Monday, April 30, 2007

May flowers

Highlights of the coming month in Boston live music:

Favorites- Fred Hersch Trio @ Regattabar, Tuesday 5/16 7:30pm
Myra Melford & Kalmanovitz @ Lily Pad, Wednesday 5/16, 8pm

Other highlights:

5/4-5/5 Ravi Coltrane @ Scullers
5/6 Josh Redman @ Berklee Performance Center
5/8 Kenny Werner solo @ MIT's Killian Hall
5/10 Mingus Big Band @ Regattabar
5/18- Quartet of Happiness @ Lily Pad
5/19 Robert Glaspar Trio @ Regattabar (of course, the night I'm out of town...)

More as I find it...

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Human Behaviour

(comments added Monday)

I've given up my night owl ways, so I missed this last week- Bjork on SNL singing two bits from her new CD Volta- Earth Intruders and Wanderlust. Rarely do artists sound good on SNL, so that's a victory all by itslef. And when's the last time you saw a brass band on late night TV? Other thoughts:

Am I the only one who saw the one-piece, shiny outfits and said "look, it's like a white, female Arkestra!" (That sound you hear is Sun Ra spinning in his grave) Seriously, by now we all know Bjork's penchent for the oddball, but dragging the whole horn section into it was pretty absurd.
(Though D'Angelo did it with the whole band on the Voodoo tour. And those had to be heavier outfits.)

Also interesting, on "Earth Intruders" was the back and forth between the drummer and the laptop on who was really carrying the beat. There were whole verses where the drummer didn't play. This is not unique to Bjork, certainly, but this paradigm shift deserves more attention and exploration.

The times sits down with Bjork today. The album hits May 8, I'm excited.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Boston Jazz Week

I mentioned in the posts leading up to my gig that I was proud to be part of Boston Jazz Week, which runs through Sunday (which is, not coincidentally, Duke Ellington's birthday) The event is presented by JazzBoston, a new (only a year old) advocacy group for jazz in Boston (duh). For those interested in the Boston scene, their website is an invaluable resource for information about gigs, musicians and venues. Fuller articles about Jazz Week appeared in the Globe and Pheonix.

Jazz Week is not a new idea- a now defunct advocacy group led by trumpeter and big band leader Mark Harvey pioneered it more than twenty years ago. (Mark also appeared on local jazz radio to pump up the week.) And some good things are coming from it- there is a week of jazz at the main Borders in town, and several nice panels and family-type events. Mostly, though (and this is not a critique) it is a normal week of gigs in Boston, with more publicity.

All in all, I think this is a very good thing- while it is mostly just a reflection of a typical, active week in Boston, it got us extra press. And some of the extra events, especially the family oriented stuff, was great, interesting programming. Looking at the programming, I realized in the recent conversations about the problems of jazz education, we missed the obvious- young people are more likely to get excited about the music if they see it in it's "natural habitat". I remember how much more memorable "young people's concerts" at Symphony Hall and trips to the Regattabar were than stuff my school presented. Hopefully at least a few kids had a good experience this week.

As has been blogged about here and elsewhere, these are not good times to be a working musician in Boston, of any stripe really, but especially of the "jazz etc" variety. (I was going to turn this into a long bitch on the subject, but thought better of it.) My primary critique of JazzWeek (besides, "why in the hell is Max Weinberg the headliner on your big opening night?" WTF) is that in "celebrating" the vitality of the local scene, there is no attempt to addres its shortcomings. Or do much to aim at the collegiates who make up the backbone of the music audience here. Maybe next year targeting the Paradise Lounge or he Middle East (which has had jazz in the past) should be a priority. I hope.

Addendum: I was interviewed for an article the BU Free Press wrote about Jazz Week, and parts of it made the cut. (naturally, out of context. I should probably have said "headier", rather than "more intellectual". But that's another post...)

points of departure

I'm working on a couple of larger things, one for today/tomorrow, more hopefully for next week. In the meantime:

First, I apologize for my rather convoluted Metheny/Meldhau review. I was in too much of a hurry when I put it up, and it showed. I've given it a pretty thorough edit, and it should be more readable now. I'd also love to hear from anyone who made one of the tour hits.

Destination Out has a great tribute to Andrew Hll up, featuring the illustrious Vijay Iyer. It's sad how some of the best blogging about jazz recently has been obituaries.

Soundslope has been sending out great posts recently- yesterday's musings on listening in the car is one I'm still wrapping my head around. I find myself listening to more NPR and (gasp) sports talk in the car these days, because only half my speakers work. One of these days, I'll get a real car stereo... (donations to this cause are most welcome)

Great review/commentary on Wynton's Plantation record in the Village Voice (via D-Out). (I don't say great and Voice that much in the same sentence these days. Sigh) Make sure to scroll down to the comments- there's some provocative, well written stuff down there. A favorite, from poster "thesobsister", about his denunciations of hip-hop (italics mine):

Marsalis may think rap/hip-hop is benighted musically and lyrically. But he refuses to answer the most relevant question: "why do these genres speak to such a large percentage of the population in question?" Not to mention "will hearing Marsalis 'elevate' the form convince its audience that this is how the music should be played?" Whatever the answer(s) to the former may be, the answer to the latter can only be an unqualified "no".

Finally, much has been said about great journalist David Halberstam's death. ESPN and Salon have both collected material he gave them, and all are worth reading. (The sports after 9/11 piece is fantastic) "Education of a Coach" has been on my list of books to read for a year now, and his book on the 90s was just added. We need more like him now.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

it says live, so we lived...

Thanks to the folks who came out to hear us last evening at the Lily Pad. We had a lot of fun, and the contrast between the two bands (I thought) really worked well. It was great to see some old friends, old students, and make a few new ones as well. For those who care, the set lists(s):

The Happy Song (Donaher- I really need a new title for this one. I'll post a version on the myspace page soon. All suggestions are welcome.)
God Must Be a Boogieman (Joni/Mingus)
Empty Your Cup (Donaher)
Evidence (Monk)
Rainbow Connection (Williams, yes, that one. I'm clearly going soft)
Affront (Donaher)
Ball Square (Andrew Hill. We just played the excerpt he used as a theme with his sextet when I saw his band. Our little tribute)

It Says Live
Free Quartet
Bright (Monika)
instructions to portrait artist- based on a poem by Billy Collins
Duo (Monika & Lucy)
It Says Live (based on Rumi excerpt)
Duo (Michael and Pat)
Your World (Donaher)

There's been an interesting back and forth about laptop performance, starting from this post. I thought about that a fair bit as I prepared all that goes along with "playing laptop" last night. It was actually probably the thing I was most nervous about. I thought for the most part the laptop worked (used a very little with lift, more with it says live), for me anyway- it was another color, or set of colors, in a very colorful group. That said, I can't imagine playing a whole gig just on laptop- it doesn't especially feel like performing to me (TIG makes the same point). I can imagine it being interesting to watch when I'm bouncing back and forth from my horn (or horns) to the computer and back, turning knobs and trying to play all at once. (when that works, I can imagine the rush Roland Kirk must have gotten.) But for me performing is a very kinetic experience, one that just pusing buttons on a screen, no matter how interesting the sounds that come out are, doesn't entirely satisfy.

One interesting point- these days a lot of the software that's out there, even the little freeware programs, are very powerful, and have lots of little tricks built in that you only find by doing. (me being something of a diletante doesn't help) For instance, I didn't realize that when you hit play, then rewind on Quicktime, it plays the recording backwords in real time, rather than just skipping back like Itunes or many other programs do. That totally changed the "instructions" performance on the fly. That part I always like.

The next date is TBA, probably late June or mid July. Maybe more Lift, maybe something else. Stay tuned.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

RIP Andrew Hill

This is sad news indeed, even if we knew it was coming. Especially given his recent burst of activity and acclaim. I like the way Ethan summed it up. I was lucky enough to see Hill's sextet a few times when I was living in New York- his trumpeter Ron Horton was a neighbor and friend, so I would make it out when I could, often with several members of my band. Hill thought and phrased in ellipses- the music makes sense in a way that you didn't know it could. Some days I still walk around singing that band's theme.

Other links when I resume on Monday.

Locally, Berklee will award Hill an honorary doctorate (long planned) next month. Details if I get them.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

April Break

This is school vacation week, so I've decided to vacate the premises for a minute. Except for notes and addenda on the Monday night hit, blogging will resume sometime next week.

Lift and It Says Live @ the Lily Pad, 4/23 7:15 pm

Here we go again- I'm pleased to be onstage with two wonderful groups of musicians, and hope the Bostonians and others passing through will join us. The lineup(s):

Pat Donaher- saxophone(s)
Carmen Staaf- piano, accordian
Eric Platz- drums
others (possibly TBA)

We've had some lineup shuffling for this, so I still have no idea what this will sound like. Except to say that Carmen and Eric are amazing, so it'll be fun regardless. Carmen has won enough awards and notice for her playing to make me very jealous, and is currently playing her own music here and in New York, and holding down a teaching gig at Berklee. Eric is well regarded the drummer for Fat Little Bastard, as well as several more singer-songwriter kind of projects. The music will be primarily form-based; that's all I can say for now.

It Says Live:
Monikah- voice and sounds
Pat- reeds and laptop
Lucy Railton- cello
Michael Plunkett

I am thrilled to work again with Monikah (Monika Heidenmann) for the first time in several years- I wrote a few pieces for her at NEC, and love her more recent solo stuff. She makes the trek up from NYC to join us. Locals will remember Lucy from the recent Behearer band hit and from her work with local emo-jazz unit Naked Cuddle, among other things. And Michael is my oldest musical compadre (we've been playing together one way or another for almost 20 years now. Yikes.)
The music will be primarily free improvised, with various levels of preset direction. And the band's name (live is a verb here) comes from a Rumi poem, which we'll probably touch at some point.

The Lily Pad is located at 1393 Cambridge Street in Inmam Square (Google map here). There is a $10 suggested donation. If you want to stick around, the legendary Fringe plays at 10pm (seperate cover) Hope you can join us.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

links to scandal

I'm a little slow to get to this, but I remember reading this Rolling Stone article about the climate of sex, race and athletics at Duke when it first was published. Now that that particular case has reached its rather sordid conclusion, it's worth revisiting. While I think the whole situation was awful, and the players did not deserve to go through the wringer as they did, let's not christen them as martyrs either.

Matana hits this, and a really interesting take on the Imus scandal as well (via TBP). I would add only that his firing proves the effectiveness of economic pressure on hateful speech in media- it wasn't Jackson and Sharpton who made Imus' firing happen, it was the people who put pressure on his sponsors. And if the folks who made noise during this scandal about the misogyny in hip-hop are serious, then get a letter writing campaign going so Budwiser and Heiniken stop paying Jay-Z and Lil' Jon to pitch their beer. Money talks.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Metheny Mehldau

On paper, the Pat Metheny/Brad Mehldau collaboration ranks as one of the most exciting of the last few years, given that it's not just an album (two actually), but a tour as well. Of course, to paraphrase a terrible sports cliche, they don't make albums on paper. The tour hits Boston this Saturday, at the Opera House, and I can't be there. So, my thoughts on the (apparently amazingly well-selling) album...

I picked up the second of their two records, Quartet, this weekend. (I've had "Metheny/Mehldau", from here referred to as "M/M".) Nate Chinen gushes about it in last Friday's NY Times, and talks to Brad and Pat a little too. Some thoughts on the two albums (I hesitate to say review):

First, full disclosure. While I am an unabashed and somewhat knowledgeable Metheny fan, especially of the non-PMG material, I know Mehldau's music less well, mostly from the radio and one, really unimpressive outdoor live trio gig in Boston. From what I've heard, I like the solo music much more than the trio music. (I'd go as far as to call Brad's trio- at least when Rossi played drums- the most overrated of our time. Not bad at all, but not the brilliant vanguard it's been hyped up to be. To me it sounds like a Keith trio homage with more odd meters.) It hasn't helped that both times I've seen his bassist Larry Grenadier independent of Brad, he's been a huge letdown- once with Josh Redman, and once literally flailing in a trio with Paul Bley and Lee Konitz. So there's my ax to grind.

On both M/M records, but especially the first (I could by release date- Metheny/Meldhau came out first, Quartet second), I had the opposite reaction of most of the critics I read- I like the duos a lot, the quartet stuff not so much. I think guitar/piano duos are very, very hard to pull off- Chinen covers this well in his piece. I've always thought that despite my unfailing love of the artists involved, the guitar/piano duo records I know well- the Jim Hall/Bill Evans Undercurrent album and more recently the Frisell/Fred Hersch Songs We Know effort- are spectacularly unsuccessful. There are just too many awkward moments, especially when the pianist is soloing and the guitarist comps in a way that just clutters things up.

Not so here. There seems to be a concerted effort, rather than working from a solo/comping paradigm, to create a tapestry of sound during the improvised sections of tunes. (And all of the music on both records are clearly tunes, head/solo/head kind of efforts.) The intensity and sympathy of the listening and interaction between the two is truly impressive. Listen to the solo section of the first tune on M/M, "Unrequited" for an easy example- through the whole solo section of the tune both and neither are the soloist, they effortlessly skip over and around each other.

While the duo efforts are almost univerally ballads or mid-tempo numbers, I don't find myself bored listening at all. I've heard this complaint before about Wayne and Herbie's "1+1" and the Metheny/Haden duo album. I think it's a misplaced criticism in all three cases. There is an intimacy on all these albums, an intense listening, that I think rewards the listener when s/he sits back and absorbs it, rather than waiting to be wowwed. "Find Me in Your Dreams", the warmest ballad on the "M/M" album, plays this way for me- patient, careful, and haunting if you let it haunt you.

As you can see, I've had the opposite reaction to many of the reviews I read- I like the duo stuff much better than the quartet. The quartet material, especially on M/M seems rather formulaic by comparison. "Ring of Life" is a Metheny post-boppy anthem propelled by a sort-of breakbeat groove from drummer Jeff Ballard. Rather than lift the track up, I feel like the rhythm section feels like a treadmill that Pat and Brad run lines on top of, and excercise instead of a romp. Much of the interaction that crackles through the duo stuff is notably absent here. "Say the Brother's Name", another bright, perky straight-eighth number, fares some better, propelled especially by an exceptional Mehldau piano solo. But behind the Metheny solo, the rhythm section, especailly Ballard, takes less chances, and the excitement dims. (Steve Greenlee in the Boston Globe recently said about "Quartet" that he thought that Ballard (ds) and Grenedier (bs) don't know what to do, a sentiment I share.)

One aside- I leave these albums truly blown away by Brad's playing. The way he shapes lines and accompanies himself is remarkable, and intensely individual. It's the first time after hearing him I walked away saying "he's the real thing". He does owe a TON to his teacher Fred Hersch, whose playing I still prefer for its rawer emotional quality. But I wish I could do on a regular basis half of what Brad is pulling off.

The better news is that I have very high hopes for the live music, and wish very much that I could see it myself. (Chinen hints at a live disc, which would be great) I have a distinct feeling that the comfort that comes with playing this material every night, and the excitement of an enthusiastic audience, will take this music to a far better place than the studio material did.

Taylor Ho Bynum tonight in Boston, and the rest

I only got word at the last minute:

Thursday, April 12, 7pm, FREE
Taylor Ho Bynum Sextet
THB (cornet), Matt Bauder (tenor sax, clarinets), Jessica Pavone (viola,
electric bass), Mary Halvorson (guitar), Evan O'Reilly (guitar), Tomas
Fujiwara (drums)
CD release concert for The Middle Picture (Firehouse 12 Records).
Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont Street, Boston, MA
presented by the Hammond Performing Arts Series

I'm going to try to make it- I have to try to move a lesson, and then park in that neighborhood, neither a mean feat...

Other gigs of not in Boston upcoming:

Triple Bill @ the Cambridge Y- Jerry Bergonzi 3/Quartet of Happiness/Daniel Bennett 3- Friday 4/13
Metheny/Meldhau at the Opera House, Sat. 4/14 (I can't go- damn! Will be posting an album review, hopefully tomorrow. It's almost done...)
Sofia Kousovitkis @ the Regattabar, Wednesday 4/18, 7:30 pm (note early start)

yours truly returns to the Lily Pad on 4/23- more on that soon.

Back to finishing my taxes...

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Dave Holland and Chris Potter, April 9, NEC

Dave Holland announced that he and saxophonist Chris Potter would begin their duo concert with the first track on Dave's first album as a leader, Four Winds. The recording is, of course, the takeoff point for his seminal Conference of the Birds, with Holland, Anthony Braxton, Sam Rivers and Barry Atschul exploring the converging strains of jazz circa 1972, in many ways an meeting new place of form and freedom. In the hands of Potter, a child prodigy who apprenticed with Charlie Parker sideman Red Rodney, it was rather a full exploration of the technical structures, melodic and harmonic, that the composition presents. Together Chris and Dave rolled short ideas into long discursions, twisting motifs around, backwards, and through. Any musician who has spent hours "twelve-keying" ideas at a teacher's behest would snarl in wounderous indignation at how easily, how logically and how musically the two turned the exercise into an exciting performance.

One thing the concert drove home is that Holland and Potter are first and foremost structuralists, fascinated by form, its creation and deconstruction, all filtered through the blue notes, camps and growls that punctuate and often define the word jazz. Potter's "Doctor Benway" (sp?) illustrated this fully- the tune (if I heard it right) is something of a palindrome, an ABCBA form. The As are a very catchy vamp- in in 14/4, cut up into an 8+6 beat pattern. The Bs are more obvious metrically, but constantly in motion harmonically, landing in spots interesting and unusual, but entirely logical. In their improvising, rather than simply riding the form (and the tune was hard enough that that could've been enough) they continued to play games with it. It was quite heady, sure, but they matched that intellect with an almost athletic exuberence that was tremendously engaging. (Also, they're at a music school, with at least 400 music nerds in the audience lapping it up and carrying the rest of the audience along.)

This was only my second time seeing Potter live- the first was years ago on (I believe) the first gig of Dave Douglas' "New Quintet" in New York, now not so new. In his bio, Potter mentions as saxophone idols Bird, Trane, Ornette... and Eddie Harris. On this gig the Harris connection is obvious. Partially due to his "soul jazz" reputation, I don't think Eddie gets the credit he deserves as a player. (And I don't count myself as a huge fan either.) He combined a tremendously well studied intervallic approach to improvising with a funky, soulful delivery and an old-school honking sound. It would be tough for anyone to match Eddie's soul, but Chris has certainly absorbed some of that approach to sound and delivery, which often grounds his headiest explorations. He's also an amazing bass clarinetist- his prelude to his own "Minuet", a free-time ballad, was nothing short of breathtaking.

As for Holland himself, there's little I can say that can't be said. He and Chris' affinities and sympathy with each other are obvious, and his choice of music, his own and others (The two covered Monk's "Work" and Duke's "Prelude to a Kiss", which Dave said seemed built for that instrumentation.) was sharp and enjoyable. One side note- Dave has the best posture of any bassist I've ever seen, which may account in no small part for his amazingly clean sound and technique that seems to improve with each recording, no mean feat.

Dave Holland is in his second year as a distinguished guest artist at New England Conservatory, which means for two weeks a year he leads workshops, teaches lessons and presents concerts of his music with NEC students. This residency concludes Thursday evening at Brown Hall with a concert featuring Dave and student musicains playing his music. The concert is free.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007


Anyone who cares about art music in any sense owes it to themselves to read Alex Ross' blog on a regular basis. Today he analyzes a Guardian (UK) report about record sales. His conclusion, with numbers to back it up:

The major labels are much smaller than they used to be. But classical recording is bigger than ever.

Those of us in the business of creating and presenting improvised music, I believe, should be paying careful attention to, and aping, the way classical music, especially "new classical" music, has been creating and presenting itself in the last 10 years. We don't have some of the institational support they do, but they are succeeding by building from grass roots, and programming interestingly without pandering. Speaking of which:

Soundslope has the lineup for this year's Vision Festival. Many great acts- I'm hoping to make the 6/22 hit; I can never get enough of Myra Melford and Brandon Ross. I'm not the biggest William Parker fan on the planet, at least musically, but he deserves sooo much credit for worling tirelessly to make this event happen, every year bigger and better.

Finally, a local program note: Monday night Chris Potter and Dave Holland play a duo concert at NEC. 8pm, Jordan Hall, Free. I'm salivating.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Primus Aprius

Yesterday, my yoga class began as usual with the teacher saying "come into your downward facing dog". The entire second row, all regulars, lay down on their backs. And stayed there.

Today, since he couldn't do it yesterday, my father, a teacher will "preview" the grades his Latin and Greek students will get on their next report card. They will be at least 20 points lower than what they'll actually get. (Unless, of course, the kids did flunk, in which case the page says B+)

Yesterday, Destination Out! posted a fascinating, exciting piece about a lost Miles Davis recording ca. 1978.

I love early April.

(Note- I know that the last week of posts has been primarily links- I've been prepping for the gig at the end of the month, and several things came up. There are good, creative things coming, soon I hope. Just not today.)

Sunday, April 01, 2007


Tomorrow afternoon in Kansas City, the Boston Red Sox play their first game against the Royals. This is a big deal in Boston- it's the same week as Easter and Passover, so you get the three most important religious holidays in one swoop this year. I have no predictions this year, but I'm very excited to see Dice-K, their new Japanese pitching phenom, and just to see baseball in general.

One interesting wrinkle in this year' season thus far has been Boston pitcher/gamer/loudmouth Curt Schilling's blog Schilling is smart, articulate, and opinionated- on other words the perfect blogger. That said, his Q & As, especially about pitching, are really interesting. One thing he said recently that I thought was interesting, about training kids to pitch:

One thing I think about when you are talking about young kids and learning the game, learning fundamentals. The ball kids play with weighs too much. Take a major league ball vs the weight of the player throwing it. The ball kids use is not much different in size and weight but the player throwing it is vastly smaller and lighter. One of the things I did when I was young was, and my father taught me this way, to learn to throw using a tennis ball. The weight of a baseball is, in my opinion, way too heavy for 5-10 year old kids to learn proper throwing mechanics and fundamentals with. I watched this very thing with my first son. Gehrig’s throwing mechanics are perfect for a young kid, when he’s throwing a tennis ball, when you put a baseball in their hands the weight drags the hand down below the slot they’d normally be throwing in and I think that causes a lot of unnecessary strain way too early. Kids have to almost ‘heave’ a baseball, which starts teaching them poor mechanics from day one. Put a tennis ball in their hands and the motion becomes the focus, not the strain of actually throwing the object.

I wish this worked teaching instruments. I have several kids who are a little too small for their horns, and it's a bigger impediment than any of the usual 10-year old stuff. (which, of course, they often have too) On the other hand, I've tried teaching clarinet from the smaller Eb model to a very little kid, and that doesn't work either- for those who don't play, the smaller the horn, generally the more resistance you hit as a player, and certainly the harder it is to tune. Maybe someday I'll design a kid-friendly saxophone like the curved flutes little ones use. More likely not, but...