Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Trio M @ Brookline High School

Myra Melford, Matt Wilson and Mark Dresser are three tremendously accomplished musicians, recording artists, grant winners, etc. who I've admired on record for years, and seen play before in much bigger or trendier venues. So it was a little jarring at first to walk into a little workshop room in a high school, replete with silly high school in-jokes and pictures of teenage big bands on the wall, and 2-Liters of soda in the hallway and be greeted (I was late) by Myra's swirling cluster lines and the sound of Matt's drums. Wilson said towards the end that this gig was a somewhat last-minute, and I guess there was a perfomance/workshop session with the high school jazz ensemble beforehand.

Another jarring thing walking in was how quiet this band was. I've never taken enough note of Mark Dresser's playing, but Matt and Myra have always struck me both live and on record as big, brawny players. (Anyone who saw Matt's wacky quartet at the old Detour can back me here) Matt played primarily with brushes and "swizzle sticks", and while Myra was certainly aggressive, she didn't pound the piano the way I've seen her do in the past. (The rather quiet sound system probably contributed to this too. And Matt did wear a really, really loud orange shirt.) The quietness of the quartet highlighted the equality of voices in the trio- through the first tune I heard, there was a level interplay between Mark and Myra, no solo and accompaniment, but a two voice conversation.

With the exception of "Be Melting Snow", a tune I know from a Same River Twice album, the tunes were simple on the surface, with striaghtforward melodic lines and gospel-ly, traidic harmonies. The last tune, "Freakonomics", even had a quasi- calypso 3/2 groove. "Snow" was more twisty, starting with out of time bass/piano unisons and spreading out into bigger harmonies from there. At the end of the tune, a thorny 8 beat groove served to punctuate everything that preceded it.

Myra's improvising continues to fascinate me. When she plays she hunches her shoulders and wrinkles her face like she's writing at an old typewriter. Her lines alternate between clear single-note melodies and these clustery, whirling lines. It's not simply gestural- there's a direction and shape to the lines, but the individual notes serve the color first and the harmony a distant second. It reminds me a little of shape note singing, or what it might sound like on the piano.

Trio M's tour continues in New York and points west- details on Myra's Myspace page.

Tickets for this concert were provided by DL Media.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Music to see this week

Updated 1/28

Monday night- Happy Apple feat. Dave King at the Lily Pad. Hoping to make it.
- also, Bob Moses with his guru for his 60th birthday at Jordan Hall. (Globe article here. Note how the ole Pheonix mess pops up here even 7 years later. And he says he was "speaking from love"... Uh-huh)

Tuesday- gig o'the week. Trio M, with Myra Melford, Matt Wilson and Mark Dresser will play at Brookline High School, 8pm. Myra comes through Boston once a year at best, so be sure to check it.

Of more interest to me at NEC, over the next few weeks the Piano department will be playing and talking about lots of Messien. I'm hoping to make some of it.

Finally, at some point very soon I think Myra Melford is giving a workshop in town- details when I have them.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Dennis Irwin benefit

I'm sure many of you have or will see this today, but just in case, here it is. I remember Irwin fondly from hearing him with Scofield's great 90s quartet with Lovano and Billy Stewart, and later with Lovano's solo stuff, so I hope he's able to bounce back and grace us with more music (from a DL media e-mail I received):

This email is in regards to Dennis Irwin, the beloved and world famous bass player whom we all know well. If you haven't already heard, Dennis is very seriously ill and will be leaving New York City quite soon to seek other treatments. Right now he needs our support both spiritually and financially.

We will be having a benefit event for him at Smalls Jazz Club on Sunday, February 3rd after the Super Bowl. Even though this may not be the most convenient date, time is of the essence and we cannot wait here. We will begin at 10:00 PM and continue until 4:00 AM at Smalls. Everyone is invited to come down and participate by playing and also by making a contribution. A box will be set up so that the donations will be discreet and anonymous. Everything collected will go directly to Dennis. There will be no cover charge for this event but you'll be expected to contribute something, whatever's within your means. Smalls will be donating a portion of bar sales to Dennis as well (so come and drink!).

Once again, the date is Sunday night, February 3rd starting at 10:00 PM, after the Super Bowl. Smalls is located at 183 West 10th street at 7th avenue, just down the street from the Village Vanguard. Our website is . Any further questions or inquires please send an email to

If you cannot come and would like to make a tax deductible donation to Dennis, send a check payable to Sixteen As One Music, Inc to:

Sixteen As One Music, Inc
888-C Eighth Ave. #160
New York, NY 10019

On the memo line write: Dennis Irwin.
Please come out, bring your instruments and play and show your support for Dennis Irwin.

Not mean but be

Haven't done one of these in awhile.

There are various wrap-ups of the IAJE jazz blog panel featuring Darcy and Ryshpen, among others of interest to us who do and read these. In reading the posts about it, I'm struck by the position that the moderator took (as I read it), of initial skeptical derision. First, why doeas anyone need to justify a creative endeavor, be it a band or a painting or a blog. ee cummings said "a poem should not mean, but be". I'll defend blogs in that category

Second, anyone who reads any of the bloggers on the panel, or the other "major" jazz blogs (my big three are Darcy, Do the Math and be-jazz, both in terms of eyeballs and content) doesn't read them because the creators are self-promoting, they read them because they're worth reading. For the same reason political junkies read Woodward or Friedman or whoever, or football fans read Peter King. They're knowledgeable, well-connected, and have strong, informed opinions. And if there's promotion, especially of a quality product on top, what's wrong with that. But why would anyone read a blog that only self-promotes? And finally, what's wrong with self-promoting, anyway? It's not like the papers and the radio and the labels are going out of their way to help us out... Anyhooow, more links:

D-Out has a phenomenally warped version of Chameleon this week- yes! My middle schoolers are doing a big-band version of that old, overplayed chestnut for their upcoming concert, so anything i can give them to keep it from turning into an unwitting porn-groove is a good thing. (On the plus side, having to teach Chameleon does give me an excuse to teach them to learn the basslines and the rhythm parts as part of learning to improvise on a tune.)

YogaHope is featured today in the New York Times! I've done a little teaching at the Hello House, which is the facility they highlight, and it's a remarkable experience. The article doesn't overstate anything, believe it or not.

More as I see 'em.

Monday, January 21, 2008


"Everybody can be great... because anybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. you only need a heart full of grace. a soul generated by love." Dr. Martin Luther King

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Winter brings songbirds

I didn't put up a "gigs to see" this month because, well, I didn't find too many, but this week two great friends and great singers pop in from New York, and they come highly recommended:

Heather Masse leads Heather and the Barbarians, tonight (Wednesday) Johnny D's in Somerville.
Sofia Koutsivitis comes into Ryles on Saturday.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Winter Jazz Festival @ The Knitting Factory, 1/12/08

Before Saturday night, I haven't been to the Knitting Factory since late 2001, the last time I played there. Since then, of course, the booking policy has changed radically, emphasizing indie rock and booking jazz and avant musics- the mainstays of the club when I lived in New York- once in a blue moon. That said, I had a strange sense of deja vu walking in- everything looked, and felt, and even smelled the same. The bands on the signs were different, but everything was in the same place, and the beer list was almost unchanged. Even the renovation of the Tap Bar (they took out the wall that used to divide it into two rooms) didn't change the feel at all for me.

The festival, primarily an artist showcase for APAP, a international association of presenters in town for a convention, did nothing to dispel my nostalgia. Several of the old Knit mainstays- Dave Douglas, Don Byron, and Wayne Horowitz, to name three- anchored the bill, buffered by young lights like Matana Roberts, JD Allen and the Bjorkestra. I'm no longer able to digest six hours of music all at once, and the Patriots game was stuck in the middle for good measure, but here's what I heard: (Ben Ratliff has a good review, catching a lot of the big names I missed)

- I caught the first few tunes of Travis Sullivan's Bjorkestra. I'd heard some about the band, and remember really liking Travis when I met him a few years back at someone's party. Bjork's music invites reinterpretation- probably one reason why so many jazz musicians are smitten with her- but putting pop tunes, not matter how conducive to big band, can be tricky or worse. (has anyone else ever heard Duke's misbegotten "I Want to Hold Your Hand") The Bjorkestra handles the material nimble- it does a nice job capturing the flavor of the songs without aping the original baldly or taking things way far afield. There is a floating figure that weaves its way around the vocal on "Joga", back and forth through the sections, like tying a bow around the piece. The soloing was solid but unmemorable, and Becca Stevens handled the impossible job of singing Bjork with aplomb. I had to move on, but enjoyed what I heard.

- I'm both a friend and a fan of Matana Roberts, so I was excited to hear her Coin Coin project, a band created to perform a series of long works (five and counting) shaped largely from Matana's study of her ancestry. (for much more, see her blog) The band played a shortened version of the second piece/chapter,
Mississippi Moonchile. The piece was a swirling stew of spirituals, blues shouts, folk themes, and improvisations, with themes popping up and then bouncing out, only to reappear and flesh themselves out later on. At times Matana would stop playing and read from interviews she's done with an older relative, often returning back to one things she'd said, bringing a stream of consciousness feel to both the spoken word and the music. It almost feels like your standing in the middle of a version of her family history, watching facts and stories, sounds and emotions swirl around you out of time. It was clear that this was an abridged version of the piece- there were sections that you could tell wanted to breathe more, and Matana was sometimes calling directions to the band to push the music forward, but even so it was a riveting performance.

- I caught the tail end of Don Byron's set, and honestly didn't know what to make it. Ratliff called it salon music, and that seems right- intimate, straigtforward songs with Byron commenting tastefully around the lyric.

- David Murray's set seemed to have the most buzz around it, and he certainly didn't disappoint. He came out firing with a tune of his, a clear but open form, which he obliterated as soon as he started blowing. I will admit I've never been a David Murray fan, but for the first time I clearly saw the attraction- his sound is huge, if unfocused for my taste, and he has built a unique, brawny tenor language. There's a harmonic logic to some of his blitz-like playing that is really interesting, and god can the man play it up high. As I was leaving the set, another man, clearly a fan, came out shaking his head. "Man, David is playing SOME horn; ain't nobody gonna cut him. Nobody." And if you approach jazz from that mindset, it's easy to see why David Murray could be your man. I don't, so I came away impressed but ready to move on.

- I hopped downstairs to catch the last two tunes of Brad Shepik's trio set. For those of us who were first introduced to Brad in the off its hinges Tiny Bell Trio, it can be a little jarring at first to hear him playing straightahead, modern guitar, but he's damn good at it. I heard more of a Metheny influence that in the past, but that could just be me. That said, the tunes drew me in, and the playing was really tasty. I was really glad to have heard it.

- Shepik was followed by Hypercolor, a guitar trio featuring drummer (and son of the great composer) Lukas Ligeti. The set was again, the Knit I remember, off-kilter fusion tunes in odd meters played with reckless abandon. The guitarist Eyel Maoz was playing with a grungy, almost Dick Dale sound, adding to the raucous air of the group. I have a feeling that I used to be much more into this music than I was Saturday night- it had a ton of energy, but for me not much else.

- Following Murray upstairs was Zimology, a quartet of South African musicians led by saxophonist
Zim Ngqawana. Didn't care for it at all. Zim can clearly play, but the tunes lacked any coherence, the blowing was pretty standard "weird/avant" stuff, and he alternated seemingly willy-nilly between horns and sing/shouting, even making noises by running his finger over his mouth like we all did as kids. Plus, on a night where the sets were short, he started late (not his fault) and ran way over (his, and the club's fault). I was excited about seeing Chris Dave's trio, but couldn't because I had to go catch my train before his set even ended.

So, as with most of these deals, I came away knocked out and underwhelmed all at once. Part of me says I should've missed the game, seen the big names and bailed before midnight, but I enjoyed the game too (and the outcome, certainly), so I'm not complaining.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Meshell Ndegeocello @ Music Hall of Williamsburg, 1/11

While a big chunk of the jazz world migrated to the IAJE in Toronto, I hopped down to New York this weekend, primarily but not exclusively to hear the incomparable Meshell. (especially since I missed her hit in Boston this summer.) First, I'd not been to this venue, either by its new name or when it was NorthSix, but I like it a lot. Apparently the changes the Bowery Ballroom made when they bought it have made a huge difference- it's sleek looking and, far more important, good sounding, and the sightlines are solid. (Well, except when middle-aged drunk people shove their way in front of you to get a better look. Sigh)

Her show was really great; a slightly pared down band of two guitars- Oren Blowdow providing primarily colors and sheen, the other soloing more- Mark Kelly on bass and drummer whose name I'm afraid I missed was tight and responsive. The music was split between items from her most recent effort (my brief review here) and stuff I hadn't heard before, but I guess she's been touring with. (some, including "Mass Transit" and "Lock and Load" is on her myspace page) As I mentioned in my album review, this music is sonically and rhythmically harder edged and "punker", for lack of a better word, than anything I'm used to from her, and even blunter lyrically- "Lock and Load" opens with images I see as scared soldiers exerting control, "Sloganeer" probes the mind of a young suicide bomber. That said, she is still as funky a bass player as ever- she opened the show just playing half notes on bass behind an instrumental, and I could feel the room shake, and her bass openings on tunes like "Top Shelf" were at once fleet-footed and so full of bottom that everything vibrated. All that said, Matt Kelly was a fantastic second bass- I can't imagine a more intimidating gig for a bass player, and he was more than up to it, never second guess, always laying it down. I was saying to my friend and former N$V mainstay Sasha, she makes me rethink most of what I'm doing every time I hear her, and that's a great thing.

The opener was a local jam unit called Pimps of Joytime. I'm not really the best person to be reviewing jamband stuff, so I'll be brief. First, they're not bad; the rhythm section was really solid, and the singer had this Prince-ish flasetto that was impressive. But, to my ears they're not as good live as the stuff on the web- the solos go nowhere, and the tunes without the bells and whistles were pretty generic- struck me as second-rate Santana circa 1972.

And- this is what got to me- the leader, who my radar said was even whiter than I am, had this drawly jive-talking schtick between tunes that I couldn't buy at all. I know for me, being a white musician who plays leads a band where the influence of black funk music is pretty obvious, and where you're trying to attract an audience that digs that, the choices you make in how you present yourself are tricky. How do you acknowledge your debt to that style with out sounding like a stylistic tourist or voyeur, or worse a sycophant? I don't have an answer, but I'm pretty sure that wearing aviator sunglasses and talking like a pimp with a drawl isn't the way to do it.

But- so as not to end on a dark note, the venue is cool, and Meshell is on her game, and her game is always at a Patriots kind of level. (I had to sneak that in, 17-0 and all) Check her when she's coming your way.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Going to the hidden place

Greetings from NYC, where I'm going one of what's becoming my patented two days hits. Happily, I happened to come the one weekend the Knitting Factory decided to have jazz, their "winter festival." AND, tonight, it's Meshell N'Degeocello. I somehow have to juggle it with watching some part of the all important Patriots/Jaguars game, but I'll manage.

Anyhow, the Knit hasn't released a schedule, but somehow I got it. For $25 for the whole night, you can't beat it. Highlights in my book (which, of course, overlap):

7pm Bjorkestra- mainspace
7:20 Matana Roberts COIN COIN- tap bar
7:40 Donny McCaslin- old office
9- Dave Douglas Magic Circle- main space
10:20- Ben Allison & Man Size Safe- tap bar
11- David Murray, mainspace
11:40- Brad Shepik- old office
1am- Chris Dave Trio- mainspace
1:20- Omar Avital- tap bar

3:15 am- my train leaves for Boston. Should be fun...

Thursday, January 10, 2008

If you listen too long you might start breathing heavy...

It's "study period" at John Harvard's University again, which can mean only one thing- the resident radio station WHRB will play orgies, unbelievably long stretches of a single artist or idea. I'm a little late to jump on it this year, but that's OK, it seems, because they're kicking off with eight days of Beethoven. If that's your cup of tea, you're in heaven. Me, not so much. But, I'll take the opportunity to try to finally really check out some of the late string quartets.

Of more interest to jazz nerds may be:

Tuesday 1/15- Klezmer Jazz Orgy
Wednesday 1/16- Django Reinhardt orgy
Friday 1/18- "Women in Jazz" orgy (will comment later)
Monday 1/21- Max Roach Orgy
Monday 1/28- "third stream" orgy
Wednesday 1/30- the bass clarinet in jazz orgy (this should be fun)

Other orgies of note:
Tuesday 1/15- "Adventures of Superman" orgy
Thursday 1/17- BB King orgy
Saturday 1/19- "27 club" orgy (rock stars who died at 27. What's the current over/under that Britney lands on that list. sigh...)
Wednesday 1/23- Debussey orgy
Friday 1/25- Gorecki orgy
Tuesday 1/29- Anthology of American Folk Music orgy

Sunday, January 06, 2008

New spaces for breath

I'll beef this up tomorrow (I've been building my new web page, which ate all my blogging time. With any luck, it goes up tomorrow!), but a few yoga notes:

- Two of my good friends and favorite teachers have new studios of their own! David Vendetti, one of my first yoga teachers in Boston, has opened a beautiful space in Southie, of all places, called (what else) South Boston Yoga. I was over there this weekend for opening festivities, and it's a wonderful space- complete with a really cool Iyengar wall and every prop imaginable- full of beautiful people.

And one of my running buddies at Baptiste, Brandon Compagnone, is days from opening his studio in Northampton, MA, Shiva Shakti Power Yoga. Brandon was Baptiste's most popular teacher when he was teaching there, and his crazy, beautiful energy is infectious. (And his classes are really hard) If you're in the neighborhood out there check it.

- As for me, my yoga teaching schedule is set for the next while. I'm teaching primarily for the Beacon Hill Athletic Clubs, in Wellesley on Monday nights and on Comm Ave on Sunday mornings. If you aren't a member and would like to come, shoot me an e-mail. I'm at the point where any and all feedback on my teaching is most welcome.

UPDATE: Brandon called me yesterday, and he is opening on Monday January 21. (His exact words were actually "Donaher, you &#*@, I'm ^&@*#%n open!" I love that guy...)

Tuesday, January 01, 2008


(Adapted from a Franciscan proverb):

For all that has been, thank you.
For all that is to come, YES.

Thanks to everyone as always for reading. Have a safe and beautiful 2008.