Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Public address system

Four announcements, not necessarily concerning me or my music, but concerning the work of friends and colleagues that I admire and respect.

1) Danish guitarist Torben Waldorff brings his "American Rock Beauty" tour to North America after a series of dates throughout Scandinavia. The band features Montrealers Joel Miller on saxophone and Fraser Hollins on bass (recent Juno winners through their contributions to Christine Jensen's Treelines), and Jon Wikan on drums. Waldorff's ArtistShare record features Wikan, Matt Clohesy, Donny McCaslin and Jon Cowherd. Beautiful, modern jazz in the vein of his sidemen's other affiliations. The North American tour dates are as follows:
April 1 - The Rex, Toronto; April 2 - Upstairs, Montreal; April 5 - Miles' Café, NYC. (I believe Matt Clohesy subs Fraser on bass for the NYC hit.)

2) Pianist/vocalist/songwriter Isis Giraldo and her group, Gozadera Salsa, launch their record April 3 at La Sala Rossa. The band is made up of McGill-trained musicians (including my Mantecoso bandmate Steven Salcedo on tenor sax and vocals) and incorporates a wide swath of Latin sounds. Giraldo is from Bogotá, and her lyrics speak to various social justice issues of Latin and South America. You can listen to her interview with me on the last edition of World Skip the Beat here. The young guns of the jazz/hip-hop band Ruckus Fo'tet open.

3) Due to events with which we are all too familiar, the 2011 edition of the Red Bull Music Academy will not be held in Tokyo. The new location will be announced April 11, and the application deadline has been extended until April 26. The dates of the two terms have not been changed. My best wishes to all of the Japanese RBMA family. (Stay tuned for an announcement of a fundraising concert here in Montreal.)

4) It's once again time for the Montreal Mirror's Best of Montreal poll. Once again, I ask current and ex-Montrealers to vote, and to specifically vote in the category of BEST JAZZ ACT and BEST JAZZ BAR. Christine Jensen just won a Juno, it would be nice if she could get some attention in what little written press we have left; the actuelle crew of Mardi Spaghetti just celebrated three years of improvised music on Tuesdays at Le Cagibi; the presenters at L'Envers have featured people ranging from Matana Roberts to Ben Monder and will present their final show at their current location April 30. The Montreal jazz community is as vibrant as ever, and we need to showcase it in its current, modern state. The trick with the Mirror is you have to fill out 25 categories for your ballot to count. Some advice in other categories:
Best radio station: CKUT
Best rep/art house cinema: Cinema du Parc
Best bagel: Fairmount (sorry, Saint-Viateur are a bit too hockey-puck-ish to my taste)
Best poutine: La Banquise
Best teahouse: Camellia sinensis
Best smoked meat: The Main (Schwartz's is the landmark, but the Main is just as good with half of the line-up)
Best non-chain coffee: Café Neve (they win because they have Brazilian espresso; Café Myriade is nearly as good)
Best locally-brewed beer: Tie - St-Ambroise/McAuslan and Dieu du Ciel. Try both.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Paloma, como simbolo de paz

My apologies for the blog silence. It's been a very busy few months around here. I've been working on two major, Latin-influenced projects, the first of which is premiering this week.

About a year ago or so, Butta Beats from Nomadic Massive came through Kalmunity and freestyled while I played a montuno over the groove. After the set, he pulled me aside and said "We gotta talk." He pitched the idea of a band that dealt with the classic salsa of legendary New York label Fania Records, but also integrated the history of the Latin influence in hip-hop. I was immediately on board and we started the ball rolling. Enter Mantecoso!

This project is débuting this Saturday, March 26, at Les Bobards (4328 St-Laurent), as part of the Afro-Latin Soul series, co-presented by Nomadic's Lou Piensa and San Juan Hill's Frank Rodriguez. The band is a great group of friends and some phenomenal musicians:

Butta Beats - vocals
Gitanjali Jain - vocals
Steve Salcedo - tenor sax
Matthieu van Vliet - trombone
DRR - piano
Mark Haynes - bass
Kullak Viger-Rojas - timbales
André Martin - congas/batá

I found the development of this band really intriguing, as it blended my jazz training with the hip-hop and groove music I've been playing a lot lately. Getting the music together was a multi-step process. Butta, Gitu, Mark and I were on board first, and we selected the repertoire together - we brainstormed a bunch of tunes that we each wanted to play, and then whittled that down into a cohesive set. Once the setlist was made, I went about transcribing the tunes, while Butta worked some hip-hop production magic, chopping up some of the tunes we had selected into beats. We then worked out arrangements and transitions, going from the original tunes into the flips, planning out the set as a file in Logic, like a DJ mix. I then made charts incorporating all this information.

Transcribing these tunes was a challenge, and also the deepest insight I've yet had into how the clave permeates and informs the tune structures; how composers and arrangers of the Fania era, especially Willie Colón, use odd numbers of bars to flip the clave, or use odd harmonic rhythm to give the illusion of different phrasing while the clave continues. Some of my favourite tunes were the most difficult to transcribe - on the surface, they sound effortless and natural, but digging into the inner workings of the tunes reveals layers upon layers of complexity, with breaks and harmonic left-turns. One tune in particular I sold to the band as being "just a descarga," a one-chord jam. And if you're not paying attention (as I evidently wasn't), it sounds like that; but it's riddled with punches, stops and extra bars. It might be the trickiest tune in the whole set. I suppose that's a commonality with all the music I love - music that's sophisticated but doesn't call attention to its own complexity.

For those who don't know about Fania Records, there's a great primer in PBS' Latin Music USA documentary (Part 2: the Salsa Revolution). And also, the quintessential Fania film, Our Latin Thing.