As promised, oh so long ago, the inaugural podcast is finally here. It features my interview with Jean Rohe, singer and recent New School graduate. (You may recall her graduation speech... ).
Of course, we talk about the New School incident and its aftermath, but we -- eventually, I promise! -- also get into Jean's musical background, influences, and current activities. We listen to and talk about two songs from her current band's book -- "Hombre Triste," her adaptation of a tune originally by Myk Freedman, and an original, "What Will We Tell Our Children?" -- you can download the complete versions of those songs below. Jean also brought some recordings of music that has influenced her, and we chat about that as well.
It's my first attempt at this whole podcasting thing, so naturally, suggestions are welcome. (I already discovered that I laugh like an asthmatic mule, so no need to belabor the point, thanks.) With any luck it'll be available from the iTunes podcast directory shortly -- in the meanwhile, to subscribe, use the link in the right-hand sidebar.
UPDATE: Okay, the iTunes subscription link is now live -- but for some reason, it's showing non-podcast audio content from previous posts as well. Any podcasting veterans know how to fix this?
But in a larger sense, Gnarls Barkley is really just one person, and that person is Burton.
What's atypical about Gnarls Barkley is that the star is Burton, even though he's barely visible onstage.
That's right -- the person who wrote all the lyrics and melodies, contributed all the lead vocals, came up with the record's unifying concept, fronts the band, and has been, you know, an actual star for over ten years is not in fact the real star of Gnarls Barkley, which is best described as an auteuristic Danger Mouse solo project.
Tonight at the Knit's Tap Bar, composer Jennifer Stock presents her electronic music trio Soundbook One, along with performances by Paul Lansky, Jonathan Zalben's laptop ensemble, a rendition of George Crumb's "Celestial Mechanics" (cosmic dances for amplified piano - four hands), and much fun besides. 8 PM, $10 cover.
I saw Guillermo Klein's Los Guachos for the first time on Thursday night. I'd heard a lot about G.K.'s music, from the people who saw (and sometimes played in) his band during his legendary mid-1990's run at Small's, as well as from people who know him only through his recordings, and absolutely everyone was overflowing with praise for the Argentinian composer-bandleader. So it's safe to say that expectations had been raised.
The music I heard on Thursday night at the Vanguard (second set) was often hushed and intimate, lyrical melodies harmonized with dense clustery voicings, and played with a soft, round ensemble sound, slightly fuzzy around the edges. Many of the charts began with the composer's understated piano, and a few of the tunes featured Klein's deadpan signing voice. The music often develops around skittish rhythmic cells plugged into complex multimetric grooves, loosely adapted from Argentinean and other South American rhythms. The mood was overwhelmingly somber, even sinister. One tune sounded like a polytonal version of a Radiohead dirge, and it was followed up by a spiky bit of Bartókia whose sudden ending brought me up short.
Klein's music is melodic and affecting, but fiercely difficult to play -- there's a showstopping ensemble passage in a tune called (I think) "Muela" that begins in Steve Reich-land but quickly introduces all kinds of mind-bending implied metric modulations over the already complex composite groove. And the set ended (appropriately) with "La Ultima," a Bach-inspired contrapuntal workout for the trumpets which requires Urcola and Haskins to construct a snaky composite line between the two of them, each playing a sixteenth-note off from the other. The crowd was so fired up by this chart that they demanded an encore (and I don't think I've ever seen an encore at the Vanguard before), and Guillermo obliged with a folksy, triadic ballad in 7 that opened with the entire band singing.
However, as impressive and original as the music was, I have to admit that I felt the set was emotionally a bit lacking. Part of this probably had to do with where I was sitting -- at the very back of the room, which, among other things, made it very hard to hear Richard Nante's percussion playing. But it also felt like the band was holding back, concentrating so hard on accuracy that they never really got off the page. (Obviously, as a composer of challenging music myself, I sympathize.) The situation in Guillermo's band is even harder because they perform without a conductor, which sometimes forced Jeff Ballard to lay things down more squarely and explicitly than he usually does. The soloists, too, were not quite as uninhibited as I'd have liked (with the notable exception of Bill McHenry, who ripped it up right from the start).
However, thanks to Ethan I., I was able to return to the Vanguard last night. This time, we were sitting along the right-hand wall, right next to where Ben Monder had set up. Being closer to the band made a world of difference -- many details in the music that had been completely lost at the back of the room were now clear -- especially Ben's intricate, often quirky guitar parts. Voicings that had sounded muddy and indistinct suddenly came into sharp focus. In the intervening nights, the players had become much more comfortable with the music, and Jeff Ballard was driving the band more forcefully and creatively than he had two nights prior, especially on the surging "Flores" and his own tune, "Child's Play." Bill McHenry's playing was undiminished, but this time there was more space for Miguel Zenón, Chris Cheek, Diego Urcola, and Ben Monder, and they all stepped up. Even the leader's singing was more self-assured and impassioned. On Thursday, I was respectfully impressed with Guillermo's writing -- last night, I was swept away.
That said, some (minor) reservations remain. I'm not always convinced by the shape of Guillermo's charts -- for example, immediately following the aforementioned jaw-dropping time-shifting section of "Muela," we get... a bass solo. Absolutely no disrespect intended to the great Fernando Huergo, but this is just not the right moment for him to blow. Guillermo has built up an incredible head of steam here, and I desperately wanted him to use it as a jumping-off point into something even more intense, like a horn soloist battling it out with the full ensemble. When the passage returns later in the piece, again I was hoping that this would be the start of something -- instead, the chart winds down shortly thereafter. Also, I found myself wanting to hear more dialogue between soloist and band -- I think one of the reasons Bill McHenry plays so well in this band is that his solos tend to be backed up by exciting, effective backgrounds, forcing him to play out just to be heard.
But these are only quibbles. Guillermo is clearly a major compositional voice, and I'm very glad to have finally heard him. Tonight is the end of their run at the Vanguard, so if you haven't been down this week, don't miss your last chance to check out Los Guachos.
Why Does the Existence of Musical Analysis Anger People?
I've been watching music discussions online for ten years now (word to rec.music.hip-hop), and every discussion board always a few of them: those people who are offended that serious music discussion even exists at all. Whenever a nice debate gets rolling, they will jump in and accuse all debaters of disrespecting the music by taking it so seriously. Here's an example from okayplayer's Lesson Board this weekend:
"Can anyone on the lesson just like an artist without having to analyze and critique until they suck the enjoyment out of music? Who cares if it doesn't fit your subjective standards about what real funk is? Do you like it or not?"
I'm leaving out the poster's name cuz it's not my intention to pick a fight, but I've never understood where this kinda thing is coming from. I can understand somewhat if you take personal offense to critiques of your favorite artist, but sometimes (as in the quote above) those who take offense don't even have a horse in the race. Which means, I have to assume, they are offended by the very existence of such musical analysis, just on general principle. But if that's the case, what do they imagine is the purpose of the discussion boards they're on? As another OKP countered, "what are people supposed to do? just name an artist, throw confetti and clap?"
Yes, yes, Pitchfork is evil, we all understand this, but listen -- gratis, c'est gratis, and this is good stuff. So go get your Matmos, Mr. Lif, Yo La Tengo, Nels Cline, The Mountain Goats, and such like.
Last Wednesday the ASO flew me down to Atlanta to meet with Lizz Wright and discuss plans for next year's concert. It will be an interesting challenge to translate Lizz's songbook into a larger orchestral setting, especially when it comes to adapting Craig Street's spare, intimate arrangements from Dreaming Wide Awake. We are both very excited about this project -- Lizz came prepared with a playlist she wanted me to check out, which included some music I already knew (a song from Sufjan's Greetings from Michigan, a couple of things from Iron & Wine and Tom Waits), and some that's new to me (Virgina Rodrigues, Jonatha Brooke, Damien Rice, Emiliana Torrini). After lunch, we wandered around Atlanta's Botanical Garden, checking out the orchids and Niki de Saint Phalle sculptures while chatting about her upcoming record (due spring of '07). This is going to be a fun collaboration.
On the flight back to Gotham, I listened to the ASO's recording of Gollijov's Ainadamar. I know I'm late to this party, but goddamn is that ever a fucking great piece of music. I tend to be rather skeptical of opera, especially the traditional rep (sorry, Steve) but Ainadamar completely blew me away, and I'm now kicking myself for not trying to score tickets to the Lincoln Center performance back in January.
I've done arrangements for the ASO a few times before so I know how great they sound, but this record is a perfect showcase for their strengths, especially when it comes to the more rhythmically challenging material. (It ain't easy to get an entire orchestra to play flamenco rhythms accurately... ) Even purely from an orchestration-geekout P.O.V., the combination of cajón, acoustic guitar, voices and orchestra is such a blissful sound, it makes me want to drown myself in it.
Jerry Zinser of S21 has a review of Friday's performance of Ainadamar at the Ojai Music Festival -- apparently, Eighth Blackbird opened, with the version of Rzewski's Coming Together from Fred -- another recent acquisition.
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Thursday night was Pulse at Galapagos. More on that here -- oh, and many thanks to David Adler for coming out to the show! If you don't know David's blog, definitely check his reports from his recent travels in Turkey and Khurdistan, available here and here -- for the second link, scroll to the bottom, then read upwards. David and I aren't always on the same page, politically, but this series is undeniably great reading.
Oh, and if you missed us on Thursday, you can still catch Pulse this Sunday at St. Peter's, 7:30 PM.
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Last night, Elizabeth! and I took in the Barbarian Horde at Tea Lounge, and a good time was had by all. I first met the certifiable Eric Biondo at the Banff Jazz Workshop back in the summer of '99, so it's nice to see he hasn't slowed down any since then.
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Oh, and Monday, I will be interviewing Jean Rohe for the first-ever Secret Society podcast. Stay tuned...
Brooklyn Vegan has pics of the (totally killing) Glenn Kotche & David Cossin duo from Sunday's Bang on a Can Marathon -- I promise you, you will never, ever hear a better version of "Clapping Music" or "Music For Pieces of Wood" than what these dudes served up. I have my own photos of the event, which I will post as soon as I have time to upload them.
However, I'm a wee bit behind in my already radically sleep-deprived schedule at the moment, as someone forgot to bring her passport with her tonight and needed me to (A) figure out which pile of stuff it was buried in, and (B) escort the document out to JFK Terminal 7 in time for her to make her flight. (Of course, Lindsay once saved my sorry ass by printing out a missing piano chart and bringing it to a gig, so I guess now we're even stevens...)
Pulse is sounding very good. We had Gary Versace on keyboards for the first time yesterday AM (and yes, he's doing the Pulse hits on June 8 and 11) -- wheee! Come on out -- it will be fun, I promise.
If you're going to be at the Bang on a Can Marathon today, please say hello. I'd been hoping to blog about the event (and even briefly entertained the idea of trying to figure out some way of liveblogging it), but between preparations for next week's Pulse hits, the music copying gig I should be working on instead of typing this entry (rent must be paid), and my day trip to Atlanta on Wednesday to discuss plans for an exciting new project, y'all will have to settle for some snapshots instead. In fact, I can barely justify going to the event at all, but, like Warren Zevon said...
Brookmeyer's Spirit Music is now shipping -- Pat has reflections on the record in light of his studies with Bob.
Also, the Planet Arts websitefinally allows you place an online order for the new Vanguard Jazz Orchestra release, Up From The Skies. Jim played us some tracks from this release a couple of weeks ago in the BMI Workshop, and it's killing -- as is his series of pieces for Paul Klee, recently recorded by the Swiss Jazz Orchestra.