Friday, January 23, 2009

Looking again, waiting to hear.

First, a little housekeeping- I've finally gone in and fixed the comment settings on blogger so that comments come to my e-mail. My apologies to those who had to wait awhile for their comments to post- that should not be an issue anymore. As can be seen by the last post, one of the best things about blogging is the lively conversation it can create, especially from an engaged and literate readership (that's you). So go ahead, pat yourself on the back.

Finishing the thought behind that last post, while in hindsight I clearly chose a bad example to make my point, I'd like to hear other opinions, about my broader point. Too often, especially in Boston in the past couple of years, I've been frustrated by “performances” where the artists, often some young avant unit, play with no thought whatsoever given to the actual performing of the music beyond simply notes and rhythms- how they look, how they address the audience (or don't). And institutions, including schools, that seem to at least tolerate it, or at the worst encourage it. I don't know if it's ignorance, or some sort of artistic noblesse-oblige or just being dumb, but I've seen it enough recently to be bothered by it, and to wonder about what, if any, are the broader implications. Do we further marginalize the audience for this music when we play this way?

I'm no huge fan of all the rather archaic rituals that surround an orchestra concert- it's too stuffy for me, and often encourages an atmosphere that almost seems to encourage all but the cognizanti to stay away. (Which, I suppose at one time, may have been the whole point) But I feel there is a grave danger in going too far the other way, which I feel like I'm seeing a lot of, more than I'm used to, and much more than I'm comfortable with. Do I care too much about this? Thoughts?

These are extraordinary qualities.

Overlooked in all of the Oscar hype for "Slumdog" was the other song in the best song category, Peter Gabriel's "Down to Earth".  This was one of my favorite songs of the year, from my absolutely favorite movie.  

I thought it was interesting, and kind of cool, that two of the three songs nominated were from the closing of each film, two of my favorite credit sequences ever.  (If you missed the end of Wall*E, go back and watch again. )  I hope Gabriel wins, but I think it'll be one of the "Slumdog" songs, as a make-up for other awards it may not get.  Ah, awards shows...

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Let All Those Who Do Justice and Love Mercy say Amen!

I know that Barack Obama is a politician first and an idealist second- that's why he's where he is- but I pray that he can be the leader we need, and we are strong and clear enough to hold his feet to the fire.  Amen!

Monday, January 19, 2009

You look like what I hear

On Saturday evening I made my annual trip to hear the Boston Modern Orchestra Project's "Boston ConNECtions" concert, which celebrates their long relationship with New England conservatory, and features primarily Boston composers' work. The concert featured several premieres, including of Michael Gandolfi's shimmery, fun new bass trombone concerto, Peter Maxwell Davies' striking bass (!) concerto, and a new piece by William Thomas McKinley celebrating some of Boston's notable musical citizens. (The George Russell movement, of course, ended on the #4) They also debuted a student commission, an annual event, this year Matti Kovler's "Jew Among the Indians (Cokboy)", a dramatic setting of a Depression-era poem about a Jew living on a Navajo reservation.

I honestly don't know what I thought of the piece one way or the other, because I couldn't get past seeing Mr. Kovler performing as the narrator in his own piece. He looked like he had just fallen out of bed- he wore a sweater with the collar rumpled up haphazardly, blue jeans and sneakers. His hair looked unkempt, his face like he hadn't shaved for three days. He looked so bizzarly out of place in front of the (generally very stylish, I might add) all black-clad orchestra. My date for the concert had the same reaction.

I wouldn't mention this, and I know maybe it's not fair to single Mr. Kovler out, but I've thought about it several times over the past year. I've gone to a show jazz, classical and otherwise, when paying sometimes substantial money to see a performance, and the performer dressing and acting on stage in a way that never acknowledges it. While I've never said anything, I've definitely noticed, and it's always I think subconsciously biased me against whoever I'm seeing. We're paying to see a performance, dammit, not just a string of notes, and I'd appreciate at least a modicum of effort to acknowledge that. Rock acts from The Clash to Coldplay to whoever certainly are very aware of that, no matter what they look like, and lots has been made over the years about how jazz musicians from Miles to Mingus to Duke to the Art Ensemble present a performance.

I'm not saying we should all go Young Lion again and wear suits to a $10 gig again- I would certainly hate it- but when I perform I think about what I wear for either fashion, or theatricality or both. If I'm soloing with an orchestra (which, of course, hasn't happened) I take that into account in how I dress. (If I'm going to or playing at Lily Pad or the Sidewalk in New York, obviously, I care a lot less) If he'd dressed in a way that acknowledged the material but wasn't "dressy", I know I'd have a different reaction, and might have heard the piece better.

While I'm grateful that the mores of concert performance have gotten a lot less stuffed shirt, have we gone too far the other way in the way we present music. In jazz and improvised music, has this been a detriment, a boon, or something else? Or am I getting too cranky in my old age? Thoughts/rants/feedback appreciated.

UPDATE: See the comments section- clearly my reaction was not universally shared, and there was much more to it than I saw.  Had I been able to go to the pre-concert talk, or seen Mr. Kovler afterwards, I might have responded differently.  He was going for something that I didn't get.  As I said, I am more interested in larger issues of performance presentation that this one case, and maybe this was the wrong example to use.  More tomorrow.  

Friday, January 16, 2009

tea by sea by T buses

Last night I went to Sub Rosa, local singer Rose Politano's occasional hootenanny at the Lizard Lounge. Apparently each time she does this show she has what she calls the Stranger segment, a sort of gong show where someone who she hears about somehow is invited, and sings a couple of tunes. Last night it was Becca Stevens, best know in my circles as the voice of Travis Sullivan's Bjorkestra. (review from last years Winter JazzFest here) I don't think anyone in the room knew who she was, and she proceeded to blow everyone away with very twisty tunes, tight three part harmony with her band of bassist and accordianist, and a tremendous amount of poise.

Rose afterwards in a little interview segment teased her about needing a band name, and a couple of the musicians present and I agreed that the music leans too heavily on Sufjan Stevens' influence. But she was asked back for an encore, and knocked us out again.

I mention this because Becca is playing Lily Pad tonight at 7pm. Go check her out, you won't be disappointed.

P.S. Due to the limits of my small reptilian brain I mixed Becca up with Jean Rohe, another up and coming New School grad, to her face. My apologies to both parties.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Music to see in Boston, Jan. 09

This is late (and small), but here goes:

Highlight: Josh Redman double trio @ Berklee Performance Center, 1/22

1/17: Either/Orchestra @ Regattabar
1/20: Bill Frisell Trio @ Regattabar
1/23-4: Kenny Garrett @ Regattabar
1/23-4: Pat Martino at Scullers

The Fringe is still at the Lily Pad every Monday night at 10. In addition, there is a cool new Sunday night series that Gil Ahorn, the owner is running. Details here.

Also, for some reason the Ryles schedule is not working online. Not a good sign. If you have it, or think I missed something, please e-mail me.

It's time for an orgy

First, sorry to be so absent from the blogworld recently, especially with so much cool stuff passing through lately. (You'll see what's been keeping me busy, hopefully, on the blog soon) In the meantime, I would be remiss if I didn't mention that Boston is, in addition to being knee-deep in snow, in the center of WHRB's annual orgy season, where they play hours and hours in a row of a single artist or theme. I missed the first week, and I'm not particularly interested in the five days of Mendhlesson they are currently playing, but there is some interesting stuff coming:

Friday 1/15 8pm- Saturday 1/16 5am: History of Hip-Hop orgy
Saturday 1/16 5am -7pm Jazz Funk orgy. Should be a lot of the good, the bad and the ugly from the 70s.
Sunday 1/17 - Met broadcast of Doctor Atomic. Not an orgy, but something I'm excited for.
Tuesday 1/20 2pm- "Jazz for Change"
Thursday 1/22 to Friday 1/23, various times- Elliot Carter orgy
Tuesday 1/29- the John Zorn orgy.

I would note that compared to years past, this is a very weak orgy season for jazz, and just about everything non-classical. Do we really need days and days of Martinu, and only one orgy dedicated exclusively to anything even remotely jazz (Zorn)? I've been very disheartened recently with the Boston jazz scene, and particularly the media's indifference. For instance, in their year in review columns, the Boston Globe had classical and pop reviews from their big guns, but not a word about jazz. And they have Steve Greenlee, a very solid and underrated critic, is nowhere to be found. The Globe is currently in a crunch, like all papers, but to see jazz increasingly written off there is disturbing.

More soon...