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.