Friday, February 17, 2012

Bourbon blues on the street

It's Carnaval time, as Facebook is kindly reminding me with events I can't attend. This means that Tuesday, the 21st, is Mardi Gras, and to celebrate it, I'm organizing a Mardi Gras party with the Kalmunity Vibe Collective at Les Bobards. We're taking classic New Orleans funk and soul tunes from the Meters, Lee Dorsey, and the Wild Magnolias, among others, and running it through the Kalmunity filter of improvisation with poets, MCs, vocalists and fantastic musicians.

This isn't just a way to tie into the festivities (although it helps) - New Orleans music has been a highly important part of my life. My parents would tune into the "oldies" stations that fed me a steady diet of Fats Domino and Little Richard, recordings I loved long before I was aware of their New Orleans connections. My first exposure to jazz was Louis Armstrong, and a compilation that included some more overt New Orleans references ("Skokiaan" and "Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?") as well as "Hello Dolly." It was in high school when a classmate turned me onto the Meters that I became more explicitly aware of the phenomenal New Orleans R&B tradition. The "jamband" scene of the late '90s and early '00s paid frequent homage to New Orleans funk, with Galactic leading the charge of reviving that music in the younger generations' consciousness, and various other bands inviting the Dirty Dozen and Rebirth horns as guests.

The real lynchpin was the web-radio station Radio Free New Orleans; that was where I discovered a whole swath of the rich musical heritage of the Crescent City. Every day of the week was a different theme: Wednesdays were New Orleans Rock 'n' Roll, Saturdays were Piano Day, and Sundays were devoted to gospel. The unnamed programmers were responsible for exposing me to Professor Longhair, James Booker, Louis Moreau Gottschalk, and Earl Palmer's phenomenal "in-the-cracks" drumming.

It's been a real privilege to dive into this music, which I've rarely heard played in Montreal (outside of "Cissy Strut"). For me, it's paying respect to truly formative music in my life. On a purely technical level, Stanton Moore's clinics and books have redefined my rhythmic sensibilities. Getting to witness Allen Toussaint work his magic in the intimacy of Gesù is a concert experience I won't soon forget. The goal is not just to throw a hell of a party, but to pay the influence of this music forward.

The line-up for Tuesday's Kalmunity Mardi Gras party:
Fredy V, Odessa "Queen" Thornhill, Jjanice - vocals
Jason "Blackbird" Selman - trumpet/poetry
Vincent Stephen-Ong - alto sax
Alexandre Dion - tenor sax
Christopher Cargnello - guitar
David Ryshpan - keyboards
Mark Haynes - bass
Jahsun - drums

Monday, February 13, 2012

Teach them now and let them lead the way

I had a couple of very affirming moments last week concerning the future of music - jazz music and all music (and no, not just because Adele swept the Grammys and Bon Iver is this year's Esperanza-style upset).

The first was at Katie Malloch's sendoff concert at Lion D'Or. Peter Hum has a much more thorough review. (I would add trombonist/arranger Christopher Smith and guitarist Gary Schwartz to Hum's roll call of musicians present at the show.) The music was top-notch, and reminded me of when I was still studying at McGill and heard André White, Kevin Dean, et al with regularity. It was totally swinging, with an authoritative command of the bebop and post-bop language that made it sound real, not affected. There were a couple of moments where altoist P.J. Perry's over-articulated eighth notes were a little too mannered for my taste, but in all it was a moment of celebrating the tradition. It was truly fantastic to remember that all jazz - indeed, all music - thrives in a community. There is an intangible, indescribable sense of belonging that occurs when I see all generations of musicians hanging, listening, and enjoying.

The second was a pleasant surprise before Stephen Johnston's hit at Upstairs, the following night. I headed straight to the club after teaching and was greeted by McGill students showcasing their combos in the matinee slot. Back in my day, we got to headline Upstairs on Mondays and Tuesdays. The first combo appeared to be first and second year students, firmly getting a grasp on their vocabulary on Improv class staples like Joe Henderson's "Serenity," but they also included White's contrafact on "Along Came Betty." The second student group floored me. Playing without sheet music or music stands, they delved headlong into band-arranged deconstructions of the Beach Boys' "God Only Knows," Led Zeppelin's "The Ocean," and Lennon's "Happiness is a Warm Gun." They were taking chances, pushing each other creatively, and sounded and looked like a band. The drummer's presence on the mic was welcome, too. My standard answer when people ask about my time at McGill is positive, but I qualify it because I feel the year I was in was a special one. I still play fairly regularly with many of my classmates, and there was a willingness to always explore, to always try new things (or, at least, things that were new to us). I've seen and heard many students burn out and become disillusioned with the jazz education system, and it was a pleasure to see some genuine creativity and joy coming out of a school ensemble.

The third - in two parts - was at Saturday's J Dilla tribute, presented by Montreal music maven Lexis, featuring our very own Scott C & Simahlak, with Toronto imports MyManHenri and BadBadNotGood. Every Dilla tribute in Montreal seems to be a night of unity in the Montreal hip-hop scene, and Saturday was no exception - representatives from Kalmunity, Alaiz, and the Nomadic Massive crews were there (and there's some overlap between those three groups). Efa from Ruckus, Ango, and Krystale, were also in the building. BadBadNotGood were, indeed, very good, although not what I expected. These three (ex?-)Humber College students took a different tack on Dilla beats. I'm sure one of the "Bad"s in the group name must be an homage to The Bad Plus for their sheer force, energy and revisionism. They kind of reminded me of Indigone's early days, where we would take every tune to a high-energy climax, whether it warranted it or not. They injected sudden tempo shifts and aggressive energy into their takes on classic beats like Busta Rhymes' "Woo-Ha" and De La Soul's "Stakes is High." With Henri's master class in the way Dilla flipped samples (and a classy moment of silence dedicated to Dilla, Whitney Houston, and Bad News Brown), BBNG's next-generation live set, and Scott C & Simahlak keeping heads nodding all night, it felt like the hip-hop equivalent of Katie Malloch's party: an inter-generational celebration of the people and music that are integral influences to what we're doing now.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

The Goods playlist, Feb 5 2012

I had the pleasure once again of filling in for Scott C & Andy Williams on The Goods. My cold thankfully did not interrupt the two-hour set. I also had the privilege of welcoming the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble into the studio in advance of their show this afternoon at a loft space.

Roy Campbell's Pyramid Trio - "Ethnic Stew and Brew"
Art Ensemble of Chicago - "JA"
FLY - "JJ"
Hypnotic Brass Ensemble - "Starfighter"
Mulatu Astatke – “I Faram Gami I Faram”
Eddie Palmieri – “Mi Cumbia”
Roberto Roena y su Apollo Sound – “Los Demas”
Clare Fischer – “Descarga Yema Ya”

Performance/Interview with Ethnic Heritage Ensemble
Corey Wilkes - "Remy's Revenge"

Stanton Moore – “Fallin’ Off the Floor”
Dr. John – “Quitters Never Win”
Eddie Bo – "Gotta Have More"

Lee Dorsey – “O Me-O, My-O”
Meters – “Look-Ka Py Py”
Vijay Iyer – “The Star of a Story”
Miguel Atwood-Ferguson – “Don't Nobody Care About Us”
Sonnymoon – “Machinery”
Nicolay & the Hot At Nights – “Meiji Shrine”
*Sarah Linhares - "Here"
Mark de Clive-Lowe f/ Nia Andrews – “We Renegades”
*Conn Shawnery - "Apache Revisited"
J-Boogie Dubtronic Science - "Salaam"

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

I'll see you on the radio

CBC's Katie Malloch has announced her retirement, and the news has rightfully been saluted with remembrances from Peter Hum, Jesse Cahill and Ted Warren. Katie was one of the welcoming voices on the airwaves as I first started to discover jazz: she, along with Ross Porter, Ted O'Reilly and Bob Parlocha (who was syndicated on CJRT-FM in Toronto at the time), was a lynchpin in my jazz education. Her work on Jazz Beat was not only influential on me as a musician, but greatly fostered my belief that radio is much a part of musical education as any lesson.

Being a generation or two behind Peter, Jesse, and Ted, I never had the good fortune of being played or mentioned on Jazz Beat. My professional career only started in the waning of Jazz Beat's days, and Tonic, though Katie's presence on the mic was unchanged, was a bit of a different animal. I only have had one personal interaction with Katie Malloch to date. She was moderating a public Q&A with Pat Metheny at Jazz Fest a few years ago. I submitted a question on paper and she selected it to ask. For some reason I had put my last name on the sheet, and after asking Metheny the question, added, "Hmm, I wonder if he's related to...". I will be in attendance at the Montreal farewell party: as both a musician and radio host, I owe her a tremendous debt of gratitude.

The Montreal party is next Wednesday, February 8, at Cabaret Lion D'Or (1676 Ontario E., corner Papineau). Kevin Dean's group with PJ Perry, Mike Rud, and Neil Swainson will be featured. I have a sneaking suspicion other artists will grace the stage, too. Doors are at 7, the show begins at 8, and it's free with a reservation to