Thursday, December 27, 2007

You see my face and the music starts

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

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

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Suddenly it looks much further away

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Contact low

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

Monday, December 17, 2007

Ice and Hard Edges

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 15, 2007

RIP Frank Morgan

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

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

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

Monday, December 10, 2007

take a look at my shiny phonograph...

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

Other Grammy notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 06, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 03, 2007

Listening to music for 18 musicians

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

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

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

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