Monday, February 15, 2010

Back home again...

Following the Banff Centre residency I embarked upon a mini-tour of Toronto. Most of the gigs were with guitarist Stephen Johnston, bassist Pat Reid and drummer Joel Haynes. I had never played with Joel before, and haven't played with Pat since he moved to Toronto in the fall. Steve's tunes are challenging - a mix of Jeff Beck's seminal fusion records, Blow by Blow and Wired, with the harmonic complexity of bebop and Coltrane. Joel's a really hard-swinging drummer that also dug into the grooves of Steve's tunes, with Pat with him all the way.

We played Chalker's Pub on Monday. Patrick Boyle and Jon McCaslin sang the praises of this club in Banff - good stage sound, a surprisingly decent Yamaha upright piano (especially considering the stage is in front of a window and beside the kitchen), and an ambience that can cater to dressing up or down. It is in one of the stranger locations - in a strip mall in the Toronto suburb of North York, on top of a pharmacy and a doctor's office.

Tranzac on Thursday was a bit rougher of a go - I love the vibe of the room but I found it really hard to hear my keyboards. That room is designed for acoustic music - the bluegrass regulars before us sounded fantastic and played the hell out of their tunes and murder ballads.

The Rex on Friday afternoon had a surprisingly good turnout, given that the Olympic opening ceremonies were mere hours after us and it was a pre-long weekend Friday afternoon at 4 pm. It's always surreal for me to return to The Rex. In terms of musical development, I literally grew up there, hanging out at the Tuesday night jam sessions and playing Saturday solo piano matinees when I was 14 years old. I miss the cloud of smoke that hung over the stage. Seeing the bartender that used to serve me iced tea in pint glasses and ordering a bottle of Steam Whistle is all a bit weird for me, still.

On our off nights, I took a couple of detours. Tuesday night I landed at old friend Derek Downham's Junction Jam session and pounded out some Stones, Beatles, Buck Owens, and Hendrix. Wednesday, Brownman and I joined forces once again at Trane Studio, to lead a quartet with a rhythm section of bassist Marc Rogers and drummer Jeff Halischuk. The night was evenly split across tunes from Indigone, Trio Bruxo, Cruzao and Brown's Electryc Trio. Marc and Brown were mentors to me in my Rex days, but this was the first time I had ever played with Marc and it was a true pleasure. Jeff is a relatively new drummer to the Toronto scene but he absolutely nailed every groove thrown at him by my tunes and by Brown's - from the Cuban-funk of Cruzao to the Brazilian samba covers, hip-hop to modern jazz straight-eighths. It was a truly fun evening of music.

Thanks to everyone who came out to any and all of the shows. Steve Johnston and I hit again at Upstairs on Feb. 17, 18, 24, & 25; we're at the Brook Street Hotel in Kanata, ON on the 20th and at Arousse in Ste-Therese, QC on the 23. We'll be joined by Aryeh Kobrinsky on bass, and Evens Baptiste on drums and percussion.

In the mornings out there

Sorry for the very long cyber-absence. I was hoping to blog from The Banff Centre but connectivity and scheduling made that nearly impossible.

The TD Jazz & Creative Music residency is very, very different from the Jazz & Creative Music Workshop run by Dave Douglas. With only a dozen or so residents (and a few other jazz musicians in winter residency at the Banff Centre, such as Joel Miller, Christine Jensen, Ellen Rowe and David Occhipinti), it's a much more self-directed session. The faculty are more open and available to one-on-one lessons, and there really is a chance to play with everyone. I appreciated the fact that, due to occurring during the Winter music residency, there were non-jazz musicians on campus as well - sitar master Kartik Sheshadri was on faculty for a week giving insightful lectures into Hindustani music; many phenomenally talented classical musicians were around, including the Elandra String Quartet from Melbourne; and PEI friend John Connolly was out finishing work on a "folk opera" based on the life of Terry Fox.

In the first week, the faculty consisted of saxophonist/pianist/percussionist/composer Peter Apfelbaum (with whom I had a good hang talking about Braxton, Threadgill, Andrew Hill and melodicas) and percussionist/composer Dafnis Prieto, along with Kartik and his student Pial Hossain on tabla. Dafnis and Kartik were greatly inspired by each other and it was a pleasure to be a fly on the wall for their exchanges. Peter corralled all the residents into a Banff edition of his Hieroglyphics ensemble - three drummers (Morgan Childs & Jon McCaslin on kits, Mark Nelson on percussion), three bassists (Chris Jennings on left-handed upright, Sean Cronin on right-handed upright and Alex Lefaivre on electric), three keyboardists (Gab Vinuela-Pelletier on piano, Amanda Tosoff on Rhodes, and yours truly on melodica), Kevin Hanlon on guitar, and a horn section of Patrick Boyle (trumpet), Curtis Macdonald (alto), Evan Arntzen (tenor/soprano/clarinet), Greg Sinibaldi (tenor) and Peter himself. A surprisingly well-programmed set of music emerged for that large ensemble - my arrangement of Ornette's "School Work" done for Gary Schwartz's LettingO; Peter's tunes "Night of the Sparklerenes" and "Hanging Gardens"; and Jon McCaslin's arrangement of Don Cherry's "Mopti."

Dafnis is definitely more into talking about the expressive side of music. I got more out of listening to him play, and by playing with him, than in more formal lecture or master class settings. He has a cryptic, almost Wayne Shorter-like mysticism about him when he talks about music. Some great quotes came out of that week:
"Metronomes are like aspirin. You take one if you need it." -- Dafnis
[after Morgan Childs played a very Philly Joe/Max Roach intro] "Man, that makes me want a martini and some smack." -- Peter
"[Threadgill] was the music I heard in my dreams, then woke up and forgot." -- Dafnis

The second week brought Uri Caine and Phil Dwyer, both incredibly multifaceted musicians and composers. Both have written music for strings, and so one morning workshop was dedicated to running through "Bella" and "Heraclito" with the Elandra String Quartet, a Q&A about string techniques, and Uri and Phil playing some of their music (written for the Arditti Quartet and the Gryphon Trio, respectively). I had the opportunity to have a great lesson - more of a hang, really - with Uri, and we talked about all the classical fundamentals I felt like I had ignored, time management between composing, playing and electronics, and the realities of life as a musician. I had no idea of the depth of Phil's compositional skill and his piece written for the Gryphon Trio was a great revelation to me.

I cannot sufficiently express how important the Banff Centre is for me. My first workshop there in 2005 changed my life creatively, and the lessons I learned at that time have stayed with me since. Much of the music on Cycles is indebted to that first workshop at the Banff Centre, and to have the opportunity to present some of that music in Banff, with the participation of bassist Chris Jennings and the Elandra Quartet, was an incredibly emotionally fulfilling experience. There's an immense amount of focus and energy that comes from having a private practice hut in the middle of the woods, under the majestic mountains, with no obligations but to practice, play, create and share. I spent a fair amount of time shedding Bach and Samuel Barber and got a good start on some other original music, and I hope to be able to capture some of that drive and continue that work back home.