Monday, March 31, 2008

Michael Herring's Vertigo - 03/30/2008, Casa del Popolo

There's a certain type of performer/composer where the two elements of the musical personality are so interconnected that it's always a stunning revelation when they're separated. I'm thinking especially of those who don't tend to work as sidemen. David Binney is the epitome of this, for me - his playing and his writing are one entity in my mind, and every time I hear him play someone else's music it's a thrill to hear his contributions. I tend to forget just how killing a saxophonist he is.

One of Binney's frequent Canadian settings is with Michael Herring's Vertigo, who graced the stage of Casa again last night, nearly two years after their last hit. The sets were comprised of new music from the upcoming album, recorded in the midst of this 2-week tour. The new tunes are freer than those on Coniferous Revenge, with room for open improvisations in addition to the intricate, interlocking written parts. Herring's compositions feature serpentine heads and band-enforced basslines. The music really anchors on the hookup of bassist Herring and drummer Nick Fraser, easily one of the top bass/drum pairings in Canada. I've had the great honour of playing with the two of them myself, and they just make it so damn easy and fun. A couple of pieces had the quality that's stored in my mental library as "Binney-esque": soaring, anthemic melodies, with resonant, chiming harmonies.

The band (rounded out by Quinsin Nachoff on tenor and clarinet, Don Scott on guitar and William Carn on trombone) shone as soloists, great as the written music was. Each solo nearly exploded with energy, an arc I'm rather fond of myself. I couldn't help but wish the "heads" were imbued with a similar kind of energy. There was always this subdued nature to the heads at odds with the incredible empathy and creativity that was on display in the solos. Binney's presence seemed to raise the level of these already fine musicians. Don Scott was bobbing his head fervently through Binney's duel with Fraser. I'm looking forward to the record.

PS: who the fuck comes to a show in the last set, occupies the front table and then proceeds to talk through the tunes? Please. Binney started his solo twice before admonishing the yakkers, finally proceeding onto an incredibly powerful solo.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Vaya con Dios Cachao

I haven't seen this come up in many places yet. Via Oliver Wang - master bassist and pioneer of the descarga, Israel Lopez "Cachao" is gone. He passed away Saturday morning at the age of 89. The Miami Herald has a lengthy obituary.

I've been interested in Cuban music for almost ten years now, I guess. Obviously, Buena Vista fever was everywhere in the late '90s, and high school stage bands always played tepid Latin arrangements - a gutless suburban version of Arturo Sandoval's "Funky Cha Cha"was in our books. I remember hearing one of Cachao's legendary descarga tracks on the radio, and it floored me. The life and vitality of it, and the amazingly musical chaos that grew out of a simple tumbao (bass line) - it was just sheer power coming out of the speakers.

RIP Cachao. Your legacy lives on in the fingers, ears, hearts and feet of many.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Things go in cycles

Damn if Thursday, March 20 isn't an embarrassment of riches here in Montreal. I seem to be the only musician NOT playing that night.

- Bassist Miles Perkin has a double CD launch at O Patro Vys (356 Mont-Royal Est). An immensely creative player and composer, best known now in the world-at-large for his work with Québécoise songstress Jorane, he'll be celebrating the release of his solo bass/voice/electronics disc, Aposiopesis as well as an outing by the revamped Common Thread, The Guessing Game. The latter is a group featuring Erik Hove and Chet Doxas on reeds, Thom Gossage on drums, Sarah Pagé on harp and Joe Grass on all other things strung (guitar, pedal steel, mandolin, dobro and banjo). A night surely to remember.

- To reflect notre deux solitudes, the normally-all-franco Ligue d'improvisation musicale de Montreal (LIMM) is celebrating their 50th match with the Francophone all-stars, led by [iks] guitarist Sylvian Pohu, facing off against a specially invited Anglo team, drafted by drummer Stef Schneider. The hijinks will ensue at Petit Campus (57 Prince-Arthur). Note: the improv referenced here has more in line with improv comedy than musique actuelle, though any of the people involved could pull off both. We're a funny lot out here.

- Pianist and composer Malcolm Sailor has inadvertently founded the "St-Henri klezmer-punk" scene in his apartment and created a band called The Youjsh, which features the Indigone Trio rhythm section of Alex Mallett (bass) and Phil Melanson (drums) along with Randal Pierce (accordion), Adam Kinner (saxophone), Kate Molleson (clarinet) and Eva Boodman (trumpet). You can wish them all l'chaim at Le Cagibi (5490 St-Laurent).

- And on an entirely different note, if you ever thought you could rhyme like Busta, you can put your skills to the test at another installment of Montreal's Hip-Hop Karaoke. Hosted by Tashish, Moonstarr, and More or Les at Zoobizarre (6338 St-Hubert), there's only two rules: no n-word; and no freestyling.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

RIP Dennis Irwin

I was hoping this headline wouldn't arrive so soon. I only became familiar with Dennis' playing recently, with Matt Wilson's Arts & Crafts and the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra. With Wilson he demonstrated some pretty solid clarinet playing, in addition to his bass work. I'm going to check out those '90s Scofield records again. May he rest in peace.

As always, a beautiful tribute from Ethan; video at The Jazz Clinic; more links via Darcy.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

I guess I'll have to tell 'em I got no cerebellum

I've had a passing interest in music cognition for a while. I was often a test subject for the McGill music cognition studies - I got a free lunch out of it, but it was interesting to see what they were testing and ultimately what the results were. In my final year of school I took a couple of linguistics courses, and while I wasn't especially good at neurolinguistics, I thought it telling to see parts of the brain responsible for certain areas of language also responsible for music, as well as other functions. Over the past year or two, Daniel Levitin's This is Your Brain on Music and Oliver Sacks' Musicophilia have brought music cognition to a wider audience, and some of the studies and anecdotes within are absolutely fascinating.

So today, via Ropeadope: This is Your Brain While Improvising. The most intriguing finding of the study was this:
The researchers explain that, just as over-thinking a jump shot can cause a basketball player to fall out of the zone and perform poorly, the suppression of inhibitory, self-monitoring brain mechanisms helps to promote the free flow of novel ideas and impulses. While this brain pattern is unusual, it resembles the pattern seen in people when they are dreaming.
This would address, I guess, the stories of "dreaming music" and all the various pseudo-new age terms we use to describe improvising: letting go, telling a story, play what you hear, etc. I've had discussions with students and colleagues lately about this. When asked, "What do you think about when you improvise?" I honestly answer that I'm not really thinking; if I am it's about the general shape and sound of the line, but not what goes into it. I always return to the cliché music-as-language analogy: to be fluent in a foreign language, one has to get past actively thinking about the constructs of the grammar and translating words, you have to learn enough of it and internalize it so that you can naturally have a conversation.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

RIP Jeff Healey

This one hits home. Guitarist, trumpeter, singer, songwriter, club owner, producer, and jazz advocate Jeff Healey has died at the far too young age of 41. Most people outside of Canada would have known him for The Jeff Healey Band and his cover of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," as well as his hit "Angel Eyes." In more recent years he turned his attention to the trumpet and pre-WWII jazz with The Jazz Wizards, and was a great advocate of pre-bop music. Healey's, later called Jeff Healey's Roadhouse, was (and still is) a fixture on the Toronto rock and blues-rock scene of the late '90s and early 2000s. Healey was also a mainstay at The Rex. I'll never forget when he showed up at one of the Tuesday night jam sessions and asked to play someone else's guitar, laid across his lap in signature fashion. To be two feet away from such massive tone and joyful musicality was a real thrill when I was a teenager. Though I never properly met Healey, he was definitely an icon of the Canadian music scene and even through that one Rex encounter I felt his warm spirit.