Thursday, 30 November 2006. Bowery Poetry Club. 10 PM. $12 Cover.
It's that time again... more allies and pamphleteers for the sidebar:
Taylor is a killing trumpet/cornet player and it's great to see more NYC jazz musicians getting into blogging. The clear must-read posts so far include his take on the already-legendary Cecil Taylor-Henry Grimes-Pheeroan akLaff hit, and his reflections on working with Anthony Braxton, but I'm also digging the frequent bookblogging and this anecdote.
Seth is notorious for his acerbic comments over at Sequenza 21 and NewMusicBox -- any greatest hits compilation would have to include his contributions to this thread -- but I can testify that in meatspace, Seth is the most laid-back pro wrestling fan I've ever met. I've been bugging him to get a blog since a few months after I started mine, and I'm happy to report he finally caved. His "first impressions" of Phil Kline's John The Revelator is the kind of earthy-but-informative review I wish I had the chops for, and Seth has actually seen O.C. and Stiggs, which must be worth at least 2000 hipster-points. Added attraction -- Clint Eastwood: hack or genius? (see comments)
I don't know how I could not link to someone who sang on one of my my favorite recordings of the year, especially when she was so kind as to link to me. ACB is a freshly-minted New Yorker (having spent the past few years operating out of sunny Seattle) and her personable and witty blog tells of opera-type things and young-artist-in-New-York-type things. She also happens to be blood-related to the lead developer for everyone's favorite NYC indie rock showlistings, Oh My Rockness. ACB's blog is named after this poem, which is a good one.
Hank Shteamer writes for Time Out NY and plays in Stay Fucked. He also gave Secret Society our first positive mention in print, which I think means he has dibs on my firstborn or something. Anyway, check out the love for Capt. Beefheart's other records (here and here), the unpretentious foodblogging, and his description of Donald Sutherland's Hawkeye and Elliott Gould's Trapper John as proto-hipsters. (I think the key difference is, Hawkeye and Trapper are actually good at what they do.)
Boston-based jazz/soul/hiphop/politics/etc blog, with a timely helping of Sun Ra -- I'm sure you all know by now that Mass. governor-elect Deval Patrick is the the son of Arkestra bari saxophonist Pat Patrick, but in honor of the Bay State's first interstellar elected official, go check out the sounds of the Afro-Futurist underground.
Frequent commenter/occasional troll (and you know I say that with love) godoggo is jazzblogging from LA. He has a nice appreciation of Anita O'Day up, from the perspective of someone new to her music. I was away from the blog when news of Ms. O'Day's passing reached me, but godoggo has the roundup of obits, as well as links to some outstanding performances. Definitely check out the YouTube'd clips from Jazz on a Summer's Day -- Anita really brings it.
One of America's greatest artists, dead at 81.
McCABE (muttering to himself): All the time makin' me feel like I'm gonna make a fool outta myself... mmm... now we gonna see who the fools is. Sonuvabitches. [McCABE pours himself a drink.] Never did fit in this goddamn town. God I hate it when them bastards put their hands on you. I tell you, sometime... sometimes when I take a look at you, I just, I just keep lookin' and a-lookin'... I want to feel your little body against me so bad I think I'm gonna bust. I keep tryin' to tell you in a lot of different ways... if just one time you could be sweet without no money around. I think I could... well, I'll tell you something, I got poetry in me. I do, I got poetry in me! But... I ain't gonna put it down on paper, I ain't no educated man, I got sense enough not to try it. [PAUSE] Can't never say nothin' to you. If you'd just one time let me run the show, I'd... [PAUSE] You're just freezin' my soul, that's what you're doin'. Freezin' my soul... [McCABE pours himself a another drink.] Well, shit! Enjoy yourself, girl. Just go ahead and have a time, what the hell. It's just my luck the only woman ever been one to me ain't nothing but a whore, but what the hell, I never was a percentage man. I suppose a whore's the only kind of woman I'd know.
From McCabe & Mrs. Miller, the best among many outstanding films in Altman's legacy, and one of my favorite movies of all time (up there with Seven Samurai and The Godfather Part 2). Mark Asch has a great post on this flick. See also Scott Lemieux's memorial post at Lawyers, Guns and Money. And Ethan gives a shout-out to my second-favorite Altman.
I just got word from drummer Kendrick A.D. Scott (who making his Secret Society debut on Nov. 30) that his website has just gone live. Kendrick is probably best-known for his work in the Terrance Blanchard Group, but his debut as a leader, The Source -- featuring Derrick Hodge, Lionel Loueke, Gretchen Parlato, Seamus Blake, Aaron Parks, Mike Moreno, Vicente Archer, Lage Lund, Myron Walden, Robert Glasper, and Walter Smith III -- is set for a 2007 release.
www.kendrickscott.com -- check it out.
Maria Schneider in the NYT:
Much of Maria Schneider’s large- ensemble jazz of the last six years has been nearly a figurative description of long-flow movement, particularly dancing or flying. And even when that’s not what it’s really about — as it is in her piece “Hang Gliding” or the various dances represented in her suite “Three Romances” — that’s still, in a sense, what it’s really about.
She put on “Concierto de Aranjuez,” from “Sketches of Spain,” one of Evans’s collaborations with Miles Davis. It starts with castanets and harp; then soft orchestral lines move in for the theme, before Davis enters, a minute into the piece. “Check this out,” she said.
Davis enters with a soft flourish, and the orchestra goes into a kind of slow motion. “You know how Armani knows how to dress a woman up and make her look just incredible?” she asked. “Gil knew how to dress a soloist and make that soloist so beautiful, you know? So there’s all this fluttering — this movement, the tuba’s playing these melodies, there’s all these things going on — and when Miles enters, everything stops.” As if stirring to life again, more lines form after a minute, with curious crisscrossing momentum; it sounds improvised, but it was all was precisely composed.
Ms. Schneider once conducted the piece from a transcription; then she did it again after Evans’s original scores were found. She was amazed by the difference. “I saw everything in them, and that’s when I realized: It’s like a watch, where every little gear attaches to something else. The music and the soloist are an inseparable entity.”
“Sometimes I feel like, in the world of jazz, people think that more chromaticism all the time is going to make their music hipper,” she said disappointedly. “It’s like, no. Music is a time-oriented art. So it’s how you play a person’s attention through time.
“I mean, here and there you’ll capture an experience in jazz that just makes you go ....” She opened her eyes wide and gasped. “But to me it happens less and less, and I think that’s because musicians think they have to keep playing more and more.
Lots of good music coming up in the next couple of days...
Tonight at Barbès (8 PM hit), Secret Society co-conspirator Josh Sinton unleashes his new band, Ideal Bread, a group dedicated to the music of the late and much-lamented Steve Lacy. Josh studied with Lacy and knows his music intimately, and he and Kirk Knuffke (trumpet), Reuben Radding (bass), and Tomas Fujiwara (drums) have spent a long time getting inside this music. Here's how Josh describes the hit:
The evening's show will be filled with songs about art, gymnastics, love, philosophy, food, garbage, marriage, wine, tobacco, literature, oration, protestation, defenestration, New York, Paris, Rome, New Jersey and all points in between, outside of and inclusive of.
Also tonight at the Good Shepherd-Faith Church (6:30 PM reception -- free wine, y'all; 7:30 PM hit) is the second installment of the innovative Wordless Music series, featuring Albuquerque-based postrockers A Hawk and a Hacksaw, violinist and indie darling Andrew Bird, and classical pianist Stephen Beck playing an all-Bach program. (I reviewed the first Wordless Music hit here.)
Tomorrow (Thursday, Nov 16) at The Tank (9:30 PM hit), Corey Dargel and Kamala Sankaram perform apart and together. In addition to your favorite tunes from Less Famous Than You (reviewed here), and some timely "policy anthems," Corey will be premiering a set of songs about the Virgin Mary, presented in collaboration with violinist Jim Altieri -- by all accounts, Corey and Jim stole the show at the American Composers Orchestra hit last month. Meanwhile, Kamala's band Squeezebox will present the live musical accompaniment to an original film, bloodletting, an expressionistic horror flick about the struggle for artistic survival -- and just plain survival. But before all of that, Corey and Kamala will open with a pair of songs from Nick Brooke's chamber opera Tone Test.
Meanwhile, that same night, back at Barbès (8 PM), singer Monika Heideman -- whose record has already been flagged by the Boston Phoenix as the "the jazz-vocal debut of the year... make that the jazz debut of the year... make that the debut of the year" -- returns to Brooklyn with her regular lineup: Khabu (guitar), Erik Deutsch (keyboards), Reuben Radding (bass), and Take Toriyama (drums). Monika also studied with Lacy, and may even sing some of his music if you ask real nice-like.
See also this Destination Out post on Lacy's recordings with Mal Waldron.
I'm wary of the repertory movement in jazz. Ghost bands who linger on decades after their founding figure has passed, institutional jazz orchestras who dutifully recreate the music of Ellington and Strayhorn, Fletcher and Horace Henderson, et al., for a concert-hall audience... all of this seems ultimately self-defeating. It continually reinforces the idea that jazz is something that happened a long time ago, and that the proper role for younger musicians is not to stand on the shoulders of giants, but to lurk in their shadows. And with the audience for orchestras that bind themselves to that kind of subscription-warhorse-nostalgia model dwindling every year, it's a bit hard to see why anyone in the jazz world thought this would be a good model to emulate.
This isn't to say that past masters shouldn't get their due -- of course they should. This is especially important for artists whose contributions have been largely -- and deliberately -- excluded from the jazz canon. As I think that already-famous hivemind-spawned 1973-1990 discography demonstrates, there are an awful lot of unsung heroes in jazz. But even in that pack of underdogs, Julius Hemphill stands out.
So despite my reservations about "museum jazz," it was heartening to see Miller Theatre include Hemphill in this year's Composer Portraits series. (The season opener featured John Zorn; concerts yet to come will spotlight the music of Varèse, Zappa, Reich, and Kimmo Hakola.) But I also wondered whether Thursday's performance would be true to Hemphill's maverick spirit, or whether it would collapse under the weight of too much well-intentioned reverence.
Those who know Hemphill's work usually know him via his association with the World Saxophone Quartet, so it's easy to forget that he also has a formidable body of concert music written for nonjazz performers, much of it as-yet unrecorded. Thanks to a transit snafu, I missed the concert's opening, but I was very glad to arrive in time to catch Ursula Oppens and Ethel perform Hemphill's One Atmosphere, premiered fifteen years ago but only recorded in 2004. It opens with a languid two-chord figure which unfolds into a walking bass line thickened by a parallel harmonization. The steady pulse holds through some sharp piano accents, but then gives way into an active 5-part dialog. This is a side of Hemphill's writing I'd never heard, and Oppens (who has long championed Hemphill's music) and Ethel made a very strong case for it. It also made for a very interesting and unexpected jumping-on point -- maybe that subway delay was fortuitous.
Next, concert organizer and Hemphill associate Marty Ehrlich took the stage, accompanied by cellist Erik Friedlander, drummer Pheeroan akLaff and... holy shit, is that Baikida Carroll? It is Baikida Carroll -- this is the guy who played trumpet on Hemphill's legendary 1972 debut Dogon A.D. (never issued on CD, though not for lack of trying), as well as the followup, Coon Bid'ness (which is on CD, and even iTunes, albeit with the less, uh, "provocative" title "Reflections"). These two records were my first exposure to Hemphill's music and remain my all-time favorites, so it's impossible to put into words how thrilling it was to hear Pheeroan launch into the supple 11/16* drum groove that anchors "Dogon A.D." akLaff and Friedlander are the ideal rhythm section for this music -- akLaff was relaxed and funky, totally uninhibited by the odd-meter phrasing, and Friedlander was right there in the pocket, extending and elaborating on the cello vamp originally played by Abdul Wadud, while staying true to the tune's grinding, obsessive focus. (You can tell Friedlander has listened to this record hundreds of times.) Carroll's solo was patient and spacious, while Erhlich opened with boppish spurts and built to a fearsome climax. It's a little scary how fresh it all sounds, still.
This quartet returned in the second half to play the two other cuts from Dogon A.D. First was "The Painter," with its beautiful, conversational flute lines and folkish cello strumming. This rendition featured a long interactive dialogue between Erhlich and Carroll, with almost telepathically supportive accompaniment from akLaff and Friedlander. "Rites" is a sharp contrast to "The Painter," opening with abrasive siren-like horn wails interrupted by fiercely angular, virtuosic lines. The improv is a kind of fast, loose rubato, full of flurries and slicing attacks, but everyone seemed attuned to the natural ebb and flow and kept the music moving. Just before the head out, Pheeroan unleashed a steamroller of a drum solo, one of the most intense moments of the night.
Ursula Oppens and Ethel were both back after the break as well, in separate performances. Oppens played "Parchment," a piece Hemphill wrote with her in mind. It's a reflective, post-impressionistic work in much the same vein as many of the pieces I heard the night before. Hemphill's expert balancing of chromaticism vs. diatonicism, and of density vs. spaciousness seemed almost effortless. And who doesn't love Ursula Oppens's playing? Damn.
Ethel returned with Mingus Gold, a "contemplation" for string quartet of three Mingus tunes -- "Nostalgia in Times Square," "Alice's Wonderland," and "Better Get Hit in Your Soul." "Nostlagia" began straightforwardly before veering into Hemphill's spiky harmonic vocabulary; "Alice's Wonderland" entrusted the yearning melody first to the viola, then to pizzicato cello, closing with a staggering waltz. Cellist Dorothy Lawson opened "Better Get Hit In Your Soul" with her best crack at Mingusian grittiness. The most successful parts of Mingus Gold were the most thoroughly reimagined ones -- the arrangements tended to bog down whenever the adaptation got too literal. But Ethel played this music with intensity and commitment -- their sincere passion for both Hemphill and Mingus was unmistakable.
The hit was anchored by the Julius Hemphill Sextet, a group founded in 1987 and rebooted after Hemphill's untimely death by Marty Ehrlich, an original member of the sextet. Also on board were Matana Roberts and Andy Laster (altos), J.D. Parran and Andrew White (tenors), and Alex Harding (bari). The group has a massive collective sound, full-throated but intensely focused, with Ehrlich's bittersweet tone singing out on top, rendering Hemphill's unmistakable melodic lines with graceful abandon. They brought a glimmering clarity to Hemphill's densely-packed harmonic blocks on "Mirrors" and "JiJi Tune," and a surging energy to "The Moat and the Bridge," a McCoy-ish modal workout refracted through Hemphill's own idiosyncratic sensibilities.
The sextet closed the night with a couple of soulful 12/8 romps. If "Spiritual Chairs" is a blistering gospel sermon, then "The Hard Blues" -- originally cut at the same session that produced Dogon A.D. -- is the front end of a three-day bender, It pits Alex Harding's menacing bari ostinato against clipped staccatos, searing long tones, and swaggering triplet lines, before exploding into a frenetic-but-tight freebop bridge. "The Hard Blues" is anthemic and irresistible -- in fact, it ended with a parade through the hall, with Ethel, Ursula, and Pheeroan joining the line for the final blowout. (Tim Berne, another of Hemphill's most tireless advocates, was in the audience -- I was hoping he might make a cameo appearance on this tune, but it was not to be.)
This is jazz rep I can get behind -- a long-overdue celebration of a neglected master, featuring heartfelt performances by musicians who have a deep personal connection to the artist. This was the rare posthumous tribute that didn't feel like dancing with zombies; it felt like dancing with spirits.
* While I'm told Hemphill actually notated the tune in 11/16, if you were transcribing it, you'd probably put it in 11/8.
Tickets to this event were provided by the concert promoter.
Photos below the fold...
I've been getting a lot of incoming Google traffic from people wanting more information about the recent, heartrendingly tragic suicide-by-self-immolation of Malachi Ritscher. Please allow me to direct you to this piece by Nitsuh Abebe in Pitchfork (of all places). It's an exceptionally sensitive, thoughtful, and well-researched article, and I encourage you to read the whole thing, but here are some of the most salient excerpts:
Most fans of underground music are probably aware of Chicago's experimental music scene, or at least its most prominent figures: People like jazz saxophonist Ken Vandermark, who won a MacArthur Fellowship in 1999, or the countless players-- Jeb Bishop, Chad Taylor, Fred Lonberg-Holm-- whose names became recognizable to indie fans during the 1990s, in the heyday of Chicago post-rock. If you haven't spent time in Chicago, though, it's easy to underestimate how vibrant the scene is, and has been. Over the past decade, every week in the city has offered multiple opportunities to see avant-garde music, improvised instrumental performances, and free jazz performed by musicians from around the city and around the world, all of it supported by a large and complex circle of artists and fans. Just tracking down who's playing with whom can be a discographer's nightmare: This is a scene that cooperates.
And those most involved in that scene knew Malachi Ritscher. For years, he'd been a constant presence in the community, and probably its most committed documentarian: From the late 1980s onward, he spent an incredible number of nights out at shows, recording and photographing the musicians, and spending time with other fans. "According to his website, he recorded approximately 2,000 shows," says Dave Rempis, who plays saxophone in the Vandermark Five. "That would be six years of recording a show every single night. And from being around this scene, I can tell you that's not at all an overestimation. He was constantly at concerts-- I'd see him five nights a week."
"The recording was a big deal," says percussionist Michael Zerang, who's also played in a Vandermark-led group. "A lot of us couldn't afford recordings, and he would do it and virtually give it to us for free." Dozens of those recordings wound up becoming official releases, either through the artist's labels, or through Ritcher's own Savage Sound Syndicate. "Whenever I saw him," says Rempis, "he'd have a stack of 10 or 20 CD-Rs in his bag, so he could say, 'Oh yeah, I have something for you.'"
For most people, Ritscher's support meant just as much as his recording skills-- especially when it came to music that was so lacking in any kind of broad commercial appeal. "Just by being present all the time," says Zerang, laughing fondly, "well, there was always at least one person there." Bruce Finkelman owns the Empty Bottle-- a key venue for rock and experimental music-- and became used to seeing Ritscher show up for just about all of it: "Twenty below zero temperatures, three people in the club, and Malachi was one of them. Five feet of snow on the ground, and no one showing up, and he was there." It's a level of passion and enthusiasm that should be unimaginable to most of us-- going out, every other night, even in Chicago winters, to see free jazz?
Malachi Ritscher is one of fewer than 10 people in American history to have done this. And as of 2006, it's hard to imagine how an American could successfully use self-immolation as a form of protest. You can't tell anyone about it: Most people would try to dissuade you, or even have you committed for your own protection. It's something you'll inevitably do alone; it's something that major media will not widely report; and it's something most people will conclude was the work of a very ill person.
Back, then, to the question everyone's asking, the question you probably already have strong opinions on: Was Malachi Ritscher a political martyr or a mentally troubled suicide? Let me tip my editorial hand and claim something: The argument is a distraction, and it's the wrong question to ask. It assumes too much. It assumes that the two things are mutually exclusive, or binaries, and that they can't be jumbled intractably in someone's thinking. It assumes that there's a clear, distinct line between rational politics and personal emotions. And it assumes that a troubled person can't legitimately mean what he says, even if his way of expressing it is tragic.
Thanks to Corey Dargel for pointing me to Abebe's article.
I missed this last week -- Marc Swed reviews Rzewksi in Pomona:
Half an hour later, this small man, hair mussed, walked onto the stage of Bridges Hall, the jewel-box small theater at Pomona College three blocks away. No more than 40 people were in the audience.
Rzweski's appearance at Pomona, for which admission was free, came with little advance word and no publicity. That might seem an outrage, given that Rzewski (whose name is pronounced Schev-ski), a 68-year-old American expatriate who has long lived in Brussels, doesn't come to the West Coast often, although his music is often played by the EAR Unit. He was finishing up a tour of small colleges, many in the Midwest, where he was probably just as ignored as in Pomona. But somehow the circumstances of the appearance seemed apt for an outsider artist with strong political convictions.
Less a Beethoven, perhaps, than a latter-day leftist Liszt, Rzewski is also our anti-Liszt. He refuses to play the celebrity or music industry game. He operates as a hit-and-run artist, usually gone before you know what hit you.
Rzewski is devoted to social change, to the struggle of the people against oppressive government, and often he takes off from a popular political melody, as in "The People United." But although he may look like an anarchist of old, his music is a deep and meaningful meditation on freedom and structure.
He is an inspired improviser while, at the same time, a control freak. And his middle way, where both approaches are in dialogue, is a brilliant manipulation of forces that can pull apart not just modern music but society. Oh, and he also gets some of the most thrilling sonorities from the piano I have ever heard.
But why hasn't an enterprising soloist and orchestra tried out the extravagant new cadenza in a performance of Beethoven's popular Fourth Concerto? Why isn't the seven-disc Nonesuch set of Rzewski playing his music that came out four years ago more widely appreciated for being one of the landmark recordings of American music? Why wasn't he engaged to play at a major Los Angeles venue on this tour?
If not a non sequitur, Rzewski's anonymity Sunday was, at the very least, weird.
Keys to the Future bills itself as "New York's only festival of contemporary solo piano music." The event is only in its second year, but it has already expanded to a three-day, six-pianist, 32-composer blowout. I made the second night (Wednesday), which featured pianists Tatjana Rankovich, Lora Tchekoratova, and festival founder Joseph Rubenstein.
Tatjana was first up, opening with a 1997 work by the Azerbaijani composer Franghiz Ali-Zadeh, called simply Music for Piano. (In case you were wondering, Azerbaijan is across the Caspian Sea from Kazakhstan.) It begins with a simple ascending left-hand line pitted against florid right-hand arabesques, with a light buzz supplied by a beaded necklace placed over the strings -- an effect intended to evoke a tar. At several points, the meditative mood is disrupted by an explosion of low-register rumbling, only to return to the original free-floating melodic figurations During these recapitulations, I found myself focusing more on the sound of the necklace buzzing against the strings than on the notes themselves -- it sounded separate and disembodied, almost like a running commentary on the piece.
Next were four selections from Philippe Hersant's piano cycle Éphémeres, a collection of short haiku-inspired pieces composed between 1999 and 2003. Miniatures like these are tricky to pull off, but all of the included pieces were distinctive and satisfying: a tentative folklike melody played in parallel; vertiginous flurries against left-hand Morse-code punctuations; an intentionally muddy sprint through the low register, ending abruptly; and, my favorite of the four, a simple, open-sounding piece reminiscent of Keith Jarrett channeling Copland.
Luciano Berio's Brin (1990) is another miniature, beginning with various strands of vaporous lines that seem to blow by aimlessly, but eventually coalesce into a single repeated chord. Berio's music doesn't normally do much for me, but this piece is actually quite powerful and affecting -- perhaps the dosage was right.
Tatjana closed with Joseph Fennimore's Fifth Romance (1984), which draws heavily from the Great American Songbook -- I heard somewhat abstracted allusions to "Tea For Two," "Lover Man," and "Body and Soul," among others. Fennimore skillfully weaves Bill Evans-derived extended harmonies in with more purely expressionistic sonorities, but the the result was more like an ultra-highbrow showtunes medley than a cohesive piece in its own right. Still, Tatjana Rankovich was a model of understated expressiveness throughout.
Batting second was Lora Tchekoratova, who kicked off her set with a jaw-droppingly virtuosic reading of Lowell Liebermann's Nocturne No. 5 (1996), which opens with simple arpeggios and an unadorned melody, before unleashing, without warning, a torrent of fearsomely difficult chromatic commentary, which takes over the right hand and threatens to engulf the piece. But then the storm passes and the canonic melody returns to lead us into a wistful ending. This is a staight-up, old-fashioned Lisztian tour-de-force, with the music sometimes taking a back seat to Tchekoratova's formidable pianism.
The Downtown contingent was represented by the premiere of Phil Kline's Mambo No. 1, the most rhythmically muscular work of the night. The groove does not actually resemble a mambo of any kind (Phil was instead riffing on the Voodoo priestess), but it was the first piece of the night to include a regular pulse. The music is dense, almost claustrophobic, but a quarter-note bass line soon arrives to keep us grounded. At times, the music would grind to a sudden stop, only to shoot off into a new and unexpected direction. After quite a lot of introspective music, I was glad for the Kline's in-your-face approach here, and it was fun to see Lora bobbing her head in time with the complex but on-the-grid rhythms. But it also seemed like Kline had stuffed too many ideas into too small a frame.
With Toru Takemitsu's Rain Tree Sketch II (1992), we return to the wispy, introspective post-Debussy works that dominated the evening. Dedicated to Messiaen, the vibe here is mystical, reverent, occasionally mysterious but ultimately uplifting. This is a beautiful and well-crafted work, played with tremendous focus and patience, but at this point I began to wonder if the program wasn't a bit top-heavy with this kind of piece.
Next, Keys to the Future head honcho Joseph Rubenstein took the stage, with... Arvo Pärt's quiet, meditative, introspective Für Alina (1976). So yeah, at first, I'm thinking, "Okay, I know pianists love to play the navel-gazing tunes, but this is really getting to be much too much..." -- but Joseph quickly won me over. His performance of Pärt's obsessive refraction of a folk-like melody was completely transfixing. The work is as much about the silence between the phrases as the phrases themselves, and while the silence is never perfect at Greenwich House, if anything, the sound of the falling rain and passing cars outside made the gaps even more heart-rending.
I hadn't actually heard any of Christopher O'Reilly's solo piano arrangements of Radiohead songs before Wednesday night. But if you're going to do that sort of thing, "Exit Music for a Film" is perhaps the most obvious choice, what with all those moody oblique-motion progressions lifted straight from Chopin. O'Reilly strips away the original's grim, plodding inevitability in favor of a loosely flowing rhapsodic treatment -- and while the adaptation works well enough in strictly musical terms, I also can't help but feel that returning the song to its roots in the Romantic piano literature is one of the least interesting things you could do with it.
However, it did make for an intriguing transition into the first of Bruce Stark's Five Preludes (2003), which opened in a similar tonality, with a very Radiohead-sounding 7/8 figure. This was followed by a halting, tentative ballad-like piece, again with harmonies painted from the Bill Evans palette. The third prelude generated some momentum with a bright, mid-register ostinato, leading into the unabashed pop lyricism of the fourth prelude. The melodic lines were, at times, undermined by deliberately skewed harmonies, but such doubts were ultimately vanquished by the sincere, unadorned ending. The last of the five was a brisk chase-piece inflected with blue notes -- while I would have preferred to hear a more assertive approach, with stronger, fiercer accents, Rubinstein clearly has virtuosity to burn. I enjoyed his take on this music, even if his playing in the final prelude was a bit too refined for my taste.
Speaking of "refined," though, I found it a bit incongruous that, for a festival of contemporary solo piano music, the presentation was strictly old-school. The pianists all wore formal dress and didn't address the audience. Some of the composers were on hand, but they didn't speak, either. The sequencing of the program seemed to cater to the needs of the performers, without apparent consideration to the flow of the concert as a whole. Many in the audience spent the evening with their heads dutifully buried in the program, instead of actively watching and listening. The night had all the trappings of a recital of 19th-century warhorses, and while the music was, for the most part, appealing and invigorating, next year I'd like to see a presentation to match.
Tickets to this event were provided by the concert promoter.
Today, I am honored, grateful, and contractually obliged to acknowledge the support of the Composer Assistance Program of the American Music Center in funding (ever-so-slightly retroactively) the Oct. 28 premiere of "Habeas Corpus" with the Cologne Contemporary Jazz Orchestra. The first stateside performance of this work will be by the usual band of co-conspirators at the Bowery Poetry Club on Nov. 30 -- of which more later.
I don't care who you are or what's in your dayplanner, you do not have anything more important to do tomorrow than to go vote.
"Oh, but both parties are corrupt... ," "Nobody's speaking out about the issues I care about... ," "Voting implicates me in a corrupt system... ," "What's the point, they're just going to steal it anyway... " Listen, I don't want to hear it, okay? Just shut up and vote. Drag a friend to the polls, too, while you're at it.
As a noncitizen, I can't pull a lever myself, but I'm going up to Westchester to knock on doors for Andrea Stuart-Cousins. Why this race in particular? Lots of reasons, but primarily because I'm furious about this. They are desperate, and are clearly resorting to voter suppression and intimidation and dirty tricks all over the country, in an effort to nationalize the tactics that worked for them in Ohio '04. Don't let them do it. If you see a problem at the polls, call 1-866-OUR-VOTE right away, then report it here. And if they do try to steal it, be ready to get all Orange Revolution on their ass.
But fercrissakes vote.
In an effort to resuscitate the long-dormant Pulse blog, I've been doing a bit of linkblogging over there today. The other Pulseketeers have been busy getting married, having children, and working long-distance commutes, not necessarily in that order. When I get a minute, it will also be updated with fresh audio and pictures from our June (yes, yes, I know, I know) gigs. But if you missed our Eloquent Light 2 program this summer, we are reprising it on December 17 at the Bowery Poetry Club. Details will be forthcoming on the soon-to-be-regularly-updated Pulse blog.
Thursday, Oct. 25 - first rehearsal with the Cologne Contemporary Jazz Orchestra at Stadtgarten, 10 AM. I head up there around 9:30 and knock on the front door, but nobody answers. The side service entrance is open, so I wander in that way. One of the guys from the café unlocks the door to the Konzertsaal for me. I'm a bit confused at first -- there's no piano, no drum kit, no amps, no chairs, no music stands... just a wide open empty space with a stage at the front and a bar at the back. Hmm. I eventually find the piano in a side room, boxed in by several stacks of audience chairs (i.e., chairs with armrests -- useless to us).
After a while, I notice some guys with instrument cases loitering around outside. I open the side door and introduce myself to them. I'm glad to meet them, but it turns out they don't know anything more about the situation than I do. I wonder if maybe we're rehearsing downstairs in the studio space, but that can't be right... there's no room for us down there, and no gear either. Just before 10, my CCJO contact, Marcus Bartelt, arrives and takes matters in hand. The Stadgarten techs are apparently running a bit behind, but he assures me they will be there in a few minutes to unlock the storage closet with all the drum gear, chairs, etc, so we can set up. Hmm, I'm thinking, it seems the German reputation for punctuality is trumped by the jazz musician's notoriously elastic concept of time. We eventually get everything set up in the room and get rolling around 11 AM, minus the bassist and drummer, who are coming in from out of town and are delayed by traffic snarls. (On the autobahn? Another myth about Germany shatterred!)
Paradoxically, this initial bit of disorganization reminds me of home. The CCJO isn't a full-time salaried jazz orchestra -- they are a bunch of local players who get together once a month for painfully low-paying gigs, purely out of a quixotic, irrational love of playing large ensemble jazz. The vibe is great, but it also means there are the same problems with scheduling and people needing to partially sub out of the rehearsals and and all the rest that any big band leader has to grapple with all the time.
The guys can play, though. From the opening chorale of "Transit," it was evident that these German cats really know how to play in tune. It actually takes me a little aback at first, that the intonation is so beautiful right out of the gate. Okay, that's one less thing to worry about.
Leading the rehearsal definitely required a major realignment for me -- the players are all incredibly strong, but the group's specific strengths and weaknesses are very different from what I'm used to in New York. Some things that we struggled with in Secret Society come together almost instantaneously. Other things that are second nature for most NYC musicians require more work and, often, more explanation.
I'm extra-conscious of my conducting. As a pianist playing with a bassist and drummer you've never worked with before, it always takes a bit of time to adjust to their pocket. It's the same with conducting, except that there's even less room for error -- the band depends on you to be every bit as solid as the drummer, and totally locked in with him, which is always hard to do with a drummer you're hearing for the first time. Eventually, I begin to get a sense of where Jon Schröder is putting the time, and my conducting gets a little more solid.
The first rehearsal is a long slog for everyone, from our 11-ish start until 6 PM. I can feel us getting bogged down trying to navigate some of the more difficult charts, like "Induction Effect" and especially the premiere, "Habeas Corpus," which is the hardest thing I've written to date. Its difficulties are compounded by the fact that this rehearsal is the first time I've heard it or conducted it. This is always a problem -- while the composer in you wants to listen to the piece and evaluate what you wrote, the conductor in you needs to block out any such thoughts and focus all of your attention on the job at hand: beating strong time, making sure people don't get lost, and deciding which problems need the most immediate attention. I do my best to keep the energy up even when things start to drag, but the band and I are both running on fumes by the end of the day. However, there's clearly a strong desire from everyone to get the music right. The players are all responding well to what I wrote and seem to understand what I'm after, which is pretty solid for day one.
As it turns out, one of the subs in the second half of the rehearsal is Gabriel Pérez, who has recorded an excellent album of his own compositions with the CCJO. There were also couple of outstanding subs in the trumpet section, covering for Fred Koester and lead player Jan Schneider, who had a morning rehearsal across town with the WDR band before joining us at Stadtgarten in the afternoon. Two more CCJO regulars, trumpeter Matthias Schriefl and drummer Jens Düppe, are unavailable for this hit because of a conflicting festival gig (of which more next time) -- their places are taken by American expatriate Ryan Carniaux and the aforementioned Jon Schröder. Clearly, the local talent pool is deep.
To be continued...
Okay, so my plans for multiple "Cologne liveblogging" installments obviously fell by the wayside -- there simply wasn't time. But I'm back with the full report.
Tuesday, Oct. 24 - subway to Penn Station, NJ Transit commuter rail to Newark Liberty Airport, farking AirTrain to the terminal (for non-New Yorkers, AirTrain is your first introduction to our charming local custom of naked extortion -- welcome to New York, now pay up, motherfucker), short flight from Newark to Montreal (the one nice thing about Newark airport is that it's not busy, so you don't get the insanely long lines typical of JFK or LaGuardia), long flight from Montreal to Frankfurt. I mark up my scores, engage in some small, surreptitious hand-waving as I try to figure out how I'm going to conduct the new piece ("Habeas Corpus"), do my best to ignore the movies (Nacho Libre and [shudder] The Notebook (would anyone want to watch this if they weren't trapped on a plane?), and try to steal a little sleep.
Wednesday, Oct. 25 - touch down in Frankfurt, clear German customs (surprisingly laid-back compared to any other border I've crossed), attempt to locate the Deutsche Bahn station so I can catch the train into Cologne. The high-speed train is a very civilized way to travel -- none of the hassles of air travel, totally smooth and almost totally silent, very comfortable, great view of the German countryside. This is my first trip to continental Europe as an adult, so I'm trying to soak it all up.
I arrive at the Hotel Leonet just in time for breakfast (with, oddly, some of the best croissants I've ever had), followed by an exhausted collapse. I get up again at 4 PM and do some walking around. Within the first few steps, I'm almost run over by some crazy dude riding his bike right in the middle of the sidewalk. What the hell... ? Then I look down. Bike lane. They are all over (the bike lanes and the cyclists). I'm told Cologne isn't as good as Amsterdam when it comes to bike-friendliness, but it sure schools any North American city.
Within less than five minutes, I ran into a small protest march. I have no idea what it was about -- they disappeared around the corner before I could catch up to them.
I went to the concert venue (Stadtgarten) to check it out. It's a great spot, located (as you might expect) in the Cologne City Garden, with a large outdoor beer garden area for the summer months, a very good café/restaurant, a smallish club space downstairs (Studio 672), and a larger main space (Konzertsaal) on the main floor. This is where the visiting jazz artists normally play (Cuong Vu, Marc Ribot, John Scofield, Joey Baron, and uh, me), although their lineup is very eclectic, with hip hop, new music, rock, etc, and musicians from all over the world. It's the kind of venue that doesn't exist in North America -- it gets some funding from the City of Cologne, and this, along with the revenue from the beer garden and restaurant, helps subsidize the music and other cultural activities. It's also the main home of the Cologne Contemporary Jazz Orchestra -- they play there about once a month, normally performing music written by some of the players in the band.
After dinner, I met my contact with the CCJO, bari saxophonist Marcus Bartelt. Marcus is an alumnus of Brookmeyer's New Art Orchestra (he played section bari on New Works). He took me to a very cool bar called Metronome, a tiny space that spins from the library of wall-to-wall of classic jazz vinyl, and occasionally even manages to squeeze in a live trio. This is the jazz hangout in Cologne. We drank kölsch and talked about the band, the next couple of days of rehearsals, the local scene, etc. Marcus is very chill and made me feel much more relaxed about the upcoming hit.
To be continued...