
Steve Lacy - "Blinks" (The Door)
Siegfried Kessler Trio - "Spikenard" (Live at the Gill's Club)
Mark Helias' Open Loose - "AKA" (Verbs of Will)
Braam/DeJoode/Vatcher - "Gosh, Ethnics Gan" (Change This Song)
Bobby Bradford - "Roswita's Dance" (Love's Dream)

Extra Groove Hour
Medeski Martin & Wood
- "Bemsha Swing-Lively Up Yourself" (It's a Jungle in Here)
Eval Mangiat - "Ra-Monk" (Monk Swing)
Kira Neris - "Open Doors" (Behind Closed Doors)
DJ Shadow - "Organ Donor (Extended Overhaul)" (Endtroducing [Deluxe])
Jaco Pastorius - "Opus Pocus" (s/t)
Billy Preston - "Struttin'" (Best Of)
Quantic f/ Spanky Wilson - "Don't Joke With a Hungry Man" (Mishaps Happening)
Gil Scott-Heron - "Third World Revolution" (Secrets)
Kutiman f/ Karolina
- "Music is Ruling My World" (s/t)
Charlie Hunter Quintet - "Try" (Right Now Move)
Roy Ayers - "Funk in the Hole" (Virgin Ubiquity II)
Talkover: Me'shell Ndegeocello - "Mu-Min" (Dance of the Infidel)
John Scofield - "Jungle Fiction" (Uberjam)

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Two solitudes

Some of the first posts on this blog, nearly two years ago, dealt with music, linguistics and the divisions of music scenes by languages. Juan Rodriguez of the Gazette has an insightful piece on his experiences as an Anglophone music critic whose beat is the Francophone pop scene. Juan is an astute writer and a voracious listener - the above piece namechecks Malajube and John Zorn.

Also appearing in today's Gazette was a Reuters article about the prevalence of Beatles' music in hip-hop and advertising. It's an interesting piece for many reasons: cynics in the crowd might note that Sony/ATV (and Michael Jackson) own the copyrights to the Beatles catalogue -- feel free to make your own inferences here. And in the wake of the brouhaha over Danger Mouse's Grey Album (and in a different manner, the whole Love mash-up project), it's notable that the samples are still not fair game, but "interpolations" or recreations and performances of the music in question, are all right. (The sampling-vs-interpolation debate is quite intriguing, but it's a discussion for another day.) Rather, I'd like to highlight this quote from Sony/ATV's chief executive, Martin Brandier:

"It's important that the world knows this music. It just can't be hidden forever, otherwise you're going to miss generations of music listeners."

Really? Lennon/McCartney tunes "hidden forever" because they haven't been decimated by American Idol? My head hurts.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Basabasa Playlist, Jan 1 2008

So operating on 3 hours of sleep and minimal advance pulling time, this is what I came up with:

Gilberto Gil - "O Canto da Ema" (Brasil '70) [carried over from Tuesday Morning After]
Arthur Verocai - "Na Boca Do Sol" (s/t)
Carlinhos Brown - "Pandeiro-deiro" (Alfagamabetizado)
Soha - "Tourbillon (Serre-moi fort si tu m'aimes)" (D'ici et d'ailleurs)
Habib Koité & Bamada - "Namania" (Afriki)
Mamani Keita - "Leydou" (Electro Bamako)
Angélique Kidjo - "Itche Koutche" (Oremi)
Chicago Afrobeat Project - "bscg2" (A Move to Silent Unrest)
Kutiman - "No Reason for You" (Kutiman)
Antibalas - "Beaten Metal" (Security)
Olatunji - "Odun De! Odun De!" (Drums of Passion)
King Sunny Ade - "Dele Davis" (Gems from the Classic Years: 1967-74)
Henri Dikongué - "Ongele" (Mot'a Bobe)
Sidi Touré - "Holley" (Hoga)
Dr. John - "Memories of Professor Longhair" (Plays Mac Rebennack)
Fats Domino - "Hey! La Bas Boogie" (They Call Me the Fat Man)
Wild Tchoupitoulas - "Brother John" (s/t)
Stanton Moore - "Fallin' Off the Floor" (Flyin' the Koop)
Neville Brothers - "Big Chief" (Live at Tipitina's)
Booker T & the MGs - "Funky Folks Cha Cha" (Stax Instrumentals)
Nana Vasconcelos - "Aquela do Milton" (Bush Dance)
Susana Baca - "Afro Blue/Zum Zum" (Espiritu Vivo)
Snowboy & the Latin Section - "Oya Ye Ye" (Play Afro-Cuban Jazz)
Yerba Buena - "Bote Bote Va" (President Alien)
Vieux Farka Touré - "Ana (Captain Planet rmx)" (UFOs Over Bamako)
Daara J f/ Sergent Garcia - "Esperanza" (Boomerang)
*Nomadic Massive - "Neg Chanté" (Nomad's Land)
Famoudou Konate - "Koma des femmes" (Hamana Foli Kan)
Seckou Keita - "Jali" (Baka Beyond presents Eté)
Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars - "Bull to the Weak" (Living Like a Refugee)
Tinariwen - "Makadjem Yinmixan" (Aman Iman: Water is Life)
Ladysmith Black Mambazo - "Nansi Imali" (The Indestructible Beat of Soweto)
Kenge Kenge - "Omeme Nyapura" (Introducing...)
*Papagroove - "East Road" (demo)
Mar-Keys - "Tighten Up" (Stax Instrumentals)