Friday, April 28, 2006

Affront

I'm afraid I'm running around Miami today, so not much new stuff. Except to let you know...

A little while ago I added a new old tune to my Myspace, a recording of my tune "Affront" from my recital ages ago, featuring great trombonist Tim Albright. Three years later, I still feel really good about that music, which is unusual, so enjoy. More soon- I'm thinking about doing some solo saxophone stuff here on Cruise Ship X, since I have time and the space. But I need a new mic first.

Finally, I apologize that the links etc continue to be incomplete and poorly organized. HTML code is not my strong suit. Any blogspot people have suggestions? Hopefully by end of next week I'll patch it up.

Current listening- "What Now", Kenny Wheller, via Pandora. Damn I need to get this record.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

fire the canons

On a lark last week, I borrowed New York Times jazz critic Ben Ratliff’s Essential Library of Jazz, 100 record recommendations presented by the grey lady herself. (A side note- there are three keys to my sanity on the ship- yoga, Netflix, and the Miami Public Library) I have been a fan of Mr. Ratliff since I was in college. He was preceded as senior jazz critic at the Times by a guy who was pretty well in Wynton Marsalis and Stanley Crouch’s hip pocket, and probably wrote himself out of a job when he tossed off an above the fold piece calling Wayne Shorter’s very demanding, beautiful “High Life” record a sellout of the highest order. (EDIT: Peter Watrous) Ratliff spilled substantial ink on the scenes in NYC not owned by Lincoln Center when it wasn’t quite so cool to do so, especially the then crucial “What is Jazz” festivals the Knitting Factory did every year. He became must reading for me, then several hundred miles away from NYC both physically and intellectually, and dying to get closer. Ten-plus years later, I still find him knowledgeable, informative and fair, never more so than in this text.

The single biggest battle in jazz and its related musics over the past twenty years has been the attempts to create, formalize and disseminate a canon, some critical mass of “important” music that we want to pass on, much as classical music has done, now ironically as rock and roll is doing with its hall of fame. I think Ratliff has done as good a job as any here, citing the absurdity of the task at the get-go by including a second list of 100 as an appendix. He also laces each individual entry with references to others who are either influences for or influenced by the artist in question. Even when I disagreed with a particular choice I saw his solid rationale, and he went out of his way to include some beautiful, obscure but important material. (Ran Blake and Jeanne Lee’s Newest Sound Around, a Chano Pozo record)

One major quibble- I understand the importance of including recent work in any canon like this, if only to reinforce the fact the music is vital and alive. But I disagreed strongly with nine of his eleven choices after 1995, given the alternatives. Not that they are bad records by any means, or that mine would be any better or more definitive- I think it’s just too soon to judge what is going to “stick” aesthetically. Better to print a “top ten” of the nineties, and call it just that, that try to write “New Directions” or Marcus Roberts “Homage to Duke” into the canon quite yet.

For the record, offhand I would pull the aforementioned two records, plus Abbey Lincoln’s “Who Used to Dance”, Cassandra Wilson’s “Travelling Miles” in favor of Dave Douglas’ “In Our Lifetime”, Michael Cain’s criminally underrated “Circa”, a recent album by Patricia Barber and one more TBA. Also conspicuous by their absence are the Vanguard Band’s “Music of Bob Brookmeyer”, Blakey’s “Moanin”, etc. But as I said, I’m quibbling.)

This book really inspires me to go back and explore some of the recommendations I’m less familiar with- James P. Johnson, the Jelly Roll Hot Pepper Sessions, and Julius Hemphill, to name three. Music I´`ve mostly been exposed to through schooling and liked, but haven´t gotten around to really absorbing. I guess that is the best thing about a canon- it can be a solid palate from which to paint your own aesthetic picture.

It is not, however, the be all and end all of anyone’s taste, nor should it be. Which brings me to this self-flagellating post over at New Music Box. (others have covered it well, but when has that stopped me from opening my mouth? The corresponding response thread is great) It’s rather sad to see this chap paint himselves into an aesthetic corner based on some notion of what he’s “supposed to” like, or understand, or appreciate. It’s also intellectually and emotionally dishonest. It’s another version of dating someone because you like what they represent more than who they are, which I’m sure most of us have done at one point. We love showing her off, but once you are alone together it’s things get a bit dodgier, and often quite uncomfortable. Love is an is, not a should, and that Is is never something to be ashamed of.

I think the role of anyone promoting an aesthetic, be it a critic, composer, artist, whatever, is to highlight a style’s strength, and communicate it’s impact on you, in the hopes that someone else will feel that impact as well. Dictating taste is ultimately an exercise in futility, like trying to tell someone who or how to love. It’s a lot more fun to play Cupid and then let the chips fall.

YJ conference - Seane Corn

More YJ conference blogging, at last… Just what you always wanted. (Okay, just what I always wanted...)

Seane Corn is about as famous as a yoga teacher gets. She counts superstars (Naomi Judge, Flea of the Chili Peppers) among her clients, she was endorsed by Nike at one point, she lives and teaches in LA, has her own DVDs, her classes draw hundreds at a clip, etc, ad nauseum.

My few experiences with famous teachers in any fields is that they are generally worth the hype, but there’s some crap you have to cut through to get to what made them famous in the first place. Seane is a notable exception. (in music, Brookmeyer and Billy Hart stand out here) Her brief introductions to her classes are punctuated by frank discussions of her own history and beliefs (much more soul-baring than most), closer to the kind of hard-won spirituality that you find in a recovering addicts’ monologue than to the esoteric, Sanskrit-laced sermons you sometimes find in yoga. She exudes passion and a sincere, not na├»ve, optimism. The arm of yoga that is dedicated to what would be seen in the west as religious fervor is called bhakti yoga; it’s most often associated with devotional chanting and fasting. Without calling it bhakti, Seane has taken that sacred devotion and fused it into all elements of her teaching, her talking, her poses.

But this class, she claimed, was the least bhakti class she teaches. It’s a flow she says she developed to counteract all the toxins (poor eating habits, sleeping habits, plane air) that accompany all her traveling, and which would often leave her in a bad mood for days after a weekend trip. At the beginning of the class, she invited the class to examine our own toxins, substance-based, physical, and emotional, the things that get in the way of our well-being, and recognize them for what they are. Then she proceeded to wring them out of us physically.

Her idea behind the vinyasa sequence she presented was compression, decompression, twist. We did the same long, demanding flow twice, once keeping everything fairly closed in the body (compression), once lengthening all the muscles we had kept closed before (decompression). Then we did what ranks as the most grueling twist sequence I’ve ever done- five twists on each side, of all varieties, long holds, then the same on the other side. The little work I’ve done with Seane before, either live or on video, was easier than this, and by the end I for one felt like a used sponge. At the end of the class she returned to the examination of self she had invited at the beginning of class; now that we’ve physically let out some of these toxins, can we do the same intellectually, emotionally and spiritually?

I realize writing this that on paper Ms. Corn may come across as a little corny, or a little pie in the sky. One of the chief criticisms of her in yogaville is that she's soft, and not grounded enough in the asana. (I disagree vigorously here; her biomechanics and alignment instructions are as good or better than any teacher I’ve taken with, period) She may well be corny, but that’s one of the things that’s most attractive about her teaching style. There is great power in her deeply felt, unrelenting optimism about the human condition, a power that is contagious. She doesn’t try to guilt, or even persuade anyone to any one course of action; her energy makes you want it for yourself.

EDIT: I did take a third class at the conference, but I'm not going to write it up. It was the end of the day, and everyone was drained, especially the teahcer. I got some good things out of it, and would take with them again, but here I'll go with the if you won't say something nice idea...

Monday, April 24, 2006

Saucy

The bulk of the musicians’ work here on Cruise Ship X (and most ships) is playing for production shows, those big Vegas-style revues with lots of singing, dancing, lasers, glitter, and other shiny things. (The ship designers are very big on shiny things, very big. Maybe they want that glint the ocean gets when the sun hits it right. Which is why they'll only find cheap imitations) Coming back to the shows after a break, I have two main responses. One is, my God they’re tacky. So glitzy, so surface level, so over the top. You block it out after a while, but right now they leave those of us performing them (very good people, singers, dancers, techs who work they’re ass off, and make it as good as it can be) saying, often, “what the HELL were they thinking, putting this in?” Tonight, in what is otherwise a throwback Hollywood revue (i.e. “Singing in the Rain”, “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” kind of stuff) there’s a medley of two really cheesy, over the top 90s power ballads- not quite Journey or Peter Cetera bad, but close- that have no business ever seeing daylight ever again, and are really out of place here. Every time I see it (which is four times a week) I just think, wow this is tacky.

Second thing I was thinking, in both the shows we do (the second is a Broadway revue, ala “Oklahoma”, “Crazy for You”, “Rent” et. al), partially because most of the material is vintage, there is a lot of very saucy material. By that I mean sexual, but in a sly and suggestive way, rather than the in your face pseudo-porn we see today. (There's one spot where the singer, wearing a six-foot high hat/spectacle no less, throws away the line "heating up down south". She understates the delivery and gives just the slightest look. You'll miss it if you're not paying attention, but if you are you melt) In the great traditions of D.H. Lawrence or W.C. Handy, there’s a playfulness to the banter, the jokes dripping with double entendre, and even the stripteases that remind you it’s all in fun. I’m obviously not old enough to remember this stuff when it was the current in pop culture, but I’ve seen enough Groucho Marx, heard enough saucy blues tunes and old radio comedy to know that at one point this was one normal way the culture talked about sex (not universally accepted certainly, but not banned either). Lately we can’t even seem to approach that level of subtlety in talking about sex. Obviously I don’t want to go back to that world, with all its overt sexism, racism, cold war, etc, but I do pine a little bit for a return of the saucy over the smutty, where a couple of throwaway words are a whole lot sexier than a booty-filled rap video, or a techno club.

Current listening- Shirley Horn, “You Won’t Forget Me”, featuring Miles' last studio recording- talk about the pinnacle of subtle, and the opposite of tacky.

Friday, April 21, 2006

dropping bombs

Briefly, I point you again to Mwanji's fascinating jazz blog, where he's been either dropping bombs or picking up other people's grenades and relaunching them. Especially like the bits about Bill Evans haters, and Bird and Dizzy being underappreciated(?). Some of this is stuff I've thought a lot about in the past (was at one point considering doing a DMA program, with the thesis about the evolution of jazz education), and will try to cobble something together this weekend.

Moveon is leading (among other charges) an e-mail petition calling attention to major web providers attempts to create a de-facto "e-mail tax". If it's true, it would cripple the web's ability to be a free open medium. I'm not sure how seriously to take it, but the worst case scenario is pretty awful- the web as another cable TV. Sign their petition here.

Along with a review of Dave Douglas' new disc. I'm on about the third listen...

YJ conference- Anusara workshop

And now (belatedly), back to the Yoga Journal conference. Don't worry, I made most of these notes AT the conference, so I'm not relying solely on memory. Notes on return to ship life on Monday- but so far, no disasters.

My conference began with a two-hour class on backbends. Now, I actually like backbends a lot, but note to self- in the future, backbends first thing in the morning may not be the world’s greatest idea. A week later I’m still feeling a muscle I tweaked. This workshop was in the Anusara style of yoga, a relatively new, very American school of yogic thought pioneered by John Friend, an Iyenger-trained guru who has gained an almost cult-like following by simplifying Iyengar’s alignment teaching into a clear, five-step system, and combining it with a warm, positivist spiritual bent. (Anusara translates as “opening to grace”) The teacher was Desiree Rumbaugh, a senior Anusara teacher based in Phoenix.

Now I know she’s from Arizona, but in person Desiree came across as quintessentially New York Jew, in the good way- witty, a little bit sarcastic and absolutely exploding with energy. She opened by asking where people were with backbends, and what specific personal issues and goals might be, then she briefly introduced Anusara’s alignment system.

We spent the first hour focusing entirely on the shoulders and thighs. Odd for a backbending class? Not really. First, it’s dangerous to go right into backbends without properly warming up. Second, if you stop to think about, say wheel (our target pose), most of the actual work is being done in the upper arms and legs, and the back itself is passive; if it’s working, it’s probably straining something you don’t want to strain.

An Anusara workshop is very easy to follow, because their alignment system means that the teacher is repeating the same four or five instructions over and over again, in every pose. Here, draw your leg and arm muscles in towards the center of the body and roll your shoulders down your back towards the heart (called inner spiral), then send the muscles in your upper arms and legs (and often sitbones) away from each other (called outer spiral). There’s more, but I don’t want to screw it up. And it can get a little tedious to hear the same thing thirty thousand times, but the beauty of the system is that it really works. As we got further in, and the poses got more involved (hanumanasana, aka splits, king pigeon pose, and finally wheel or dwi pada viparita dandasana), the instructions stayed remarkably similar, and the body was able to assimilate these same ideas as it moved into more challenging scenarios.

And it moved- I think Anusara teachers pride themselves on the “aha” moments students get in their workshops. I didn’t have one, but I saw a couple of people achieve poses they had never been in fully before. And it has definitely changed the way I do backbends- the alignment instructions left me with a much better idea of how the back should feel in backbends, with a real evenness through the back, and a feeling of expansion all the way through the bend. (Imagine a slinky expanding down a staircase rather than paper being folded) One workshop down, and so far so good. Except for that tweak...

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Cozumess

Greetings again from Cozumel, Mexico. On my first contract on Cruise Ship X, we used to come here quite often. It´s very popular with crew- easy and cheap to get around, nice beaches, lots of amenities, and a heavy party vibe. Then Hurricane Wilma hit, and pummeled the place, and I haven´t been back since. I think we in the US had hit disaster fatigue from Katrina (well, that and we´re pretty damned myopic), so it didn´t get too much press, and what it did get focused on the tourists stuck in Cancun. (see aforementioned American mypoia) So here I am. Time and money constraints will keep me from downtown, but I can tell you what I see.

Coming back is a testament both to the power of the storm and the resiliance of the islanders. There used to be six-plus cruise ship ports, and a three block long duty-free shop as you came in. Now, there´s one makeshift port (my ship is using tender boats to get people to the island), and all that´s left of the du-free is bits of the foundation snapped off like twigs and sticking out of the ocean. There are thick palm trees that had their whole upper halfs snapped off everywhere. I could go on, but I what´s equally amazing to me is how much is here. There are still a lot of shops, bars and restaraunts at the port, and there is construction everywhere. And as always, there´s somebody selling you something everywhere you look. I know it´s entirely a tourist town, so I understand that all of this comes from necessity, but it´s still something to see. And this place is a loooong way from back together yet.

That said, hurricane season starts in July- keep your fingers crossed.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

moving day

Well, today is moving day... again. Fly to Philly, then Miami. Hopefully, productive writing time. In the meantime...

Darcy brings the Secret Society, NYC's preeminent steampunk band, to the Bowery Poetry Club, this time with (well-deserved) big NYC press leading the way. I'm bummed I can't be there, seeing as I'll be somewhere on the Gulf of Mexico, but that doesn't mean you can't go. Highly recommended. (Also some neat stuff from Neko Case about pitch correction- will comment there soon.)

For those of you who want to send Easter cards, love letters or bomb threats, please forward them to:

Pat Donaher
123 SE 3rd Ave #474
Miami, FL 33131

Or just e-mail them.

EDIT: Travelling music is:

Ron Miles Trio
Jennifer Kimball- Oh Hear Us
Thelonious Monk plays the Music of Duke Ellington
Ebenhart Weber- Later That Evening
Jaco Pastorius- Word of Mouth, my favorite vision of Miami

See you in the tropics...

EDIT: I don’t know anyone who really likes to fly- dealing with the airport, the lines, plane air, the cramped seats, etc… I don’t either. But today was a picture perfect day- clear blue skies, and a flight path that gave us a great view of Boston in the spring. The dome at MIT is shining in the sun, and the quad there is a green that looks more like June than April, you can almost feel the buzz from Fenway even from so far up- the Sox are home today, and the edges of the park are a sea of red and blue dots from this far away. And (seemingly) right behind it there is an empty diamond, inviting the faithful to a game of their own. The fountain at the Monitor center, the waterfront, and on, and on. I live in a great city, one I miss when I leave, and sometimes being 5,000 feet above it reminds me of that.
I also lucked out on the airport lines.

Friday, April 14, 2006

nuggets

I'm now in full preperation mode for my return to Cruise Ship X- fly to Miami Sunday, join up Monday. (Actually, it's not exactly the same ship, but it's close enough. And Cruise Ship X sounds so much better than say, ship R.) While I don't think anyone much enjoys packing, one pleasant chore has been to transfer a lot of my CDs to a hard drive I just bought. I doubt I'll actually get to all this music in the next few months, but at least it's there, and not sitting back in Boston. The pleasant part has been hearing music I haven't heard in many, many moons- I started with a pile of CDs that represent my first three years or so of playing and buying music, so some have fallen by the way. So there's an unintentional mini-autobiography in there. Some highlights (I'll spare the obvious, like anything by Bird or Miles, which is obviously killin')

Andrew Hill- Point of Departure

I bought this in college because it was one of those records you "should" own, and Joe Henderson is on it. I get a lot more out of it now- Hill was so far ahead of his time, in merging form and free esthetics, in comprehending Monk (without copping him), and in how he wrote (writes, really) rhythm. Once again, Dolphy makes my head spin like a top every time he takes a solo. One caveat- I don't dig Freddie Hubbard on this record. Or on any freer stuff, actually- Free Jazz, Om, Out to Lunch. It seems like as brilliant as the trumpet playing is in spots, he's struggling to figure out how he fits. By contrast, I listened to a bit of Blakey's "Three Blind Mice Live" record, with Wayne, Fuller, etc, and he tears the roof off. On the flip side, there's Tony, God, Tony Williams...

Kronos Quartet- Black Angels (current listening)

One of the first "modern classical" records I ever bought. Scares me to this day... I've read in the past that they're kind of bored with the way they've been pigeonholed, and want to go back and record some Beethoven or something. I'm sure they'd be amazing there too. Also reminded of their recording of the complete Schnitke String Quartets, which are brilliant, brilliant pieces.

Nguyen Le- Miracles

Nguyen is a Vietnemese guitar player who I believe lives in France now. I wish we heard more of him stateside- he is a fantastic player and composer. Here he has a great American band- Art Lande, Marc Johnson and Peter Erskine- playing all his tunes. I used to play the title track with a band in NYC.

Charlie Haden- Ballad of the Fallen
Myra Melford- Above Blue

I remember loving both these records, and highly recommend them, but they're a little scratched, and the damn computer won't read them! AAARGH. Sorry, had to get that out. I could go with many more records, but but uno mas...

Clifford Brown and Max Roach- At Basin Street East

I'm not much of a bop trumpet-head- they are a particular breed- so I don't know if this is true or just my perception, but I have no idea why this record isn't talked about more when discussing Clifford. Gets lost behind the Memorial Album and Study in Brown, for some reason. Why it deserves your ears- you have Brown and Roach at a peak of their playing, and a fast-developing Sonny Rollins tearing it up as well. It's mostly standards, and a few Richie Powell tunes; the energy is ferocious from top to bottom- sometimes I think something in my stereo is going to explode from Max's playing. A lesser known gem.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

How many yogis does it take...

On Sunday I joined about 1400 other folks at a big hotel in Back Bay for a yoga conference- classes, workshops, shopping, all things yoga. I’ll talk about specific workshops later, but for now some general impressions. (I’ll also try to follow only one train of thought at a time, hence the footnotes.)

A life spent primarily around musicians (in New York in particular) and then on a cruise ship can definitely dull one’s response to the surreal, but Sunday morning did sharpen it up a bit. At the same facility as the yoga conference (a fairly sterile hotel/convention center combo) was a conference of medical laser specialists and some kind of kiddie cheerleading competition [1], so you would be alternately passing men in long robes and headdresses, middle aged women with yoga mats on their shoulders wearing that post-exercise sweat glow, very uptight-looking guys in three piece suits[2], and ten-year olds wearing short, short cheer uniforms with bulldogs (I think) painted on their faces. At nine in the morning. Oh, and right outside was a big Italian saints-day parade, with little brass bands warming up next to paper-mache floats decorated with plaster statues. Add a couple of midgets and I think you had a David Lynch film right there…

My work has never forced me to do many conference-type junkets, save the IAJE, but they’ve always struck me generally as schmooze-fests, where you go to see and be seen and then if you’re dumb lucky you learn something. As a musician, I’m in a business where networking is everything, all the time, so it’s refreshing to go to a conference where it’s well down the list of priorities. Most of the people here- young, old, men, women (mostly women), black, white, brown, yellow (mostly white) [3]- were really there for themselves, to improve their practice and/or their teaching, and to get inspired. The vibe of the place was overwhelmingly warm and positive, all heartfelt. That in itself is quite remarkable. There certainly is a power in positive intention, and moving that intention into practice, really any kind of practice, and it was certainly present there. The challenge, as many speakers noted, is to move it beyond the conference.

Individual class notes soon…

[1]- I have very few “if I were king” kind of wishes, mostly ‘cause I don’t want to be king, but abolishing organized cheerleading is definitely one of them. Watching these kids, and the parents and other various hangers on, and all the DRAMA, was downright disturbing, especially contrasted to all the fairly placid yogis and yoginis floating around them. Girls no more than 13, and probably mostly younger, are popping dolled up like Brittney Spears, very bare midriffs, very short skirts, way too much makeup, bouncing around to music that is (almost) explicitly about sex. There’s no way you can tell me this is healthy for a kid, no @&*%ing way. I’m sure there are a few girls who find camaraderie, boosted self esteem, etc, but there’s many more who are damaged by a rather twisted sense of body image, all the peer pressure, and the fact that you are celebrating being the backseat attraction to the usually boys sports team. (As I was going up the stairs, a girl near me looked at the cheerleaders and thought out loud “it took me five years of therapy to deal with THAT.” ‘Nuff said. Let’s chuck it completely, encourage these girls to dance, or play a real sport, or take yoga, and let the loud kids in the face paint lead the cheering at the games- they do a better job anyway…

[2] I think everyone needs to go to one of these medical junkets, just to see another example of how messed up the American health care system is. The vendors’ area was huge- bigger than every room the yoga conference was using combined- and full to the gills with various medical device and drug companies pushing their product, and doling out freebies. And who pays for it, ultimately- you guessed it- us. I think the FDA allowing drug companies to advertise will go down as one of the most catastrophic mistakes the government has made in the last thirty years. (And that’s saying something.)

[3] God these notes are getting cranky. This conference, and the yoga community in general, is overwhelmingly white, upper-middle class, and female. I’m not the first one to note this, but I echo the cry that this is ultimately a problem that needs to be addressed by the community. Let me speak specifically about gender, since I’m most comfortable here. For whatever reason, yoga initially caught on in the States with women. (Kind of ironic, since for hundreds of years in India women were forbidden from practicing.) And as yoga has gotten bigger (now a multi-billion dollar industry), it has rode the horse that brung it, so most of the marketing is towards women, and the public perception of yoga is that it’s a “girly” thing.

This is neither entirely true nor entirely untrue. Yoga is ultimately a spiritual discipline to encourage self-discovery and wholeness, and certainly your race, gender and sexuality will eventually find their way into any such process. But hopefully, to reach a place of wholeness- in yoga called Samadhi, you will transcend those monikers. And physically, there is enough strength work in yoga to challenge the strongest person, and enough stretching work to challenge the most flexible. And, unlike just about any other form of exercise, the two must work hand in hand- Handstand, considered a strength pose, doesn't work unless you can get full extension in your arms and pull your shoulders down your back, for instance.

I wish yoga could and would do more to invite men in- both physically and spiritually there is much yoga offers that is missing in both men’s fitness and men’s spirituality in this country. I’m not alone here, at least on the physical end- last year Peter King’s preseason column had an anonymous quote from a NFL GM saying that all NFL coaches should demand that their players take yoga to avoid some of the devastating joint and muscle injuries they are seeing in abundance. Tom Brady, no girlie man, raves about power yoga. Spiritually, yogic philosophy, and even an asana practice, creates a space that is a blank slate, where the goal is not more reps or bigger muscles, but an honest look at where you are physically and emotionally, and an invitation to open up to grace in that moment. We all need that. I don’t have a solution, but I’d like to see more done about it. (Oddly enough, on cruise ship X, 80% of my consistent yoga students were guys. None American. Go figure.)

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Opening Day

A quick detour today, if you'll indulge me. The yoga stuff is coming, I promise, but taking longer than I'd anticipated. Someone who doesn't much know his ass from his elbow needs to be careful if he's talking about human anatomy...

For the non-Bostonians, today is perhaps the second most important day on our fair city's calendar- the home opener of the Boston Red Sox. (Patriots Day/Marathon Monday, six days from now, wins the number one spot.) A secular holy day. (he says, sitting in a windowless office with no radio) I literally can't stumble three feet here in collegeville today without hitting someone with a Sox World Series champion hat, or a Varitek t-shirt, or a Shilling jersey on. And it's not just here, it's anywhere within fifty miles. I guarantee that 90% of them won't be within two miles of Fenway today- we just care that much.

I remember in high school our eighth period teacher would hold our attention by promising a score in five minutes. (This was an all-male school, and I did the same thing during the playoffs when I taught there) Last summer in Key West I was approached more than once by very scraggly guys who'd obviously been drinking since, oh, 1978, just because they saw a Sox hat and wanted to know last night's score. There have been literally millions of trees pulped talking about Red Sox fever, and still they'll never completely do it justice. And this year, with a new 1A ace in Beckett, a new leadoff hitter (Coco Crisp- how can you not love that name?) and a promising young closer (Paplebon), we think we can win it all again. (Of course, they could send nine legless monkeys out there, and we'd think they could win it all. At least for a week, then we'd start griping about the manager...)

A few years ago, I wrote a suite of music called (still tentatively, until I can come up with something catchier) The Baseball Suite. Somewhere I have a recording of "Opening Day", actually the second number. ("Spring Training" comes first, of course) I should dig it out and post it, just for the occasion. Because today is Opening Day, Boston is buzzing, and at least for a few hours anything is possible.

Postscript 1: Key West reminded me of something I've been meaning to get off my chest- I found out that the current edition of MTV's the Real World is set in Key West. To call anything in Key West "The Real World", even on MTV, is idiocy. It insults the real world (wherever that is), and it insults Key West. Key West is many things, but the real world certainly ain't one of them. More on this after I start to visit Key West again.

Postscript 2: Dave Douglas' new quintet album, Meaning and Mystery was released today via his webstore, and I'm looking forward to hearing it. Donnie McCaslin replaces Chris Potter in the group, which should make for an interesting change- certainly not an upgrade, more a Youkalis for JT Snow shift- one gives you more glove and oomph, one more times on base. Okay that's a forced analogy- they're both great, very different players. And please, don't ask me which one has a better OPS...

Monday, April 10, 2006

Billy Hart

Tons to talk about today, which means I won't get to most of it. Most of my weekend was wrapped up at the aforementioned Yoga Journal conference, which was great, and I'll get to in depth soon. (Again, I recommend their blog, especially the video coverage, which is still breathtaking, despite its mediocre quality. None of the classes I took are in that blog, so it'll at least seem fresh) But that takes time and brainpower, so I'll start with the easy stuff. Darcy beat me to the coolest of the music buzz- live Radiohead online! So:

The great drummer Billy Hart finally has his own website, focused on his current quartet, which conveniently is at the Vanguard in New York this week. (If I make it to New York, you can be sure I'll be there.) The site features a fantastic long interview with Billy by his (and The Bad Plus') pianist Ethan Iverson, as well as soundclips from a (hopefully) forthcoming album. I've haven't given the interview a thorough read, butI'm already enthralled. (via TBP)

I personally think that Billy Hart is one of the most underappreciated musicians in the history of jazz. And I know that Bill Dobbins, Charles Gayle and Michael Cain, for starters, agree with me. (I can't think of three more disperate jazz musicians offhand) He's played with damn near everyone, in damn near every "bag", since he hit the scene in the late 50s. He is an innovator in his own right- check him in Herbie Hancock's seminal Mwandishi band, and a walking history of jazz percussion (see said interview). On top of it, he is one of the sweetest human beings you'd ever want to meet, quiet, kind, friendly and deeper than the Pacific.

I was exceedingly lucky that Billy started teaching at NEC my last year there. I never got to work with him, but we were on a "hi, hello" basis, and a couple of times I got him talking just a little. I was completely knocked out just by those few interactions, and the couple of little stories he told. And interestingly enough, given his background and playing, apparently he spent a lot of time with his drum students teaching old- pre-Baby Dodds old- second line New Orleans beats, trying to get them to really intertalize and nail that stuff.

Since many of us in the music community spent last week recognizing two great musicians upon their death, it's good to spend some energy on musicians living, vital and active.

Critic's side note: listen to the sound clip of Mark Turner's solo on Moments Notice, the old Trane tune. I tell you, on first hearing, I haven't been that excited about a jazz cover since Frisell mutilated Madonna's "Live to Tell". And the way Ethan, Billy and bassist Ben Street play behind him, it's like they channeled The Bad Plus and took their hatchets to a jazz tune. (That's a good thing) And they ride that energy through the first chorus, and it's exciting, and it keeps going, and it builds, and then, then... eight bars into the second chorus Mark decides he needs to be a "jazz musician", and goes into robotenor mode, playing the crap out of the changes, running headlong in the opposite direction of the first chorus. AAAARGH! (I was interested, I was very interested, I was VERY interested, and suddenly...) Mark, if you're going to go, GO, all the way! Don't halfass it like that.

Read any jazz magazine and they'll tell us (rightly) that Mark Turner is one of the sharpest, smartest, most adept young jazz tenor players in the world, (and right now there are a lot of sharp, smart, adept young jazz tenor players). Note to Mark- you don't need to prove it to us every time out of the gate. And kill a great cut in the process. I'm sorry to single this out- I have no particular beef with Mr. Turner, really, but it's a frustrating pattern in the "jazz" I hear these days; great players who start to do great, creative playing, that then strangle themselves in some notion of how jazz is "supposed to" sound. We don't need any more great "jazz", but we sorely need great music.

Billy sounds great the whole way, though...

Also- now, for something completely different, Gary Willis' Op-Ed piece in the NY Times this morning. A very brash, thought-provoking piece. Definitely worth the read. Hope to get to it later.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Recap and YJ conference

First, thanks to the folks who braved a very soggy night to come out to the Lily Pad- I hope you had as much fun as we did. And thanks to Evan, Nicole and Thor for playing so brilliantly. That was the first time I was in the Lily Pad in its new incarnation, and a nice space is even better now.

Tomorrow I will be attending the Yoga Journal conference in Boston, and will blog about it here soon thereafter. For interested parties, my schedule:

Desiree Rumbaugh (Anusara teacher)- Backbends class
Seane Corn- "Detox Flow"
Tias Little- Yoga for Immune and Lymphatic Health

I know, they sound so exciting. For those interested, YJ is also posting a blog, along with bios, photos, video, etc. Namaste.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Pat Donaher 4- Lily Pad, Cambridge, 4/7 10pm

One last word from the department of shameless self-promotion:

Pat Donaher 4
Nicole Rampersaud- trumpet
Evan Halloin-bass
Thor Thorvallson- drums

Today (Fri.) 10pm, Lily Pad,
Imnam Square
People's Republic of Cambridge

I was tempted to do a Ran and show the whole program, but we're likely to change it on the fly. It will almost certainly feature:

"Pacheo" and "Tunji's Trip", my contributions to the show. Both inspired by friendly neighborhood yoga teachers.
"Last Call Blues" by Nicole, a reference to our fair city's Puritanical 2am bar closing.
"Zelzah", byJames Carney. I need to do a whole post to rave about Jim. He's an amazing composer/pianist/friend when one of us remembers to call.
"Regrets" by Evan
other draft picks to be named later.

I promise, no laughing yoga. But you're allowed. So come out, tell your friends, tell your adversaries, and thanks.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Snows in April

Sometimes it snows in April. No, not the Prince song, it really does. I had to drive down to a meeting in Marshfield (35 miles south of Boston) this morning, and I couldn't see twenty feet ahead because of these big, wet snowflakes. The first and only moment since I've been home that I missed Miami. (Of course, when it's 100 and sticky there in July, I'm sure I'll pine for the snow.)

Meanwhile, back in cyberville, a couple of quickies:

Downbeat has posted and old first-person by Wayne Shorter. Anything I've ever seen from Wayne, either in print of the few interviews I've seen. (If you get a chance, check out the Joni Mitchell documentary he's on- Wayne is the kicker on an already great special. And there's Joni and Don Alias footage.) They're always this amazingly, well, loopy. And I mean that literally, not as in "nuts" loopy. He never answers a question in a straight line.

I loved the opener of Garrison Keilor's column in Salon today:

"Columnists should not write about politics. Take it from me, it's a bad idea. You pick up your bright sword to harass the heathen Republican and your prose style goes limp, your verbs droop, and words such as "comprehensive" and "funding" creep in and you become thin-lipped and hissy, like Miss Whipple in study hall telling the boys in the back of the room to shape up or be sorry. Well, they aren't going to shape up. What will shape them up is the day of reckoning and it's not here yet."

The rest isn't bad either. Sometimes we need to be reminded that this too, shall pass.

So scram, already, go do something beautiful. (Well, unless it's snowing where you are.) We'll still be here when you get back...

file under: other

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Tuesday's flotsam

Random thoughts for Tuesday morning. (I would've done this yesterday, but I was too distracted by Opening Day. And the Red Sox even won. Sports Guy has it covered.)

- A follow up to yesterday's post. I took class with David Vendetti, who gave me that, ahem, oddball yoga link in class amid other gems. It was the first time I'd gotten to take with him since I've been home, and it was fantastic. He has a natural lightness in his teaching, complemented by an almost encyclopedic knowledge of human anatomy, and yoga mechanics, history, and practice. It was a very challenging set of poses, but I always felt like I was floating, even when I was falling on my head. Highly recommended to any and everyone. (I'm not the only one, Boston Magazing voted him Best of Boston last year.)

- Current listening- Broken Social Scene, excerpts from "feel good lost". Disclaimer- I really don't have much of a taste for most of what loosely falls into "alt-rock". I reflexively call Belle and Sebastian "Belle and SadBastard" (thanks John Cusack). I feel like a lot of it's an in joke and I'm out. So if you generally like it, do ignore me anytime I bring it up. That said, I'm like what I'm hearing here- all instrumental, very unpretentious and understated, with just enough odd sounds to keep you engaged. If I ever have another house party, this is definitely part of the soundtrack, just about 1 am. And temping in collegeville, a tune called "Love and Mathematics" feels just about right.

Side note- what is up with RealPlayer? How is it that Darcy, and a myriad of others can, on their own, get a live recording to the web sounding nearly studio quality, and one of the digital economy's 800 pound gorillas makes studio music sound like it's on an AM radio? I don't get it. Not at all.

- Speaking of web music, Boston Globe reported yesterday that the remaining big labels are trying to change the ITunes price structure, making new singles more expensive and older recordings cheaper. Just when you thought record execs couldn't get dumber...

"Last fall, Edgar Bronfman Jr., chief executive of Warner Music Group Corp., suggested that Apple should allow different download prices for songs and even give the labels a cut of iPod sales."

Let me get this straight, you release the new DreamyBoys crap album instore for $10 in the first week, basically forcing retailers to take a hit to sell it, while at the same time making it MORE expensive online, biting the digital hand that saved your ass online (ITunes), and gambling that the extra 10 cents you'll make on that download will offset the buyers you're driving to retail (where you make less profit) or, more likely, less legal means of getting the music. Oh, and I doubt the artists sees any extra cash. A lose, lose, lose scenario... in other words record companies behaving as usual. And are you going to start asking for a cut of every boom box too, just because?

I think the only way we could have a less competent federal government at present would be to let record executives run it.

- On a happier note, come support independent musicians locally...

Olu Dara, loft trumpeter in the 70s, now sly, smart roots singer in the oughts, but best known as Nas' dad, comes to the Regattabar on Friday and Saturday nights. Tickets are damned expensive (a sad trend since the Blue Note club took over the R), but he's worth it. If you can't make it, hear him here, via the radio station we all wish was in our city, KCRW.

Callithumpian Consort, Steve Drury's great Boston contemporary music group, presents "SEX AND VIOLINS", featuring Reich's "Violin Phase", solo pieces by Bartok and Berio, and improvisations. Friday, 7:30, Lily Pad.

Then hang out there for yours truly and the quartet at 10pm.

PROGRAM NOTE: Unfortunately, blogger doesn't have a native "category" section like typepad does, and I dearly want one. So, at the end of each post I'll put a "File under", and hopefully later sort things accordingly. Stay tuned...

file under: yoga, music, goto gigs

Monday, April 03, 2006

Laughing Yoga

Yup, Laughing Yoga. Thanks to David for the link.

And then us yogis wonder why people think we're a little strange...

file under
: yoga

Ran Blake & Charles Gayle at Killian Hall, 4/1

At once, you always and never know what to expect from a Ran Blake performance. On the one hand, Ran is very particular about how he wants a performance to look and feel; so there was a program on every chair of Killian Hall, and on his entrance the room went black, and the performance continued in darkness. On the other hand, while there is a very specific program, you're lucky to recognize half the tunes on it- they fly by quickly, often under the radar, in a haze of dense harmonies, clusters, flourishes and tender touches. He also surprised the audience with a brief interview/explanation before the set, talking a little about the various tunes and composers, and his relationship to them. Tonight Ran packed ten tunes into a dense thirty-five minute set. There was also a short encore of (I think) "Strange Fruit" and (I know) "Misty".

This was Ran at his best- dark, cerebral, evocative and funny all at once. He opened with a short rendition of one of the themes of Shostakovich's Second Symphony, darker than a Russian December. By contrast, two neo-coutry tunes, "This Will All Seem Funny" by Boston songwriter Steve Mardon, and "All That is Tied", Jonah Kraut's song that serves as the title tune of his new record, brought out a brightness in his playing that I don't often here- he didn't stray far from the major key harmonies, and the melody and lilt of the originals was happily present without being cloyingly obvious. "Misty", in the encore, was a gem; this warhorse was at once completely recognizable and brand new, and a smiling end to a joyful performance.

The time change and a morning rehearsal kept me from seeing much of Charles Gayle's set, but what I heard was really, really good. Knowing only his saxophone playing, I expected big, Cecil Taylor-esque volleys of sound. What I got was certainly forceful, but very refined and subtle. There was an element of (harmonically abstracted) boogie-woogie in the left hand, and his right hand favored clear, one-line melodies, darting in and out impishly. I wish I could've heard more.

file under: music

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Don and Jackie Mac

As many of you have probably heard, both Don Alias and Jackie MacLean passed away this week. Darcy has posted the details, and a ton of good links. EDIT: worth its own link is an interview with Don, mostly about how he went from Nina Simone's band to "Bitches Brew". Real Audio needed.

I have to be honest- I never really checked Jackie Mac out that much, for a number of reasons I won't go into, one sheer laziness. Now, I will go back, particularly to the mid 60s stuff with Grant Montcur et al. That said, my high school girlfriend, now a classical trumpeter in New York, went to Hartt, where Jackie taught, and always had nothing but the warmest things to say about him, his students, and the work he did there. He left a long line of very solid players in his wake, including bassist Nat Reeves and saxophonist Jimmy Greene. He was a great gift to the city of Hartford, a place that could use a few more such people. He will be sorely missed.

Don is a terribly underappreciated player. The breadth, and depth, of his work as a sideman, from Miles to Jaco to Joni to Steely Dan to Jack to James Taylor (James Taylor?!) is truly amazing. (JazzCorner's thread includes a partial discography, which is mindblowing) When I heard the news, I thought, he is in many ways the first of the second wave of great Latin percussion players to "cross over" into jazz and pop musics. (Machito and Dizzy's compadres in the 50's being the first wave, Airto and others followed.) I never met him, but was fortunate enough to be working with Michael Cain at Eastman when he was touring with Don in Jack DeJohnette's band. Mike would tell us stories he got from Don- stories of Miles, of Joni (his wife in the 70's), of other musicians- that were beautiful, side-splitting, and so illuminating. I got a picture of a warm, jovial, beautiful human, the kind of person the world needs many more of right now. I didn't know him, and I already miss him. My favorite Don is with Joni- "Dry Cleaner..." from Mingus and "Dreamland" from Shadows and Light, but that's really the tip of the iceberg.

Gentlemen, thank you and onward.

file under: music, RIP