Monday, July 31, 2006

Yup, these are our customers.

On the bandstand of Cruise Ship X, during the dance set. A woman, who looks like a wax museum version of Zsa Zsa Gabor, comes up and asks, with a thick Latin accent:

"Could you play 'Begin the Beguine'? Oh, that is the story of my LIFE!"

I think I'll wait for the movie to come out. We didn't play it, opting for "Tico Tico" instead.

Oh, the MySpace is working again- techincal difficulties on their end, no doubt. I'll be doing a seperate MySpace for No Sale Value soon, as we attempt to resurrect ourselves. More soon.

In the meantime, ManahManah.

Friday, July 28, 2006

back, forward

Via Doug Ramsey's blog Rifftides, trumpeter Malachi Thompson is dead at age 56. A peer of Lester Bowie's, Thompson's music is a wonderful reminder that so much great jazz embraces tradition and innovation at once. I only heard him once live, with one of Dave Douglas' trumpet ensemble projects, but his playing was riveting. Thankfully, he leaves a deep catalog of recordings. Gone far too soon.

Thankfully still working, Ornette Coleman's new album drops 9/12, and Destination Out has remarkably high-quality excerpts from the recent, soon to be legendary Carnegie Hall concerts. Worth the hype, and then some.

Both Rifftides and Destination Out join the blogroll today.

Heard on the lower decks

You've never heard "Proud Mary" until you've heard it sung by a half dozen drunk Hungarians. It was sort of closer to the Ike and Tina version...

Speaking of musican monstrosities, the showband has become morbidly fascinated with Europe's "The Final Countdown", to the point where we played it at a crew party this week. It wasn't quite The Bad Plus, despite my best/worst Braxton impression, but it's the closest we'll come on this contract.

This Sunday, Spanish ESPN is showing a Red Sox game. I'm thrilled beyond words- I haven't seen a game in three months, and am in serious withdrawl.

"Technical difficulties" is one thing, but this is nuts: MySpace, in its latest spate of growing pains, seems to have deleted a full third of their member pages, including mine. Aaaargh... Will fix ASAP.

On a more serious note, we were delayed yesterday when the Coast Guard asked us to shadow a Cuban fishing boat until they could get to it. Obviously, you hear about Cuban refugees down here, but this was the first time I had actually seen a boat in person. It's pretty remarkable- more than twenty people in a 6'x12' boat not built for anything like this, out thirty miles from land in four foot waves. This was probably the fruit of weeks and weeks of planning, only for the refugees to be caught and turned back. (Unless they had a lefthanded pitcher in there.) I'm not crazy about either Castro or American policy towards Cuba, but the both the courage and desperation present in a sight like that is simply breathtaking.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

I should be so lucky

Tonight at Southpaw in Brooklyn, and the next two Wednesdays in Manhattan, A Different Girl [Every Night], Meshell N'Degeocello's new band. If you haven't seen her live, well, just go already. If I started swimming now, would I make it?

Her new MySpace proxy is here. Check out Chris Dave on, well, everything, especially "Love Song #1".

Pass the jingoism

Not long before I moved away from New York City, my friend Tim Kiah invited me to a barbeque/party/jam session deep in Bed-Sty. When I got there, I realized two things- one, I only knew two people, Tim and Curtis Fowlkes, the great trombonist and Jazz Passenger. Since I’m not the world’s most outgoing person, this creates an obvious social challenge for me. Two, Tim and I were the only white people within a five block radius of this party. That said, I had a great time; lots of good food, and both the hosts and the guest were very warm and welcoming.

The jam session part was really interesting. There were several good players, older guys, pros and former pros, everyone knew tunes, etc. But the language of the music was very specific, a la Coltrane’s quartet circa “Crescent”- lots of pedals, very forceful playing, and a very pentatonic language. Curtis and I were talking about this at one point, and he said something to the effect that most of these players were guys he grew up with, who were very serious about music, but at one point got married, and/or had kids, or something that made them put playing off to the side. Common story, But then he said “the thing is, when they stopped playing, they stopped moving too. You and I have all these other references that these guys never really paid any mind to. That’s why it sounds this way here.”

On some level too, the party was about black pride, in the best possible use of the term. This party was clearly a celebration of that community, a vibrant, loving group people who are all African-Americans, who grew up during or just after the Civil Rights era, and are proud of it and want to pass the best of that experience on. And this particular music was a big part of that identity for these folks, just as hip-hop is for African-Americans in my generation.

I bring this up in the context of the current postings bouncing through cyberjazzland about “European jazz”, whatever that means. Among Americans musicians, critics and scholars, there is a sometimes knee-jerk reaction to European players, bands or movements- they don’t swing, they can’t swing, it isn’t jazz, etc.

Ryshpein and Mwanji have both done a good number refuting these points recently, and I agree. And no doubt some of what informs the branch of American criticism that dismisses a lot of Europeans is myopia and/or politics, the same people that try to define the jazz canon in a way that leaves out fusion and most of the avant-garde.

But the dis-ease with Euro-jazz is on some level the flip side of what made that party so much fun. Americans, especially black Americans feel a justified feeling of ownership of jazz, and I can see how seeing E.S.T get press in the New York Times ahead of Marcus Strickland or whoever can hurt. It’s not necessarily a rational emotion, but it’s a pretty understandable one.

Second, the roots of jazz are, above all else, African rhythm. Traditionally, jazz has been what one of my teachers calls “gut music”, connected to a groove that you feel in your loins. Groove is the main connecting line in all American black music, from Louis Armstrong to Bessie Smith to Ornette to Fats Domino to Prince. (Yet another reason the JALC crowds’ rejection of fusion is so absurd, but I digress…) And for all of the many things that European musicians bring to jazz, the perception is that this is the thing they’re most likely to miss. (This is, of course, not always the case, but that’s the perception. For my money- and off the top of my head- E.S.T., last year’s European critics darlings, couldn’t find a pocket on a pair of extra-large overalls, but there are prominent American bands I would say that about as well. One the other side I think Misha Mengleberg can swing his ass off, for one.) When I think about the “Euro-jazz” albums I go back and listen to a lot, groove is not the main reason I listen to them.

So in a way, this is an argument about cultural ownership and nomenclature more than it is about music. If European musician Q, or American musician T, doesn’t swing in a conventional sense, does that mean it’s bad music. No, it means it’s “bad jazz”. I am so over that word; we need a new one.

(There's about a million different tangents to be picked up here, later.)

Monday, July 24, 2006

headed out

A couple of new destinations today:

Several blogs have recommended the new site Destination Out, a sort of primer for great "avant-garde jazz". (Those pesky quotes again. Remember the Avant-garde was actually a specific art movement in France more than fifty years ago, so I never found it a very useful label.) They include sound clips and notes, and everything there is completely worth checking out. I'm currently digging on some old Prime Time, fractured but funky.

Also, in a yoga magazine I saw an ad for zaadz, which seems to fancy itself a Myspace for idealogues. Not a bad idea, I think, but I'm not sold yet. Seems like an awful lot of happy naval-gazing, and not so much action. Thoughts?

Also, Ryshpien and Mwanji are both hitting the issue of "Euro-jazz", and American backlash. Will say my piece soon- I think it's an interesting topic. And Mwanji's cats keep hitting each other...

Thursday, July 20, 2006

The naked city falls

As you probably know by now, the great pulp fiction author Micky Spillaine died this week at age 88. (Obit here)

One of Spillaine's lesser known contributions to the arts was to inspire a then obscure saxophonist named John Zorn to create his Naked City albums, inspired by Spillaine's writing, with some tracks quoting liberally from Mike Hammer. I remember hearing them in high school through a friend, and being terrified. But, they also introduced me to Joey Baron, Mike Patton, and a whole world of possibilities. We need more of that, always.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Ride the dolphins

One of the favorite sayings I´ve come across in yoga classes: 'If you want to make God laugh, tell her your plans'. To wit:

I was supposed to be spending this week cruising with my brother and his wife, home on a three week vacation from the Peace Corps in Kazakhstan. I can´t overstate how much I was looking forward to it; I haven´t seen either of them in more than a year, and was looking forward to catching up, seeing pictures, and hearing more about their pretty wild time there. Second, having a guest on board makes you a de facto passenger for a week, which means really good food, room service, not having to wait in line, etc. A respite from the annoyances of ship life.

Alas, to quote Julia Sweeney, God said ha. Some, er, issues are keeping Luke and Jen Stuck in Staten Island (wasn´t that a horror movie?) for the forseeable future. (Jen has the details) So I'm stuck in the world of long lines, cheap swill for dinner and, well, the usual. As an added bonus, we were forced to cancel one of the shows last night, leaving hundreds of angry customers. Oh, and my elbow is sore, my voice sounds like two grizzlies were playing volleyball with my larynx, and it's going to rain today on the one port I like. Did I mention my Dog died, my girl left me and I lost all my money in a poker game? (Okay, only one of those is true. And probably not the one you think.)

Forgive my melodramatic melencholy, it´s (mostly) for effect. I´m actually in a really good mood. One of the things I´ve been working on a lot over the past year is starting to detach myself from the results of my actions. That doesn´t mean trying any less, it just means engaging in what you do without worrying so much about how it turns out, or what other people think of it. Yoga has been a major influence here- as anyone who is a serious practicer can tell you, if you´re in a difficult pose, you don´t have time or energy to think about what it looks like, or if anybody else likes it, you have to be completely there doing it.

And I´m amazed how much living with that idea changes my reactions to things. I´m no saint, obvoiusly, but I´m much less rattled than I used to be by Italian officers, or the silliness that comes with ship life, or even the bigger things like missing my siblings. That said, I still wish they were here.

A couple of yoga notes, while I´m thinking of it. The aforementioned elbow soreness, which I think is related to how I sleep, oddly enough, has really transformed my practice, because there´s quite a bit that I just can´t do right now. As a result, I´ve refocused my practice, and one of the real treasures I´ve (re)discovered is Dolphin pose, which looks like Down Dog with you´re elbows on the ground. (Photo here, though I teach it with the wrists parallel to the elbows rather than hands together.) It´s hard, but suddenly things that weren´t available to me, like Handstand without a wall, aren´t such a big deal.

Oh, and it´s the funniest thing. The more yoga classes I teach, the better a teacher I become, the more I carry the calm I get there elsewhere. Go figure.

Monday, July 17, 2006

futility reigns

With the legendary (if watered down) Newport Jazz Festival approaching, the Boston Globe, my hometown paper, decided the world needed a treatise on... smooth jazz.

For those of you who missed it the first time, I said my piece on Mr. Gorelick a few months ago. I've been doing this for six months already?

Oh, and I personally think Chris Botti is the worst hire Sting has EVER made. I've seen him several times live (though not with the great early solo bands) and every other horn player he's used (including some no-names) run rings around him. But he's gone over so big. Yet another reason I'm not a pop star...

Friday, July 14, 2006

In the meantime

I'm stuck on the damn port manning again, where the computers block streaming media. So, while I rot on Cruise ship X:

The Bad Plus have compiled a great list of Sesame Street videos on YouTube. I'm salivating at the prospect. Darcy also has Stevie doing "Superstitious" for a muppet-filled crowd. I still trip out all these years later about how good, and how sophisticated the Henson stuff is. I think I enjoy it more now than I did as a kid.

Steve Coleman interviews Dave Douglas for Downbeat. The industry stuff is good (but better on an All About Jazz interview which Mwanji has a link to). The one that really interested me was the commentary about Coltrane and voice leading. Really refreshing to hear it put like that.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

pen to paper

Warning: this post is more for me than anyone else. I’m early in the process of writing new music for my still to be formed band. I think it’s going to be a six movement suite (for lack of a better word) using some translations of the Persian mystic Rumi as the core of the work. One of my yoga friends introduced me to Rumi a year or two ago, and I was completely hooked in. There’s a rapturous, ecstatic quality to his work (this is a man who, after all, is traditionally linked to the creation of the whirling dervish). It’s well designed, but feels completely spontaneous, which is always a laudable goal for someone writing music involving improvisation. And, needless to say, it’s whupping my ass.

As I continue to gain experience as a writer, I find easier to avoid the old habits that tended to sabotage my writing efforts, say, five years ago. (Of course, I always find new bad habits.) And I don’t know about my peers, but I find when I hear music when I’m in the process of writing something the listening gets filtered through my own writing process- I tend to hear either the strengths or weaknesses of the piece as they relate to how I write. Below is my advice to myself (and to the few writing students I’ve had), based on my own mishaps and what I’ve been listening to lately. Much of it is borrowed; that’s probably the good stuff.

1. Have an idea of what you want. I'm not one of those people that can operate from a tabula rasa. Lately, texts have been an easy "in"; even if I don't actually set them, they give me ideas about colors, or shapes, or moods that I want to convey.

1a. Start writing something. SOMETHING. Even if it sucks. It won't suck forever.

2. You can’t overdevelop an idea. If you think you’ve tapped it out, keep going for another good while yet. The Brookmeyer mantra. I do think this piece of advice has it’s limits; I just haven’t found them yet in my own work. Writers rarely get the benefit of the seven-minute lull in conversation, where the universe seems to hit you in the head with an anvil and say “New topic.” Instead we often jump away when we’re just getting to the meat of what we’re trying to say. (Darcy has a great related post about compositional hooks)

2a. Repetition is not the same thing as development. There's introducing the listener to an idea, there's reminding the listener of an idea, and then there's clubbing the listener in the knees with an idea. Not the same thing. I can’t tell you how many student charts I’ve read that mistake one for the other. Even most successful minimalist pieces are shifting the ground under you even while it seems like nothing is happening (see Reich's music for sixteen musicians). It’s like watching a kaleidoscope, that's why it works.

Musicians are unusual in the arts in that we don’t often operate with an outside counterweight. A visual artist is limited by the size of the canvas. Authors and filmmakers have editors. Composers occasionally have a teacher or a producer, if we’re lucky. More often we're left to ourselves. As a result, you often hear music that badly needs an editor, or music where an internal editor completely overrode the better instincts of the composer.

3. Lyricists: avoid four-syllable words. They almost never work in a song. Unless your name is Joni Mitchell. Then it’s okay.

4. If you write an improvised solo, have a soloist in mind. Even if it’s not who ends up playing it. I’m lucky now that I’ve bounced the idea of this new band off a few people in Boston, and I think they’re in. So I write for them, at least in my head. But even I had no band, I’d write an alto solo imagining Billy Drewes, or a guitar solo imagining my friend Sasha. This helps me in two ways- it allows me to shape what’s happening behind the solo in a less generic way, and it keeps the soloist from wandering outside the piece. Some of this comes from Bob’s thinking, some my own. I think if you trust your soloists, even if you don’t know who they are, they’re going to give you better results than if you try to cage them. And most of the fun of writing a solo is hearing what you’ve never heard in your music before.

5. Don't try to do everything all at once. This is one of the (few) drawbacks about things like the BMI Workshop or college workshop bands. You usually get only one chart per few months performed, so you try to stick everything in.

That's all for now, I think. Further advice is greatly appreciated.

Monday, July 10, 2006

even worse than they say it is...

I flagged this to post on Friday, and the events of the weekend seem only to drive home the point. From Salon's War Room:

The news out of Iraq today is bad -- a car bomber killed 12 and wounded 41 this morning -- but a Newsweek reporter says the underlying story may be worse. In an interview with Foreign Policy, Rod Nordland, the magazine's chief foreign correspondent and former Baghdad bureau chief, says that conditions in Iraq are "much worse" than they're described in the U.S. press.

The reason? The Bush administration does a "great job of managing the news," and the military has begun to crack down on embedded reporters who might otherwise offer a clear assessment of facts on the ground. "Before a journalist is allowed to go on an embed now, [the military] check[s] the work you have done previously," Nordland says. "They want to know your slant on a story -- they use the word 'slant' -- what you intend to write, and what you have written from embed trips before. If they don't like what you have done before, they refuse to take you. There are cases where individual reporters have been blacklisted because the military wasn't happy with the work they had done on embed."

Still, Nordland says that reporters "get out among the Iraqi public a whole lot more than almost any American official, certainly more than military officials do." And he says that there's only so much the administration and the military can do to hide the reality that Iraqis are facing. "It is certainly hard to hide the fact that in the third year of this war, Iraqis are only getting electricity for about 5 to 10 percent of the day," Nordland says. "Living conditions have gotten so much worse, violence is at an even higher tempo, and the country is on the verge of civil war. The administration has been successful to the extent that most Americans are not aware of just how dire it is and how little progress has been made. They keep talking about how the Iraqi army is doing much better and taking over responsibilities, but for the most part that's not true."

On another note, I would love more than most people to see Ann Coulter screw up and get relegated to some pig trough in her beloved red states, but the plagurism charges that came up last week ain't going to do it. I always thought that plagurism happened when you steal ideas, not wire clippings, and what came up so far falls far short of that. If we take her on with ideas, then we can win. Or maybe if we just shout louder than she does...

penalty kicks

Overheard on Cruise Ship X this weekend: "Is this soccer stuff over yet? NASCAR's on, dammit." (I don't get NASCAR, I will never get NASCAR. Call me an east coast elitist, but I think it's the biggest waste of gas and beer in American history.)

And Italy wins the world cup. Zidane, what the hell were(n't) you thinking?! Not quite the Hollywood ending everyone was hoping for. Hell, I was rooting pretty hard for France, or better put against Italy all game (reasons to be explained, well, later), and I couldn't muster much after the head butt.

Oh, and France's first goal was due entirely to a bad call. (as really, was Italy's whole run) The guy flopped. Here I agree with some of the louder American sports pundits- soccer, will never, NEVER catch on in the states as long as players keep flopping like fish in a rowboat trying to get foul calls. Our sports culture prizes toughness above all- Willis Reed, Schilling's bloody sock, Jordan scoring 50 with the flu, etc. We think anyone who flops that much is a creampuff who should go buy some, er, toughness. And while I'm no great fan of masochism, I don't think this is necessarily a bad thing.

Unless Creampuff's name is Dwayne Wade, and it's the NBA Finals. But that's another story...

As long as this is turning into a sports blog... thanks to the World Cup I saw American ESPN this month for the first time in ages, and Sportscenter was already doing a blow by blow of next football season. Guys, overkill, just a little? On the bright side, they had the Patriots going to the Superbowl. Or is that the kiss of death?

Finally, my beloved Red Sox are three games up in the East going into the all-star break, and I'm officially in withdrawl. I'm getting results sporadically on (Latin) ESPN and the web. I haven't seen a game all season. It's at the point where I snap at people when I see them wearing a Yankees hat. (I'm buying one foreign friends, who really doesn't know any better, a Red Sox cap, just so they won't wear their damnYanks hat around me. I'm going that bonkers...)

Current listening- Los Gauachos II, Guillermo Klein. I think I want to marry Luciana Souza. My god, she's is there anything she can't sing? More on the album very soon, I promise.

Friday, July 07, 2006

How do you like these Apples?

Another of those days that make you pine to be in NYC. Tonight only, Darcy and his Secret Society, some eighteen strong, return to the Bowery Poetry Club at 8pm. If you haven't heard it yet, you shant miss it.

At the same time, old friend Michael Cain and Ron Blake play duo in Brooklyn. Should be fun.

Me, I'll be playing Bryan Adams medleys somewhere off the Bahamas. The things I do for, well, money.

Current listening: O Bebado E A Equilibrista (O Melhor De Joao Bosco) A "best of", so it's a little hit or miss (the studio stuff is a little too synthelicious for my taste), but the live stuff is amazing. The man's charisma jumps out of my headphones. I feel like I should be running around bouncing off the walls just listening to it.

Monday, July 03, 2006

degeneration X part 3

Final thoughts on the subject, for now... (see parts one and two first)

I did finish Jenkins' book Decade of Nightmares last week, and recommend it. I found myself agreeing with the big opinions in his book, even if I found some of the details a little redundant, and if sometimes he may overstretch some of his arguments. In many ways, he reads the conservatism of the 80s as a counterreaction to some of the big ideas- sexual liberation, drug culture, and a strategic detante with Communism- of the Sixties. The push was exacerbated by the misery of outside circumstance in the seventies- major inflation, oil crisis, upswing in violent crime, and terrorist crises- combined with very shrewd political calculation on the American political right, and equal ineptitude on the political left.

Without pushing the analogy too hard, the move towards conservatism and traditionalism in jazz in this time fits with the bigger picture. And to some extent, all history has a pendulum quality to it- swings one way, then the other. (In music, it's interesting to note that there was a big, popular Dixieland revival in jazz just as bebop was beginning to rear its head.) However, how hard and how fast it swings can certainy be influenced by the parties involved, which I think is why we are still living with a Bush White House, and why we're talking about the jazz neoconservatives of the 80s twenty years later.

I think I hit the big connections between Jenkins' theory and jazz in the previous posts, but one more hit me as I finished reading "Decade". He notes a marked change in rhetoric in the late 70s and early 80s, a move (back) towards big good vs. evil, us vs. them talk in politics. JFK referred to the Soviets as "our adversaries", Reagan as the "the Evil Empire". With that was a new wave of bogeymen in the American imagination- Commies, terrorists, serial killers, child molesters, etc. Which further facilitates a return to the language of us vs. them. Again, the language used by the jazz neoconservatives coming up at that time neatly fit that trend. Rather than try to understand all the changes that were happening, it was a lot easier to just write them off, and try to create an enemy. (Miles, notably)

Also, I've directed a lot of the attention in this post to Wynton Marsalis, because, well, it's easy. And I fear my tone towards him is very harsh, which may not be quite fair. Personally, I owe a lot to Wynton. When I was a teenager learing to play, I saw him a few times (I was definitely a fan), and as he was with so many young musicians, he was very encouraging, taking time out to talk with me, recommend records, even at one point giving me a lesson (where he absolutely took me apart). A lot of his advice and criticism made me a much better player, and I know there are literally hundreds of musicians who can say the same thing. Many of whom are certainly making interesting, creative music now. Obviously, I've grown up since then, and I'm no longer willing to give as much brain space to his vision as I was then- quite the contrary.

One final qestion- I mentioned earlier the diminishing of the "jazz market", at least measured by record sales. (One could also use the shrinking number of American jazz festivals and clubs, less grant money, etc.) Did the neoconservative movement in jazz accelerate that trend, keep it from being worse, or none of the above? I for one am not sure- I can see cogent arguments on both sides. Thoughts?