Monday, October 30, 2006

I certainly wasn't ready

For the beginnings of Monday Night Football. For those who've never seen it (or couldn't care less), country pop legend Hank Williams starts every broadcast singing a cute little ditty with the tagline "Are you ready for some football?" It got popular, and each year it gets a little more produced, and a little more surreal. Until...

I'm watching MNF for the first time this year, since the hometown Patriots are playing (and winning, I might add). The intro for this year features Williams, his longtime fiddle player, Stevie E and Clarence Clemmons from the E Street Band, Joe Perry of Aerosmith, drummer Questlove, and (wait for it...) Little Richard. And is that Flavor Flav??

HUNH? Every week it seems my surreal-o-meter needs to be recalibrated...

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Destination Brooklyn

(I know this is a little slow in coming, but I got home from NYC in time to start apartment hunting, which ate my life this week. But it's over for now, I think)

I never know quite what to expect in a visit to New York anymore. I'd like to hear from others in who used to be New Yorkers, but are no longer, but I think it's a very different experience than a tourist or a rookie who's looking to move there. There's the excitement of being THERE, but also the nostalgia that comes with visiting any old haunt, and the feeling of being an anachronism- they put that THERE? (Case in point, the newish shiny Chase building at Cooper Union, and the scaffolding and red brick where CB's used to be.) I actually enjoyed this trip more, partially because I don't have any plans to live there again soon, and I don't feel quite so attached to any particular idea of New York. It's nice to come, and nice to leave again.

That said, some highlights. I stayed with old, old friend Tim Kiah, who as I write this is on his way to Europe on tour with Roy Nathanson's new project, a 4-star in Downbeat project no less. (Side note, if you had asked anyone who knew us as teens who of the five NYC-bound musicians at my high school who would stick, I guarantee Tim would've been #4 at best. We're all gone, and he's still there; goes to show you.) We had a great time catching up, and enjoying his great new apartment in Brooklyn. I also sat in with Citigrass, the "urban bluegrass band" he anchors. The "urban" part is covering tunes by Def Leppard, the Pointer Sisters, and Sisquo in a bluegrass style. I took an extended alto solo on the "Thong Song", trading 4s with the fiddle player. Even after eight months on the boat, that ranks as the most absurd musical experience I've had all year. That said, they all play great, and the music, food and company was a lot of fun.

Sunday night it was off to Park Slope to catch James Carney at his own Konceptions series at Bar 4, tonight in trio with Dan Weiss and Chris Lightcap. The bar itself is a nice, cozy place with good beers on tap and a little stage in front. (It also hosts a monday night series run by old friend and up and coming guitar player Mike Gamble.) I am an enormous fan of Jim's compositions, and he is a great pianist, facile and smart, so the gig was a pleasure. I think, though, I am a jinx on Jim; every time I go to one of his gigs, I seem to be one of six people or so, and last night was no exception, sadly.

Other highlights included the Union Square Farmers Market, which even so late in the season was teeming with people and great food, a visit with relatives I haven't seen in several years, and my first trip to Jikvamukti Yoga (that gets its own post later). Side note: Union Square has become yoga central in New York, with both Jivamukti and Prana Yoga, featuring Baptiste protege now rival Rolf Gates, Om Yoga, and a few other wmaller entries within eight blocks of each other. No lack of down dogs...

For those interested, the playlist for the journey was:

Ngyuen Le: Dancing on the Tiger's Tail (this one will get it's own post)
The Police: Message in a Box
Telephon Tel Aviv: Map of What is Effortless
Johnny Cash: American V: A Hundred Highways (via Tim)
Bill Frisell: Further East, Further West
Booker Little: Booker Little & Max Roach

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

New York is (finally) Now

After a month of procrastinating and delaying, I'm (finally) headed down to New York for a quick visit this weekend. The current plan is to hang with old friend Tim Kiah , maybe catch his band CitiGrass, and Sunday night hear the great and underappreciated James Carney at Bar4 in Brooklyn, and maybe catch the Evan Parker solo show at Stone. Saturday night is still open- haven't seen anything I like so far. Suggestions for musical ingestion are greatly appreciated.

Sleep talking

Okay, back to the spaceways...

Ethan Iverson put up a great post explaining Ornette and harmelodics as he understands them. This is the clearest explanation I've seen in fifteen years of grappeling with that music. Thanks Ethan. He also puts in a guest spot on Destination Out about the wonderful, criminally underappreciated Henry Threadgill. (I think Henry is going to get a lot of love at

I am reading "Future Jazz" by Howard Mandel right now. Or, I should say I'm reading the stuff that interests me; I have a hard time devoting an hour of my life to David Murray, or Roy Hargrove interviews. There's a conversation with James "Blood" Ulmer in there about harmelodics that's interesting, and revealing. Ulmer seems to be one of those few musicians who really grasped harmelodics as something that he could use. I will try to find more and report back.

One last thought on the Brubeck/Mwanji/Ornette strain of thoughts: I was taken back to a conversation in a jazz history class, where the teacher read a page of a very theoretical breakdown of a Louis Armstrong track from Gunther Schuller's Early Jazz, followed by a quote from Armstrong talking about his own music. To say there was a stylistic disconnect would be an enormous understatement; to me at least the Schuller, while accurate, sounded tremendously silly. It seemed to see all the veins on the leaves but miss the forest. I felt the same way about the Brubeck post. (And certainly, he's not alone in this by a long shot). If he had spent a little longer thinking about Ornette's larger method and intent, instead of getting hung up on if he plays sharp or plays the changes, then maybe we'd have something to talk about.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Freedom Fries

Destination Out strikes again- A Beginner's Guide to Free Jazz, complete with a playlist to go along, covering several critical "strains" of the music. (The links they mention are great as well, particularly the "Common Misconceptions" link, aka the "why should anyone but jazz nerds give a rat's ass."

One of the cool things about a list like this, complete with useful commentary, is it lets me take a step back and hear with someone else's ears. I love "Rated X", but would never think of it as "proto-punk noise". Pre-jungle, psycho acid-trip funk, absolutely, but punk? But when you listen through their explanation, that makes perfect sense.

I would quibble that Ornette, father of the genre, is not represented, but as I said, I quibble. Thank you gentlemen.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Why Patty can't Blog

I know the title stinks, but I don't know why Johnny can't read. (NOTE: please don't ever, ever, EVER call me Patty in real life. I know I look scrawny, but I have my methods, and my pacifism, while extending to various Korean, Afgan and even American religiofascists- and Kenny G fans- has its limits, and that's one of them.)

A couple of weeks ago Dave spilled the beans- this is what's been eating a lot of my blogging time. Working title "Ear of the Behearer", in honor of the late great Dewey Redman, it will be a site that combines the hivemind's list with the magic of Wiki software, creating (hopefully) a reference guide to music of the 70s and 80s of all stripes, but focusing on jazz and creative music. I've been working on it with a great musician/programmer, Brett Porter, with Dave and Ethan providing some direction and guidance. (As it shapes up, I'm thinking my role will be primarily with the non-Wiki content, doing articles, interviews and digging up new and interesting stuff about this already interesting music. Especially as too many of these musicians pass on, it'd be great to hear from THEM about the music, since they really are the authorities.) I'm pretty excited about it, especially as it gets closer to actually getting up and running. So stay tuned.

gettin' chippie

As previously mentioned, Mwanji recently posted a thoughtful response to this essay by Darius Brubeck (Dave's son) about which opened the floodgates. I think the conversation is more interesting, and more informative than the essay itself, which while claiming to look at Ornette impartially, basically just tries to damn him with faint praise.

Update: This post, by Ethan Iverson of the Bad Plus, is probably the best analysis of and Ornette I've ever seen. Highly (and belatedly) recommended. And, as usual, Ethan's a helluva a lot more polite that I'd be...

Friday, October 06, 2006

Now that I have a real life again, I'm afraid blogging has taken a hit. I'll try to find a better balance, but in the meantime:

Mwanji comments on Darius Brubeck's article on Ornette. I had been trying to get to this one, but Mwanji does a better job than I would've. The comment track is also interesting I'll come back to it this weekend, I hope.

Ben Ratliff listens with Branford Marsalis. I tend to find Branford in print almost as grating as his little brother (even without the absurd comment on Cecil Taylor), but I found myself agreeing with a lot of what he said about (as Ratliff so aptly puts it in caps) What's Wrong With Jazz Today. He is given to gross generalization, but he I think some of his comments aren't too far offbase. To wit:

“But musicians today”— and he was talking specifically about jazz musicians — “are completely devoid of charisma. People never really liked the music in the first place. So now you have musicians who are proficient at playing instruments, and people sit there, and it’s just boring to them — because they’re trying to see something, or feel it.”

Again, GROSS overstatement, but worth considering. I was at a concert last night at NEC with completed a residency by Roscoe Mitchell, a founding member of the AACM and the Art Ensemble. The music, featuring primarily student ensembles with a couple of cameos by Roscoe, including an amazing solo alto improvisation, was uniformly good. However, with the exception of Roscoe himself and a the very exciting altoist Ashley Paul, most of the players dressed and behaved like this was just a rehearsal in front of people; there was no real acknowledgement of the audience at all. And I see this happen on a regular basis, especially with younger players. I'm not by any means an advocate of the return of a dress code to the stage, but jazz musicians need to pay much more attention to how the music is presented. In this day and age, it matters a lot. (Again, many do, but many more do not, at their own peril)

Okay, now that I've proven myself the crotchetiest 30-year old in Boston, I'm going to retireto my rocking chair.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Saturday's at the Beantown Jazz Festival

As anyone who has lived in Boston knows, it's the biggest little town in America. For good and for ill, it's much tighter knit (and wound) than most other cities our size, and you can't go anywhere without seeing someone you know, no matter how antisocial you are. (Critics would call us myopic, and they're right, but maybe they mean it in a nice way...)

I bring that up because from the minute I walked onto the site of the Beantown Jazz Festival, I started seeing people I know, which is normal, I suppose. But there were people from as far back as high school band camp, two guys from Cruise Ship X, former students, former teachers, the whole shooting match. The whole thing had a feeling of old home week, and looking around, I wasn't the only one getting that vibe.

The city had closed Columbus Avenue for about four blocks above Mass. Ave, and the festival did its best to use every inch of it. There were three stages, one each at the edge of the blocked off area of Columbus, and one in the corner of the park that abuts it. This worked well for crowd flow, less well for acoustics. When the band on either the park stage or the back stage got even moderately loud, the sounds of the two stages started bleeding into each other. This led to some interesting, Cage-ish juxtopositions (a really steamy vocal rendition of "At Last" creeping into a laid Jimmy Cobb-propelled bop head), which I don't think was the festival's intent. Other than that, the sound was very good across the board

The crowd was still fairly sparse for the opening acts, the NEC Jazz Composers' Ensemble and the Mike Tucker quartet. I played in the NEC band at one point, and know a lot of the players in it, so I abstain comment. And I had pretty much the same reaction to Tucker's group that I had to Esperanza Spaulding's group Friday. Namely, "Oh, that's nice."

The aforementioned Mr. Cobb was next, with a quartet featuring tenor player Javon Jackson. Jimmy still swings his ass off, that's really all that needs to be said. The set was mostly standards- "Sweet and Lovely", "Up Jumped Spring"- enlivened by Cobb's fantastic hookup with his pianist (sorry, I missed the name- bad critic!) and, as old professor Allan Chase called it, "THAT right hand". Javon was less exciting. I've heard him live several times, and while he's certainly a very good player, I've never heard any real spark or energy in his playing, and didn't on Saturday.

Jimmy is, sadly, one of those "see him while you can" kind of guys; when he and DeJohnette are gone, so too is that older style of swing that they, in very different ways, have carried on for so many years.

The highlight of the day was Kenny Garrett. As an alto player, I was absolutely enamored with Kenny in high school and college- nobody sounded like him, and he always played with the intestity of a tornado. (Now, of course, it seems like everyone under 30 sounds like him, usually minus the tornado, which is annoying, but I don't blame him for that) Kenny started a little late, due to a presentation with our mayor Mumbles Menino, but made up for lost time with a blistering opening tune. He continued with a set of tunes from his new album Beyond the Wall, mostly pentatonic melodies which he attributed to Asian folk melodies. It almost didn't matter; in many ways Kenny's music hasn't changed a lot in the last ten years, he comes out firing with a fiery, post-Coltrane pentatonic language, relying a lot on crash-bang interplay with a firebrand drummer (here the new to me, but soon to be on everyone's A-list Jaleel Williams). Jaleel reminded me, both physically and musically, of Kenny's former drummer and personal favority Chris Dave. (That's a very good thing) The crowd, which seemed to include half of Berklee's jazz department, faculty and students, loved every minute of it.

The last act I got to see was an unusual appearance by Christian McBride, featuring DJ Logic and the seemingly ageless Oliver Lake. I'm afraid that it really, really didn't work. The music would sort of fade in, with either McBride or Logic finding a groove, and the other matching it, then either Oliver or the keyboard would blow on top of it, then it would sort of drift away, and they'd do it again. The set lacked any sense of pacing or, except when Oliver was playing, focus. Lake did sound great though, a shining light in an otherwise dim set. (For a much better recent accounting of Oliver Lake, there is great video of him with MeShell N'Degeocello's recent project here).

Other obligations kept me from hearing the rest of the music, but I left a pretty happy camper (Despite some of my tepid prose here). The papers said that the crowd was estimated at almost 50,000, up a lot from last year. And most people I talked to seemed to deem everything- the location, the acts, the layout, the whole day- a success. Hopefully next year is another step up.

MonikaH @ Ryles, Tuesday night

Fresh off her album being called "The best debut of the year" by the Boston Phoenix, old homey Monika Heidenman takes a victory lap around the Charles River, and lands at Ryles to sing a few tunes. Featuring Brian Drye and Sean Moran. Monika a smart, hip singer the likes of which we don't see around hear all that often- I've raved about her in this space before- and this one is not to be missed.

Monikah band, Tuesday 10/3, 9pm, Ryles Jazz Club, Inman Square, Cambridge