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