Friday, August 26, 2011

City inspiration

I took a bit of a whirlwind trip down to New York this weekend, with the express purpose of being a tourist in Bienestan, the fictional country established by Aaron Goldberg and Guillermo Klein. Named by bassist Matt Penman in a linguistic mixup (he misread the title of "impresión de bienestar" as "bienestan"), Bienestan is a place to do whatever you like. As evidenced by their final set at Jazz Standard, that meant drastically revisiting standards and Charlie Parker tunes in the kaleidoscopic rhythmic language that Klein loves. Joined by saxophonist Miguel Zenón (who is another master of rhythmic illusion driven more by clave and melody than math) and drummer Eric Harland, the music was absolutely brilliant. The opening minimalist vignette of "Implacable" for just Goldberg on piano and Klein on Rhodes led into an abstraction of "All the Things You Are." The self-described "cubist" takes on "Donna Lee" and "Blues for Alice" were highlights.

Earlier on Sunday I had a lesson with Guillermo. We looked at some music I'm writing for piano trio, voice and string quartet (more on this later), and he offered concise, cogent and inspiring insights into how to improve the music. His sense of harmony and orchestration is deeply rooted in Duke and Gil Evans; throughout the lesson this became clear. One of the best lessons I've had in a long time, in terms of getting myself to re-evaluate my own work, my process, and my musical language. We also took a look at the woodwind orchestrations on Miguel Zenón's new record, Alma Adentro.

Other impressions from this weekend:
- Spotted at the Jazz Standard: Matt Merewitz, Dan Tepfer, Aaron Parks, Patrick Jarenwattananon, Obed Calvaire, and Billy Hart. Maybe it's because there's a concentration of everything in NYC, but it was really nice to see fellow musicians and industry people at a show in the "off-season". Yes, I'm guilty of not going out to jazz shows as much as I used to or as I should. I'm planning on changing that. The scene starts with ourselves.
- Monday night I went down to the Bitter End for Richie Cannata's Monday night jam session. I went once, years ago, when it was at the Cutting Room. It feels much more like a session and a hang at the Bitter End than at the Cutting Room, where it felt like a show. I met fellow Ropeadope artist Todd Clouser, and was blown away by the house band's keyboardist, Benny Harrison. There was a 16-year-old curly-haired, bespectacled kid that played some really solid rhythm guitar on "Whole Lotta Love" and "Last Dance with Mary Jane." It recalled my days swigging iced tea out of pint glasses at the Rex.
- Guitarist Oz Noy played the set before the jam, with rock-influenced takes on Monk tunes: "Light Blue" had a surf quality to it, and the closing "Evidence" was drenched in fuzz. They did a dirty shuffle version of "Ballin' the Jack," too.
- What impressed me most at the Bitter End jam, frankly, was the sound system and the sound man. When was the last time there was a soundman on site for a jam session in Montreal? The system was powerful but not painfully loud. This is a lesson all Montreal venues need to learn. (I agree wholeheartedly with Bugs Burnett's assessment of Jello Bar, but it would be infinitely more impressive to hear Alan Prater, Dan Thouin and company through a really well-tuned system with a sound guy at the helm.)

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