Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Skycaps and Spider Monkeys

Again, I'm late to the party, but let me point out trumpeter Taylor Ho Bynum's literate and thoughtful SpiderMonkey blog . Great posts on Braxton and Cecil Taylor, among other things.

Speaking of Taylor, he will be in Boston this weekend with the Fully Celebrated Orchestra at fellow FCO member Jim Hobbs' Skycap festival. (can't find a useful link) The festival also features Joe Morris and Timo Shanko's organ trio. I've never seen the FCO live, so I'm looking forward to it. I've seen conflicting information about the times of the festival, so I'll post full details tomorrow. Without any fanfare, as is his way, Jim has put together a remarkable series of improvised music concerts at the Brookline Tai Chi center this season, including both local and national talent. A big step forward for the scene here in town in a year of setbacks. Bravo Jim!

UPDATE, AGAIN: I screwed up. Because of the venue change, there's been some confusion. The gig is actually Saturday, one night only, starting at 7pm. Taylor and the FCO hit at 10pm. Still at Brookline Tai Chi, in the Washington Square of Brookline, MA. (No relation to the real one, and on the not quite interminable C line)

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Peace piece

I've been meaning to get to this one for awhile. Last week Marianne Williamson, known to me through some of my yoga friends for her new-agey self-help books, published an op-ed in the Boston Globe next week advocating a Department of Peace, a new Cabinet-level department in the US government. This may seem pie in the sky, but the more I read over it and thought about it the more sense it makes. For less than a tenth of the defense department's budget, imagine what could happen. Call your rep- let's start the ball rolling on this one.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Signs of Life

Next in the record collection- Peter Apfelbaum & the Heiroglyphics Ensemble, Signs of Life.

I was hipped to this band by Fred Sturm, my jazz writing professor at Eastman, when I was 19. I was at a point in my development where "new" was the most important thing to me. (Of course, in hindsight, precious little of what I was doing was new at all, but I was young enough to cling to that illusion.) Peter was incorporating a lot of "world-beat" influences into his music, and his band had a fairly unusual instrumentation, featuring bassoon and multiple percussionists. (I hadn't heard Gil Evans' 70's band either at that point, so that seemed really new.) So I bought two CDs, thought they were okay, didn't know what to make of them, and put 'em away.

Listening to it now, I like it a lot more than I did then. Both the harmonies and the line writing smack of Fela Kuti and other Afro-pop, which I hadn't really heard any of at the time. Back then, lack of linear development = not good enough. Now, the grooves are a lot of fun- "Walk to the Mountain" is in a big, heavy spacious 3/2 (that's how I feel it, how they actually notated it I don't know) The only vocal track, "The World is Gifted" shifts from an almost Argentinian, guitar-driven groove behind the (rather silly, sadly) vocal, to a thick 12/8 feeling horn romp, to a ridiculously twisting half-time section. (with the time shifts and stop times, this is probably the most interesting writing on the album) The blowing is solid but unspectacular (probably another strike against back in the day), with Peter and trombonist ____ taking the best star turns. Now, the music, especially the grooves, seem to hold up well on their own.

Recently, Peter has released a new Hieroglyphics record, It Is Written, with a scaled down (11-piece), New York version of the band. Hope to hear it soon, and if anyone has it, let me know what you think.

Friday, November 24, 2006

New Digging In

As I mentioned in passing recently, this month I moved back to Jamaica Plain, my favorite neighborhood in Boston and my home before I landed on Cruise Ship X. I really lucked out with the apartment- it's a block from Arnold Arboretum, on a quiet residential street, with good roommates and parking. And it's not outrageously priced, either; I feel pretty lucky.

One of the things I do like about moving (one of the few, actually) is that it forces me to look at all the music in my collection- I must have 600 CDs now, plus various odds and ends in other media. (Of course, my record player is broken...) I haven't listened to some of this music for at least five years, so I'm going to try to go through a lot of it over the next couple of months for my own amusement, and maybe blog about a little bit. I'm hoping some time away will give me fresh ears for some of it. So to begin (I'm going alphabetically through pieces of my collection)

Cannonball Adderly, Something Else. I think this was in the first dozen or so CDs I bought, in my attempt to cover all the important jazz alto players. (Hey, I was fifteen) I never warmed to Cannonball as much as most alto players, perhaps because he was such a dominant model among my peers. Listening now, I am stuck by just how good it is, and how fresh it sounds. Having heard so much secondhand Cannonball it's astonishing to hear the real thing. Particularly here, where the band and the tunes mean he leans more on his bop than his R'n'B proclivities. (Yes, I know that's a terribly reductionist way of putting it. There's a whole chapter of a book right there)

I'm also struck here by Hank Jones. I'm not the biggest HJ fan, and I feel that he drifts off into cocktailville a little too often. (See cadenza on "Autumn Leaves") But when the rhythm section is going he swings his ass off.

public mallings

A brief (if belated) reminder that today is Buy Nothing Day, a day where we are encouraged to boycott the consumerist mess that is the American day after Thansgiving. (aka Black Friday). Just avoiding the crowds is all the reason that I need, but BND gives many, many other good ones.

Full disclosure: despite my best intentions, I did buy a toothbrush today. And a cup of coffee. Next year I will plan better...

Monday, November 13, 2006

Bill Frisell's Unspeakable Orchestra @ The Berklee Performance Center, 11/12/06

Anytime Bill Frisell comes to town, it's a big deal for me, has been for more than ten years now. If there is such a thing as postmodern authenticity, then he's it. He was embracing an eclectic mish-mash of Hendrix, folk Americana, thrash and bleep and blurp long before most of them were in vogue, and the times seem to have caught up with him, in a good way. He is one of my musical heroes. I haven't seen Frisell in five years, so that was reason enough to get up for it. To add to the excitement, the band he is on tour with is both bigger and more star-studded than usual for him: a hornline of the man, Ron Miles, and Greg Tardy, a string section of Jenny Scheinman, Eynvid Kang and Hank Roberts, and his usual rhythm section of Tony Scherr and Kenny Wolleson.

With the title of the band drawn from his "Unspeakable" album, which felt like an attempt at something more "mainstream", whatever that is, and the big group, I didn't know whether to expect a repeat of the record (already a couple of years old), or something else. We got an awful lot of something else. The MC announced that the band would play a set of brand new music, to polite applause. Then they unleashed the music, and the applause got less and less polite as the evening went on.

According to this very good review by the local Patriot Ledger (much sharper and more thorough than the one in the Globe, interestingly), some of the music was from recent Frisell releases. (I haven't heard the 898 band or the Carter/Frisell/Motian stuff yet. But Christmas is coming...) They stopped only occasionally between tunes; some pieces were connected by collective, noise based improvisation, some were direct segues. At the end of the evening, they did do some covers- Lee Konitz's "Sub-Conscious-Lee", the Delfonics nugget "La La La (Means I Love You)" and Monk's fairly obscure "Jackie-ing".

In brief, it was a fantastic show, delivering bigger than I anticipated, and I had high hopes. While this unit is a fairly recent entity, everyone but Tardy has a long relationship with Bill's music, and thier connection with the material resonsated far more than the few small cuing problems that showed the band's newness. Rather than rehash the Ledger review, a few things that struck me.

The more I hear Frisell, especially with these larger groups, the more I am fascinated by the way he moves harmonies inside of pedals. He'll set up an ostinato in the bass, and perhaps he himself will outline the chord related to the bass' pattern, but then the strings or the horns will roll around it, through it, in and out of it. This is hardly a new device, but something, I'm not sure what, about how Bill writes it is always fascinating to me. (Best example on recording is his wonderful Blues Dream)

Ron Miles, in the whole evening, never took a solo. That was the one bummer of the night for me, given my huge fandom. (Ron and Nguyen Le, my other unnoticed hero, get their own column soon, I promise.) The other soloist were wonderful studies in contrast. Frisell was understated for the most part, playing on and around the melodies when he did blow. Hank Roberts attacked the cello like he was chopping firewood on a frigid day. He seemed to find every possible way to bow the thing, from shrieks to moans to remarkable melodies. Jenny Scheinmann floated over everything with warmth and grace. And Greg Tardy was one part blues shouter, one part polytonal whirlwind. He played with a huge, almost overblown tone, shifting back and forth between a very bluesy language and one that was, well I don't know quite it was, except that it was the smartest, headiest post-Trane blowing I've heard in a long time.

When the band came up for an encore, a couple of people started shouting requests from the audience... requests for "Eat S*&# Jazz Snob". (From a John Zorn Naked City record where Frisell is prominently featured) Never thought I'd see the day... Frisell went for the Delfonics instead, replacing the sugar of the original for a folkier, maple syrup reading of the tune, plucking out the melody, then letting the strings whitewash down the line of the chorus. No less sweet than the original, but definitely more wholesome.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

We ARE the spaceways

I was just reminded by Ryshpen that the new govenor of my fair state, Massachusetts, is the son of a member of Sun Ra's Intergalactic Arkestra, the late Pat Patrick. (more here) Gov. Deval Patrick was not at all close to his dad, but according to an old teach who interviewed Pat in research on a Sun Ra project, Pat was aware of Deval's success earthbound. As if anyone needed any more evidence that our state, where the legislature will spend today (again) fightin over gay marraige, isn't quite in the same orbit as the rest of the country...

While I'm on topic, I was grateful for the outcome of the election, though not due to either Deval's name or his jazz roots. Patrick's major opponent, Kerry Healy, ran a tasteless, bitter campaign, trying to tar Patrick (unfairly) as a lover of rapists and danger to children and small animals. And it didn't work. It was nice, at least here, that voters were energized to beat back such a vicious and unnecessary attack. (Don't get me wrong, I don't mind negative ads, if they're on issues. My favorites of the year are probably these two, this rather off-color bit run by one of the others vanquished by Patrick in Massachusetts, and this one that ran in several swing races across the country. Negative, yes. Below the belt, absolutely not. (insert joke here) There's a difference.

Now, let's see what our new govenor and his bastion of excited supporters (myself included) can do. There's no lack of hard work to do...

Monday, November 06, 2006

hang your chad

To all the Americans in the house:

VOTE, gaddamit!

Tuesday is the day. I've heard every excuse there is, and I don't buy any of them. You either are happy with the way things are (which most likely means I've never met you, or your the parent of one of my suburban students, in which case have a lovely day) or you think like I do that the bunch in power are not up to the task. (and that's being kind) In either case, there are a lot of interests that are working hard to make sure what you care about is NOT the law of the land, and this is one small chance to make some noise.

I have a couple of other, not so partisan election thoughts, but they can wait until tomorrow.

Revision: see Alex Ross today. I'm sure this ain't the only one. As Darcy mentioned, if you have a problem voting, call 1-866-OUR-VOTE - lawyers for both parties are geared up to make sure their side is heard, so take advantage if you need to.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

finally, the ears have it

I promise soon I'll write a post for a reason other than to explain why I haven't been blogging...

I am pleased to announce that Ran Blake's book Primacy of the Ear, which I've been a contributor and editor to for way too long now, has cleared the last hurdle (a grant review at NEC) and is headed to press this month. Anyone who knows Ran knows how dear this project is to him, and what a long and surreal road it's been to its completion. (But with Ran, is there any other way?) Details as they come to me, but suffice to say I'm elated and relieved.