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 caf├ęs 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.