Thursday, March 30, 2006

Where's your cup?

And now, the week on the Ipod. I've also been listening to a bunch of Bartok and Morton Feldman orchestral music, which is great. I just don't feel like I have anything useful to say about it. So, onto...

Henry Treadgill and Make a Move- “Where’s Your Cup”

Henry Threadgill, while not a completely unappreciated genius, never gets enough attention. (Great bio here) When Branford Marsalis took over Columbia Jazz in an ill-fated, post Tonight Show experiment, perhaps the best thing he did was sign Threadgill and Charles Gayle to multi-album deals, as if to somehow legitimize the label artistically. Needless to say, I think Threadgill lasted two records, Gayle one, and all those albums are now out of print. This is the second Threadgill Columbia album, and to my ears the better of the two, featuring and unusual reeds/guitar/accordian/electric bass/drums group.

This music is mesmerizing, in all senses of the word. The combination of the accordion and Brandon Ross’ guitar sounds create an often eerie, always off-center sonic texture throughout the album. Threadgill’s music often has a quality like that old “Sesame Street” skit “One of These Things is not Like the Other”- he’ll have a martial beat quietly playing while everyone else blows free, or some other clear tension between active and passive motion, always to great effect. Likewise Threadgill’s harmonic motion is always slow and deliberate, and nothing ever resolves quite as you’d expect.

Then there’s Threadgill’s playing itself. Two things stand out for me. One, his haunting flute playing. As anyone who either plays or writes for a multi-reed players knows, you can never play another reed instrument and expect to have a pure, "legit" flute sound. There’s something about playing with a sax/clarinet embochure that makes even the world’s best doublers, spectacular players in every way, have a certain breathy imperfection in their flute sound that a discriminating listener can hear. Somehow Threadgill has taken that inherent weakness and turned it into a strength- he has a very distinctive flute sound, airy without being breathy, almost eerily hollow, and breathtaking. (I wouldn’t be surprised if the production on this album helped it along, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it didn’t. I’ve never actually seen him play live.)

Second, I find that great improvising saxophonists, regardless of genre, tend to play one of two ways (warning, dangerous overgeneralization ahead). The first kind play with a certain kind of precision- putting every note in exactly the right place- Bird, Sonny, Steve Lacy, Brecker, Greg Osby etc. Everything is always exactly where it’s supposed to be, and it sounds great. The second kind put much more emphasis on, I almost don’t know how to say it, the physical and emotional force of the delivery. The notes themselves often become secondary to how they are played- Ornette, Ben Webster, Johnny Hodges, Dewey Redman, Lovano. Nothing is quite where it’s “supposed” to be, but played well it sounds great. This is not to say that the first kind aren’t emotional players, or the second are somehow less cognizant of, or skillful with melodic or harmonic considerations (I hope my list makes that clear. Also, players who aren't as great either aren't sure where they fall, or can't execute- usually rhythmically- what they're hearing. I know that's an issue for me somedays.)

Threadgill is one of the few players I can think of who can consistently marry the two. For instance on “The Flew”, his improvisation seems to bounce back and forth between these Ornette-like running lines and very precise, stacatto exclamation points. Perfectly precise, and wildly sloppy, all at once.

On the same vein, also great: Threadgill, Too Much Sugar for a Dime, my favorite Threadgill album by far; Myra Melford (a protégé)- Above Blue. Actually, I think both of these are out of print too...

Aside: I vividly remember the one time I met Threadgill. I was given comps to a Roscoe Thomas gig at the Knitting Factory, and as I was walking to the subway after the set I (almost literally) ran into him, I introduced myself, and we ended up taking the N train together. He getting off around 23rd Street, I headed on to Astoria. He was quiet but not shy, and very pleasant. He was very high on pianist Matthew Shipp (who had been playing that night), and talked fondly about India, where he was living half the year at that point. I wish I could say I got some deep revelation from the experience, but it was more one of those cool “only in New York” moments, one I relish.

Herbie Hancock- Possibilities

Decidedly not out of print. I bought this one not long after it came out, while in Cruise Ship X, due primarily to a lack of alternatives. (It was on sale at Starbucks, it was Herbie, I didn’t have a PO Box, and I didn’t know my way around Miami well enough yet find a real record store.) And hey, it’s Herbie. I’m not sure quite why I pulled it out this week, but…

This is Herbie’s “Supernatural”, a set of collaborations with mostly, not all, bona fide superstars. Why’d he do it? I’m not sure, but probably, because he can; that’s just how Herbie is. (my friend Richie Barshay, who tours with him periodically, concurs on this view) It’ll probably sell a lot more than “Sextant”, but how do you musically rate something like this? As an album, it’s predictably inconsistent, depending on the song and who’s playing. What works and what doesn’t is a little less predictable. So, dear reader, I’ll break it down, in order of (perceived) quality:

The Spectacular:
“I Do It For Your Love” (Paul Simon)- Simon revisits this classic from “Still Crazy…”, and I like this version better. Like Joni Mitchell revisiting “Both Sides Now” on her orchestral disc, I think this tune really benefits from all the experience, both musical and personal, that age brings. Paul Simon doesn’t have the voice he had then, but the singing is beautiful, Herbie’s comping, and arrangement, are great. A real keeper.
“Sister Moon” (Sting)- I like this version better than the original (and I like the original). The funkiest thing on the record, and Sting steps up with his singing. Herbie’s best blowing as well.

The Very Good:
“Hush, Hush, Hush” (Annie Lenox) This is a really poignant Paula Cole song about a young man dying of AIDS, with his father by his side. I didn’t know the tune- it has a couple of lyrical flaws, but it couldn’t get a better reading from Annie Lenox. Great arrangement, haunting singing and playing. Misses spectacular because they fade out too soon.
“Don’t Explain” (Damien Rice and Lisa Hannigan)- I don’t know either of these singers, but again the only complaint is that they don’t let one or the other carry the tune- either could ably, but having both singing one narrative is a little jarring. That said, an emotional reading of a heartbreaking tune.
“Stiched Up” (John Mayer)- a nice, smart, if a little lightweight, opener. Everybody sounds good, and I like the lyric. Good opener for the record, nice if unspectacular Herbie solo.

The Good:
“When Love Comes to Town” (Joss Stone and Johnny Lang)- the tag-team approach works here, and this is one of my favorite U2 tunes. But the song goes on about two minutes longer than it needs to- I see why he wants it to build, but he overplays his hand. And for God sakes, Herbie, if you want a big brassy ending, can’t you hire real brass players instead of using synths? I know you had a budget here…
“A Song for You” (Christina Aguleira)- this one got all the press, and the Grammy appearance. Mind you, it’s not bad, and it shows just how well Herbie plays behind singers. But while I respect Christina Aguleira, I’m not a big fan. She tunes down the melismatic stuff, and the choice of song is good, but her singing is still not my cup of tea.

The Bad and the Ugly:
Gelo No Montana (Trey Anastasio)- no less a musical authority than Maria Schneider claims the brilliance and beauty of Trey, and I believe her. But I don’t here it here. A nice little tune that goes nowhere.
“I Just Called to Say I Love You” (Damien Rice, Stevie cameo) I didn’t think it was possible to do this song MORE sugary than the original, but they manage. Drivel, pure drivel.
“Safiatou” (Santana and Angilique Kidjo) I don’t like Santana, never have. To my ears he’s not a good enough guitar player to justify the hype. Nothing here, which sounds like “A Little Bit of This” in another language (and with more piano, of course) changes that. Another tune that goes nowhere fast.

So there you have it- half the album is substantially better than average, but almost a third is substantially below average. (Mind you, I’d love to hit with Herbie’s average.) I see at it as why God created the fast-forward button. I’ve come away from a lot of Herbie’s recent (i.e. last 15 years) records feeling this way- they aren't bad, but you know they could be a lot better. (1+1 with Wayne stands as the big exception for me) If only it were so…

file under: music

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

falling down

While I was on Cruise Ship X, I took advantage of my ample free time and my aforementioned utter lack of yoga classes to work on poses newer to me, stuff I had worked on a couple of times in class, but never really internalized. For me, that meant some of the more involved arm balances, handstands without a wall (still not there yet), and dropbacks. Sorry I should explain- a dropback is not a pose but rather a vinyasa (sequence) where one basically starts standing, and leans back until you land in wheel. (There are more complex variations where you start standing, go to wheel, press up to handstand, and then back to standing, but that’s way beyond me at present. Along with most of the, well, bonkers poses on this link.) I’d gotten to the point on the boat where I could do it very proficiently by walking down a wall, and last week in class a teacher helped me without the wall. A little shaky, a lot scary, but I did it. Yay me, I figure, and I figure from time to time I’ll try it in class. Not such a good idea, I’m afraid. On try number one, I got some of the way backwards, moved my gaze to see where I was, and of course went tumbling onto the floor, taking some poor unsuspecting soul with me. (Thankfully, everyone was OK.)

The problem here was the sneaking glance. For this to work, you have to trust that your hands are going to make it to the ground before your head does. You also have to be okay with that dreadful feeling of being suspended in midair. It’s the closest I’ve felt in awhile to that stomach-churning sensation at the top of a roller coaster just before you take your first hundred-foot plunge. It’s the body’s natural response to an edge- this is a tremendously vulnerable position physically, and the body, and the ego, say “danger Will Robinson.” But for this pose to happen, I have to be willing to embrace that edge, to see that fear as only a fear, and go anyway. And if I fall, I fall- wouldn’t be the first time, and I’ve gotten pretty good at falling without killing myself.

The point here is- how often do we face our edge at all? One of the great joys of yoga for me is that at least once a day I’m invited to go someplace in myself that’s not comfortable on any level, even if just to stay for a few breaths. And after a year plus of doing it, standing on your head isn’t so uncomfortable, it’s just another place I go. And that freedom invites me to go other places I’m not comfortable, in playing, in writing, in living. How often do we play an edge, any edge? So we fall down occasionally, that’s fine.

That said, now that I’ve been there, I’ll use the wall for a little while longer.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

you got a wiccan problem wid dat?

Seen in today’s Boston Globe- CBS film crews will be shooting a new drama, titled “The Way”, in several Boston neighborhoods this week. (Actually, only, y'know, Beacon Hill, North end- the really photogenic ones) According to CBS, the show chronicles "an influential New England gang [that] loses its mob boss and turns to witchcraft to handle its criminal enterprises,"

Now I’m never one to argue against the jobs, and buzz, filming in Beantown creates, and maybe I'm oversensitive, but don’t people in the rest of the country already think we’re strange enough without last-gasp voodoo mafiosi? Especially since our last big mob story is something to be sooo proud of.

As long as I'm on the daily annoyances...
I saw a copy of The ProFessors at ye old Coop today. I remember some ruckus about it, so I looked through it. David Horowitz, an old "New Leftist", now right-wing shouter, picks his 101 "most dangerous", read least favorite, college professors, for crimes real (The U. South Florida now under arrest on terrorist charges) to imagined (a professor at Earlham- a Quarker college- who spends too much time on peace and justice work.)

Now, letting that last one slide, I'm willing to grant you that academia tends to favor the left over the right in this country, and there are a lot of professors at high end schools teaching low-end drivel. But if you're going after "most dangerous", as your title says, why aim so low? I say any professor with access to nuclear materials, anthrax, et al (and there are a lot more than 101 of those) scares me a hell of a lot more than Amiri Bakara, or Jerry Faldwell for that matter, at their most overinflated.

But that probably doesn't sell as many books...

Monday, March 27, 2006

This week's concerts

My highlights of the musical week in Boston:

Sofia Koutsovitas at Ryles, Thursday 3/30, 9pm. Sofi and I met at NEC, commiserating over our classes with the by-that-point inscrutable genius of George Russell. She has blossomed into a fantastic singer, composer, and performer, and brings her octet to Boston this week. The music defies easy categorization, subsuming and re-imagining all the musics she loves and studies- Peruvian, Brazilian, her native Argentinian, free jazz, pop, etc.- into something truly her own.

The Quartet of Happiness, Lily Pad, Friday 3/31, 11:30 pm. One part badass free-bop quartet, one part performance art, one part Conan O’Brien. My dream soundtrack for Zippy the Pinhead. Featuring the ferocious alto playing of Ric Stone.

And, finally, the inimitable Ran Blake brings his unique, fractured vision of gospel shouts, film noir, country songs and fine ethnic food to MIT on Saturday evening 4/1. I can't say enough about Ran, especially in a rare solo setting. He splits the bill with Charles Gayle best known for his saxophone shouts, but tonight also playing solo piano. (I saw Gayle’s quartet six or seven years ago, with the then lesser-known Matthew Shipp and Guillermo Klein. I left weak-kneed, literally) Not to be missed.

Currentl listening: Maria Schneider, Concert in the Garden

less than I know...

A banner ad for something called Flavorpill just told me “You’re more boring than you know.”

No, trust me, I know.

For anyone who has ever sat through rehearsal with an absurd, inscrutable, or just plain weird conductor. This may not take the cake, but it's close.

And speaking of weird, Zippy the Pinhead takes the cartoon of the week. I think I'm going to make this a weekly feature, I like it so much.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

2day's Music

The list on the Ipod is short this week, but since two of the records are new to me, that’s almost intentional. To wit:

Prince- 3121

The new one. Every music rag on the planet has covered it, so let me just say I like it. A lot. It’s ridiculously funky, there’s a Clare Fischer string arrangement- too far back in the mix for my taste, but hey- and the God stuff is fun as opposed to strident. (see Rainbow Children)

He’s also touting a hot new female protégé- Tamar- who sings on a bunch of the tracks. Let’s hope she works out better than Appalonia, Cat, etc.

A couple of notes on Prince, while I’m on the subject. I remember reading somewhere (help me out here please) that one of the reasons Prince’s work dropped off in the 90’s was because he didn’t know what to do with hip-hop. Here comes this new, powerful, popular, very black music that doesn’t really fit Prince’s current aesthetic. (Michael Jackson has the same problem, the theory goes.) So he tries to work it in- rapping or adding rappers at various points, changing his beats and production- producing results far weaker than his 80’s work. And now that hip-hop has become broad enough to include damn near anything, and production styles (Neptunes, Missy Elliot, etc) have shifted again, here he is kicking butt again. Again, this is NOT my theory- I think it has big holes in it, see below- but it’s an interesting one to think about.

One thing that I think did really impact Prince’s (and others) work in the 90s was the shift from LP to CD. I don’t have every Prince CD, but what I notice is that on everything I have from “Love Sign Album” (what do you call that one?) to Rave Un2 the Joy, there are three or more songs I almost automatically skip. (Emancipation being the worst offender) I don’t think tunes like “Arrogance” or “Eye Hate U” would ever have made the cut on the shorter LP format. Smartly, 3121 clocks in at 12 songs and 55 minutes.

John Mayer- Room for Squares

Yup, that John Mayer. And not the supposedly more “legit” Try release (though I like that), but the big label, make the girls squeal release at that. Does this cost me cool points? Wait- at the age of 31, why the hell am I even thinking about cool points?

Seriously, there was a minute there where you couldn’t turn on the radio- NPR even- without hearing Mayer, so I heard it. Then a couple of my students were ga-ga about him, so I heard it some more. Then my friend that Matt Tutor, no slouch himself as a pop singer/songwriter, said “no, man, check it! He’s GOOD.” So I did. And he is- the songs are smart and well written without getting too cute, and the production is first rate. And tell me an American male in his 20s who hasn’t gone through at least a little of what he’s singing about? (Nick Lachay, sit your dumb ass down) I get stuck on “3x5”, the squeezebox and the brushes on snare creating this chugging train feel.

Oh, the audio on Mr. Mayer's MySpace page is more than worth the visit.

And gimme back my cool points. This isn’t Nelson we’re talking about.

The Bad Plus- Suspicious Activity?

As promised, I picked up Suspicious Activity? this week, and have listened to it a lot. If you scroll down you’ll read my earlier doubts about the Bad Plus, but I promised a couple of friends I would give them another solid shake. And here it is:

Apparently, TBP have caught some flack for the sound of their records- they don’t “sound like” a piano trio, whatever that means. (I guess it means a jazz trio, ala either Blue Note ca. 1964, or the Keith Jarrett trio, neither of which is a flawless approach) I’ve had long talks with my friend and brilliant pianist Michael Cain about how inadequately pianos are often recorded, and like him I’m not a purist about recording acoustic sounds. So I like the way this record sounds- clearly digitally altered, but all good sounds, and sounds that complement the musical effort. Sometimes I want the piano to ring more, but that’s minor, and may be Ethan Iverson's touch. I’ve not liked some of the recording choices I've heard them made in the past; here I like 'em all.

This band seems to answer the question- “What happens if you recast a prog rock band as a piano trio?” (I don’t know if anyone’s asked that question, but dammit they should) The guys are all very good players, and this band is so tight it’s sick. The way they bounce from form to formless (I hesitate to call it free) to form on several tunes (“Let Our Garden Grow”-no relation to Bernstein, “Rhinoceros is My Profession”, a very fractured “Chariots of Fire”) is really, really impressive, and effective. They spent a couple of blogs recently praising Django Bates, and I certainly hear an aesthetic connection- the pinpoint execution, the quick cuts, the warped sense of humor. The writing is good, clever and interesting. They make these tunes sound a lot easier than they actually are, always a good thing. These forms with very odd measure patterns or funky beat structures sound completely fluid, to the point that I didn’t notice until the third listen or so that “The Empire Strikes Backwards” is in 11. The cheeky titles are fun too (“Rhinoceros” is my favorite.) And I like the last tune “Forces” a lot.

All that said, I’m still not on the bandwagon. While all of it is good and well performed, nothing on the album moves me. I guess it’s a little too cheeky and self-conscious for me. The form to formless to form illustrates it for me- you always know where it’s going, that no matter how far “out” it gets, the melody will be pounded back at you thirty seconds later. There's a lot of fireworks, but very little suspense. And many tunes go on for too long. I feel like a lot of the tunes would be a lot more effective if they were a minute or two shorter- do we really need that extra statement of the head? The shame of it is they're endings are really cool- neat little change-ups you don't see coming, some actual suspense that gets washed over by a preceding minute of flat-out banging. But mostly, I just hear a lot of cleverness and technique without any emotional intent- too many empty vessels.

This record did make me want to listen to Fred Hersch’s recent trio for a great, fresh piano trio, and Bill Frisell’s fantastic Have a Little Faith for fractured pop covers. But it made me want to put Suspicious Activity? away for awhile. I'll come back to it, but not my cup of tea right now.


When I got home from Cruise Ship X, I asked my yoga teachers to be particularly tough on me while I’m here. My thinking was, I haven’t had a real class in several months, and while I’ve been practicing regularly, I’ve probably picked up bad habits, and don’t want to keep them, or worse, teach them. Let’s face it, we all have habits. The best of intentions are rarely a match for short-term convenience or the power of inertia. My teachers certainly haven’t disappointed me; I don’t tuck my tailbone enough in many standing poses (though I can almost hear my mother saying incredulously “Wait a minute, you HAVE an butt?”), I could engage my upper arms more wheel pose (urdhva dhanurasana), I need a more active leg position in shoulderstand, etc. Honestly, much of what I expected, and I’m grateful for all their help. This is why we go to any kind of teacher, ultimately.

However, one teacher picked up a habit I didn’t expect- I’ve taken to crunching my brow when I’m exerting in a pose. Crunching a lot, to the point that I can start to see a dreaded worry line forming on my forehead even when I’m off the mat. I don’t know why I do it- it’s an unconscious habit I probably picked up well before I started practicing yoga. It may be from music- I sometimes think that many jazz musicians try to communicate emotion onstage as much by how they contort themselves as by how they play.

More likely I’m subconsciously buying one of our great western fallacies- we can muscle our way into success or happiness. (Another way of being addicted to our tension) When I crunch my face like that, I may or may not be engaging my leg more, or going higher in a backbend, but it FEELS like progress, like I’m working hard and building strength. And while I was away, I did see progress- poses I couldn’t hold have opened themselves up to me, I can go deeper in more familiar poses. But if I do it by scowling, it’s just creating more tension, or just moving it from my leg or my back to my face. And that’s only an illusion of progress.

Yoga talks a lot about balancing effort and surrender, which is critically important. Hard work is good, no doubt, but clinging to the work ultimately creates suffering- when you can give your work everything, then completely let it go, you can then receive what you really need from it. Only now, ten years into practice, am I physically realizing what that means- when I let go of my face, and only work the muscles that are actually engaged in the pose, there is a openness, a surrender in the passive parts of the body that can be absolutely blissful, even when the legs or the arms approach agony. Effort and surrender, yin and yang exist at once, at home in the body.

So why tell annoy you of tales of my aging brow? I invite you to check your own patterns- where are you unconsciously, needlessly holding tension- in your face, your hands, your posture? Can you work hard without turning it into a production number, “Hey, I’m WORKING?” Most times no one notices anyway.

Put another way, is your neutral posture- the place your body stays when it’s not consciously working- really neutral and relaxed? Is it really doing you any good, or dragging you down, to a place where you’ll wrinkle prematurely? Challenge yourself to sail, not prod. You’ll like the results. Right now in my own practice I’m not going as deep into poses as I can, but am trying to go with no extracurricular physical activity- and it’s more challenging than I expected. More ego to let go of. But as any seaman can tell you, sailing is definitely more fun.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

It would be funny...

if it weren't so sad. Wubba in his own words- all in one speech, no less. (Warning, you'll have to watch a short ad to see it, but it's worth it)

On a happier, hipper note, great music from Meshell N'Degeocello, courtesy of freemyheart. Meshell is one of those artists that the record doesn't capture adequately, so these are great, especially the "jazz" take (Luqman).

Browsing... offline, no less

Just odds and ends today. CD thoughts coming, but in a separate post. Pardon the free association.

The Udden quintet was great last night. Of course, I'm still at the point where any real live music here is good, but this especially so. The rhythm section- Jorge Rodeor and Richie Barshay- have played together so much, and trust each other so completely- it creates a trust level for the whole band, and anything goes. The form and the time, without ever disappearing, becomes like taffy, absolutely malleable. They covered Steve Lacy's "Bones" beautifully, which reminded me exactly how unbelievably personal Steve's music is. There was no attempt to cop Steve by anyone, least of all the saxophonists, yet I could practically see him in the room. He also covered a Pharoah Sanders tune which I'll certainly appropriate for my upcoming Lily Pad gig. Sadly, Jeremy did not pull out his Bangles cover, but you can't have everything.

So the Red Sox let one more cog in the World Series wheel go this week, trading Bronson Arroyo for Wily Mo Pena. I love the idea of cheering for a Wily Mo (sounds like something straight out of a Warner Brothers cartoon), and due to catcher Tony I have nothing but warm thoughts for baseball and people named Pena. But I’m never crazy about trading pitching, especially durable pitching, for hitting, no matter how far he hits it.

That said, (and with the news of Vinateri signing with the Colts) you can't but notice that the Red Sox and now Patriots are less and less and less resembling the teams that won the championships. I know that when I actually get to see a Sox game on the boat this summer, I'll spend the first three innings saying "who?" I know that's inevitable in the business of sports, but it's like watching an ex-girlfriend keep getting plastic surgery.

Not that any of my ex-girlfriends have actually done that...

One of the nice things about my temp gig (other than the fact that they’re basically paying me to write this) is that’s it’s very near a Coop. For the non-Bostonians, the Coop (originally the Harvard Coop) started out as the Harvard student bookstore, and has morphed into a local chain of college bookstores- MIT has one, as do some of other schools. And it’s a good bookstore- aside from the fact that you’ll find obscure microeconomics and biophysiology textbooks, it beats the pants off your average Barnes and Noble. And since I’m a quick eater, I end up spending time there almost every day. Today, along with a bunch of Red Sox books, I found Bill Simmons Now I Can Die in Peace, his personal, fractured account of Red Sox fandom in general, and the World Series run in particular. The first book in a long time I can recommend based solely on the prologue. Really, really funny, and he stops to explain enough baseball and/or Red Sox lore along the way to keep the non-fans engaged without boring the diehards. (Music writers, myself included, please take note.) However, it is $16 minimum, so I’ll probably end up getting it from the library or reading it on lunchbreaks.

Over a week of lunch breaks, I did read the graphic novel (read, comic book with at least one multisyllable word per page.) V for Vendetta. Liked it, looking forward to seeing the movie, knowing full well it will probably barely resemble the book. (Alan Moore, the writer, pulled his name from it for that reason.) Will report back- just not this week.

Going down to New York for a brief hit. Beyond visiting friends, I’ll be looking for new music/yoga/general hipness to try out. I feel so out of touch. Recommendations (especially good ones) are appreciated.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Jeremy Udden @ Rutman’s Violin Shop

Tonight (Tuesday 3/21/06), Jeremy (pronounced oo-DEEN, please) brings his quintet into Rutman's, one of the nicest little places in Boston to hear music. And Jeremy is one of the nicest guys in Boston to hear, as well as one of the baddest young alto players on the planet. Despite an obvious (and stated) debt to Lee Konitz, Jeremy never sounds like anybody but himself- warm full sound and long sloping lines that never come at you quite the way you expect them to. I've never actually heard him as a frontman (lots of work with the Either Orchestra and Holus Bolus, among others), so this should be fun. For me, it's like Coltrane's comment about Stan Getz- "Let's face it, we'd all sound like that if we could."

He's celebrating his first solo disc on Fresh Sound, featuring Matt Wilson, Bob Brookmeyer, and Ben Monder. Tonight's quintet is a little less star-studded but no less worthy- featuring Nate Blehar and the inimitable Richie Barshay.

Rutman’s is at 11 Westland Ave, by Symphony Hall and Whole Foods.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Carnival Time

I’m certainly impressed that Darcy spent the weekend going back through all the Miles Davis 70s albums, and then had the time to write a very thoughtful piece about it, complete with sound clips. His labor is well worth everyone’s time.

One footnote I wanted to add, to end my poor bit in the DJA/Bad Plus extravaganza. While I didn’t listen as heavily as Darcy, I did check out Dark Magus (really for the first time), and also some of the late 80s live stuff. And thought, no one talks enough about Miles' time feel. It’s perfect, picture perfect. My high school sax teacher used to talk about Sonny Rollins having “perfect time” the way some musicians have perfect pitch. I don’t know if it’s a gift or a skill (more likely some of both) but there are certain musicians who know exactly where in the time to put everything, where it feels the absolute best it could possibly feel. Along with (in my view anyway), Monk, James Brown and Prince, Miles laps the field here. Even in “Tutu” on the Time after Time discs, where his chops are a fraction of what they are in the 70s, every time he plays a note everything feels sooo good. Horn players rarely get enough credit, or take enough blame, for how they play the time (as opposed to just playing in the time), and it’s something that’s always worth mentioning. And, as in many things, Miles is the master. (Will add examples soon.)

This also puts to rest the notion TBP propose (for me, anyway) that Miles’ trumpet playing is less important to his legacy than his bandleading. You can’t separate them. How he plays the time is at the center of everything, in every band he ever had, and without it nothing feels the same way.

That said, blogwar ceases, with everyone winning. And, to show I’m not simply being bitter about TBP, I promise this week I will get Suspicious Activity, listen with virgin ears, and report back, hopefully favorably. (Tomorrow Prince’s 3121 is also on the menu. Yippee!)

Monday morning crawl

Like many, many American males, I spent way too much time watching college basketball this weekend. (I did, however, manage to pretty well avoid St. Patrick’s Day, which in Boston, takes some doing.) That said, it was a lot of fun, especially watching Uconn hang on for dear life, and seeing UNC get bounced. And BC didn’t give me a heart attack this time. My bracket is still okay- six of eight of my final 8 left, but that ain’t going to win many prizes. That said, Boston Globe columnist Derrick Jackson did his annual pull-back-the-veil on that dark underbelly of college sports, graduation rates, especially of black players. Sadly, not too many surprises, but it’s important to be reminded that while the NCAA makes millions on our infatuation with college sports, the kids who actually do the heavy lifting see precious little of it, either in the near (no stipend) or long term (no job prospects). Amd if you went to a D-I school, remind them everytime they ask you for money. (There are huge argument to be had here, I know, which I’ll gladly engage in if pressed.) Anyhow, as if I needed another reason NOT to cheer for Oral Roberts…

Speaking of articles, Yoga Journal finally posted an article they published this winter about what you’re really washing yourself with. It isn’t very pretty:

“Just last year, the European Union passed a directive dictating that personal care products must be free of chemicals known or strongly suspected to cause cancer, genetic mutations, or birth defects. As a result, over 1,200 chemicals were banned. But almost all of them are still authorized for use in the United States. Believe it or not, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not require makers of shampoos, soaps, or deodorants to test products for safety before they're sold. Among the roughly 10,500 ingredients used in personal care products, only 11 percent have been evaluated for safety.” (emphasis mine)

This one singlehandedly changed how I shop for the few soaps and stuff I do use, (c'mon when your as bald as I am, it keeps things reeeall simple) and I do literally feel better for it.

An interesting little blog on Popmatters about the state of, well, blogging. I think he makes some cogent points (I heard something similar on Pacifica news last week, which is probably why I mention it.) But, do you really need that many big words to darkly navel-gaze?

And in case you don’t get the Sunday funnies.

Sunday, March 19, 2006


Hello, and a belated welcome to my blog. (Hey, consistency and linear thinking were never my strong suits.) This is a continuation of the blog I started on myspace, though hopefully it's better looking, with less ads and more and better links. I've reposted much of the stuff I did there, since I like it just fine, and will go from there. As I said before:

In the past year or so Ive been turned onto the world of blogging- several friends have interesting, intelligent blogs about everything under the sun, and when I'm able to get online I try to check them out. One thing that strikes me most about them is how wide-open the form of these blogs are, which I guess is true of the web as a whole. The blogs are as egg-headed, or scholarly, or tyrannical, or as out there as the people who are writing them, and theyre usually much more reflective of these people's style than more traditional writing would be. I think its also changed journalism as well- for instance, read the Sports Guy, on ESPN, whos a relative upstart, then read Peter King on SI, an old hand. I love them both, but I dont think theres any way that Peter King writes that column the way he does without the Sports Guy, (Can you tell I like Bill Simmons?)

As for me, I have no such delusions of adequacy, But, Ill be here as often as I can, posting my thoughts about whatever is on my mind that day- probably a fair amount of music, yoga, some politics, no doubt, and whatever funny stories. I hope youll read, enjoy, hate it, argue, agree- but let me know. That would be great.

Grated Expectations

(Originally published on MySpace 3/17/06)

I feel like the last one into the discussion, but in case you missed it, or were distracted by the news of Blondie's conniption fit onstage, Miles Davis was inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on Monday evening.  The full cast included Miles, the aforementioned Blondie, Motley Crue, Lynard Skynard and the Sex Pistols (apparently, with Johnny Rotten telling them long distance to f- off.  Aah, punk.)  A motley crew, indeed.  Herbie Hancock presented him, and a Herbie-led band featuring Mike Stern and Wallace Roney played- I'm sure it was cool, maybe VH-1 will even show some of it.  (Side note- Roney freaks me out, always has, always will.  I know it's hard to be a jazz musician, much less a trumpeter, without an obvious bow to Miles, but to be his doppleganger?  At age 40-something?  Sheesh.) 

I don't have much of an opinion on this- it seems an obvious and perhaps overdue add for the HOF, and maybe it'll get some 12-year old tourist from Topeka turned on to Bitches Brew, but otherwise I don't think it matters all that much.  Miles' career and reputation certainly don't need it, and over the past few years a lot of people have been reexamining Miles "rock" era all by themselves.  I visited the actual museum in Cleveland back in '98, and came out rather underwhelmed- the building itself is remarkable and tremendously cool, but the actual museum was underwhelming.  All I remember from it is David Byrne's big suit, and letters home from Janet Joplin and Jim Morrison, which were heartbreaking.  Otherwise, it was a little confused and underrealized- maybe it's improved since then, but the Hendrix museum in Seattle, with less, did more for me. 

Needless to say, this has created some web chatter, well capsulated at be.jazz.  (It seems all you have to do is say "Miles Davis" and you can get people worked up, which is perhaps the greatest complement we can pay him)  Most interesting is what has become a dialogue between The Bad Plus and good friend Darcy, over (what else) evaluating Miles.

Full disclosure- I know The Bad Plus have been the cats meow for a couple of years now (rising just as I was sort of mentally checking out of the scene), and a lot of musicians who I love and respect really dig them, but I just don't get it.  I've heard chunks of both records, and to me it sounds like a pretty good piano trio banging at rock tunes (or originals that sound like rock tunes) then adding intentionally weird-sounding post-production.  Not really moving the music forward on any level, in my opinion.  I want to like it, but haven't found a reason yet.  I'm told they're better live, and hopefully I'll get to see them soon and report back with better news.  (I've been waiting to get that one off my chest for about a year now, but never had the opportunity- can ya tell?)

Now back to the matter at hand.  TBP and Darcy have put together great arguments both ways about the '70s music, so I won't repeat.  Perhaps, however, this isn't the most cogent argument to have about Miles '70s music at all. One of the reasons that people have a hard time with that era of records, particularly from "Live Evil" on, is that we don't have an obvious template to work from in evaluating it.  With all the music that proceeds it in Miles oevre, the whole can only be talked about by its parts- you can't talk about "Sorcerer" or "Milestones" without talking about this piano solo or that drum hit.  I think to some degree you can do that with the '80s music as well.  But the 70's music doesn't operate like that.  I hear it as much more kaliedoscopic- it's fundamentally groove music, with solos indeed, but not ever really about solos, even Miles solos.  TBP mention the famous "James Brown meets Stockhausen" idea, but maybe a better analogy (still imperfect, I know) might be Steve Reich, where you are not so much taken in by any one event as the transformation blooming through all the repitition.  Or, a more modern comparison, Tortoise or Telefon Tel Aviv.  To me, this carries over into the live material caught in that time, "Pangea" and "Agartha"- blowing, such a primary consideration in the '60s, is just one part of the package here.  Or another analogy- it's like reading a Kundera novel.  You follow the plot, and the plot is interesting, but it's not the force driving the novel- the plot exists almost exclusively to unfold and examine the ideas he's playing with.  

That doesn't make necessarily make the bands worse, (thought TBP have a point about Miles suddenly dropping sideman listings) but the musical intent, and the musicians roles, quite different.  (Liebman talks about it himself on the Isle of Wight documentary.)  And I don't think it invalidates the quality of the music at all- that's like saying Stravinsky suddenly sucked when he went twelve-tone.

Note: Mwanji on be.jazz mentions the three Miles electric books out there.  I have read Miles Beyond, and recommend it.  There is some psuedo-Zen psycobabble I could do without, but the interviews with sidemen are great, particularly Pete Cosey and Marcus Miller, and Paul Tingen puts some real work into understanding and explaining how those 70's records were made, which certainly increased my understanding and appreciation.  Also, highly recommended is the aforementioned  Miles Electric: A Different Kind of Blue, a documentary about Miles' gig at the Isle of Wight festival in 1971, including the whole performance.  I could live without Santana's babbling, but a lot of insightful commentary from the musicians, and of course the gig itself.  Check it.

Top 10s

These are old, but haven't completely made the rounds yet. For those of you who don't know, this year my brother, his wife and I have gone from relative homebodies to globetrotters- me sailing along on Cruise Ship X, they as currently Peace Corps volunteers in Kazakhstan. (Don't feel bad, I didn't know where it was either initially.) I like their Top 10 list better, but then I didn't have the benefit of cows.


10. Get paid to watch people make drunken bloody fools of themselves.
9. Exotic places, exotic people, exotic diseases.
8. As one of 25 Americans in a crew of 900, suddenly YOU are the model
7. All bingo, all the time.
6. Ladies, get hit on in more than thirty different languages!
5. Gentleman, get shot down in more than thirty different languages.
4. You get paid in US cash, which makes you feel really safe on foreign
ports of call.
3. Every employee's dream- Bahamian labor law.
2. Eat the same gourmet food as the guests- 2 days later.
1. Free Dramamine.

Top 10 reasons to visit Kazakhstan.

10. If you came to get away from it all, you succeeded.
9. Car lanes are optional here; fulfilling every East Coast driver's dream.
8. All the Chai you can drink.
7. There is nothing like a 30 hour train ride to start your vacation right.
6. Don‚t know about you, but I came for the seasons: winter, summer, and mud.
5. If you like what you had for dinner, you‚ll probably see it again for breakfast. Nothing like a bowl of borsch in the morning to get you going.
4. "Till the cows come home" is between 6 and 7 every night.
3 . With no street lights and plenty of pot holes, speed bumps, and manure, walking home is entertainment itself; no need for alcohol.
2 The term "Rasta-donkey" takes on its full meaning.
1. You flew over 10,000 miles from the US to KZ, and still you are buying stuff made in China.

They also have a blog of their own.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Yoga Baron

I fear BC is in the process of biting the big one- Pacific took then to OT?! Double OT??!! Thankfully, I'm not seeing it live.

Anyhooow, as advertised, I ended up taking not one, but two classes from Baron Baptiste while he was in town this week. For those who don't follow, Baron is one of the ten or so most famous yoga teachers in the country, who owns two studios in Boston, and while he's not been full-time there for several years, he comes to teach every couple of months. His style of teaching combines an amped-up vinyasa flow (similar to Ashtanga primary series, no less challenging, but a little more accessible to most American bodies) and very clear, relatively simple alignment instructions (also studied extensively with Iyengar) with 95 degree heat (for awhile he was Bikram's protege) and a lot of inspirational, self-empowerment talk in class.

I don't mean to sound jaded (especially since someday I'd kill to teach at his studios), but if you read the bio, Baron certainly doesn't aim for subtle, or overly-humble, and it's gotten him into plenty of hot water in the past. Even among those of us who go to his studio a lot, you find plenty of mixed feelings.

That said, he's a great teacher, and I can say the same about 95% the teachers he's trained. His classes are very hard- it's always hotter than normal when he comes, and while he doesn't teach any nutty poses, and rarely does a lot of "hard" poses (crow, natarajasana, etc.), he'll hold a pose for a long time at an unusual spot, and what's normally a very doable practice suddenly takes you to your edge, or your wits end. Which is his idea- one of his little catchphrases (he has many, and for the most part they're ridiculously corny) is that he wants to squeeze you like an orange, so you'll examine you're juice.

I can safely say that on Tuesday, my juice was too much coffee, or what I ate, or something- by about halfway through class I was a raisin shriveled up on the floor. (most likely, the coffee) I was not alone, either- I'd say 25f a very full studio was right there with me. The combination of the heat, the holds, and the flow can be overwhelming. Wednesday, I prepped better, and paced better, and had no problems getting through.

That said, I only went back Wednesday because Tuesday's class kicked my ass so much. On my door on Cruise Ship X, I had a Winston Churchill quote on my door- "When you're going through hell, keep going." I find the more I take that attitude, the better the going gets. Not easier, not more fun, or more successful, necessarily, but better. So I went back. And for me, Baron can be hell, so love it or hate it, I keep going.

A side note- charisma is one of those qualities in people that I'll usually recognize, but never completely understand. One of the things that seperates Baron from so many other teachers is his charisma, but for the life of me I don't know where exactly it comes from. He's obviously in great shape, but isn't physically imposing by any means. His voice is strong, but on the nasal side, and his delivery can be quite affected. His jokes are, to be kind, corny. But, he walks into a room and can hold it completely for two hours. It's truly remarkable.

Okay, that's the last yoga bit for a minute. The Eagles survived a double OT. (actually, so far I'm 3 for 3 picking the games today, including my first correct upset call.) Makes me nervous for Saturday, but it's a lot better than a loss.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006


Since I've been home, I've noticed that I am not nearly as good here about watching and maximizing my breath. Okay, let me back up. Every yoga teacher I've ever had, and ever class I ever teach, emphasizes almost ad nauseum the importance of full, conscious, unfettered breath in class. The breath is three, no fifty times more important than how "deep" you can take any or all of the prescribed postures. And hopefully, you carry that breath into the rest of your life. Really, what's so hard about that- you inhale, you exhale?

For me, what's so hard about that is that when I really breathe, there's no room for anything else. The breath, and maybe the task at hand, and that's it. (He says as three pop-ups come to his screen) No clutter, no distractions, just inhale, and exhale. And that's become frightening. I took a class with the incredible Seane Corn, and of all the things she said, the one that resonated most with me- "We are a culture addicted to our tension." Our tension, our clutter, our distractions. Because then we don't have to DEAL with anything. But the flipside is there's no room to HEAL anything either, or any real possiblity of change.

I love distractions- I've actually gotten a lot better about leaving the TV off, but the web for one is still such a great way to break my brain into a million little pieces. And I'm often caught in the doing mentality- if I'm not in some task, no matter how trivial, or silly, somehow I'm not useful. The ship taught me the great wisdom in doing nothing, now let's see if I can carry it over. And, in case you can't tell, I highly recommended it. Just stop.... and breathe.

On another yoga note- a great, short post from Rodney Yee about our national posture, and an easy way to start dealing with it.

(I warned you, dear readers- all 10 of you- about the yoga. I'm taking class with his eminence Baron Baptiste this week, and will try to report in, and also blog a little about the Yoga Journal conference next month. Humor me.)

Monday, March 13, 2006

Kenny G is like techno (and they're both wretched)

(Originally posted at Myspace on 2/20/06)

EDIT- found the interview I was scraping for, which would be funny if it weren't so wretched. Thanks to Allan Chase at NEC for finding it in the first place

In the past month or so, I've had more than a couple of otherwise reasonable people ask me, upon hearing one of us musicians on Cruise Ship X go into an uncontrollable rage at the mention of Kenny G, "so what exactly is SO wrong with him?" I don't think they were defending him, but they were a little perplexed at the violence of our reaction to even his name.

And on one level, I suppose that is a reasonable question. After all, I've never seen a dancer or choreographer flip at the mention of Paula Abdul, or a painter try to burn a velvet Elvis. (Maybe you do, please ring in here.) But, there is something about Kenny G that seems to turn otherwise reasonable musicians into sociopaths. Are we just jealous of his popularity, or his ability to somehow "connect" with people. Are we jazz Nazis, or unsalvegeable music snobs? Do we want his hair? Why is there so much "hatin' on Kenny G"? (pardon me, that just slipped out)

And, just to make like more interesting, I'll take the infamous Barnes & Noble interview off the table, although that level of ignorance towards music you claim to represent is reason enough.

First- personally, I have no beef with most pop music, even if I don't like all (or even most) of it, I am something of a fan. I read Rolling Stone periodically, and every year at least a couple of albums from Billboard's top 40 shop up in my collection Most musicians in my generation grew up with Nirvana, or Prince, or (insert pop artists here) as important and primary in their heads as Bird or Bartok. I know I did. Any arguments about some musical purism just aren't that interesting or useful. I don't even have much beef with "smooth jazz"- it's another label, which catches some music and musicians I like and/or respect (Grover Washington, Bill Withers, some James Taylor, Stevie Wonder, Kenny Garrett even) and more that I don't. So it's not here to throw out any particular bathtub.

Let's start with the obvious- Kenny G just isn't very good. There are easily a dozen "smooth jazz" saxophonists I can name offhand, and hundreds of more artistically committed players, who can play rings around him- better technique, fuller sound, more interesting songs (I don't much care for most of those folks either, but) Kenny G's soprano sound reminds me of a wounded duck, or an oboe after a night in a crystal meth-induced haze. He can barely string four quarter notes in a row in time, and his technique at this point is limited to a few pentatonic scales he runs up and down before landing on a particularly high note, cringing artfully for maximum effect. Oh, he does circular breathe and play one note for three full minutes, but you can train a monkey to do that. (Circular breathing has actually become almost mandatory for serious classical sax players, so it's not that hard, or unusual, just impressive to the uninitiated.)

But for me, the answer is even more basic- I don't like being manipulated, especially by music, and I deeply resent people who make a huge profit doing it. Kenny G has found a formula- simple melody plus innocuous (usually computerized) backbeat plus blustery pentatonic run equals doctor's office wallpaper, and royalty checks. As a composer, you learn quickly that there is a difference between communicating emotion to an audience and manipulating an emotional reaction. The former is the realm of art, the latter a trick of hackers and charlatans, not a whole lot different than politicians who use code words about welfare cheats or infidels solely to get a crowd fired up.

Side point- I really do think there's a racial element to Kenny G's success, and resentment towards him. Most of the "smooth jazz" players before Kenny G, who were successful but not huge, were black. And now comes this (painfully) white musician, who takes the formula of the Grover Washingtons while removing any of the grit, the soul that that music contained. And when he does even attempt music by a black artist (his Louis Armstrong monstrosity) he picks probably the least threatening, most crossover song ever- "What a Wonderful World". What's next, "Do a Deer? " I think Kenny G success, and the level of bile sent at him, has much to do with the fact that he's white. But that doesn't really change anything.

My sister-in-law knows that if she wants to get under my skin, or get rid of me, all she has to do is play techno music when I'm around. It sends me up a wall- it's paint-by numbers music, tremendously formulaic, thumping beat plus two bar keyboard riff plus (usually female) voice singing a catchphrase about freedom, or dancing, or sex. But worse, to me, it's an anesthetic- watch people dance to it, and it'll literally numb them to a point where they're not capable of any clear thinking reaction beyond simply bouncing along. Probably why it goes well with lab-created hallucinogens and random, meaningless sex. It's not ecstatic music, like Sufi dervish music or some African drumming, or James Brown, it's anesthetic music. And I just can't bring myself to accept a form as powerful and potentially transformative as music should act primarily as a mere painkiller. That's an abuse of a powerful drug.

Furthermore, even techno forces itself to the center of your consciousness (if only by sheer volume); Kenny G is music that invites you to ignore it- "background music". That's its sole purpose in life, to be pleasant, unthreatening, aural wallpaper. And, at a moment where our problems are so urgent, and our future so literally in doubt, the last thing we need is musical Xanax.

So Kenny G is like techno music- it dumbs down, instead of lifting up. It by its mere presence degrades the work, the ambition, and the intention of so many sincere artists. We live in a culture that is far too comfortably numb as it is. We really don't need any help.

So there's my answer to the question none of us ever want to hear- feel free to appropriate at will

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Air Supplies at Sea

Keeping with the postmodern/globilization motif...

It's no secret that these days the US's biggest export may well be it's pop culture- even countries that really hate us wear our blue jeans. But what was interesting to me on Cruise Ship X was exactly that, like anything I suppose, people, and peoples pick and choose what of the shmorgasborg of s**t we send them, and appropriate only certain bits of it. This is natural, even here- country music will never be as big in Massachusetts as it is in Arkansas, and I don't think techno makes the inroads in Montana that it does at the Roxy. But I digress...

It was interesting to see what exactly different peoples grabbed of the American pop world. I don't pretend to know what it means, but maybe you can enlighten me... (warning, the following is a series of overgeneralizations, I know. They're not intended to be all encomapsing, or any kind of character judgement just calling them as I see them. I'm sure there are many exceptions, but just like there is a better than fifty percent chance that your 15 year old sister was gaga over Usher or John Mayer last year, the odds work in my favor here)

The largest single ethnic subset on the boat was Filipino, and God do they love Air Supply. Yup, Air Supply, that bad haired drippy relic of the early eighties. My barber there is Filipino, and when I went to get a haircut the soundtrack was always heavy on Air Supply, with some Peter Cetera and boy band stuff thrown in for good measure. And apparently, it's very masculine there to sing that way; when we would have crew karaoke, they would turn out en masse, singing Backstreet Boys and the like (often better than the original, I would add), and the girls would go nuts, and the guys wouldn't cringe. Us gringos would cringe, and head for the doors, but oh well.

As anyone who went to BU can tell you, the Europeans on board- primarily former Soviet Sattelites, and Italians- love their techno. (Does that even qualify as an American export. God I hope not) And interestingly, the only music I heard in public places on board that wasn't in English or Spanish was some troubador-style ballads in I think it was Hungarian, but it might of been Czech. Big, and blustery. Speaking of Spanish, another surprise to me was how disproportionately big American death metal is in Mexico. It seemed like every block in Cozumel or Playa I would see at least one Mexican guy either going to or coming from work with a Metallica shirt on, or Slayer, etc. I still don't know quite what to make of that.

Why does any one group (again, I know I'm generalizing) grab any one, or that one, aspect of American pop crap? Beats me, but made for some interesting bar talk...

As for me, I'm back safely in my little Bostonian cacoon, listening to Bill Evans. I hadn't realized they'd released the complete Village Vanguard '61 sessions. (Originally on the LP Sunday at the Vanguard). Oh, is it good! And if I ever get nostalgic for the boat, I can always dig up my Air Supply's greatest hits.