Thursday, December 27, 2007

You see my face and the music starts

As others have duly noted, Facebook has added a feature for musicians' promotion, and I have jumped in with a new Facebook page of my very own. I agree with Darcy's assessment- the look is pretty generic, and the navigation and editing features are pretty clunky. (though on the plus side once I got past the "CID" part of the process, putting music up was easy and painless.) It seems ridiculous that a site that is so clever in friend mode- you can throw sheep, for heaven's sake- is so dull here.

That said, I make do, and would appreciate your fandom on the new page. As with everything else in my life, it's a work in progress, and will hold me over promotionally until I can put up. And just to make it worth your while, there are two never-released sound clips on the Facebook page. One is a promo version of the No Sale Value tune "Jackson", and a live duo with the amazing Bob Brookmeyer. For a limited time only, so check it.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Suddenly it looks much further away

For some reason, the year usually wraps up with me updating/fixing/changing my online presence; this year, it's adding a facebook page, (finally) putting my 1998 CD "On Any Given Day" on CDBaby and Itunes, and (hopefully) relaunching a new, with a better layout and more yoga stuff. Details as I finish them.

In the meantime, I'll join the line of those looking back on the year that was. I don't have a broad enough view of what's going on in any of the worlds I inhabit to give a "best of" list of anything, but I do have favorite:

Gigs to see:
Matana Roberts/Tyshawn Sorey @ Stone, 2/17
John Hollenbeck Refuge Trio @ LilyPad, 3/9
Fred Hersch @ Regattabar, 5/15
Erik Friedlander @ LilyPad, 7/?? (I didn't write it up, but Jon Garelik mentions it in his year in review)
FONT Opening Concert @ SIM, 9/15
Steve Reich Music for 18 Musicians@ NEC, 11/28

Gig to play:
The Behearer Concert in February. I'll repost some of the highlights.

Albums to listen to (in no special order):
Maria Schneider, Sky Blue
Radiohead, In Rainbows (though I can't wait for the real CD to come out for better sound quality)
Kneebody, Low Electrical Worker
Jai Uttal, Dial M for Mantra (don't ask, it's the most listenable yoga album I've heard, and when you're around yoga people all the time...)
Myra Melford, The Image of Your Body (not her best, but Brandon Ross kicks ass here)
Bjork, Volta
Michael Brecker, Pilgrimage (not because it's morbid, either- have you heard both Herbie and Meldhau tear it up here?)
The Bad Plus, Prog

Jury is still out: Josh Redman, Way Back East, Feist, The Reminder;
biggest letdown by far: Joni Mitchell, Shine; Herbie's River turned out to be some better than my initial reaction. Not great, but good.

Book to read:
Alex Ross, The Rest is Noise. Worth all the hype and then some.

The blog doesn't always reflect it, or maybe it does in its recent paucity of postings, but 2007 has been a great year. Thanks to all of you for reading, commenting , listening. Come back for a better '08!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Contact low

I am having some domain issues, which are affecting my e-mail. If you need to contact me, please leave a comment below or e-mail visionsong (AT) gmail (dot) com. I apologize for the inconvenience.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Ice and Hard Edges

This weekend I made a quick jaunt down to New York, to see a few friends, and catch some music, including Darcy's last hit of '07. Alas, mother nature intervened and cancelled all the buses, and I had to catch an early train to get back to Boston for a busy (and icy) Monday. I like these trips, beyond the excitement of New York, for a few hours uninterrupted to read and listen to music. That listening will bring some album reviews later this week, but first a few scattered thoughts.

I was at Stone last night for a performance by cornetist Graham Haynes and “sound designer” HardEdge (more on that later). I overheard the next piece of bad news- Downtown Music Gallery is moving from its Bowery location to a yet-to-be-determined new storefront. (Not coincidentally, you're starting to see empty storefronts. Something has to give eventually, and I hope, but doubt, that it's the rent prices) It is a victim of the continuing gentrification (I think that's too gentle a word at this point, how about baronizing) of the Bowery; their rent is being doubled. Manhattan continues to eat its young- even the East Village and the Lower East Side feel more and more like hipster caricatures rather than vibrant neighborhoods- signs on the subway advertise one bedrooms for “only $3K per month”. Meaning, realistically, you have to be making $70K minimum to live in what were tenements not too long ago. Huh? All of this has a predictable and chilling effect of the arts scene, which was one of the main attractions of the LES in the first place. The new gilded age.

This is the third or fourth time I've been to Stone this year, and while I appreciate many things about the place and the music it presents, I like the place less and less each time I go. Even great music isn't that fun to listen to there- the setting is so austere and cold, white walls and black ceilings, the musicians so nonchalant about the audience. I'm reading The Rest is Noise by Alex Ross, (fantastic, btw) and it reminds me of his description of Schoenberg's avant-garde scene in Berlin in the aughts. I think it's great that the artists and the music are priority one there, and agree with it, but does that inherently have to make it hard on the audience.

To be fair, I could've been at last night's gig on a high-end couch having grapes fed to me, and I'm not sure it would've increased my appreciation of last night's gig. (I should say I'm at the age where wearing sunglasses inside looks silly no matter who you are, so I wasn't predisposed for Mr. Edge from the get-go) HardEdge's sonic palate consisted of a lot of sounds that approximated radio noise, combined with very distorted and digitized voices- a very cold, very harsh aesthetic. Coming out of the beginnings of a snowstorm, it just reinforced the cold in my bones. Haynes contrasted effectively, with a deep rich tone on coronet enhanced by very wet reverb and delay effects. His material reminded me of very late Miles (i.e. late 80s) in its clear, clipped but warm approach. However, beyond this hot/cold bath, I wasn't finding much connection between the musicians for much of the set- occasionally HardEdge would fall into a bleepy groove, and Haynes would alternate between sitting in and floating on top of it lyrically. But mostly it hit my ears as a lot of noise, and not especially interesting noise at that. There was also a video artist, manipulating kaleidoscopic designs and wispy line patterns, sometimes over distorted images of the players. He was very in tune with what they were doing, and his interaction with them was fun to watch, thought they didn't reciprocate, or even really look at him. There was a second set, but a warm bed sounded better at the end of the first, especially with an ugly hail/snow starting to fall. .

Sometimes I'm beginning to think it's just me. I had breakfast with my friend who recently hung out with a colleague from my NEC days, one I haven't seen or played with at all in four years. She recounted his description of me, and said she didn't really recognize the person he was talking about. I did, and sometimes winced at his accurate descriptors, but it's not the same person who's playing and teaching and writing now. This is inevitable, I suppose; we all change, like it or not, and I'm much happier now than I was then. But I couldn't help but think- would that me have been more into last night, into Stone in general? More complimentary, or harsher about records I review, concerts I see? Does it matter, and how? I wonder...

Saturday, December 15, 2007

RIP Frank Morgan

Alto saxophonist Frank Morgan, often thought of as one of the closest stylistic links to Bird, passed away this week. (via Rifftides)

When I was first starting to play the saxohpone in 1988 or so, Frank Morgan was in the midst of a comeback after a long string of trips to prison and rehab. For much of his career, he was an enormous devotee of Charlie Parker, imitating his sound, his licks, and eventually his habit. Unlike Bird, he shook heroin and stayed clean for the last thirty years of his life. I found Morgan due to the pub he was getting at the time, and used to listen to his Lovesome Thing album a lot. In college I distanced myself from a lot of music, including Morgan, but I've heard him some on the radio recently, and been really taken by his unusual dark sound. He'll always be identified with Bird, but that definition no longer seemed to own him.

Doug's obit is warm and spot on. We're blessed my his presence while he was here.

Monday, December 10, 2007

take a look at my shiny phonograph...

To less hoopla than I'm used to, the Grammy nominations were announced last week. For those who care, the jazz nominations can be found here. It's hard not to imagine Herbie and Terrence Blanchard winning their categories- Herbie because he won't win the big album of the year, Terrence for sentimental reasons. (Though what I've heard of his "Levees" album is good. The playing is really solid, and the writing is good if a little drippy) I have to think that Brecker will win the instrumental album for "Pilgrimage", again for sentimental reasons. Though it may well be the best album nominated; after several listens I like it more; possibly Brecker's best solo date. Meldhau plays his ass off and then some.

Other Grammy notes

I know how the final voting goes, but can anyone tell me how the nominating process works? Many years I look at the finalists and just say "huh?" And I know with the album of the year this year including Amy Weinhouse, Herbie Hancock and the Foo Fighters, I'm not alone here.

It's interesting, and I suppose reassuring to purists, to note most "smooth jazz" now shows up in the "Instrumental Pop" category- Chris Botti, Spyro Gyra and Kurt Whalum are all there, with Herbie and a creature called Eldar, who collaborated with Ropeadope regular DJ Logic, in the "contemporary jazz" nomenclature. Biggest omission in the jazz category: Prog by TBP.

I'm rooting for Maria Schneider to win the big band category for "Sky Blue", but with Blanchard in there with her, and since they didn't give it to her for "Concert in the Garden", a superior record IMHO, how will she get it here? (NOTE: I was wrong here, as Darcy notes below. I was under the mistaken impression that the album won an award for Donnie McCaslin's solo, but not the larger category. Oops)

I'll give "River" another go- my first impressions have been lukewarm, but am I the only one that thinks Herbie hasn't made a great record in more than 20 years? They're never bad- he's too good a musician- but they're never at the level he's capable of producing, especially if you catch him on a good night live. Yet no one calls him on it, he keeps getting award nominations and lots of pub... can someone call a spade a spade? (I'll come back to this some other time, he's not alone...)

If Amy Weinhouse wins any of the awards she's up for, she should fall down at the feet of The Dap Kings, her backup band on the album and a solid outfit in their own right. I like her fine, but they make her sound.

And, no, I won't be live-blogging the Grammys this year. Once such punishment enough...

Thursday, December 06, 2007

soon we'll pull the lever, and all hell will break loose

Recently, in a rare and feeble act of legislative initiative, Massachusetts shifted its presidential primary to "Super-Duper Tuesday", in the hopes that we would have a little more say in the nominating process. In a small attempt at civic duty (standing in line at City Hall to update my voter registration comes next week, I swear...), I caught big pieces of the last two candidate debates, the Republican Youtube... thing and the Democrats' far more useful NPR debate.

This isn't a political blog, so I'll be relatively brief in this matter- I was impressed in general with the Democratic debate. Maybe because it was on radio, it was thoughtful, interesting, and remarkably devoid of grandstanding. I came away feeling like there were several people I could vote for there. (Dodd, Biden, Obama, and Kucinich. I like Richardson, but if he ran the country like he's run his campaign, we're doomed. And I don't trust Clinton or Edwards at all, and Gravel is, well, not all there)

As for the Gory Old Party, this post at Salon speaks far better than I could. Are the Republicans that small, and that scared, that that lot of twits is the best we can do? That Mike Huckabee, a small-minded, small time revivalist preacher, comes across as the only human being in the lot? I am reminded of the idea put forward by Marianne Williamson, that we can live from fear, or we can live from love. Neither is perfect, but where would you rather go? I'd rather live from love, and pray every day that our country can choose a route where that becomes possible.

I leave you for now (blogging is resuming, at last) with a famous quote from Ms. Williamson herself:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Monday, December 03, 2007

Listening to music for 18 musicians

At what point is the music, any music, secondary to the communal experience of hearing it? I found myself asking that as I left New England Conservatory's performance of Steve Reich's Music for 18 Musicians, with Reich on hand coaching and cheerleading. I'm still asking a few days later, listening to the Nonesuch recording of the piece. (misidentified on my Itunes, interestingly, as the ECM version.) As many of you reading this probably know, Reich's masterpiece consists of eleven chords spun in, through and around 18 musicians in a steady 3-pulse for about 65 minutes, give or take depending on the performers. (You can see an excerpt of the critically acclaimed recent GVSU version of the piece here) And while it is tremendously repetitive in one sense, the brilliance of the piece is that slight shifts in voicings, orchestration and rhythms then seem like dramatic events. As Darcy noted blogging the piece at Bang on a Can, there is a subtle drama that is enhanced by the seeming monotony, where little movements, both in the music and by the players, take on more significance. (I did hear one jaded conservatory sophomore afterwards complaining that nothing happened; there's always a few...)

It's easy, and apt, to talk about minimalist music, especially earlier minimalism, using words like "trancelike" and "hypnotic". However, I don't think it's especially useful in this case. Like so much great music before it, especially music in the Western classical tradition, it creates a world and invites you to live there for awhile. Isn't this what the great symphonic music of the 19th century does. Unlike at a Beethoven concert, there was someone in the back corner of the balcony doing a sort of wormlike variation of the robot dance for the first twenty minutes of the piece. No one seemed to mind...

I have a yoga teacher who, when he occasionally reads some quote in class, always invites the class to "let the words wash over you", rather than encouraging them to listen. When I was able to experience the piece this way, engaged in the music but not intellectualizing it at all, it was glorious, especially in a hall as acoustically marvelous as Jordan Hall, with a nearly full house of people, most as excited for the performance as I was, heightened the experience. Occasionally my left brain would kick in to figure out exactly what the last shift was, but it had the same effect on my listening as when the reel of a film falls off- I felt literally shoved out of the space I'd been in.

Back to the dancer for a moment- what he was doing seemed, oddly enough, to fit. When played well, and here it was, this piece grooves, especially in the middle when the piano takes on its most melodic, or to my ears gamelan-like activity (for lack of a better term. Clearly I haven't read any of the musicology on this piece since college). There are a couple of youtube clips of people choreographing to this piece, and for some modern dance vocabularies it's an obvious fit. There has been much made during his career on Reich's influence on electronica and western movements into "world music", and it's absolutely obvious if you sit and listen to one of his pieces live.

Friday, November 30, 2007

It'll make a pretty paperweight

Tomorrow night the 20th annual Boston Music Awards convenes tomorrow evening to, well, what exactly do they do? Globe critic Joan Anderman knocks the awards and the scene they represent around this morning, and I'm inclined to agree with most of her assessment. Her best line:

"(it is a) near-impossibility of building a world-class industry event in a town that calls itself the Hub but operates as an outpost."

I could spend ages elaborating on this assessment, because it's dead-on. There is a myopia that characterizes many elements of life in Boston, and while it can lend a quaint charm to our sports fans or how crowded the North End is on weekends, it can kill a music scene in no time flat.

There are vibrant scenes here, but they tend to be very self-contained- a great set of singer-songwriters that congregate around Club Passim and the Toad/Lizard Lounge pairing, a cool almost-seedy punk/bar band scene at O'Brien's and Middle East (We miss TT the Bear's badly), a little Afro-beat scene that has flourished at Matt Murphy's, a jazz scene based primarily around the schools- a blessing and a curse too big to get into here- and a small but strong hip-hop scene that survives where it can. But note that none of the venues that I mention (save the schools) are in Boston proper- the combination of high rent, Puritanical zoning and the early close of the Boston transit system make having a hopping live music club really tough. Is there a solution(s)? I'd love to know 'em. Maybe I'd gig more...

Back to the awards themselves- no one I've talked to seems to quite know how the whole thing works. Ric Stone, 1/4 of the Quartet of Happiness, nominated for "best jazz act", told me they're grateful for the (little bit of) attention it's brought, but has no idea how they were nominated. They're in with long-timers and badasses Dominique Eade, Club D'Elf, Jacques Chanier, a long-suffering and unappreciated local, the Blueprint Project, a cool project of Jared Sims and Eric Hofbauer, newcomer Leah Randazzo (who, I'd note, I've never, never heard of, and who lives on the other side of the state), and Hiromi, the John Mayer of this category. (She went to Berklee, hasn't lived here in years, and has no discernable connection to Boston beyond Berklee and some national pub) As Miles might say, "judge that, how the &$^# am I supposed to judge THAT?" Well, since voting was an online popularity contest, it doesn't really say much about the quality of the winner, only of their bots.

We also seem to have an innate ability to cannibalize what scene there is here... see this old post as an example. And this kind of nonsense happens all the time here. (sigh)

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Steve Reich @ New England Conservatory tonight!

As part of the continuing celebration of Steve Reich's 70th birthday, New England Conservatory will present four concerts over two days, tonight and tomorrow at 5pm and 8pm. The highlight is tonight at 8pm, when the Callithumpian Consort will play the legendary Music for 18 Musicians. The word is that Reich himself will be there coaching the music. I have a gig, but am hoping to get there in time for the Music for 18. (played by twenty, of course)

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

side airbags

This spring, the long dormant Johnny Carcrash duo with Hwaen Chuqi (nee Jeff Tomlinson) will reunite for a few gigs. Details forthcoming. To celebrate that, and my 250th friend on Myspace, (If you can really count a production company and a yoga e-mail list as friends) I've posted one cut from our Knitting Factory concert in 2001 on the myspace page. And if you're not a friend yet, don't be shy.

Blogging will resume in earnest... soon.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Maria Schneider @ Berklee Performance Center, 11/17/04

There's very little I can say about Maria Schneider at this point that hasn't been said better by someone else. She is, almost without a doubt, the most important "jazz composer" in the past twenty years. The new album, Sky Blue, has catupoulted her critical assessment into a whole new category- BBC Music called her one of the important composers in her generation. Not jazz composer, just composer. A whole generation of players, writers and big band leaders are, or have been, in the business because they heard Evanessence, her first album.

In this day and age, it's always fascinating to hear an "art" big band live. Big band music is one of the few places in jazz or improvised music where a live show can feel like a "greatest hits" rock show- the band plays the charts as they are written (that's kind of the point), even if they're old, and it's possible to go in knowing every note of every chart, and consciously or subconsciously comparing what's happening to what you're used to hearing on your stereo. And, like most of my writing peers, I know most of Maria's records really well.

That said, a live show of this music is also illuminating. The modern big band album (the modern orchestral record, and pop records too) is a completely artificial product, in that you can mix, master and tweak it to make a flute sound louder than a trumpet section. (Or make Fergie in tune...) While the sound engineer in a live setting can do wonders, and did- Maria listed him as the 19th member of the band- you get a truer sense of what a chart really sounds like, what the composer imagines and implements in real time. (The chance to play these charts, or sit inside a rehearsing band, affords a different but equally valuable experience. While you don't get the whole picture of a piece, you can hear relationships and a physical sense of things that no mixing board can capture. If you care about Maria's or really any big band music, I would beg, bribe or cajole my way into one of these experiences, even if only with a local college band. The amount I've learned sitting in the sax section playing Basie, or Bob, or Maria is invaluable.)

If none of this music had ever been recorded, this show would've knocked the audience's socks off. All of Maria's strengths- her amazing orchestration, her ability to completely integrate the soloist into a composition, and of her soloists to complement what she writes, her phenomenal (and possibly underrated) knack for counterpoint- shone here. (Obviously, it's not absolutely acoustically "pure"- Maria lists her sound engineer as the 19th member of her band, and he was spectacular.)

The concert spanned all six of her albums, including two numbers from the new "Sky Blue". The highlight of the show was "Cerulian Skies", a piece she wrote for Peter Sellers' recent Mozart festival. On the album I have to admit that the piece confused me- it builds beautifully on a tremendously simple theme from the opening through Donnie Macaslin's burning solo, then stops for an extended piano/accordian duo, which on the recording kills the momentum of the piece. But live, it seemed to flow better, building slowly again to the climactic alto solo by Charlie Pillow.

A standing ovation brought an encore, an arrangement of "My Ideal" that dates back more than twenty years to her Eastman days. It's a lovely, really really good college band arrangement, complete with shifts from ballad feel to double time to 3/4 and back, and a 5 flute(!) soli in for good measure. It was a fascinating close after an evening of phenomenally forward looking music, to be reminded of exactly how much ground Maria has covered, and really unearthed, in a fairly short span of time.

NOTE: Maria continues a weeklong run at the Jazz Standard in NYC tomorrow night. If you can, go- this venue seems to treat her really well, she has a larger version of her band, and it'll kill.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Red states don't swing?

(via War Room) The Norman Mailer Institute and Zogby's recent poll about politics and entertainment, summarized here, is an interesting read. Most notable for this space:

"Conservatives are the least likely group to listen to jazz (34% vs. 44% of moderates vs. 53% of liberals) and reggae (8% vs. 20% vs. 26%)." Why do I get the sense that "hip-hop" was not a choice on the poll- I can't imagine it scoring better than jazz. Makes me feel like I should give JB Spins more love than I do- his is a lonely post. (Seriously, he's a very good writer, and while I disagree with him a lot, musically and politically, he's worth reading.)

And... "Classical music: although moderates are less enamored with it, classical music barely nudged ahead of rock as the most popular music genre overall." While I think this may well be a case of people tailoring their tastes to a pollster, Alex Ross would still be thrilled.

So, if you really want a change next election, start inviting your conservative friends to jazz clubs and reggae dancehalls?

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Searching for a Heart of Gold

Some stuff in real-time, some good (planning for '08 gigs), some less so (family health crisis) will cut into blogging for the next little bit. But before I go, I wanted to tie up a couple of things.

More gigs to see:

Jennifer Kimball, my favorite singer-songwriter, is playing for free(!) at the (correction) Lizard Lounge in Cambridge every Wednesday night this month. no cover! Go see her, please. You won't regret it.

The Boston Symphony, under James Levine is doing an amazing program of the Berg Violin Concerto and Mahler's 9th Symphony. The Berg is probably my favorite classical piece, and has the best saxophone part in the orchestral rep. (no coincidence there, surely) And the power of Mahler was discussed at length earlier this summer on this blog.

Blogroll updates:
In this game a minute is the (relatively) new blog of Evan O'Reilly, guitarist, teacher and raconteur. Evan was an early contributor to No Sale Value, and is a good musician and interesting, contrarian thinker.

I also added the blog of Byron Katie to the "Shining Lights". Katie is a strange, remarkable story of enlightenment, for lack of a better word. I've found her method personally to be nothing less than life-changing, corny as that, or she, may sound.

Finally, thanks to Reid, Ethan and Dave (AKA The Bad Plus) for another hugely entertaining evening on music on Saturday. I thought the set started a little slow, then took off with the ABBA cover. I went with a friend who had never seen the band before, and they were knocked out. (particularly by the set's ending, which I won't spoil for those of you who get to see them soon)

Oh, it's election day in the states. Go vote. Thank you.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Gigs to see tonight!

I missed one good one in my listings yesterday, and I apologize- tonight at 8 The Brookline Tai Chi music series presents Jeremy Udden and the Tin Bag duo of Kris Tiner and Mike Bagetta. Blog junkies will know the latter from their illustrious blogs, Soul and the System and Blogetta.

Jeremy is one of my favorite living saxophonists (really), and since he moved to New York he hasn't been playing up here nearly as much, so this is a treat. Barring technical calamities (and I'm fixing toilets today, so they're very likely) I will either be at the Caetano Veloso concert or the Tai Chi.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Gigs to see in Boston in November

Or, gorge your gourd. It's a pretty good month.

Best bets: Caetano Veloso @ The Orpheum, tomorrow (11/2)
11/17 Maria Schneider Orchestra @ Berklee Performance Center (workshops during the week)

the rest:

11/1 (tonight) Dan Rosenthal Quartet @ Lily Pad
11/2-3 The Bad Plus @ The Regattabar
11/8 Aardvard Jazz Orchestra @ Scullers (anniversary concert)
11/15 music of Don Byron @ Jordan Hall, NEC (workshops during the week)
11/16 Bruno Raeburg Quartet @ Lily Pad
11/18 Andrew Rathburn w/Garzone @ Ryles
11/28-9 Music of Steve Reich @ NEC
11/30 Skycap Festival featuring Fully Celebrated Orchestra @ Lily Pad
11/30 Jackie Terrason solo @ The Regattabar

Monday, October 29, 2007

Did I mention the Red Sox won yet? Again!

Okay, now that we have that taken care of, I can pretend to think like a human again. (By happy coincidence, I wandered into a bar on Bowery after my Saturday evening engagement- see below- that was (gasp) a Red Sox bar. So I had friends right off the bat, who all cheered and groaned at the right times. While this post-season was nowhere near as nail-biting as 2004, it certainly had its moments.

Anyhoow, highlights, lowlights and otherlights of this weekend's jaunt to NYC:

The very good- spending time with my blog hero Darcy, hearing a fair bit of the indie-rock that has been so talked about in the blogosphere recently. The recent Arcade Fire disc jumped up my to-buy list as a result. I never run out of friends to see in New York, or leave having a bad time with them.
- lots of time to listen to records in transit, and read. Between train and bus rides I finished Ben Ratliff's new book on Coltrane. I recommend it, and will try to talk more about it soon. (review here, first chapter here)
- New York restaraunts. Dinner at Jellado, brunch at Gasgogne, fantastic coffee at a place in Carrol Gardens whose name I promptly forgot- something about leaves. One could get used to this.

The good- Michael Cain, who is mentioned here occasionally, wrote music for a play at the Public called The View from 151st Street, so I went to see it, naturally. It was a good play, with some exceptional acting and powerful, if uneven writing. The music, which this evening featured Liberty Ellman on guitar, was an interesting mix of live and recorded tracks and sounds, overall very effective. (There was a short, recorded solo piano piece in the middle of the first act that was amazing, reminded me of what took me about Michael's music in the first place) I often thought on the more hip-hop based material that the bass player could've played a fair bit less, but I find myself saying that a lot lately.

The less good- I got in early enough on Friday to trek down to The Stone on Friday night
to see Steve Bernstein and the Millennial Territory Orchestra. I'm not the world's biggest Bernstein or Sex Mob fan, but I've always left his shows entertained. Not tonight. The charts, such as they were, sounded like sloppier, less funky cutouts from Bill Frisell's Unspeakable albums. The one good chart was for a singer (didn't catch the name) who didn't have much of a voice or use the mike well. Some good players- Peter Apflebaum, Ben Allison, Ben Perowsky, Art Baron- were pretty much wasted.

I understand better than many the challenge that is putting a large ensemble show together in any context- there's never enough planning, or rehearsal, or promotion. But here I was embarrassed for the musicians, annoyed at paying even the modest $10 I did, and left before the set ended.

Don't mean to end on a down note, especially when there's so much to look forward to in Boston this week- and not just the Red Sox rolling rally. Caetano Veloso is here Friday, The Bad Plus Friday and Saturday. Full listings tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Big Hits... just not here

I have to admit I'm a little distracted at present. A trip to NYC is in the offing, but can't even focus on that. Blogging will resume again as soon as I screw my head back on.

Pointless UPDATE: Did anyone else hear the national anthem before Game 1? When did John Williams add Charles Ives to his list of people to shamelessly rip off? The worst part is, I didn't even like it... I didn't get to hear James Taylor's version for game 2, which is a shame. I thought his reharmonization for the 2004 WS was one of the best versions of the Anthem I've ever heard. Damning with faint praise, perhaps, but... They could have Rosanne Barr sing the anthem if they keep playing like this.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Hwaen Ch'uqi @ Lily Pad piano festival tonight!

A last minute plug for the annual Lily Pad Piano Festival, always a good take. Among the dozens of good to great pianists playing is my friend and occasional collaborator Hwaen Ch'uqi (nee Jeff Tomlinson). Some of you may remember our occasional Johnny Carcrash duos, which we're talking about resurrecting. He'll be performing his first Piano Sonata tonight at 10, Jeff is a remarkable player with a touch to die for, and a great improviser, so I look forward to hearing what his composed music sounds like.

The Lily Pad is in Inman Square, Cambridge. Other highlights of the festival include Anthony Coleman, Joanne Brackeen, and George Garzone, all tomorrow.

Friday, October 19, 2007

The same old song (and the dance?)

Why aren't (m)any young black folks playing jazz, asks Greg Tate.

Indie-rock is way too white, says SFJ. And the blogosphere blows up at him.

I thought of these posts earlier this week as I had a long conversation with an old musician friend. (call him Z) Z has toured and recorded a lot, in jazz, in R&B, in hip-hop. We were talking about the "state of jazz" today, and he opined that jazz is a music without a context- why exactly are we making this music today, and does it have anything to do with the traditions of the music. Jazz originated as music to dance to, from New Orleans to the Cotton Club to the chitlin circuit, which Bird played for a lot of his career. He feels that that element has largely been lost in the music today, and music that doesn't have it (which is most of it, especially made by anyone, white, black or green, under 40) doesn't interest him at all. He thinks it has to do with class, not just race- he talked about Johnny Cash's "Folsolm Prison" album, and how much it grooves, really grooves in the same kind of way that James Brown or P-Funk groove. I feel that way about some of the traditional Irish music I've studied. Musicians, he believes, are better served when they apprentice in a truly functional music, where people applauding politely, or even enthusiastically, isn't enough to make a player. You have to be able to make people move without telling them to. And not just a dorm of hippie college kids, a skeptical crowd, who want to move but who won't go for just anybody's boogie-woogie.

I fired back that you could say what he's saying about the function of jazz about a lot of music- over the last thirty years, the only places in American culture where the function of music hasn't changed is opera houses and strip clubs. And I'm not in any rush to apprentice at either of those, and wouldn't want my students to either. But his point about movement bears some serious thought.

I don't know enough about the indie scene to effectively contribute to the debate SFJ has started. But what resonates to me about his piece, based on what I hear of indie-rock, is that the bands he criticizes have lost touch on any level with the dance element of rock'n'roll ("you're old SadBastard music", Jack Black famously said in High Fidelity). The music lacks the kind of rhythmic drive- really any rhythmic drive- that made rock and roll so infectious since its birth, and so dangerous, especially in the eyes of moralists and classical critics.

(Intrestingly, now that I've listened to it a few times, the track on In Rainbows I keep returning to is "15-Step", to my ears the most rhythm driven track on the record.)

The fact is that rock bands, and jazz musicians for that matter, no longer have to play school dances or little chicken joints, replaced by DJs and the like. (wedding bands are not the same thing at all...) So does our music serve any function beyond self-expression or some sort of personal validation? I'm not saying those are bad or unimportant by any means, but given where the music comes from, given what so many of us say we're going for, are they enough? Is something crucial lost

Could that disconnect be why the young black musicians that were playing saxophones thirty years ago are now making beats with machines? Is that quality of dancing, which is not exclusively a black quality, really what Jones misses?

I don't know, I'm just asking... Z & I have had various discussions about the function of music for years now, often from this angle- it continues to perplex and fascinate both of us, and we'll certainly be returning to it again.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Riding in my Soul Spaceship

Of all the highly anticipated albums that hit in the past few weeks, the one I was most excited about was the new Meshell Ndegeocello album, the heavy mouthful "The World Has Made Me the Man of My Dreams". (Decca) As regular readers may know, Meshell is one of my great musical heroes- I was introduced to her music by her former keyboardist Michael Cain, and became a rabid fan. She is, I think, the funkiest woman alive, and her live gigs rank as some of the best live music I've seen in any genre.

Meshell seems to relish how difficult she is to categorize- she followed up her first two funk/soul albums with "Bitter", a primarily acoustic song-based effort. After the star-laden "Cookie" and reggae-drenched "Comfort Woman" (probably her most consistent effort) she put together "her jazz album", Dance of the Infidels, where she didn't sing and barely played. The buzz preceding "World" said it would be more "Afro-punk", whatever that means.

It is punkier- "Sloganeer" and "Article 3", with their hard one-note lines and edgy guitars, would've been right at home at CB's, and the guitar and bass tones are often heavily distorted and grungy. But what about the screaming, anthemic Pat Metheny solo (he should have a patent on this type of solo at this point), or the Prince-ish digitized voice of god on "Elliptical", or Robert Glaspar's appearance? Or the lovely "Shirk", a bleak guitar ballad seemingly redeemed by Malian singer...? To try to buttonhole this album is to sell your listening short.

Partially due to that almost defiant polyglot, the album is a challenging listen, part of the reason I'm so slow in reviewing it. The album's opening does the casual listener no favors either- it is a speech by Shiek talking about an Islamic (or Islamist? I couldn't quite make it out in this interview/performance on WNYC) view of apocalyptic signs, and many of the catchier tunes either begin or end with very abstract, heavily reverbed instrumentals. (see Oliver Lake's cameo on "Lovely Lovely", my favorite tune on the record) And I admit I often find myself fast-forwarding through the spoken testimony before "Solomon". And outside of two tunes "Soul Spaceship" and "Michelle Johnson", there is a lot less of the straight-up funk she is often equated with. And the lyrics probe questions of spirituality and sensuality, politics, religion and sex more overtly that anything prior. (didn't think that possible) But the lyrics are, to my ears, more oblique than in the past (no "Dead N*&%a Blvd" here

BUT, get over it- this is Meshell's most challenging and interesting album yet. It's some of her best singing, and the more puzzling music, with repeated listens, is tremendously rewarding. There is a short, mind-blowing interlude on "Evolution", maybe eight bars which never return, which I'll spend hours figuring out. Seemingly, just because. There are nuggets like that all over the album. The playing is brilliant top to bottom. Go check it.

UPDATE: NY Times reviews Meshell's NYC hit on Saturday here.

Other random notes- the new Radiohead, "In Rainbows", is another album I didn't want to make a quick judgement on. I agree wholeheartedly with Darcy- the sound suffers for the bitrate compression, so I want to hear it on a real CD. But I love, love the first tune. Even if the rest was awful (which it isn't) that is worth the pay-what-you-will.

- I've been reluctant to buy "River", Herbie's Joni tribute, based on what I've heard on the radio and the web. Seems to lack fire. Anyone have any advice here?

- Joni's "Shine" I will buy, even if it sucks. I got one tune, "Night of the Iguana", free from Starbucks, and it's pretty good, similar sonically to "Turbulent Indigo", Joni's now near contralto sounds go, but the tune is not so memorable.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

The whole world might be wrong

Apparently not everyone is thrilled with Radiohead's new gambit, which I will download this morning. (about $7 sounds right- that's a little more than I see when you buy No Sale Value's record on ITunes. Hint, hint) The bit, bitchy as it is, raises an good question- are we ready for a world where content only exists in an ephemeral form, where you don't have to go out and buy a box of something? That might be the height of post-modernism right there...

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

The Best of October

It's a much better month for concert-going here in town. Some highlights:

Tonight (10/3)- Dominique Eade @ Scullers
4-5 Danielo Perez Trio @ Scullers
7- Lukeimia/Lymphoma Benefit w/Esperanza Spaulding, Carmen Staaf, Khevre @ Lily Pad
9- Club D'Elf & Rudder @ Regattabar
12-13- Chris Potter's Underground @ Regattabar
15- Zing @ Lily-Pad
16- David Fiuczynski's KiF @ Regattabar
20-21 Lily Pad Piano Fest, feat. Joanne Brackeen, Anthony Coleman, and many others
25- Ezra Weiss w/Billy Hart at Ryles
27- Marty Ehrlich & Myra Melford @ Lily-Pad

Monday, October 01, 2007

Maybe the hokey pokey was taken...

I couldn't resist...

Like most Bostonians, I'm excited, and a little nervous, about the hometown team's trip into the baseball playoffs this year. We could win it all, we could be swept in the first round- it's one of those years. But I'm hoping they keep winning, if only to see our players dance like this. (via Extra Mustard)

Beantown Jazz Festival, Saturday 9/29

With the demise of the various newspaper jazz festivals (both the Globe and the Phoenix sponsored series as late as 2002), the Beantown Jazz Festival has emerged as Boston's sole big jazz event. It has more than held up its end, shifting from one stage and little smooth-jazz outfits to three full stages of music, local and national acts, and for the second year in a row, a blowout opening night full of jazz legends. (Globe review of friday night here) The weather cooperated as well- 70 degrees and sunny- and as a result the MC announced before the last act that the day had seen 70,000 people at the festival. I don't know if I trust that number, but there were a lot of folks, many more than last year. (It was set up almost identically to last year's festival, again to good effect.)

I missed the first set of acts in favor of (sigh) errands, and walked in to the sound of Greg Hopkins' big band. The band is a lot of grizzled Boston vets, playing Greg's straight-ahead, hard-swining Herman-ish charts. The band was strong and tight, but hampered by sound problems, a running theme of the day. Bill Pierce's feature on "Body and Soul" was lost in a haze of unintentional reverb and distortion.

I wandered over to hear Conrad Herwig's "Latin Side of Miles" Project. Their album got some play on jazz radio here, and I wasn't wowwed. "Sketches of Spain" aside, I've never heard much Latin in Miles' playing, and putting "Solar" and "So What" to montunos and other Latin grooves seems to me just a ploy to sell records. So I was skeptical walking in.

(Aside: There's an interesting theory that puts forth in Paul Tingin's good book Miles Beyond that- I'm paraphrasing- while Miles was omnivorous in his listening, and used instruments, grooves and ideas from all over music, he was interested in the sound, not the context. Unlike, say John McLaughlin, there's nothing particularly Indian about his use of the sitar other than the sitar itself. I think this is surely true of Miles' relationship with Latin music; while he used "Spanish modes" and Latin percussionists, he had very little interest in "Latinizing" his music. He wanted those sounds. Which is why I'm very skeptical of these kinds of concept albums)

I was less skeptical walking out- the rhythm section, anchored by drummer Robbie Amin and percussionist Pedro (insert Mets joke here) Martinez- was amazing. Solos would float seemlessly through half-time and double-time, various feels (I'm a dilletante when it comes to the nuts and bolts of Latin music, so I won't even try) and beats. The horn players- Herwig, trumpeter Brian Lynch and the underappreciated Craig Handy- in turns floated over and barreled through the grooves with clear, straightahead playing. Everyone sounded good- how could you not with those kinds of grooves? I still thought the Miles/montuno connections didn't especially work- Lynch wrote an arrangement of "Solar" with a great, grooving intro and interlude which made the actual melody of "Solar" seem superfluous. That said, the music as a whole strong, much better than I expected.

The next act was on paper the highlight of the day- the legendary vibrophonist Bobby Hutcherson and his quartet. Bobby looked sharp and energized, and sounded... I'm not really sure. The sound on this set was especially bad- no mikes were on for the first two tuned, and through the set you could only hear Bobby maybe a third of the time. I know it's outdoors, and I know vibes are notoriously hard instruments to mike, but c'mon guys! This was amateur hour. What I could make out was a set of old standards- "I Love You for Sentimental Reasons", "Old Devil Moon", etc. that swung elegantly.

Across the way you could really, really hear the Berklee Rainbow Band. The band looked the part- tremendously diverse racially, ethnically, and gender-wise. The music, though was something of a throwback to the Buddy Rich/Maynard Fergeson sound of the seventies, complete with Rich's unbelievably overwrought "Mercy Mercy Mercy" chart. The soloists, especially the lead alto and tenor players, were very solid.

A family party kept me from hearing all but a few minutes of the last bands, Charles Tolliver's big band and Mike Stern's quartet. Tolliver's big band suffered from the aforementioned sound problems, and a clear lack of rehearsal. Some of the charts were very notey and intricate, and much of the detail got lost. The band's character, both in it's playing and in the charts, reminded me of McCoy Tyner's big band of the 80's and 90's. A very pentatonic harmonic sensibility (Tolliver's own playing harkened back to Woddy Shaw), good writing at the edges, and a lot of solid blowing in the middle.

A couple of more asides- I've learned that at these free outdoor festivals, if you care at all about hearing what's actually being played, the best places to be are 1) right in front of the stage, where you can hear the real sounds, or 2) next to the sound booth, where you'll hear what the sound person hears. Not the #2 helped that much this weekend.

And Beantown Jazz planners, would it be too much to stagger the start times at the different stages a little bit, as many festivals do? Every band, on three stages, started at the same time, the whole day. Why? One of the nice things about these festivals is sampling different acts, which this program impedes.

By any reasonable measure- crowd size and enthusiasm, vendors, quantity and quality of music- the weekend was an unabashed success. Heck, they had one stage booked with nothing but big bands, a feat in and of itself. Here's hoping next year they keep up the quality of booking, and improve the quality of the sound crew.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Bean Counting

This weekend is Boston's largest, and only free jazz festival, the Beantown Jazz Festival (Globe article here). For one afternoon, three blocks by Northeastern give way to multiple stages featuring many local and national acts. While I thought last year's bill was a little better, there are certainly good things to see this year, and I plan to be there. Especially notable:

- The Charles Tolliver Big Band. I know Tolliver only by reputation, but he did win a couple of Downbeat Awards this year. NEC and Berklee will have big bands there as well, and one local pro big band of note, the Greg Hopkins Orchestra, will also play.

- The legendary Bobby Hutcherson's quartet. Nuff said.

- Mike Stern. Not usually my cup of tea, but the honey-voiced Richard Bona is on the bill with him, so it could be interesting.

- Not officially part of the festival, but very intriguing. Tomorrow night the Either/Orchestra plays at the Somerville Theatre with three Ethiopian musicians as part of the WorldMusic series. Russ Gershon, the E/O leader, has become borderline obsessed with this Ethiopian folk and pop music over the past few years, and the results have been interesting. (And a huge shift from the E/O I grew up with.)

If you're over in the South End tomorrow and see me, please do say hello. Review to come. Full gigs of note for October- and there are quite a few- to come.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Every generation has a hero on the pop chart

The latest interweb dust-up about The Bad Plus and their covers has been well, er, covered at this point. I've blogged previously about Ethan, Reid and Dave, sometimes positively, sometimes less so. I stand by all of it. (And, pat self on back, I doubt I was first, but I called the prog angle two years ago...) A few thoughts anyway:

- I've thought, both as a player and as a critic, that the role of the critic was to judge what an artist does, not what the critic might prefer. My father likes to call that criticizing and ice cream soda for not being hot. Reading some of the (albiet selective) quotes TBP highlights, I think some of the critics would do well to remember that.

- One thing I like about TBP is that, if you played any of their records, but especially the last two, to someone who is musically literate but pop-culture clueless (like, say, my parents), I don't think they could tell the originals from the covers. There's an aesthetic unity to the work that I think undercuts some of the criticism they take for their covers.

- I won't touch the word irony, and I respect and thoroughly accept the what the band wrote, but I would say that, especially on a first listen, The Bad Plus' style can come across as quite, let's use the word glib. The last two bars of the A section of "Make Our Garden Grow" sound to me like a TV network audio logo, and I still find some of their cross cuts from crazy free to tight forms cuter than they need to be. Now that I know the band, both musically and socially, they make a lot more sense, and I like them more, but I understand why a critic wouldn't.

- Darcy asked the why TBP takes more flak for covers than, say, Jason Moran or Mehldau. I'd answer the question with a question- why are some pop tunes more acceptable for covering than others? Joni Mitchell, Radiohead, and Aaron Neville are okay, but Tears for Fears and Black Sabbath are out of bonds. Says who, and why? Lyrical quality- that never stopped us from covering "Miss Jones" or the much maligned "Surrey with a Fringe". I would, and do, think to cover Paul Simon or Curtis Mayfield, but not AC/DC or Blondie. That's due mostly to my own tastes and experiences, but I admit partially due to what I've been trained to expect "jazz" to be. Are musicians and/or critics projecting that out into a set of mores?

I would add that based on what I've heard so far of two much-balleyhooed new cover projects (and many before them), even picking "good, quality pop tunes" is no guarantee of making good music.

- finally, a tangent- one critic wrote: "…a slapstick version of E.S.T…". Would somebody explain the critical appeal of E.S.T. to me? (The popular appeal, as much as there is, I kind of get- It's pop-ish and approachable without looking like smooth jazz) I'm trying hard not to get to dark on other musicians, but... I've heard big chunks of two albums, and heard them live once, and hated every minute of it. The writing is thin on a good tune, the pianist hits the piano like it's a nail and he's a hammer, and I don't hear near the kind of interplay in that trio that I do in the bands they're often compared to. (Including TBP) I'd like to be wrong- can someone enlighten me?

Update: see Dave Douglas, another great advocate for covering newer music, and his especially cogent points on the topic.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Fringe Zones

If you've ever lived or studied in Boston, you know about the Fringe. The power trio of saxophonist George Garzone, bassist John Lockwood and drummer Bob Gulotti, who have been first calls for musicians from Buddy Rich to Luciana Souza to Phish, have had a weekly residence in a Boston club for more than twenty-five years, from the Somerville dive the Willow to several less memorable dives, now in the Lily Pad in Cambridge. But tomorrow night they go upscale to NEC's Jordan Hall. (Globe preview here)

The Fringe have become an institution here for musicians, and a trip to see the Fringe is as mandatory as a walk on the Freedom Trail. The music is often described as post-Coltrane free, but that sells it short. It's wild- one album cover has them in caveman outfits- and unusual. George has an unusual and fascinating intervallic approach to harmony that I still don't quite get, and the trio as a whole has that empathy that only comes with an longtime, intense farmiliarity. And it's free, in all senses of the word.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007


As I ponder bigger pictures, I wanted to take a second to highlight a few friends and colleagues who will be featured at next week's portion Festival of New Trumpet in New York. Not many big names here, but all worth hearing:

Sept 23- Jason Palmer @ the Jazz Standard, featuring Greg Osby
Sept. 25- Ralph Alessi @ CIM
Sept 26- Princess, Princess w/Jaimie Branch @ barbes
Sept 27- Nicole Rampersaud @ Cornelia Street Cafe

All of it is good, but these folks are special to me- go see why.

Monday, September 17, 2007

FONT Opening Concert @ CIM, 9/15

Having heard a lot about the Festival of New Trumpet Music over the past few years, without actually seeing a single show, I had no idea exactly how DIY it is. Maybe it was the venue- the Center for Improvisational Music is a newish space, not too far from the Brooklyn Academy of Music. It looks like an refurbished rehearsal space- it seats 75 or so and has a nice piano and a very comfortable, "lived-in" feel. To me, it's a direct extension of it's curator, Ralph Alessi's, personality, complete with a couple of kitchy, weird posters on the wall. (Note: I studied with Ralph for two years at Eastman)

Ralph opened the concert with his brass Extensions Ensemble. They took the name literally- the first piece was a sound collage where, due to multiphonics and other tricks, four guys sounded like ten. It was quiet, fierce, focused music. The highlight of the piece was a solo turn by Peter Evans, the other trumpeter in the group, whose extended technique had all the trumpeters in the audience beside themselves. The second piece, I'm guessing by Ralph, was an angular, modular piece with a lot of room for blowing. Here was Ralph's turn to shine; hi fired through in a more conventional sense, with searing lines up, down and around the horn.

Next up were Cecil Bridgewater and drummer Warren Smith, who offered an improvised tribute to Max Roach. Both toured with Max extensively, and offered praise for Max's generosity, musical and personal, and force of will. The music that followed was a little scattered, sneaking in several themes associated with Max, including "Bebop" and "Drum Along", which Max often opened his concerts with. I was completely unfarmiliar with Warren, and listening to him was a joy. He seemed to anticipate everything- mood and feel shifts, hits, climaxes- and then carry them an extra mile. Taylor Ho Bynum, the co-curater of FONT with Dave Douglas, said that anyone doing a benefit should always ask Warren first, because then everyone else will want to play, and I saw exactly what he meant.

Taylor followed with a solo improvisation, another formidible display of extended technique. He threw his body from side to side through the piece, playing to one wall, then suddenly the other. I'm not sure it was conscious or not, but I thought it was interesting, and definitely changed my perception of the performance. Some might find this distracting, but it brough me more into the physical space of the performance, hearing the sound bounce off one wall, then the other.
Next up was Douglas, in trio with Warren and Extensions tubist (and occasional Douglas consort) Marcus Rojas, performing a piece Dave described as a tribute to Lester Bowie. It was a 12/8 blues-ish piece, with Rojas filling a more tradition bass line role. Almost needless to say, Dave sounds great. The concert closed with a return of all the featured trumpeters, Rojas and Smith playing a free piece which morphed into a blues. Douglas and Alessi took a joint solo to begin the blues, which highlighed both the similarities and clear differences in their playing and approaches. (I found this especially interesting because there was awhile five years ago where it seemed like Ralph was the designated sub or replacement for all of Dave's sideman work- Don Byron, Uri Caine, etc. It was obvious both why the sub made sense, and how different the two of them are.)

The concert was a benefit for the groups that the various musicians here are affiliated with- FONT and CIM, as well as Smith and James Jabbo Ware's outreach non-profits. Dave mentioned that he hoped this was the beginnings of more and better collaborations among these and other groups involved in creative music. If it means more music like this, I'm all for it.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Chasing the muse, and chasing the ladies

I'm chewing hard on Dave Douglas' recent post about rep and Kris Tiner's new blog, specifically this post. I've also been thinking about a story a friend told me recently (He was there, and I wasn't, and I don't really know any of the parties involved except by reputation, so I'll be intentionally vague)

A well-know NYC jazz club booked an odd evening, pairing a grizzled old veteran player (GOV), sideman on many a tour with Great and Important Swingin' Jazz Artists, followed by a Wild Young Turk (WYT), playing challenging, left of center, critically praised but "out" music. (Think along the lines of, say, a Charlie Persip/Taylor Ho Bynum pairing, though it wasn't either of them) After the gig, folks were hanging, including several attractive women talking to GOV. WYT tried to get their attention, to no avail. After they'd broken away, WYT asked GOV why he couldn't get any love, and why GOV didn't help him out. GOV nearly lost it. "You expect any of those fine women to talk to you after all that crazy, out there #$^t you played tonight? And you expect me to get you there? What do you think this is?" Etc, etc.

I think most of us who've lived around the jazz world have a few stories like this. Confrontations at jam sessions, people yelling at gigs, etc. To me, it points out a dichotomy that Dave and Kris are dealing with in their posts. There are two dominant ideas of what "jazz" means (gross oversimplification ahead, and there are certainly more than two. But these are two I bump into very often) One is jazz as a tradition, a canon, a language which encompasses both musical syntax and cultural traditions. For instance, "Giant Steps" is a sixteen bar form with a novel harmonic structure, but also a saxophonist's rite of passage. This idea of jazz is about ninth chords and nightclubs, a musical language and a way of presenting yourself on stage. (And, yes, often chasing skirts, sexist as that may be) Not that many folks in this head agree on what that language or presentation should exactly be, but most agree that it should be something specific. I think my mentor Michael Cain put it very well here.

The other is the, perhaps more utopian idea of improvisational music as pure expression. Dave says it better than I:

"To me it means the freedom to learn All That. To do the work on the basics but to never forget why one is learning all that and to never be afraid to try something off the page. In fact, to especially have the urge to always try something off the page. To be ultimately free to choose, with as little illusion as possible, to make the music one feels."

(Please read Dave's whole post- there's a whole lot more than that there)

In other words, jazz, or whatevery you want to call it, is primarily about expression, wherever that takes you. Functionally, there is a faction in our music that seems to say the weirder, the "outer", the better. That's when you get anecdotes like the above.

Certainly these two are not necessarily opposed- this idea of jazz that GOV represents in the story is built on brilliantly creative, risk-taking musicians, free in the truest sense of the word. And certainly, jazz has a particular, important, complicated place in the African-American community that musicians, who aren't black or don't really understand that community, often ignore or downplay at our own peril. (I count myself here) And, perhaps more importantly, the first informs how jazz is taught and communicated in mass culture much, much more than the second.

It's not my place to say that one or the other is more true, or better. I certainly think more in the second, freedom head. But my entire education in this music is heavily informed by the first view, the idea of jazz as the True American Music, of playing standards and going to jam sessions and impressing women with particularly moving ballads. (not that that really happens much) But in thinking about the music we make and hear and care about, it behooves us to examine this distinction more carefully, and what we think about it. Could it lead to a more informed, more enlightened discussion of what we do?

Okay, I meant to talk about repitiore via Dave, but that can wait 'til later...

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Empty Your Cup

While I put myself together:

- Thanks to those who came to the hit on Sunday night with Lift. And huge, huge thanks to Eric, Andrew, Carmen, Bridget and Jason for bringing the music to life so wonderfully. We all agreed that it was a great start, and I want to do it again soon. Sound posts to come.

- Since Dave Douglas obviously doesn't have anything better to do at present, he wrote a long and fascinating blog about the issue of repertoire in jazz and improvised music. Hope this stirs the pot a lot- my thoughts to come. (I'm planning to make the opening FONT concert on Saturday night. Holler if you see me.)

- Darcy reviews the Claudia Quintet. I got to see the band in their last go-round in Boston, and it was equally great.

- I did get out to the Halvorson/Pavone duo and Ted Reichman hit in Brookline on Friday night. I had to be up at 5am, so sadly I missed the Speed/Noriega madness. Briefly, Halvorson/Pavone- fascinating, focused, riveting writing. Especially when they added their close-harmony duo singing. Unfortunately, the improvising didn't match it. Ted played long, minimal patterns on an out of tune piano with MIDI drumbeats. Not my cup of tea.

RIP Zawinul. Darcy, as usual, has the rundown. I bumped into Danilo Perez today, who was terribly bummed. He'd seen him at a festival this summer, and gushed about it. He will be missed.

- Finally, I was in quite a funk today even before that bad news, it being 9/11. Like many folks, I can still flash back to the moment I saw the TV with the planes, and the frantic attempts that week to reach people near the towers after the phones had gone out. I played the Knit ten days later- you still had to go through a National Guard checkpoint to get there- and walked by the rubble still smoking. I wish I had something eloquent to say this time, but I don't. I'd remind people that a conservative estimate puts the number of deaths US foreign policy has caused just in Iraq at more than ten times the deaths Al Queda caused on 9/11. And for what? We must do better, now.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Lift @ The Lily Pad, Sunday, 9/9, 7:15 pm

Here's the full info:

Pat Donaher & Lift

Jason Palmer- trumpet
Carmen Staaf- piano
Bridget Kearney- bass
Eric Platz- drums
Andrew Stern- guitar

Lily Pad, 1393 Cambridge St, Inman Square (map here)
7:15 pm, $10 suggested donation

I'm excited for this one- it's not often that ALL your first calls say yes, and can rehearse at the same time, but that happened here. We'll be reimagining some of the book I wrote for this instrumentation several years ago, and adding new things too. Sound clips will surely follow, but if you can, hope to see you in person.

(I'll be adding to this, and leaving it at the top of the page until the gig is done.)

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Gigs to see in September

Come to mine, of course, but in the meantime:

There is a Matthew Shipp/Vijay Iyer twinbill Tuesday 9/4 at the Regattabar that should be fantastic. (Of course, it happens during my brokest week of the year. Damn.) Anyone who goes, please feel free to e-mail and you can guest blog it.

Friday 9/7, the very good and criminally underhyped music series at Brookline Tai Chi has a great lineup, assembled by our favorite new local Ted Reichman. The show features a three clarinet band with Chris Speed, and the well regarded Jessica Pavone/Mary Halvorson duo. Also coming:

9/8 Betty Buckley and Kenny Werner at the Regattabar
9/12 Wolfgang Muthspeil at the Regattabar
9/13-14 Mose Allison at Scullers
9/14 Leo Genovese and Ultra Gauchos at the Lily Pad
9/26 Zizala at Ryles
9/28 Greg Hopkins Orchestra at Ryles

And, the Beantown Jazz Festival returns to the South End the last weekend of September. The opening concert, a benefit for a Berklee scholarship fund, is a star-studded blockbuster, which doesn't bode well. The free events are very good; highlights are Bobby Hutcherson's quartet and Claudia Acuna.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

sometimes the frog sings too

More Muppets whimsy- to celebrate the release of season 2 on DVD, the Phoenix newspaper compiled a top twenty Muppet Show musical moments. The Rich/Animal duel is already legendary; for me the find is the Paul Simon solo number. I didn't know this tune, and man is it great.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Summer fades away with its radio in the distance...

Every summer, they say, has its song. (I want to know who they are) You know the one, the song so ubiquitous it ends up on every radio station, even NPR, unbelievably catchy. The song you hear at every 7-11 on the planet as you get your slurpee. That song. There's never any universal agreement, but there are songs that I'll equate with a particular summer, from the really good ("Every Breath You Take", summer of '83, getting you all primed for Orwell) to the ridiculously catchy (remember "Crazy in Love" a few years back?) to the, well, less good (remember "Drop it Like it's Hot", also one of the most annoying catch phrases in recent history?)

But this summer, I need help. I listen to the radio some, probably more than I should, and I haven't found a song that fits the bill- catchy and ubiquitous, will play on white and black radio, you hear kids singing it. (Maybe the fragmentation of radio is part of why I don't have one, but that's another topic.) It doesn't even have to be good, though that'd be nice.

For the record, my nominations:

Cat Empire- "Sly"

It's catchy, it's danceable, and that thing in the video looks like a bass trumpet, which wins it cool points. On the downside, it sounds an awful lot like Cake (the first several times I heard it I said "Oh, cool, Cake's finally gonna have a radio hit" Oops.) and it never really caught on on teen radio.

Plain White T's- Hey There Delilah

I know, it's unbelievably cliche, almost self-consciously so, and lyrically really clunky. But is there anything more summer, at least in our dreams, than unironic, fearless young love? And it's ubiquitous. (Remember, I didn't say I liked it, or you had to)

Please tell me there's been something else in the pop world this summer that I missed. Please?

Friday, August 24, 2007

Gigs I won't be at this weekend...

But you could.

Terence Blanchard at the Regattabar, tonight. Blanchard is my favorite of the New Orleans' "young lions". I remember seeing him with the (criminally underrated) Bruce Barth ten years ago, and being just blown away. Music from his new post-Katrina record.

Herbie Hancock is at the Berklee Performance Center tomorrow night. With Nathan East- bass, Lionel Louke- guitar, Vinnie Colaiuta- drums. Cheapest seat is $50- Herbie, c'mon! Here's a taste, courtesy of YouTube:

Spacing out

King Kauffman,'s sports columnist, reports today on a Chicago Cub fan myspace page being shut down without explanation or apparent cause. This reminded me of a recent note I got from Living Colour about their continuing (mis)adventures with Myspace (scroll to July 3 entry), and what they found when they dug a little.

Living Colour is not alone here among musicians I follow; Meshell N'Degeocello has had her fan page on myspace dropped several times, and a few others I follow as well. Other musicians, Living Colour and John Mayer to name two, have shifted their more candid comments to other venues. (I like Mayer's "in response to the arrest of 63 fans")

Now, Myspace is a privately owned portal, owned by Rupert Murdoch's Orwellian Newscorp; Legally it can do whatever it wants on Myspace. But that doesn't make it fair or right- not LC's comments about the power of Myspce as a marketing tool once you hit a certain tipping point- and my hunch is that the more noise that is made when it does happens, the less it'll happen. Not even fascist like bad press.

Update: Myspace has responded to Salon, and blames this one on Major League Baseball. I don't know if I buy that one...

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

a nu warrior on the mat

For those of you in the Boston area, I will be teaching an all levels, "power flow" yoga classes at HYP Studio in Needham on Saturday morning at 7:30 and 9am. HYP is a lovely studio, with what many of my teacher friends call the best heat in Boston. (Yup, both classes will be taught at a balmy 95 degrees. You will sweat, and sweat, and sweat. So will I.) This is my first teaching since my recent training with Baron Baptiste, and I'm excited to get back into the flow of it again. (pardon the pun)

Don't worry, I won't be using the blog to advertise every class I teach- my hope is there'll be so many it'd get tedious. quickly This, though, is an Occasion.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Next gig- Lift @ Lily Pad, Sept. 9

First, for the first time in awhile I shifted ye ole myspace page, to include a live version "Wedding Day", a song I wrote for my brother's wedding. Their fifth anniversary is in a few weeks- yikes. Even that far out, I think this is one of the best tunes I've written. The band is Lift, with special guest Tim Albright. We may resurrect it for...

My next gig is all set! I will be bringing a new, full sextet version of Lift to the Lily Pad in Cambridge on Sunday, Sept. 9. Hit will be at 7:15. A new, fleshed out version of "Hopscotch" (also on the myspace page) will be on the menu, as well as some new and older music. (all this music has bumped blogging a bit, in case you haven't noticed. The lineup is:

Jason Palmer- trumpet
Carmen Staaf- keys
Andrew Stern- guitar
Bridget Kearney- bass
Eric Platz- drums
moi- saxophone

Andrew, a newcomer to my world, and Eric are two thirds of Fat Little Bastard, a great guitar trio. I'm the worst player in my band- I love that feeling. More as it comes.

Monday, August 20, 2007

opening kickoff, allegro con moto

From today's Monday Morning Quarterback, Peter King's NFL column, a must read every week for any (American) football fan:

At the start of (New York) Jets practice at their Long Island complex, Mozart concertos play from six speakers around the practice fields.
"There's a lot of debate about whether classical music, and Mozart in particular, stimulates brain waves and learning,'' (Jets head coach Eric) Mangini told me the other day. "So I figured, 'Why not? Let's do it.'''
Sure sounds strange while standing out there, that's all I can say.
"Not a lot of the guys are very big fans of it,'' safety Kerry Rhodes said.

Maybe Mangini should have started with the symphonies...

Thursday, August 16, 2007

RIP Max Roach

What can you say about one of, if not the greatest drummer in jazz history? When I was first getting into this music at age 10-11, all I listened to was Charlie Parker records, so Max Roach was a given for me. I just thought that's how people played drums.

Max's brilliance didn't hit me until several years later, when I got what is still my favorite Clifford Brown record, the Live at Basin Street outing of the Brown/Roach quintet, still with Sonny Rollins. Listening again now, the album is uneven, and Richie Powell is a little stiff, but the propulsion that Roach provides, and Clifford rides, still blows me away to this day. Just listen to the solo on the full version of "What is This Thing..." Wow.

When I was 16, I was also lucky enough to see a Max Roach solo set at Newport, featuring "Mr. Hi Hat", his tribute to Jo Jones. (This followed a duo set of Jack DeJohnette and Bobby McFerrin. I was a lucky kid) I was stupified. Here's one version, courtesy of Hank Shteamer at TONY:

Many others can say more, and speak better of Max's brilliance (great NYT obit here, and Darcy has an expanding blog rundown.) And like many folks, I knew he was sick. I'm just overwhelmingly grateful for Max's amazing music, searching soul and restless spirit. Heaven's rhythm section just got that much better.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

the dog who licks itself because it can

Words of wisdom from the great Lee Konitz. (via Rifftides)

Mwanji collects the shards of feedback on the most recent Keith Jarrett fiasco. The things I miss when I skip town. And I've been fortunate enough to see Keith's trio three different times- when I saw him in the Rochester area he actually laughed off an erstwhile photographer. Why do I miss all the good stuff? On a more serious note, before Keith's late 90s early 00s bout with chronic fatigue, there was a date set for a quintet record of the trio plus Lovano and Tom Harrell, playing all new material. (Rumors were floating around for awhile, and Jack DeJohnette confirmed them at a masterclass I attended in '97) One can only hope this idea gets picked up again...

And on a more frivolous note, Greg Easterbrook's Tuesday Morning Quarterback returns this week, just in time for really useless NFL preseason games. He gives rather roundabout capsules for each team, and a fantastic layman's guide to hedge funds, the biggest scam of the season not involving something made in China...

Addition: I'm the last one to this, but Steve Coleman finally has a blog. Anyone who's ever heard Steve speak or talked to him in person or on the phone, knows that this is long, long overdue. (My former prof Ralph Alessi, who toured with Steve for several years, said that if he called, he would just stop whatever he was doing, get his notebook and start writing.) It's dense, it's full, and some of it may be BS, but it's a must read. I've skimmed it, but I will spend an hour at work tomorrow literally mouthing along with the words, and then maybe, maybe start reacting...

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

RIP Herb Pomeroy

It's a drag to come home to be the bearer of bad news. Herb Pomeroy, longtime Boston trumpeter, composer, arranger and teacher lost his battle with cancer on Saturday at age 77. (Globe obit here, NY Times here) The article may seem like hyperbole, but it's not at all. Without Herb, Berklee couldn't have held it's post for so long as the jazz school, and his role on the Boston scene in the 50s, 60s and 70s was equally important.

I got to work with Herb once, in 1993 as part of the Mass all-state jazz band. We did an all-Ellington program (Herb was a quiet advocate for playing and learning all of Duke's music long before J@LC came along), still unusual in those days, especially for a high school band. It included a big band version of "Fleur African" from Money Jungle, very unusual. He loved everyone there, and everyone loved Herb. He was like your kind uncle who swoops in out of town once a year and regales you with tales about far-away lands. Only here the far-away lands were stories of Bird and Dolphy and Duke and so many others. I didn't get to work with Herb after that, but I am to this day grateful to him. He will be dearly missed.

As the article mentions, A memorial service will be held at 3 p.m. on Sept. 9 in Emmanuel Church on Newbury Street in Boston.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

corpse pose

I am headed out of town for ten days for a yoga teacher training, and a few days of R&R in the Berkshires after that. (Yes, I know Baron badly butchers Shakespeare here; he was never an english major...) No phone, no web, just yoga; we'll see how it plays out. Assuming I can still feel my fingers, blogging will resume on my return. 'Til then, enjoy the work of my esteemed colleagues, or fer cryin out loud, get outside and play in the sunshine! In the meantime, here's an aforementioned, amazing performance from Sonny Rollins and Leonard Cohen- I have more to say 'bout this one on my return.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

musical scale (w/leah swann, guest blogger)

Last week, at Tanglewood, the Boston Symphony under James Levine dove into Mahler 3. (NY Times review here) A little background- for as long as I can remember, about twenty years now, the BSO playing Mahler has been a big deal. I grew up in the Seiji Ozawa era, at the point where (allegedly) the musicians started getting bored of the maestro, and vice-versa, particularly during the long summers at Tanglewood. Every season was notoriously hit or miss, and with parents' season tickets and two summers working and playing at Tanglewood, I got to see some of both. BUT, whenever the BSO did Mahler, no matter how bad a run they were on by their standards, it was must-see music. The orchestra's intensity ramped up ten notches, Ozawa reminded everyone why they hired him in the first place, and the crowds rose to their feet. Not surprisingly, Mahler was on the program at least twice a year, and they would tour with Mahler 3 or 5 as part of the program.

I never thought too much about it. I always enjoyed the Mahler I got to see, but figured it was one of those things; some orchestras do certain periods or composers well. And Mahler, with his vast scope, grand themes and huge casts, is a good one to do well. Now I'm less sure.

My good friend, violist, occasional contributor to Strings magazine and all around amazing person Leah Swann is currently a fellow at Tanglewood; it's her second summer there, and she's an NEC grad, so she's seen her share of the BSO too. She recently send me a long missive about the recent Mahler 3 performance, with a very different take on playing and hearing his music. I'll let her talk now:

Mahler 3 seems to be this incredible depiction of the extremes of life -- ridiculous trombone solos and intensely loud full orchestra passages, muted trumpet and crazy double bass section solos...everything intense and dramatic and over the top but somehow not in an exaggerated, grotesque way, but in a way very much about human existence...not about a personal sort of humanity like Beethoven -- but about the humanity of a society, a culture, a people. (which seems so appropriate for a Symphony, no?) Beethoven is so amazing because his music seems to speak to everyone on a personal level, expressing all that it is to be human, and Mahler seems to express in a way vaguely similar all it is to be a part of something tremendous and living and breathing and writhing and aching and longing and celebrating. I thought a lot during the couple of hours about this idea that it was music so great that it also Demanded greatness -- here they (the BSO) were, all shining, all giving everything -- and it seems like that had to be partly true because you just couldn't do the piece any other way, you know? so then I started thinking about other pieces that are like that...that Demand something of the performer, that grow you and teach you something because you just can't be involved with the music in a way that is anything less.

It got me thinking- her question about musical Demands is a huge one, and one I wanted to throw out to the hivemind. Especially in our music (jazz/improv/art-pop/what-have you), is there an equivalent to Mahler? Do we, can we, are we well served when we operate on that scale? I'm inclined to argue no- our music, unlike European art music, was built from a small scale, from three minute 45s, from brothels and the Cotton Club and Birdland and lofts and the 200-seat Knitting Factory, so by it's nature it's not as broad as Mahler, or Strauss, or Nixon in China. And when it tries to be- Kenton, Ellington's Sacred Concerts, the Rock-operas of the 70's- it falls flat on its face. I was just listening to Maria Schneider's new record, Sky Blue, and it comes closer than anything she's done, or anything I've heard in awhile- it's big and bold and beautiful, certainly, but also in turn very soft and delicate, and far more personal than grand. More Beethoven if you use Leah's argument. (Maria's liner notes, almost diary-like, are a giveaway) In jazz (for lack of better language) our brilliance is in many ways in the intimacy of it- watching Trane communicate his processes, technical, emotional and spiritual, seeing Miles break a room apart with three notes, hearing Billy Holiday seemingly wilt into the microphone or Johnny Hodges climb ten stories in a second during a ballad. And currently, watching Dave Douglas and The Bad Plus and Darcy and Ron Miles and so many others try to thread the needles of tradition and innovation, irony and passion that our time demands. Even at their most political, it's a most beautiful form of retail politics, hardly an international soapbox.

I know personally, I've been very blessed to play some big, beautiful, Important rooms- including at Tanglewood- and I've never been able, never wanted to muster up that kind of grandeur, even writing 15 minute jazz odysseys for large ensemble. I want the person in the back of the hall to feel drawn in, like we're in a small club or a living room, having a conversation. And even playing Ellington with a big band, I never felt like I could fall back on the music the way I think some classical musicians believe they can with Mozart or Brahms. I think when you really pull an audience into Mahler, or a big opera, they're buying into the granduer, but when you pull a crowd in with our music, they buy into the personality of it.

But I could be wrong- is there a Mahler in our ranks? Other thoughts greatly appreciated.

P.S. Many, many thanks to Leah for the use of her beautiful missive, and congratulations to her, Evan and the rest of the TMC orchestra for kicking ass on Verdi's "Don Carlo this weekend. (Reviews here and here) Even listening on the radio a hundred miles away, it was amazing to behear.

P.P.S To drive it home, here's a very different take on Tanglewood, Miles ca. 1971. (thanks to Jason Palmer for this, my first non-text link. Slowly, we get hep to the future here at Visionsong HQ.)