Tuesday, July 31, 2007
I never thought too much about it. I always enjoyed the Mahler I got to see, but figured it was one of those things; some orchestras do certain periods or composers well. And Mahler, with his vast scope, grand themes and huge casts, is a good one to do well. Now I'm less sure.
My good friend, violist, occasional contributor to Strings magazine and all around amazing person Leah Swann is currently a fellow at Tanglewood; it's her second summer there, and she's an NEC grad, so she's seen her share of the BSO too. She recently send me a long missive about the recent Mahler 3 performance, with a very different take on playing and hearing his music. I'll let her talk now:
Mahler 3 seems to be this incredible depiction of the extremes of life -- ridiculous trombone solos and intensely loud full orchestra passages, muted trumpet and crazy double bass section solos...everything intense and dramatic and over the top but somehow not in an exaggerated, grotesque way, but in a way very much about human existence...not about a personal sort of humanity like Beethoven -- but about the humanity of a society, a culture, a people. (which seems so appropriate for a Symphony, no?) Beethoven is so amazing because his music seems to speak to everyone on a personal level, expressing all that it is to be human, and Mahler seems to express in a way vaguely similar all it is to be a part of something tremendous and living and breathing and writhing and aching and longing and celebrating. I thought a lot during the couple of hours about this idea that it was music so great that it also Demanded greatness -- here they (the BSO) were, all shining, all giving everything -- and it seems like that had to be partly true because you just couldn't do the piece any other way, you know? so then I started thinking about other pieces that are like that...that Demand something of the performer, that grow you and teach you something because you just can't be involved with the music in a way that is anything less.
It got me thinking- her question about musical Demands is a huge one, and one I wanted to throw out to the hivemind. Especially in our music (jazz/improv/art-pop/what-have you), is there an equivalent to Mahler? Do we, can we, are we well served when we operate on that scale? I'm inclined to argue no- our music, unlike European art music, was built from a small scale, from three minute 45s, from brothels and the Cotton Club and Birdland and lofts and the 200-seat Knitting Factory, so by it's nature it's not as broad as Mahler, or Strauss, or Nixon in China. And when it tries to be- Kenton, Ellington's Sacred Concerts, the Rock-operas of the 70's- it falls flat on its face. I was just listening to Maria Schneider's new record, Sky Blue, and it comes closer than anything she's done, or anything I've heard in awhile- it's big and bold and beautiful, certainly, but also in turn very soft and delicate, and far more personal than grand. More Beethoven if you use Leah's argument. (Maria's liner notes, almost diary-like, are a giveaway) In jazz (for lack of better language) our brilliance is in many ways in the intimacy of it- watching Trane communicate his processes, technical, emotional and spiritual, seeing Miles break a room apart with three notes, hearing Billy Holiday seemingly wilt into the microphone or Johnny Hodges climb ten stories in a second during a ballad. And currently, watching Dave Douglas and The Bad Plus and Darcy and Ron Miles and so many others try to thread the needles of tradition and innovation, irony and passion that our time demands. Even at their most political, it's a most beautiful form of retail politics, hardly an international soapbox.
I know personally, I've been very blessed to play some big, beautiful, Important rooms- including at Tanglewood- and I've never been able, never wanted to muster up that kind of grandeur, even writing 15 minute jazz odysseys for large ensemble. I want the person in the back of the hall to feel drawn in, like we're in a small club or a living room, having a conversation. And even playing Ellington with a big band, I never felt like I could fall back on the music the way I think some classical musicians believe they can with Mozart or Brahms. I think when you really pull an audience into Mahler, or a big opera, they're buying into the granduer, but when you pull a crowd in with our music, they buy into the personality of it.
But I could be wrong- is there a Mahler in our ranks? Other thoughts greatly appreciated.
P.S. Many, many thanks to Leah for the use of her beautiful missive, and congratulations to her, Evan and the rest of the TMC orchestra for kicking ass on Verdi's "Don Carlo this weekend. (Reviews here and here) Even listening on the radio a hundred miles away, it was amazing to behear.
P.P.S To drive it home, here's a very different take on Tanglewood, Miles ca. 1971. (thanks to Jason Palmer for this, my first non-text link. Slowly, we get hep to the future here at Visionsong HQ.)
Monday, July 30, 2007
At about 8:05 though, the park erupted as the Police walked on stage and burst into "Message in a Bottle". At times the crowd almost drowned out Sting, who was in excellent voice, sending out his SOS. What followed was an hour-plus (I left around 9:15) of Police hits: "Synchronicity II", "When the World is Falling Down", "Every Little Thing She Does". The band played it fairly straight, with a few exceptions; the first verse of "When the World" was in half time, making it much less recognizable; the chorus, as everyone remembers it, then hit like a ton of bricks. And, somewhat daringly, Andy Summer replaced the opening of "Every Little Thing", one of their most recognizable hooks, with an mysterious ascending chord riff. And the band was amazingly tight- I never saw them in their first incarnation, but here it was as good as everybody tells me it used to be- absolutely tight, never any hesitation from the band, everything locked down. When the band did falter, interestingly, was when they opened things up a lot, what some of the rock critics have labeled they're "jazz odysseys". My problem was they weren't odd enough- no one soloed, nothing shifted hugely from what came before, things just sort of sat their for awhile, sometimes several minutes, until Sting started to sing again. For all their strengths, and they are many, I never thought the Police grooved hard enough to have that be enough the way it is with a great funk band, so what could of been "WHOMP" felt like a dull thud.
In some ways, I'm glad I didn't drop the big bucks. I'm glad I heard what I heard, and I'm sure it was a lot of fun, but listening to a band relive the good old days (which ultimately is what they were doing despite all the band's pontificating to the contrary) is not my cup of tea. But it was quite a lovely cup of tea.
Saturday, July 28, 2007
One of the games featured will be Guitar Hero, which I was just introduced to recently by some of my students. (The sight of twenty fairly competent high school musicians crowded around a TV to play a fake guitar was frankly depressing) Maybe I just don't appreciate hair bands enough, but I'm afraid I don't get it. With the amount of work it takes to get good at that game, you could probably learn to play half the crap on a real guitar.
I feel like an old crank writing this- I can feel my hairs turning grey as I write this. I think I'll go watch cartoons now...
Friday, July 27, 2007
Mwanji dug the (in)famous Bob Moses rant from 2001 out of the archives this week. Taylor Ho Bynum, himself a (unfair) target of the rant, responds here. I remember I was living in New York at the time this was published, and my then-producer called me: "Dude, you're not going to believe this S&%#!" I didn't, but then when I got to know "rakalam" and James (who actually got a lot of milage out of this exchange), I did. Looking back at it from a distance, the whole thing just seems dumb.
Happier matters- this is a good weekend for cultural ingestion in Boston in general, if you can stand the heat. Tonight, I'll be at the Boston Common for the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company's seventh annual free production of Shakespeare in the park. Tomorrow at Tanglewood the fellows' orchestra presents a concert performance of Verdi's Don Carlo. I won't be there in person, but I'll watch it on the radio.
And, the biggie of the weekend is, of course, the Police at Fenway Park. Since I couldn't drop $200 for a ticket, I will probably skulk the grounds Sunday night. (If you're within a half-mile of the park, you should get a good earful)
Wednesday, July 25, 2007
The Bill Holman band on Youtube. (via Rifftides) It's easy sometimes, at least for me, to overlook how good Bill's work continues to be, and how much meat there is to chew on in what seems like very light, straight-ahead writing.
A new (?) model for jazz fundraising. (via Mwanji) The more I watch the jazz world from a slightly more global perspective (or try to), the more I think jazz is best served by local, ground up organizations. The orchestral/museum model, which is fantastic for what it does, rarely serves us very well. (Witness J@LC, ideology aside spending seemingly 90% of its time and energy simply trying to maintain what it's built) More thoughts on this later.
More on postmodernism in jazz. You know you love it, or maybe you just its signifiers...
On a related note, critic Fred Kaplan has a blog. I like his breakdown of the Jazz Journalist Awards. I love Andrew Hill- some very warm NYC memories are going to hang with Ron Horton when he was playing with Hill's sextet, and marveling at the music- but I always question showering someone with awards the minute they pass on. I wish this had happened upon the release of Dusk.
Examining Rock the Bells, an exercise in hip-hop nostalgia (?!), as it makes it's way to New England.
Muppet relics find a home. Awww...
Sunday, July 22, 2007
I'm a little to young, and far too northeastern and Catholic in my upbringing to remember much of Tammy Faye Baker in her heyday and subsequent fall beyond the headlines and jokes. And I saw the "Surreal Life" all of once, and thought little of it. But she always struck me as a woman of conviction, even when I didn't share them. She had an odd and incongruous gay cult following, which she did nothing to discourage or deride, which given her background would've been easy. (See this interview) And despite the surreality of her life before and after PTL, which she did little to discourage, with her absurd makeup and bigger than life character, she always struck me as someone who was trying to walk the talk of her beliefs. She was a very human being in a movement that too often unjustifiably deifies its heroes and completely dehumanizes its enemies. For all her absurdities and shortcomings, methinks the world could use more Christians like her.
Update: Salon has a less generous, but no less apt remembrance by filmmakers who filmed her and her son,
Also, are any of my readers test-driving the new beta version of Reason? (v 4.0) I signed up, but haven't gotten it yet. I haven't upgraded from 2.5 yet, and this would be a great excuse for me to get off my ass and program some more. (I like 2.5 a lot, but have a really tough time with the vocorder function, and a few other odds n'ends.)
On similar grounds, any feedback on the Finale '08? Am considering it, but I feel like I'm just now used to '07.
If for whatever reason you don't want comments posted publicly, you can e-mail me at pat (at) visionsong (dot) com. I appreciate the help always.
Also, a nice converstaion has started in my, and TIG's comments section about our post-modern posts. More on that from me soon.
Friday, July 20, 2007
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
I should start by saying that I have a long-held distrust of the term "post-modern" and all that comes with it. I first came across it in a post-1945 music history class, in reference to Berio, Rochberg, the minimalists (I'll spare you the argument- I thought it a stretch) and- wait for it- Zorn's Naked City, among others. We got a good dollop of the signified and signifier, simulacrum, and the other gobelty-gook that comes with the term. The teacher also pointed us to Umberto Eco's Travels in Hyperreality, which I did enjoy thoroughly, and his idea that somehow wax museums are recreated castles were seeking to be "even better than the real thing".
My distrust is partially academic- the professor teaching the class did some things that I found academically, er, questionable in terms of sourcing and the like to justify his arguments, and in at least one case (Rochberg), what the professor opined about a particular piece and what the composer said about the piece were profoundly at odds. None of the (admittedly little) reading I've done in the field improved my opinion of postmodern scholarship. Further, there has always been borrowing and retooling in all the arts, not just music. Are we going to call Brahms' Variations on a Theme by Haydn post-modern? Renaissance recasting of Greek mythic figures? The hundreds of retellings of the Odyssey through western culture?
More importantly, though, my understanding of post-modernism is that it rests on the idea that no art has true intrinsic value, only that which one, person or culture, bestows on it. If you take that argument back far enough, it leads to the idea that no person, no soul, has any intrinsic value. Which can justify any number of heinous crimes against humanity, which I always thought the creation of art was the opposite of. (Maybe I'm too harsh- please chime it) And if you're ironic (one of the hallmarks of "great postmodern work"), you don't have to be honest, which again I always considered one of the hallmarks of art. (Note irony is not the same thing as satire, though the two are obviously connected) I can say for sure that most of the explicitly "post-modern" music I've either played or heard in performance is definitely more fun for the player than the listener, and has always left me ten minutes after it ended.
That's why I could never get into Naked City, which TIG mentions explicitly; it's a tremendous accomplishment, no doubt, but to what end? I've always thought (and what little I've heard from musicians involved backs this up) that the players thought of it as a game, a lot of fun and a very demanding music, but didn't put too much into what it meant. And it's why I've never thought much about Bill Frisell, featured in TIG's post (or many jazz musicians, actually) particularly in a postmodern context, though I don't disagree with TIG, (since he did quote, well, me) Hence my use of the word "authenticity". I don't consider what Frisell's done with language a whole lot different than what Miles did when he (by his own claims, at least) tried to blend the language of bebop, Julliard and Clark Terry with the delivery of Orson Wells.
Is The Bad Plus post-modern jazz? Behind Zorn they'd be the first place I go with that thought- clear mastery of several genres, lots of in jokes, fracturing source material seemingly for the sake of fracuring it? Stanley Crouch, hardly a post-moderninst ponders this in their interview:
"But you (TBP) also don't play anything after the head that that anybody would call pop music. Your first phrase, after the melody, is always totally "out." I find it really interesting how your audience is shocked and exhilarated by the conclusions you come to with a melody they already know.
To me, the conception of The Bad Plus is actually derived from the way Coltrane and his band played "My Favorite Things," which is really far from hearing Julie Andrews sing it. What Coltrane--what everybody in his band--was playing on it is like…[shrugs] "What are they playing?" --"'My Favorite Things.'" --"Where is 'My Favorite Things' here? I don't get it." That's The Bad Plus, too."Ethan? (In the comments to TIG's post, Mwanji brings up a critic's assessment, very reasonable, I think, of Jason Moran as a high post-modernist as well)
In relation to TIG's comments about Mina Agossi (who I don't know at all), her quote begs the question- what DOES touch her, if Lady Day doesn't? Clearly what she does touches TIG, but does that have to do with what she sings, or what a listener connects to that delivery, or something else? Is that then inherently post-modern?
I used to debate this idea with some heady friends ad nauseum in college, but I grew bored of it- seemed like a fight I didn't need, and didn't have to invite myself to. But the question behind post-modernism always seemed to be, to me at least, is there something in art that is inherently, intrinsically valuable. "Pomo" seems to say no, and that always bothered me. It's the guest at the party that oozes coolness, impresses the herd, says witty but empty things, and ultimately contributes nothing to the event. If that is where art is, or is headed, it's something I want no part of, and want to show up as a clothesless emperor. If not, I need more edjumacation.
To be continued, perhaps- I didn't really answer the question, did I? Feedback encouraged.
It doesn't hurt that TMC Orchestra, even only three weeks into their season, is one of the best young orchestras in the country, maybe the world. (Before the arrival of New World in Miami, there was no contest) They play with a ferocity and vigor that some of the majors would do well to imitate; there is no fatigue or ennui in their playing, even playing warhorses, even in the midst of a seven-day a week, 18 hour a day scheudle. (I don't exaggerate.) Last night's program- a bear in its own right, wedged between a performance of The Planets last week and a production of Don Carlo next week- was not the sharpest I've heard the group, but the energy and excitement in the playing was constant, and hard not to like. Their season continues through the middle of August, including a fully staged production of Cosi fan Tutti and the annual performance of Beethoven's 9th. Concerts at Tanglewood also include the Mark Morris Dance company performing "Dido and Aneas" next weekend, and the Festival of Contemporary music will present the posthumous Julius Hemphill Sextet.
Closer to home, Eric Friedlander, featured this morning in the NY Times, passes through Boston with his own memories of America. He'll play tomorrow night at the Lily Pad in Inman- review to come.
Monday, July 09, 2007
Anyway, batting cleanup on the interweb:
Mwanji reports on still more squabbles on the jazzosphere. TIG asks about postmodern jazz. I'll try to get back to this one... (BTW, I don't talk up, or read, The Improvising Guitarist enough. Always a keeper.) And Taylor Ho Bynum revels in an aesthetic fistfight.
From the Grey Lady, Murakawi on jazz and his novels, and the Public Editor on Iraq coverage. Both must reading for very different reasons.
Matana Roberts on Woman as Artist, Artist as Woman.
Ethan Iverson with an exhaustive look at Tom Baker as Dr. Who and Buffy. I grew up on Tom Baker- I was the fourth Doctor for Halloween when I was seven or so. Not to be outdone, his wife Sarah parses the feminine in male devotional poetry (and Kanye) and John Cage's rules. I still need to get Sarah's new book.
One addition to the "shining lights" portion of the linksroll- Yogahope, a non-profit based here in Boston that offers free classes to individuals living in homeless and battered women's shelters. Sue, who is the director of the program, is a Baptiste friend, as are many of the teachers there. (I may try to teach or assist with them in the fall) It is a wonderful, ground-up organization, (currently in a fundraising drive, hint hint) doing phenomenal work.
Finally, the other big talk of the weekend was, of course, Live Earth. I'm all for the cause (duh), and it reminded me of a few practical things I should be doing to reduce my wasteful ways, so if it did that times several million, I'd call it a success. Even if the nicest thing I can say about the music is "wildly uneven". High point for me, oddly enough, John Mayer's press conference. See 3:55. When does cynicism win? His set wasn't bad either. I didn't see a whole lot of it- like the Police, didn't love 'em, loved Kanye West's set, though his star turn with the Police at the end was, er, silly. My brother liked Genisis, but he has a real soft spot for even the "Invisible Touch" Genesis. Other thoughts/highlights/links? One disquieting thought I had- look at just about evey prime time act at every venue- Crowded House, Bon Jovi, Madonna, The Police, even Roger Waters dug up from the grave. Every one at least twenty years into their careers, and most at least ten years past their prime. That doesn't bode well for the music industry. I vaguely remember Live Aid way back when, and one of the striking things was how many (fairly) very current, newly established bands were featured- the Eurythmics, U2, a young Madonna, and a lot I'm forgetting. Where were the likes of them this weekend? Mayer, Kelly (yuk, I can't believe I'm saying this) Clarkson, The Killers, maybe, but I'm not sold, even on my man-crush Mayer. (Don't tell me Fall Out Boy and Shakira, sheesh...) Wasn't somebody willing to take a chance on Arcade Fire, or Esoteric, or some other cool band I don't know yet? That doesn't bode well. Well, at least we had Spinal Tap.
Thursday, July 05, 2007
"In the 1920s, when tabloids became part of the journalistic landscape, yoga became part of the tabs' new "love cult" obsession. Reporters found love cults from France ("Rich Worship Love Goddess Along Riviera") to San Francisco ("Orgies of Super-Love Cult Send Five to Jail"). Hearst's New York Journal gave the tabs a run for their money with takeouts like this: "Latest Black Magic Revelations About Nefarious American Love Cults," which included Bernard, who had combined yoga with baseball, vaudeville, and circuses in Nyack, New York, in the process convincing members of the Vanderbilt family to bankroll his efforts."
And my personal favorite:
"(in the 1950s), Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru of India, prompted by Cold War worries, denied reports that his nation would supply the Soviet Union with yogis to help cosmonauts breathe easier in outer space."
The more recent the article gets, the less reliable I find it- it manages not to mention Iyengar or Ram Dass at all, two of the people most responsible for yoga's visibility in the 60's and '70s. (Though Iyengar's pupil Mehudin does get a photo) And it's read of the current scene is a little shallow. But I guess that's not the point. How could it be when you have yogic sex slaves and the great Ooom?
Tuesday, July 03, 2007
Pick O' the Month: Erik Friedlander @ Lily Pad, 7/18
July 9- Femi Kuti @ Paradise Ballroom
July 10- Mark Zaleski @ Ryles
July 13-14: Ron Carter Trio @ the Regattabar
Of course, there is the Pops at the Hatch Shell tomorrow, and Tanglewood and New York aren't that far away. More as I see 'em...
Sunday, July 01, 2007
Other stuff- it has been widely talked about, but if you haven't read the Washington Post's expose about Emporer Cheney, do your civic duty. Or at least as much of it as you can stomach...
Free summer concerts in Boston ain't what they used to be- I remember growing up hearing Ruth Brown, Jonatha Brooke, Hugh Masekela, Barenaked Ladies, Joe Lovano, Sarah McLaughlin, Brad Mehldau and many others out in the sunshine. Not so much these days. The best series I've seen so far this summer is from local AAA station WBOS. They do a free concert series each Thursday at Copley Place, with the highlight being my current guilty pleasure Fountains of Wayne. Better concert listings coming tomorrow.
Oh, and I linked to it before, and will again, but here's Sonny Rollins and Leonard Cohen. I've been really diggin on this lately.