Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Crouching, thinking, striking....

The first time I had anything of note published (words, anyway) was a letter to the editors of the New York Times Arts page, taking issue with an essay written by Stanley Crouch disparaging hip-hop. This was 1999, pre-blogs, pre-Ken Burns' "Jazz", not too long after Wynton disciple Peter Watrous had left the Times and Jazz at Linoln Center was still either a bright new crowning achievement or an gaping open wound, depending on who you talked to. I had admired Crouch tremendously when I was a young lion wannabe- he was grand (or grandiose), he was remarkably intelligent, and he never lacked opinions. Still doesn't. He really appealed to my natural intellectual. In some ways I have him to thank (or blame) as much as anyone for my intellectual and critical involvement in jazz and improvised music.

So I read with interest that none other than The Bad Plus host a lengthy, substantial and tremednously readable interview with Crouch today on their blog. The two links they provide about Crouch, a profile in the New Yorker and a review of his recent book, are also must reading. I know of Ethan's tremendous admiration of (and occasional frustration with) Crouch from talking to him, both of which I think come across here. (Ethan said he had a doozy coming. He wasn't kidding)

In reading the interview, I'm reminded of Crouch's huge, probing intellect, and gifts as a writer and thinker. To wit, here's Crouch again:

In Considering Genius, it's always an attempt to deliver the player to the reader, so that the reader realizes that this is a special person.

And as a white person who has always been skeptical of a lot of the outward displays of "hyper-blackness" I've seen in the artistic community, but too chicken-&^$t to say much, to read his critiques of black nationalism is refreshing:

There's a lot of resentment--or hand-me-down resentment--in both races about that period of black nationalism.

But, that said, the interview highlights why I can never fully stomach Crouch. Again, he does it himself:

I don't write things to shock people, necessarily, but sometimes, when making an argument…

Let me put it this way: Some people go out into a field of wheat and they'll pick something--just one thing that they like. However, other people will drive a thresher through there.

Sometimes, if I have a choice, I'll just drive the thresher through.

Ethan responds gently:

Well…there are friends of mine that you have driven the thresher through, and I know that it doesn't feel good.

But I understand that there is an argument for being over the top, just putting it out there, and seeing the dust settle.

I'll be less tactful. Crouch is called by his detractors an intellectual schoolyard bully (with the fistfights to prove it.) My experience with bullies is that their bluster is there to hide their insecurities, or the holes in their positions, or both. If I need to "throw down" to prove ANY point, I've lost the arguement whether I win the fight or not. I feel like Stanley is so smart, and capable of real thinking, that when he throws verbal hand grenades he's shortchanging himself and his audience, and often needlessly hurting people in the process. (Which makes the fact that Marianne Williamson considers him an intellectual godfather that much more curious.)

More specifically, I think David Adler nails my primary problem with Crouch's music criticism far better than I would say it:

Considering Genius represents Crouch’s frustrating attempt to square a circle: emphatically drawing the boundaries of jazz while proclaiming the music’s universality.

To wit:

Being acceptable is not a primary concern. If I wanted to be acceptable, I would join those dolts who think they will get young people to listen to them if they praise rap.

Is it possible that "they" find value in some quality "rap"? Like some forward looking critics once stood alone in the wilderness defending "jazz"? (And here I contradict myself- I agree with him about reading Schuller) Further...

There is nothing wrong with Douglas, who can play what he can play and should continue to do whatever he wants to do, but there is something pernicious about [Francis} Davis and all of those other white guys who want so badly to put white men--American and European--in charge and put Negroes in the background. Douglas…is far from being a bad musician, but he also knows that he should keep as much distance as possible between himself and trumpet players like Wallace Roney, Terence Blanchard, and Nicholas Payton, to name but three, any one of whom on any kind of material--chordal, nonchordal, modal, free, whatever--would turn him into a puddle on the bandstand.

I can't really touch the racial element Crouch brings up here... I'd get skewered. But I will speak to music... I've heard Dave tear it UP, and I think his current pass with the SFJazz Collective could well quiet many remaining doubters. But even if Dave couldn't "swing" by Crouch's definition (and I disagree with that contention), do you really want to hold up Wallace Roney as an example, who spits up Miles Davis licks the way a cow spits up half-eaten grass? (oops, I just pulled a Crouch there). Aping tradition is not the same thing as celebrating it. (And I've never heard what was so special about Payton, but that's another discussion...)

I think that too often critics have and do use the word "expression" to cover for a lack of quality. Later in the article, Crouch's commentary on Ornette is a great example of the right way to talk about "unconventional" (read avant-garde) expression. But to my eyes and ears Crouch mistakes "quality" with "how I want it to be", and then waylays the artist for it. (the old bit about criticizing an ice cream soda for not being hot) You don't have to like it, but if it's quality then I don't think you have the right to thrash it. When I review any musical material, this is a line I try to tread very carefully- I think you owe it to the artist and the audience. And I feel like Crouch doesn't just cross the line, often he pisses on it out of spite.

If you are going to hold jazz up as a model of community, you have to allow for this community to grow and evolve naturally, even if it doesn't fit your idea of what a community is "supposed to be." Crouch is a beautiful interpreter of the music he likes, and of a vision of what jazz has been, but that's not the same thing as what it will (or should) be. To pigeonhole Crouch's politics is insulting, and I wouldn't dare do so, but in this case Crouch's view is about as useful as that of a social conservative who is fighting gay marraige by holding up some idealized vision of a '60s family. (insert armchair psychoanalysis here) As one of my teachers likes to say: "Don't keep up with the Joneses; they're probably even more messed up than you."

Stanley Crouch is always worth reading, especially here, being interviewed by a very astute and knowledgeable peer. But this whole conversation is why I'll never be entirely confortable wiht the word "jazz". (I should explain this statement, but later) He too often recasts the shining light on a hill as a lightning rod, to, I believe, no one's benefit. Not the music, not the artists, not the audience, not even his.

Darcy's commentary is also worth reading.

I've said too much- back to the work at hand tomorrow.

Monday, February 26, 2007

while I watch the snow melt...

A brief update today- I'm hoping to post some useful thoughts about music for the upcoming gig tomorrow. In the meantime...

Last evening was spent in the pleasant company of the Bad Plus. (Thanks again, Ethan) It was a good time and a great crowd. I can't add much to my previous review, except:

Ethan's suit was great - he looked really dapper.
I heard the now (nearly) legendary "Tom Sawyer" and "Teen Spirit" covers. I liked the Nirvana a lot, but I'm afraid I still can't stand Rush, despite Dave King's recent defense of the band in their blog.
That said, David King is all that and a bag of Tostitos Scoops!

Mwanji, don't go! Okay go- everyone deserves a vacation. He leaves us an intriguing postcard- an interview with Ken Vandermark. I plead ignorance on Vandermark's music- another gig prevented me from seeing his recent Boston hit.

Wiki seems to be the theme of the week- check out Darcy's exploration of musicology, conservopedia style. Sigh, when did conservatism become an intellectual vacuum. It wasn't always so. And the overtly political blog in Darcy's two blog household is featured prominently on Salon today, as Lindsay Beyerstein expains why she didn't take a job with John Edwards' campaign.

I've been entranced lately by several performances from David Sanborn's late, great NightMusic show on Youtube. If you go to Youtube and search "NightMusic" (one word), you get some great stuff, all over the map musically. Some of my favorites:

Miles playing Hannibal. I'm not 100% sure, but it sure looks and sounds like Marcus Miller on bass.
Pharoah Sanders playing Thembi.
Charlie Haden and the Liberation Music Band: Sandino and the ANC anthem. I actually like Makada's solo more here than on the album, though no one comes close to touching Dewey's energy here.
Tim Berne and band. This comes recommended by Ethan. And check out Joey Baron's glasses!
The great Leonard Cohen. and againwith the equally great Sonny Rollins. I love Sonny's solo (the one inside the tune here. Such an unlikely, and effective, pairing. (Thanks to Dominique Eade for pointing me to this one.)
Abbey Lincoln sings First Song. The albm this is from, "The World is Falling Down", was my introduction to Abbey, and it may not be her best, but it's my favorite. God she sings this song beautifully. And possibly the best Sanborn solo I've ever heard.

Other suggestions are appreciated.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Trik your wiki

Caught my eye- The most e-mailed article on the New York Times today covers Middleburry College, a small school in Vermont, and their history department's ban on using Wikipedia as a source in papers. The reasoning seems sound- several students cited a fact from Wiki that, well, wasn't true. At all. This, I guess, was the proverbial straw that broke the camel.

As Behearer, with its Wiki base, is too young and still too empty (hint, hint) to matter in this kind of discussion yet, I'm curious to see if/how it could enter the conversation later. I, and I think the crew, would love it if we started to see it cited my "legit" musicology. That's part of the reason we're trying to add first-person content. We'll see...

better human than dead

(via Mwanji) A transcript of Ornette's Grammy acceptance speech from earlier this month. Much too much to even attempt to comment on...

(The folks in the image on the site, in case you weren't sure, are Judi Silvano, Joe Lovano, Charlie Haden, Ornette, Ruth Haden, and I'm not sure who- help please)

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

frozen apples

Aren't nearly as tasty...

I think there are two kinds of ex-New Yorkers, a band I now count myself among. There are those that still enter the city ga-ga eyed, and continue to be swept away by its inherent scale and romance of the place. Then there are those who wax nostalgic about how it was when they lived there, and how much worse it is now. (It’s not limited by age; I hear folks my age saying things like I played (The Knitting Factory, Bar 54, Wetlands, Bradley’s, insert club here) when it MEANT something to play there. In other words, they put their old New York game face on whenever they go to visit. I try to avoid either extreme when I visit. That, and the extreme cold does tend to harden one's opinions, and this weekend was damn cold.

That said, I can’t help noticing…

Maybe it’s just because of the holiday weekend, bet the subway stops are cleaner than I remember then, and the trains even slower and more infrequent.

Speaking of Bar 54 (the one by the Letterman show), it closed. Damn, another venue gone.

By coincidence I ended up spending some time at the new plaza at Columbus Circle, or whatever they call it. What a facility, especially when I think about walking by the decrepit old armory that was there for years. Whatever you think about Jazz at Lincoln Center, the physical space and venues are spectacular, and the view is great. However, when I walk into the mall and Miles playing “Autumn Leaves” is coming at me, loud, in unusually high fidelity, I can’t help but feel like I’m being force fed.

I barely recognized the Village Voice by looking at it, or by its quality. I though the lead article- about the sexual (mis)adventures of a 31-year old man with developmental disabilities had no business being a lead article based on either quality of writing or subject matter. I had heard about all the cutbacks and generally bad editorial decisions being made, but hadn’t seen it myself. Yikes. The Boston Phoenix might be a better paper right now, something that was unfathomable five years ago. (I said might.)

I paid my first visit to Union Hall, a new-ish (to me, anyway) bar/performance space/bocce court in Park Slope. Yup, indoor bocce. Very, very hipster, but it still managed to be pretty hip. (Anywhere with Chimay on tap can’t be all bad)

In case you can’t tell, I’m pretty burned out on hipster.

By good luck David Ryshpen and I happened to be in the same neighborhood, and hit the early part of the jam session at Cleopatra’s Needle. It was my first time hearing Dave play live- we were both on Cruise Ship X, but not at the same time- and even in this somewhat limiting setting his imagination and command are evident. He auditioned at NEC, and I’m hoping we can pull him into Boston for a couple of years. I say limiting because at one point of the session the pianist was 6, and the drummer 13. And both of them acquitted themselves nicely. Not ready for a record contract, but certainly competent and musical well beyond any reasonable expectations of your average kid. I seem to hear this more and more often, and wonder what it means for this music in the future. Perhaps I’ll fold that into a forthcoming IAJE rant.

In the meantime, the home front beckons. Notable additions to the local gigs of note list include Monika Heidenman and band at Ryles tonight (oops), Sofia Kousivitkis and band at Ryles Saturday evening, Alarm Will Sound playing Colin Naracrow at the Gardiner on , and The Bad Plus at the MFA on Sunday afternoon. If I’m lucky I’ll make half.

Tony Malaby Trio, Matana Roberts/Tyshwan Sorey Duo, Stone 2/17/06

(Edited 2/24, with major correction- Tyshawn Sorey is NOT the drummer for Sticks and Stones, Chad Taylor is. My apologies to all involved.)

First, this was my first venture to Stone, the volunteer run new-music space buried deep into the East Village. The space itself is Spartan- there is no obvious sign in front of the venue, black is the dominant color, and there is no bar or food (no food allowed, either). There are fifty or so plastic chairs, and a small PA and drum kit. (No bass amp- William Parker miked himself into the PA.) It seemed to embody at once the DIY character and the esthetic sensibility of the scene it was created to represent.

Tony Malaby is one of those musicians who leaves you asking “why isn’t he bigger?” He is a brilliant, versatile player in a variety of settings, and is amply recorded as both leader and sideman. He has made several notable albums, and is fantastic as a foil for Fred Hersch in his “five man trio”. Despite this, and the awe he inspires among saxophonist and afficianados- by 8:15 the room was packed to the gills- he has not received the wider attention that some of his equals (Potter, McCaslin, etc) have.

This gig, a free improvising trio, was an amazing showpiece for Tony. He explored seemingly every possible way of getting sound out of the saxophone- playing, honking, screeching, puffing. He employed every “extended technique” you could think of- multiphonics, singing and playing at once, percussive effects, even (I think) putting his teeth on the reed, which results in ungodly shrieks. He would open most of the improvisations with a clear thematic statement, and precede to repeat it, develop it, explore it, and/or shred it.

However, while Malaby himself was beyond amazing, I found the full trio music unsatisfying. There were certainly moments, especially when the band broke into a duo formation, but too often the rhythm section fell into what have become the standard patterns of free playing behind a saxophone- lots of crashing and almost but not quite swing/walking. Part of this could be explained by Randy Peterson walking in at the last minute for ill drummer Nasheed Waits. The result though, was music that was far too monochromatic, formally and texturally. I’m at a point as a listener and player where no matter how good the players, it’s not a whole lot better than hearing a neo-bop piano trio make yet another run through “Stella”.

Matana and Tyshawn took a completely different approach, organizing their set around several song forms- “Sometimes I Feel…”, “Come Sunday”, and “Round Midnight” I recognized, and I think there was one I didn’t. (Tonight Sorey played piano; he is better known as a drummer) In introducing the last tune Matana alluded to a project she’s working on about her family’s identity and dynamics, racial and otherwise, and this seemed to inform the musical decisions of the evening. (She also showed off a Flat Stanley sent to her by a cousin in Illinois, who had excitedly told friends that it was going to “someone famous” in New York.)

The rapport between Matana and Tyshawn them is obvious. They are both patient players who alternate easily between “inside” and “outside” harmonies and techniques. Unlike a lot of “avant” saxophonists, Matana’s playing is very clean, and technically crisp, closer in delivery to Kenny Garrett or Steve Coleman than Ornette or Archie Shepp. Tyshawn combined the deft touch and rhythmic instincts of a good drummer with a composer’s wide harmonic and textural sensibility. He never soloed per se- either Matana was the featured voice or they played as equals for the whole set.

This was very dramatic music- while the melodies and harmonies of each tune were obvious, the delivery was rarely straightforward- there were pauses, discursions, reharmonizations, and asides aplenty. The results were far more arresting than the first set- and more satisfying.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Danilo Perez Trio @ the Regattabar, 2/16/07

In this day and age, what does free playing mean?

Does it have to mean an absence of form, of set meter? Does it merely mean crazy expirimental freedom? What about Wayne Shorter’s current quartet, where the form of a tune changes with each performance? I thought about all of these questions listening to Danielo Perez’s current trio. (Not coincidentally, Danilo is the current pianist in Wayne’s band.) The band played six distinct tunes- jazz standards (“Con Alma”, Bouncin with Bud”), pop standards (Stevie Wonder’s “Overjoyed”), Latin Standards ("Rabo de Nube", known to some listeners from Charlie Haden’s “Dream Keeper record) and two of Danielo’s originals- but the forms were suggestions rather than set borders.

The time was clearly stated 90% of the time, but no one player felt beholden to playing groove, pulse or time feel. This was especially obvious on the standards- throughout “Con Alma” they played the time and the form explicitly, but no one played ever walked a bassline, or held a groove. It reminded me of the great Bill Evans trio’s interplay, with a Latin rather than a swing rhythmic foundation. The tune eventually morphed into the gorgeous “Rabo de Nube”. “Bouncin’ with Bud” came with a wink and a nudge- the form was still obvious, but the time was taffee, and there was ample, if virtuosic, clowning in the piano solo. “Overjoyed” obeyed the rules of form most closely, if only because the tune alternated between 7/8 and 6/8, (It is recorded this way on Danielo’s disappointing “Til Then” record)

Ben Street and Adam Cruz are exceptional foils for Danielo, virtuosic without being flashy, and the trio has an empathy that comes for the unusual combination of personal chemistry and a lot of gigging. Cruz took only one solo, on another original for Daniela, which sounded as much like timbales as a drum kit.

Shorter’s influence on the way Danilo approached trio playing is obvious, especially to fans who have followed his full career. There is at once a looseness and a supreme confidence that isn’t as evident even on “Motherland”, probably his best recording. Unfortunately, this post-Wayne version of the trio has yet to be documented. Here’s hoping- especially if it’s a live record. (CORRECTION- Danilo has released a trio record via ArtistShare, available at his website. It would help if when I google him I spell his name right.)

One major complaint- I was sitting towards the back of the room, and sitting there I noticed just how bad the piano sounded- the miking made the sound like it was a mile away, and not 40 feet. I’ve heard so many pianists rant about proper care and miking of pianos in clubs that I usually tune it out. But the Regattabar piano is almost universally well regarded, and was in tune, so it was frustrating to hear the miking diminish the quality of the gig.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Little man in the big town

With the onset of school vacation for the local schools, I'm headed down to New York for a few days, to hear some music you just can't get here, connect with some old friends, and soak up a little of the city. The itenerary:

Tonight: still in Boston, I'm undecided between the Danielo Perez trio at the Regattabar, and traditional Irish superand Solas at the Somerville Theatre. I've seen both before, and they're both fantastic.

Saturday: thanks to a heads-up from Ethan, will hit the Malaby/Matana Roberts twin-bill at Stone.

Sunday: ???

Monday- Behearer interview #1 during the day, then up in the air for the evening.

Haven't decided on where to practice (yoga, that is). Hoping to check out the Dharma Yoga center.

Suggestions on both are most welcome.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Red roses smell funny

What little historical evidence we have of the actual St. Valentine was that he was a (presumably celibate) Christia bishop in the 6th century, martyred for his beliefs. The legend goes he wrote notes of support to his followers, which were dubbed "Valentines". How we got from there to today's Hallmark-driven orgy is beyond me.

The really awful weather here in Boston (snow/sleet, freezing later, then more snow) has knocked St. Valentine from the headlines today, but I couldn't let it pass:

A few years ago, for a school assignment, the class had to write an American Songbook style tune, within fairly specific parameters. The due date happened to fall on Valentine's Day, so I came up with a little number called "You Won't See Me Wearing Red Today". (I was in a mini-Cole Porter phase.) I thought about posting an MP3 of me singing it, but I realized I want people to come back. But for all you misers out there, here's the chorus:

I don't feel at all romantic
pretty ballads sound pedantic
You won't see me wearing red today
Gourmet choclates taste like dirt
and hallmark greetings all sound curt
I'll have no trouble keeping love at bay
It's a Given I won't get
that after midnight cigarette
those romantic notions are all lost on me.
Can't imagine moonlit dinner
on a day when saints and sinners
wait and hope that cupid drops a dream their way.
You won't see me wearing red today.

For the very curious, here's a PDF download of the whole thing. If you care to sing it, and sing better than I do- that doesn't take much- please do. I'd be curious to hear the results

Please don't e-mail about how weak the verse is, I already know. I still got an A.

Current listening- Metheny Meldhau

Monday, February 12, 2007

Hit the ground crawling

For those of you in the area who really like high school jazz, I will be a "special guest" tomorrow (Tuesday) night at the Boston College High Jazz Night. 7pm, 150 Morrisey Bvld, playing great jazz chesnuts. Actually, I'm looking forward to it- it's my alma mater, and the combo I'm playing with is pretty good, especially the rhythm section. It's a nice baby step for me back into live gigging.

I have also confirmed my first gig as a leader since my days on Cruise Ship X. It will be Sunday, March 4 at the Lily Pad in Cambridge. More details to follow, but it will have a Behearer theme and some great local players. I'm excited!

Other people's Grammys

Stereogum's liveblog.

Salon skewers last night.

idolator's liveblog

Bill Simmons (aka Sports Guy), who I blame for my attempt, decided to do it himself too. He hits it: "You know the Grammys have fallen when an idea works and you're actually surprised."

Please send others. All of the are certainly snarkier than me.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Grammy liveblog

Edited Monday only for typos.

7:57- Good to go- just had the best pizza in JP (Bella Luna), great beer (Dogfish Head 60 minute), and plugged the TV into my stereo system, something I do once a month maybe… Here’s hoping it’s worth it.

Inadvertantly caught the last 15 minutes of “60 Minutes”. I’m still not used to Katie Couric in her new “face of network news” role. I still don’t buy it. But she did a nice piece with Norah Jones.

8:00 “We are the Police and we’re back!: And they’re doing “Roxanne”, my least favorite Police song. Just my luck. Sting sounds the best I’ve heard him in awhile though. The drummer looks like his head is going to explode. They’ve put a little mosh pit up front in the hopes you’ll forget that it’s mostly a bigwig affair. Nice try- doing a simulcast from a little club would’ve been better.

That said, they sound good- it had kind of a jam session feel, and they all seemed to like doing it, which you're never sure of with the Police. I hope they tour, and I can actually afford to go- looks like if you get them early in the tour it's a good show.

8:04 In the downscreen (you don’t really matter) bulliten board, Brecker wins two jazz awards, as I called, including big band.

8:05 Duo/collaboration award- what a weird amalgamation- Stevie Wonder/Tony Bennett, Bono/MJ Blige, Nelly Furtado/Timbaland. How does anyone I judge that?!! Not surprisingly, they go with the old standby, Bennett and Wonder. (At least they didn’t wait ‘til one of them died. And it is a nice recording.)

8:08 Joan Baez introduces the Dixie Chicks. For once, the connection makes sense. Thousands of TVs across the heartland are probably switching channels right now.

8:10 After all the falderal, after selling even more records, after an apparently great documentary about them (on my Netflix list), I guarantee you all the press about the Dixie Chicks tomorrow will be about their clothes. I don’t like them either, but I hope I’m wrong. (And that bridge- holy overwrought string section!) Bottom line- I like the Dixie Chicks okay, but that was not their best effort.

8:17 Prince???!! Apparently he survived the Superbowl okay. To introduce Beyonce. I’m using her phenomenally cookie-cutter power ballad to catch up on the flash-across-the-screen awards. Bela Fleck beats Sex Mob. No surprise, but that stinks. Nancy Wilson wins the vocal- yawn. Brecker wins soloist- probably best in that category, though you can make and argument for Branford. And then there’s the dying thing. To be continued. Mercifully, that was short.

8:21 Black Eyed Peas talking about Booker T and the Mgs. I didn’t know they’re back story as the Stax house band. More than deserving of the air time- wish they’d let ‘em play. Now- R&B Album award. How does Prince NOT win this one.? (He won’t win this one.) He doesn’t win; this one; Mary J. Blige does. Fan favorite, I suppose. She’s clearly overwhelmed, and has a speech prepared, and talking about herself. A lot. They’re trying to stop her- she won’t stop. Go girl. I think. (I’ll catch this one later)

8:25 Spending precious minutes hyping the Justin Timberlake contest, while cutting all the performances to 3 minutes? AAARGH!!

8:28 Commercials. Returning to the jazz awards, Chick beats Ornette, DeJohnette and Sonny. Please! I actually know a couple of people who vote on the jazz awards- to get into the Academy you need an album producer credit, a couple of connections and a screaming need to feel important, often when you’re not. Being a sharp, discerning player, producer, and/or player is sadly not a major criteria. Breckers win big band- necrophilia rules again, since I think the other four were certainly better, more artistic records. I’ll stop now.

8:32 Justin Timberlake talking about his song. Again, spare me. Either sing or shut up! Okay, he’s singing now. I should qualify, I actually kind of like Justin- he clearly can sing and dance (even if her really apes MJ), he cares about the music a lot, his band is so tight it’s sick. That’s obvious, even in what’s obviously a really tough situation to pull off. And every song he’s done (except “SexyBack, which I detest) has been at least listenable, and the latin-ish tune off the first record was actually good.

Typical Grammys- the backup band is waaaay too big, and he sounds like he’s singing in a bathroom. Now he’s got a digital video cam- I really don’t’ want to see his pores up close. (Though clearly whatever he uses for zits works better than my stuff does.)

8:37 Oops, announcers talking over each other. Now, Pink and T.I. Pink introduces the Doors’ achievement award. This is a travesty. Female B&B vocal. More Mary J. Blige. I think she’s wearing a great dress. But I need to go to the men’s room…

8:46 And now, Stevie Wonder, brought to you by God. And Target. But he’s singing, so it’s all good. He’s introducing (I, Stevie Wonder! Say these guys I’m introducing are okay!!) Corrine Bailey Ray, John Legend, and John Mayer. I’ve managed to completely miss CB Ray, so this is the first time I’m hearing her. Is that cellos behind her. I like the writing- understated. Now too much drums, and here’s John Mayer channeling B.B. King. (I’m actually okay with this. I liked “Trio” a lot.) She’s okay, in a Norah Jones but not quite as good kind of way. On the other hand, I’m pretty sold on John Legend. But now there’s way too many strings- how many arrangers did they use? It’s not a big song, don’t kill it. The vocal harmonies are nice. I don’t know anything about this song, but I can’t help but think about Iraq when I hear it. Tragic. And John Mayer is doing “Gravity”- thank God he didn’t do the “Waiting on the World” song. I almost turned in my fancard on that one (more on that in downtime). I like the B-3. I like this performance, all in all, but I don’t think it hangs together well as a medley. Maybe that’s too much to ask. That said, I’ll take it.

8:56 The blonde- I have no idea who that is- looks stoned. Best pop vocal album- again, how do you judge this crew? John Mayer wins. Does he go political? Nope- but he does thank Steve Jordan.

8:58 More Timberlake duo crap. If people haven’t voted by now, after a full month of hype, do they people care? And coming up- an Eagles tribute! I’m going to hurl.

9:02 Back to Mr. Mayer. I detest that “Waiting for the World” song- NY Times ">piece about it here. First, it’s an obvious ripoff of “What’s Going On” without the guts to actually bite into the issue of the day. But my bigger problem- in the last elections there were signs that for the first time in many moons, the 20-somethings were more politically active than some of their older brethren. Now is NOT the time to tell anyone to stand around and wait. Ghandi said it best- be the change you seek. I know that's a lot to invest in a pop song, but I think Mr. Mayer can do better. (Looking at him, I'm convinced he's going to look like Mr. Rogers at age 45.)

9:04 Shakira and Wycliff. Do either of them really sing, or just moan? But my God, look at her!

9:05 Clearly, they just went to the vocal tracks. What is that set- half Moroccan temple, half acid trip. Despite the fact that their Haitian and Columbian.

9:08 Burt Bacharach and Seal salute Herb Albert and Jerry Moss. Albert has given a ton of money to many jazz causes. Awkward announcer cut-in- can’t they get this straight? Song of the year. A hunch says Dixie Chicks win. I called it right- I’ll be offering 900 number betting advice tomorrow.

Randy Newman wins for song written for movie. He’s turned onto a one-man awards machine in that niche. They’re still good songs, but a long way from “Rednecks”.

9:17 I’m intentionally not even looking at the ads so I can finish a thought. And hold on to some semblence of sanity.

I barely recognize Alyson Hannigan (formerly Willow, the nerdgirl/witch on Buffy), who I had a crush on ten years ago. What a horrid fake tan. Honoring…. The Grateful Dead? Who planned that one? And matching them with Gnarles Barkley is... not how I would've done it. They’re dressed as airline captains; I’m never flying again. Remixed as a dirge march. No wait, that’s a live orchestra! In Mozart wigs! And choir in an outfit I can’t quite see.

Sorry, Police. So far that was the performance of the night.

9:23 Common and Kanye West start a beef on national TV. OK, not really, But they do introduce a deep rap category. I hope to God the Roots win. So they won’t win. T.I. will. Oops, or Ludicris. An Oscar and a Grammy- that's a good year. Nice line about cutting his hair. A long list of thank yous. Thanking Oprah and Bill O’Reilly- further proof that any publicity is good publicity.

9:26 Did I mention there’s a contest to sing with Justin Timberlake? And YOUR vote matters. Unless you live in Ohio, northern Florida or poor neighborhoods of Boston.

9:33 Terence Howard onstage. I wish I could wear a vest like that. Introducing an award for Maria Callas. Long overdue, but a nice presentation. And introducing Mary J. Blige, speaking of divas. (“This song is very important to me, let me talk about me some more…)

I’ll be honest, as I said, I don’t get it. She sings fine, but not any better than Beyonce or a host of others. She talks about herself in the third person. She’s hyperdramatic. Okay, this is more a reflection of me than her- I’ve seen so many people get caught up in their own drama. Even when the drama moves in a positive way, it’s still drama, and only invites more drama. Maybe songwriters need that. She is playing the diva to a hilt.

9:38 “Soon to be seen in “vacancy”, I love these product placements. Best country album. Dixie Chicks will win again. But I hope Willy Nelson does, because… well, do I even need to explain? I’m right again!! I wish there were NFL games to pick this week. Now do they go political? Nope. Allusions, but nothing about Wubba. Damn.

9:47 Reba McIntyre introduces the Eagles tribute. But first she talks about the Texas Playboys, again richly deserving of all praise. (There’s a great bit about them in Ratliff’s 100 Best Jazz Albums, which again is worth the read)

First, though, Carrie Underwood sings a Playboys tribute, with their fiddle player. I’ve missed her completely, due to my intentional avoidance of anything Idol. If this performance is any indication, she’s not very good- she clearly respects the music, but it’s obvious she hasn’t really lived with it, as the really good ones in any genre have to. (To be fair, it could be nerves. That’s a pretty nerve-wracking situation, and she’s still real young.)

Now the Eagles stuff. I really dislike the Eagles- everything I don’t like about 70s rock. Okay, not everything- the Eagles were never overtly racist. Henley seems the opposite. So I’ll abstain from this mess- if you can’t say something nice, etc. I want Sly Stone back.

9:59 Natalie Cole and ORNETTE COLEMAN?? And Ornette gets a big hand. (Would it be too much to give him a real Grammy. He did make probably The best jazz album of last year.) Gets lifetime achievement honor. He deflects the attention himself to an award featuring five musicians who couldn’t carry his mouthpiece- totally Ornette. Very beautiful, and a great lesson. Also, a great suit. Best new artist- Carrie Underwood will win. She wins. (If someone just performed, she’ll win the next one. That’s the formula.) I’m just kind of glad James Blunt didn’t win. You’re beautiful. You’re beautiful! You’re *&$^#%^n OVERPLAYED!

10:08 Sam Jackson on R&B. He has become the safe shorthand for soulful. With Cristina Ricci, the whitest beautiful woman I’ve ever seen. (Great dress). An R&B medley- Smokey, Chris Brown, and Lionel Richie. Smokey sounds okay- not his 60’s best, but not bad- but looks like he’s a victim of waaay too much Botox. And he’s too low in the mix- you’d think with their budget they could fix this crap.

“Hello” by Lionel Richie. This was the musical accompaniment to a slideshow at my cousin’s wedding in 1983 or so. And I’m sure he and his (fantastic) bride aren’t the only ones. This is technically R&B I know, but can’t we do any better than this in a “tribute” medley?

Oooh, feedback. Other than that, Lionel is in good voice.

And Chris Brown steps with a whole crew dressed like a cross between a frat boy and Freddie Krueger. Complete with cute 5 year old who dances his ass off- tacky. Putting him behind Smokey and Lionel Richie just drives home how overproduced, badly written and piss-poor commercial R&B is right now. No melodies, too many word is each line that don’t really say anything. (See also, Beyonce’s current single, and several others whose names I don’t want to know) I have seen R&B sir- Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Sly Stone... and you, sir, are NOT great R&B. Child CAN dance, though.

This does NOT deserve a standing O. No way in hell.

10:16 Cut right to Christina Agulera singing… “It’s a Man’s World”. Now, I know there had to be a James Brown tribute, it’s only right. But she’s not the first person I would’ve thought of at all. That said (okay webbies, ready, aim) I think she’s pulling it off. I really wish they would’ve had Maceo or someone from that crew front and center. More cred.

Okay, Christina just did her make-dogs-bark squeal. I take back most of that last paragraph. And she was doing so well. (sigh…)

I'm running out of gas. I just don't care THAT much.

Darcy pointed this out a couple of years ago- when someone signs up for Idol, they literally sign their whole life, and afterlife away. (I think Smoking Gun has the contract. Will link someday) Is it really necessary to gushingly thank them? Will you still be thanking them when you’re forty and hustling on the Holiday Inn and cruise ship circuit?

10:25 Ooh, my favorite part, the president of the Academy! The man whose public approach to piracy reinforces the idea that the industry has it head up it’s #$s. Now pimping two teenagers to ask people to support music education and hype the Grammy Foundation. This piano player is clearly happening, and rushing like crazy. (I can’t imagine how nervous he must be right now.)

That said, working in a public school system, I know this pitch to contact your elected officials is painfully necessary. And appreciated.

10:28 The list of those now gone. Don Alias is missing. I didn’t know Toure had died this year. Was Buck Owens in “Nashville” and “Blues Brothers”? Nice JB footage, nicer cut to a dancer onstage- I think JB would’ve been okay with that one. I always love/hate this montage. It’s always very well done, and a sad reminder of the fact that nothing is permanent. (And, no Don Alias is just not fair!)

10:37 Make David Spade go away, please? (Though his one-liner was not bad) Introducing Ludicris + Mary J Blige + Earth Wind and Fire. I had no idea this song (“Run Away Home”) was his. I think it’s a little heavy handed, but not bad. Again, the mike is hot. I have friends who could do a better job with the sound here, given the budget!

Someday someone will write a hip-hop tune that’s socially conscious and not heavy handed. (Public Enemy gets a pass) This one ain’t it. Then they bring out kids with candles, in case they didn’t drive home the point.

What a waste of Earth, Wind and Fire.

10:42 James Blunt dedicates his performance to Ahmet Ertugn (sp?) Nice touch. Here it is,- You’re Beautiful. You’re Beautiful. You’re Painfully Overexposed. (It really isn’t a bad song, There’s one like this every year.)

I’ll take this pause in the action to note that there was not one classical OR jazz performance this year, and I don’t see one coming. The last time I watched the show through they at least threw a bone and had Chick play with Foo Fighters. The industry eats its young…

Not to belabor the point, but Blunt’s vocal mike just made a really funny hiss- amateur hour.

10:52 “Your Grammy moment.” Robin somebody. Justin is covering the great Bill Withers tune “Ain’t No Sunshine”. This girl, in her big one-shot moment, is not in tune. Really not in tune. The voters do know how to pick ‘em.

10:54 Okay, we’re on safer ground now- Justin’s tune “My Love”. As my mom would say, that’s a nice dress she’s almost wearing.

All that hype… for THAT?

10:58 Tony Bennett and Quinten Tarentino. Odd couple indeed. QT saying “sumpin sumpin” is just weird. Record of the year. I don’t know on this one. (QT has a future as a basketball arena announcer. This is the most animated moment of the evening so far.)

Dixies win again- where was all this industry support when people were burning them in effigy? Still no politics- I’m so disappointed.

Chris Rock introduces the Chili Peppers. Damn you, Grammy producers. You know I’d stay for that!

11:09 Walk away for ten seconds and miss Chris Rock. Couldn’t have been that good. Have the Chili Peppers become a cruel parody of themselves? They still play well, but there’s no edge to the music anymore. Thoughts? (I was never invested in them, so I can’t care that much)

I just noticed their little grafitti sign- “Love to Ornette Coleman”. I can dig that.

Pan to the crowd- they are SOOO ready for the afterparty.

11:13 Al Gore and Queen Latifah???!! To hear him praising the musical community (and presenting the best rock album) in just surreal. I want “John Mayer Trio” or Tom Petty to win. So neither will- the Peppers will. And do. Please let them, let SOMEBODY say something that people will talk about tomorrow morning. And they don’t- who threatened these people with what before the show? (Yes, I’m getting tired. I’m getting snarkier) I blame Dick Cheney- why not?

11:19 I’ll break my commercial pledge. I just saw a cruise ship X commercial- new, even cheesier music (probably done by one of the company’s singers and show bands, yes they’re that cheap), same footage, same tagline. In my experience, it doesn’t look like that in real life.

11:22 Finally, album of the year. Scarlett Johannsen is recording an album? Lord save us. They almost pulled that one-liner off. My hunch says Dixie Chicks win. Gnarls Barkley should, and certainly won’t. I’m right again. I’d rather not be right.

And it’s over. What a boring show- no major slip-ups (unless you count the sound guy) No overt politics. Some good performances, some less good, no great ones. I remember the first year I watched the grammys through- I think it was 1988, the year Tracy Chapman won Best New Artist and Bobby McFerrin won Best Album for “Don’t Worry Be Happy”. I don’t remember who else was there and playing, but I do remember being inspired by a lot of the music and musicians I heard, and the energy they created. I know that was probably an unusually good year, and I know I was a lot younger and greener, but I guess I keep watching the Grammys in the hopes of seeing an energy like that again. I’m still waiting.

Good night, everybody!

Diggin on your Grammy

A couple of quickies- the Ana Forrest workshop was hard as hell, but really good. Full report coming. Last night, in my first trip to the theatre in ages, a friend took me to the ART's production of Racine's Brittanicus, a resetting of a classic tale of intrigue, imcompetence and survellience in Nero's Rome. The production was absolutely outstanding, and chillingly relevant. (there is a banner above the stage: "Empire Creates its own Reality.) Today is the last day- see it if you can.

FYI- I am planning to liveblog the Grammy awards tonight . (Or at least, as much of it as I can stomach) I will try to refresh the post every 20 minutes or so. One of my favorite elements of The Sports Guy Blog is his snarky liveblogging of games on TV, so I'll try to follow suit.

Early thoughts- anything Brecker is nominated for, he'll will. He's certainly deserving, but the Grammys' (and really, most art/entertainment awards) pension for necrophilia is a little ridiculous. I hope "Spirit Music" wins the jazz big band, but I don't think it will. I have no opinions about the big pop categories (I don't know who's in half of them) I'm excited, and a little nervous, about the Police reunion. The Earth Wind and Fire medley could be cool too. (Does anyone remember the amazing Sly Stone mess last year, amazing primarily for the sheer number of musicians attempting to play together at once? And Sly looking like a cross between Mr. T. and the Chapelle sendup of Rick James?) I hope Timberlake at the last minute decides to sing "&%^$ in a Box". And the censors go wild... Stay tuned.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

do not adjust your blogroll

That has been my unwitting mantra for too long, but today it gets a long overdue freshening up. The new suspects:

Taylor Ho Bynum and Dave Douglas are familiar to regular readers, but I finally added them to the roll. Likewise for Ana Forest and Seane Corn in the yogaroll.

Andrew Durkin is the leader of the LA-based Industrial Jazz Group, a great big band who made a lot of waves in a recent East Coast tour. The blog's title is great.

Ethan Iverson's wife Sarah has a blog of her own. I met Sarah at the Bad Plus hit in Boston last fall- she is an absolute delight to be around, in addition to being an cool writer, yogini and foodie. I look forward to her novel, and pray that at some point in the future I will fortuitously land at one of her dinner parties.

Speaking of TBP, this little video on Youtube is amazing. Tuesday was a little dark (that's two bad Tuesdays in a row), but upon seeing this everything was fine.

In other news, ">Joni Mitchell is making music again! While I haven't been to crazy about her more political songs. ("Sex Kills", "Balloon"), her last two albums were great, and hopefully the new work will be no different. If anyone sees the dance piece, I hope you'll let us know how it is. In addition, the Boston Globe's music blog posts today abotu Nonesuch's upcoming Joni tribute record. I love critics- they'll take ink to bitch about Sarah McLaughlin and k.d. lang. Then squeeze in "Oh, yeah, the album also features Elvis Costello, Cassandra Wilson, Caetano Veloso(!!), Prince and Annie Lenox. Even if it stinks, I'll drop $15 for that.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Deep in the Forrest

Ana Forrest, another of the Big Important American Yogis, announced that she is closing her home studio in Santa Monica CA effective last week. She sites her travel schedule (and she travels a LOT, even by celebrity yogi standards), but in talking to people I get the sense that the economics of running a studio also played a role. As a zillion yoga studios have popped up over the past few years, there has been a lot of talk in the yoga community of if/when we would hit a saturation point. If the events of the past month are any indication, I think we may be seeing it. That said, the two Baptiste studios that remain (where I work) are bursting at the seems at present. Some of that is due to the typical New Years' burst of enthusiasm about health, but I think it is a good omen for us.

I mention Ana partly becuase I am taking one of her intensive classes this week in Boston. (She's here for the weekend, but everything is sold out) I have taken with Ana herself once before- she is an amazing practicioner (see this video if you need proof) and has a unique take on how Americans, with our type A personalities and terrible physical habits, should practice yoga. I thoroughly expect to get my tail kicked in five different directions. But I'll blog about it.

Speaking of yoga, here is a belated link to the Yoga Journal blog from their recent San Francisco conference. Not as thorough as last year's Boston blog, but there are some worthwhile nuggets there. (I find the arguments about Ana's demonstration, which come up every time they post here vidoes, fascinating, if a little self-obsessed) Of special note is this video from one of Seane Corn's workshops. Seane is one of my true heroes, and this is an example of why.

Current listening: Keith Jarrett Carnegie Hall Concert. I can't get bored with it, especially Disc 2. It's so damn good!

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Feeling Soopey

Yup, you know I'll be watching. A couple of random thoughts about tomorrow's "Big Game":

Perhaps the most interesting subplot of the game, for music fans at least. is that Prince is playing the halftime show. There have been rumors floating around for several weeks about the status of his Purpleness' hip. (His actual hip, that is). His people say he's fine- I hope so. If his appearance on last year's Grammys is any indication, it should rock.

Oh, and did you know that this is the first time an African-American head coach has led a team to the Superbowl? And there are two of them? Sorry to be snarky, it really is a great thing. It's just the way it's been hyped, both positively and sadly, not so, is getting to me.

Based on my unofficial observations, most Bostonians are rooting for Da Bears, just because we're still pissed about the Colts beating the Patriots. How typically parochial of us.

If this game were to be decided by the strength of the music scene, of course Chicago would win walking away. However, since there is real skill involved, my money is on the bionic arm of Payton Manning and the Colts. Colts win, Bears cover.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Jumpin' on the Bandwagon

After a crazy day yesterday- at one of the schools where I teach, the whole week has been colored by the fact that one of the music students there (one of mine, actually) was in a very serious car accident on Friday night. He was touch-and-go for awhile, but thankfully his prognosis is very positive, and he's home resting comfortably. It definitely changed the vibe of the week- I headed back up to Boston for a ferocious double bill of Dave Douglas at NEC and Jason Moran and Bandwagon at the Regattabar. I talked a lot about Dave's masterclass, but I don't have much to add about the performance. Dave sounded fantastic, most of the students sounded timid (I did too playing with giants at age 19) and hearing that music without Dave's usual musicians drives home the complexity, cleverness and challenges in his music.

It's been ten years since I saw Jason Moran live (and that was as a sideman with Greg Osby), so I had no idea what I was in for. It's almost a given to say that the trio sounded great (after some initial balance/soundboard issues), everybody played their ass off, they have a tremendous level of musical empathy, etc. But what was most striking to me, especially in light of Dave's masterclass, was HOW they put the gig together. They opened with a recorded soundscape that could've fit at the beginning of a Radiohead or Mos Def concert. The band entered the fray during the recording, which closed with Jason's wife Alicia (an accomplished operatic soprano in her own right) singing what seems to be the band's themesong. Every other decision about programming was equally careful- "Break Down" used samples from a performance art piece called "Walking on Women in Harvard Square", playing, then fracturing the text as the music moved in fits and starts. A medley of "Lift Every Voice and Sing", a Jaki Byard head and "Sometimes I Feel Motherless Child" was at once a seemless pass through black history and a reflection of the shape of today's piano trio, reverential without being antiseptic, swinging, wild and loose all at once. Alicia rejoined the band for the closing aria of "Turandot"- the trio adapted its language to fit her singing, rather than the other way around, which recast the drama of the aria without diminishing it. This was a very thoughful artistic statement, not just a jazz set, something the music needs far more of.

Darcy's more comprehensive review of Bandwagon in their (fairly) recent Blue Note hit with the Bad Plus is here. Jason's website, featuring MP3s with Lee Konitz and Wayne Shorter is here. (hat tip to Mwanji) Jason Moran gives a two-hour masterclass at the Manhattan School of Music on Monday, 2/5.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Dave Douglas masterclass, 1/30/06

One of the most commented on elements of Dave Douglas' music is its catholicism. (Or, if you don't like him, the fact that he can't make his *&$(#n mind up about what he wants to do. From his sextet and quintet to Freak In, Witness and Keystone, he in constantly changing the musical context(s) he works in.

Dave spoke to this idea directly in the first workshop of his New England Conservatory residency, entitled "The challenges in composing for the contemporary improviser" (I may have a word or ten wrong). He opened by playing a recording he said he'd received the day before, a Latin-sounding album, and asked if anyone knew the language the singer was singing it. Several people guessed wrong (including me)- it was Catalan, a Spanish dialect native to the Barcelona area. It is an album which loosely translates as "Our Standards", a set of Catalan folk songs recast in a modern jazz language. His point was that to this audiences ears, a key piece of the music's context is missing- a Catalan speaker will have a very different reaction to this music, because they know the language and its social and historical context.

This, Dave contends, is an apt analogy for the current state of jazz/new/improvised music, and the challenge for its current composers. There has been a fracturing of language; one can't assume that the player, or the audience, is working from the Tin Pan Alley/bebop base that was a given even thirty years ago. (Ornette did play Embraceable You). So the first choice a composer, before s/he even considers content, is language and context. Or as he said, "The decision of process is the first decision"

Much of the rest of the class was taken up with playing and discussing examples that supported his arguement- bits of his own "Meaning and Mystery", Hemphill's masterpiece "Dogon A.D.", a bit of Kneebody's first album, and most interestingly the soon to be released new album by Kenny Werner, "Lawn Chair Society", with Dave, Kenny, Chris Potter, Brian Blade, Scott Colley, and Lenny Pickett (yes, the SNL Lennie Pickett) on electonics. The music was really interesting- one really thorny through composed line, another open improvisation for Dave and the bleeps and blurps. There was a bit of an argument about if the second was even a composition, since there was no music per se. Dave said yes, since Kenny and Lenny created the context for Dave to walk in and blow on, and it was created with him in mind.

He talked a little about the genesis of his writing for his now retired sextet with Joey Baron, Chris Speed, etc. He said that he had the luxury of a band that could literally do anything- disco, swing, odd meter, free, punk- so NOW what do you write? He found this freedom to be a suprisingly powerful writers' block, and pushed through it by deciding to focus that band's book on tributes to one composer, first Booker Little, then Wayne Shorter and Mary Lou Williams. He said he wasn't trying to play in their style per se, i.e. the veneer of what they did, but deal with their language. (In the case of MLW, stride basslines even in a more "modern" context, quick stops and tempo changes, etc.)

He challenged the composers assembled to before they write again, list the elements that they use (and discard) in writing music. He reminded them to include community- the people you write for have a powerful effect on your music.

He said composing, and artistic life in general, also demands a certain level of awareness. This led to a (seemingy inevitable) discussion of the Iraq war, and politics. Dave emphasized that he believes that the world that we create in improvised music is a model of how a democratic society can work. (This sounds strangely familiar).

to be fleshed out... Dave Douglas will present a concert of his music tonight at Jordan Hall at New England Conservatory.