Otto Morgan at the Steampunk Forum invites you to rate my tunes.
Don't miss Taylor Ho Bynum's writeups from FONT (Festival of New Trumpet Music) 2007, currently in progress.
In a world where I wasn't spending this week frantically trying to get music and grant applications and our January IAJE-related mini tour together, I'd want to be at these hits practically every night. At least I have Taylor's excellent reports to help fill me in on all the cool shit I'm missing.
Okay, back to the grindstone...
Occasionally -- okay, very occasionally, but it happens -- people will ask me if there are any resources out there for nonmusicians who want to learn a bit more about the mechanics of music, without getting bogged down in jargon or theory or having to learn notation. Ideally, it would draw examples from familiar pop and rock tunes to explain the basics of how music is constructed.
The best resource I've found for this -- by far -- is the Pandora podcast. If you've been reading this blog for a very long time, you may remember that I blogged about Pandora -- internet radio individually tailored to your specific taste(s) -- a few years back. I don't actually log into Pandora that much anymore, but the podcast is flippin' brilliant. So far, they have devoted episodes to demystifying vocal harmony, guitar effects, meters/time signatures, the various club music subgenres, and hiphop rhyme schemes -- all clearly explained and demonstrated in language anyone who actively listens to music can easily understand, even if you've never picked up an instrument in your life. This is what music education should look like.
New episodes appear about once every two weeks. The best way to get current and past episodes is to subscribe in iTunes.
The last time I mentioned Beirut on this blog, drummer Peter Breslin (of Stochasticactus) remarked that to his "jaded ears," they "sounded like heavily diluted 'World Music.'" While I understand why you'd have that reaction if you were expecting authentic Balkan fire -- or even high-intensity ersatz Balkanisms à la Slavic Soul Party -- that's not really what this band is about. If, on the other hand, you're intrigued by the idea of a large, acoustic, mostly guitar-free indie rock band fronted by a fluegelhorn-playing sensitive boy whose formative influences as a songwriter are Stephin Merritt and Jacques Brel, sprinkled with just a light dusting of Kocani Orkestar, then you will probably see the group in a more positive light. Oddly enough, this improbable blend seems to be exactly what quite a lot of people are looking for, because it seems like everyone is going absolutely apeshit for Beirut, which played their first-ever gig just 16 months ago.
Of course, that first gig was, from all reports, a little rough. Last night's hit at the Brooklyn Masonic Temple (a familiar scene) was the first night of their tour in support of their sophomore release -- a series of love letters to French cities called The Flying Club Cup -- and not everything went precisely according to plan. One tune -- a song by Owen Pallett -- had trouble getting off the ground, and then crashed and burned badly when the group hit the bridge in different keys. After some animated onstage discussion ("Welcome to Beirut rehearsal," frontman Zach Condon joked), they tried it again, but it was still a bit shaggy. The band eventually found their stride on more familiar material, like the slow-building "Postcards From Italy." The instrumentation is varied -- almost everyone in the band is a multi-instrumentalist -- and attractively ear-catching. (Glock with violin! Horn with accordion! Ukulele ukulele ukulele!) But Beirut really is fundamentally about Condon's songwriting and plaintive, slightly warbly voice. Honestly, I go a bit hot and cold on both, but with Calexico retreating into more conventional territory of late, it's definitely refreshing to see another talented and buzz-worthy indie band that have their ears open to music beyond America's borders.
FifthVeil (made up of players from Bard College) opened with a very credible version of Osvaldo Golijov's The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind. Clarinettist Conor Brown, who did an admirable job with the klezmer inflections, mentioned to me afterwards that the group had gotten some coaching from David Krakauer, which is obviously a very nice thing to have on a piece like this.
Tickets to this event were provided by Wordless Music.
Other good writeups:Café Eclectica Music (Kyle Dean Reinford)
More photos below the fold...
[Okay, sorry, couldn't resist. Let me make it up to you -- here's a link to the awesome trailer. You don't get fanservice like that every day, let me tell you.]
Promoted from the comments on this thread:
In my opinion, a lot of the Broadway and Tin Pan Alley tunes that became standards were appropriated by jazz musicians the same way TBP appropriates their covers: in a kind of lovingly humorous way. For example, I find Sonny Rollins's duet version of Surrey With the Fringe on Newk's Time pretty funny, as if Sonny knows the song is corny, but still loves something about it, and is making fun of himself, in a way, for loving it. He shows us something about the tune that maybe no one else really heard, or thought to listen for. He also turns it into an amazing piece of music. I think this is what TBP does with their tunes, covers or not; these guys all have a sense of humor. A lot of people can't really hear humor in instrumental music, and/or don't want to.
MSK nails it in one. Stop and think a bit about some of the tunes that have become vehicles for jazz improvisation. I mean, "Tea For Two"? "I'm An Old Cowhand"? "If I Were A Bell"? "Someday My Prince Will Come"? "There's No Business Like Show Business"?? "My Favorite Things," fercrissakes??? (Let alone "Chim Chim Cheree"!! "Inch Worm"!!! Okay, you get the idea.)
Jazz musicians have been doing ironic covers since the very beginning.
However, viz. MSK's final sentence, I don't think it's that people can't hear humor in instrumental music. Obviously, most people have no trouble at all hearing the humor in The Bad Plus's covers, most of which "read" as at least a little bit ironic, despite the band's protestations. (I should add that I don't think irony in any way precludes sincere appreciation.) I think it's that some people have a rotten sense of humor. They are unable to perceive that music that is fun and clever and wry can still be artistically meaningful and serious in intent. They get that there's something funny about it -- but that's all they get.
All of the standards I listed above would clearly, clearly have been understood by audiences at the time as being ironic choices. But through a combination of the passage of time, the ascendence of the "Jazz Education" industry, the museumification of jazz, and and the overblown mythologizing of the "Great American Songbook," they have somehow been drained of their ironic bite and cultural significance. Most people today just hear them as melodies and chord progressions, divorced from any larger meaning.
This is impossible to do with a song like "Iron Man" or "Smells Like Teen Spirit" -- their cultural associations are still vivid and inescapable. For reasons that I think are relatively obvious, it makes a lot of jazz musicians, critics and fans very uncomfortable to think about issues of cultural significance. We are much more at ease when talking about craft -- whether the rhythm section is hooking up, or whether the improvisers are listening to each other closely enough, or whether the surface qualities of the music are "complex" and "innovative" enough to satisfy our discriminating tastes. Most of us really, really do not want to think about questions like "what does this music mean?" or "why are we doing this?" or "how does this music relate to the culture at large?" That is, unless it's in an insular, oppositional way -- i.e., "our music is capital-A Art and contemporary popular music is shit." (Now there's a stance that both Wynton Marsalis and the Vision Festival crowd can agree on!)
Most jazz musicians and fans today don't know the original source of standard tunes -- they only know them through the jazz covers, and so they all get lumped into one big undifferentiated catch-all mental category -- "standards." So today, we often don't get the irony of jazz musicians covering tunes from Oklahoma! or The Sound of Music or South Pacific, because these songs have no non-jazz associations for us. How many jazz musicians/critics/fans born after 1965 have actually watched an entire classic musical, or own any Original Broadway Cast recordings? It doesn't really matter where they are from, or even what year they appeared -- they are all just "standards" to us.
But for audiences at the time, these songs were not "standards." They were covers -- reinterpretations of recent pop songs that had specific, current cultural associations. It's not just that the songs were familiar, it's that they meant something. When audiences in 1961 heard Coltrane's "My Favorite Things," they immediately thought of The Sound of Music, the Trapp family singers, "Doh, A Deer," "Edelweiss," Broadway kitch, Austria, WWII, all the rest. The show had been playing on B'way for less than a year before Coltrane recorded his cover version. (The movie version with Julie Andrews would not be released until 1965.)
So if we are going to encourage people to "respect the jazz tradition," maybe it's worth unpacking that idea a little bit. Is it respectful to Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane to bite their covers -- to play exactly the same damn songs they covered 50 years ago, even though the cultural significance of those songs -- a big part of why they chose to cover those tunes in the first place -- has almost totally evaporated?
Also worth considering: why is it that when Trane and Sonny use irony as part of their art, we understand that there is an underlying seriousness to what they are doing, but younger musicians can't touch irony with a ten-foot pole, lest they be dismissed a joke?
Steve Smith reviews the impossible-to-get-tickets-to RSC Lear with Ian McKellen, and, in the same post, Society co-conspirator Sam Sadigursky's record release hit at Cornelia Street -- both of which I very much wish I could have seen.
Thanks to a friend in the cast, I saw a different high-profile Lear back in the spring -- the Public Theater's staging, with Kevin Kline in the lead. It would have been fascinating to compare the performances of these two brilliant interpreters, especially with Kline's Lear still (somewhat) fresh in my mind.
A footnote: I've often wondered what the canonical classical and operatic rep would sound like if we approached it with the freedom and vigor of the best contemporary Shakespeare stagings. And I shudder to think how unenjoyable Shakespeare would be if the historically informed performance crowd ran the theater world -- we'd be stuck with boys in female roles and performers bound by some academic historian's notion of what acting might have been like in Shakespeare's day.
The Bad Plus (yes, all three of them, this time) have written a post that has surely been brewing since they started blogging, in which they defend their choice of cover tunes against widespread accusations of... [sotto voce] irony:
With the rare exception, TBP doesn't choose to improvise on music written from 1920 to 1965. Instead, we find it really interesting to search for ways to make rock, pop and electronica songs vehicles for contemporary improvisation. One reason that this material is not "standard" is that you can't call "Iron Man" at a jam session and pull off a mediocre interpretation of it the way you can with "All the Things You Are." There simply isn't a common language for it.
But just because the non-original songs we play can't be called at a jam session isn't the reason 10 English critics think it's a joke. Why do they think it is a joke? There are two possible reasons:
A) The original music itself is a joke: in other words, Nirvana, Blondie, Aphex Twin, ABBA, Neil Young, The Police, David Bowie, Burt Bacharach, Tears for Fears, Black Sabbath, Pixies, Vangelis, Rush, Led Zeppelin, Queen, Radiohead, Bjork, The Bee Gees, and Interpol is just inferior and not at the level of Tin Pan Alley, Broadway, and Hollywood. Implied is the phrase "rock is not worthy of the jazz tradition."
B) The way we play the covers appears like parody or at least highly ironic.
Both are wrong.
Do The Math doesn't have comments, but I do, and I'm rather curious what people think of this post. I would encourage everyone to check it out in its entirety, then return here to share your thoughts.
I actually have quite a lot to say about this, and when I have more time, I will probably follow up with some commentary, but for the moment I'm more interested in your take.
But perhaps it's not tipping my hand too much to mention that I, too, have previously blogged about the frequently dodgy lyrics that characterize much of the so-called Great American Songbook.
I also think it's worth considering why The Bad Plus's covers have become such a lightning rod for critical scorn, which is something I alluded to in my review of their double-bill with Jason Moran last year. It's not at all uncommon anymore for jazz musicians to play covers of post-Great American Songbook tunes, but for some reason, The Bad Plus (unlike, say, Jason Moran or Brad Mehldau) seem to attract particular scorn for this.
Apparently, there can be only one hiphop violinist.
At least, that's according to Miri Ben-Ari, who arranged and played the string parts on Kanye West's debut, and co-wrote "Jesus Walks" with Kanye and Rhymefest. She has also (A) trademarked the phrase "The Hip-Hop Violinist," (B) sicced her legal team on other violinists who play hiphop, and according to one of those violinists, Paul Dateh, (C) has gotten YouTube to remove something on the order of twenty videos (including his), because they included the trademark-infringing tag "hip hop violin."
Did I mention that many of the scrubbed videos were substantially more popular on YouTube than Ms. Ben-Ari's?
Via Jay Smooth, The Hip-Hop Videoblogger™.
Remember, kids, Secret Society is your only approved source for authentic Steampunk Big Band™ -- accept no substitutes.
UPDATE: Paul's video is up again, albeit with one slight alteration. If they yank it again, there's always "hip hop violino," and "hip hop Geige."
EK are basically a rock quartet with music stands. They played a couple of pieces by Nick Didkovsky, one by Marc Mellits, and Jacob TV's recent Iraq-inspired piece "White Flag" (minus the video -- there was a screen set up, but something must have gone awry with the projection). They sounded a lot more relaxed and authoritative than the last time I heard them (when they played Ethel Fair at Symphony Space). This time around, it seemed like they were digging deeper for the grooves, which made the stuff they performed much more convincing -- especially the Mellits piece they closed with.
Toronto's DMST were a revelation. I'd heard and enjoyed a few tracks from their records, but nothing prepared me for the full-bore intensity of their live show. Many of their tunes would slowly build up these gloriously noisy, super-saturated climaxes that sounded like they were right on the verge of breaking apart. At times they sounded like a supersized Sounds of Science-ish Yo La Tengo, and in certain hushed moments, like a noisier, synth-inflected Calexico. Their entire set was transfixing and cathartic.
Wordless Music continues next Thursday with Beirut and Bard College's Fifth Veil doing Golijov's The Dreams and Prayers of Issac the Blind, at a venue that sharp-eyed Society fans might find somewhat familiar.
Regular readers surely need no reminder that New York's most excellent jazz festival kicks off tomorrow at venues all over Manhattan and Brooklyn. Curators Dave Douglas and Taylor Ho Bynum have posts on their respective blogs highlighting some of the upcoming brassy goodness.
Naturally, you can also befriend the festival on MySpace.
John Strausbaugh has a good piece in the NYT on the storied history of the East Village -- the video segment is highly recommended as well. But the fact that it's being published in the "Weekend Explorer" section, complete with a downloadable audio walking tour, seems more than a little symptomatic of the forces that are killing the neighborhood, even as they exoticize what it used to be. Like Clayton Patterson says in the piece, "Now it’s the American Montmartre. Tourists come to see where that culture was."
Then I had a drink in a bar on the near-unrecognizable corner of my old block (3rd and B) where in the former haunt of masses of heroin dealers and consumers, I saw Sean Paul in a yellow Lamborghini convertible.
Give it up for the guy who wrote "In A Silent Way" -- surely one of the prettiest melodies of all time.
Joe Zawinul was one badass mutha. At 70, he could swim a mile, hard. Or outdrink you, glass after glass of that sweet Slivovitz wine he favored. Or kick your ass -- OK, maybe just scare you in to to thinking he would with a single glare.
UPDATE 1: I was out at Queens College today giving a masterclass, so I didn't have time to post anything substantial earlier, but I definitely think Joe Zawinul is an important composer, and a genuine harmonic innovator. He welded McCoy Tyner-derived fourth chords and extended jazz harmonies to rock/pop root motion, basically setting the palette for 1970's electric jazz. I'm by no means a Zawinul expert, but I did spend some time during my formative years checking out the keyboard voicings and characteristic chord progressions Joe used with Weather Report. This is an influence that still manifests itself all over my music, sometimes in unexpected places -- for instance, there's a whole section of "Chrysalis" (from about 3:40 to 4:45) where the harmonies are straight out of mid-1970's Zawinul.
Obviously, he was a technological trailblazer, but unlike many (okay, most) fusion and prog bands, in Weather Report the music was never upstaged by the gear. Joe made the cutting-edge synths and electric pianos we now refer to as "vintage" speak in his own voice, which is actually a pretty remarkable achievement if you think about it -- you only need to hear a few seconds of any Zawinul recording to know it's him, no matter what kind of rig he's using.
Here is an excerpts from the Joe Zawinul interview from The Great Jazz Pianists -- I think it goes some of the way towards explaining how a working-class kid from Austria ended up where he did:
When did you first start playing piano?
Actually, I started on accordion and played it for several years. We didn't have a piano. Of course, in Austria during the war there wasn't anything going on musically. Later on I started learning the piano like everyone else. Nothing special. I played a lot of gigs like weddings and entertainment music. My academic training is a pretty dubious matter, although I had a great teacher once in Austria. Her name was Valerie Zschorney and she was a pupil of a Professor Wingartner, who was a pupil of Franz Liszt. I went once a week for a few years, but I didn't take it seriously. I was out there on the streets. When I was eighteen, I got into an orchestra where there was a lot of reading to do. The reading you do at home, where you can practice, is one thing, but going into an orchestra, where you get a score that's nothing but notes, is completely different. To be a musician in Austria, you've got to play a lot of different stuff. It's an international place. We used to play in nightclubs, walking around to the different tables playing horas and gypsy music. That was on accordion. I loved it.
When did you start to take music seriously?
Did you play any other instruments besides piano and accordion?
Oh, man, I played trombone, bass trombone, clarinet, trumpet. This was in Friedrich Gulda's band, one of the best jazz bands in Europe. In my home every real musician plays a lot of instruments. In this band we played everything, even Strauss overtures. You can't play jus one instrument in Europe and ever become what they call a Muzikant. Everybody had to learn all the instruments to be considered a real musician. I wrote arrangements down from Woody Herman and Dizzy Gillespie records. That's another way I learned. The more instruments you know, the better you write. You have to know what's possible on the instruments. I can get a clarinet sound from a synthesizer not because there's a button that says "clarinet" but because I can blow the thing myself.
How did you get interested in electronic keyboards -- first of all, the electric piano you played in the sixties?
I was turned on by electric instruments for the first time in 1949, when I was playing in an American servicemen's club in Austria. They had a Hammond organ in the mess hall, and I played every afternoon when nobody else was around. I played a lot of organ in the fifties and made a record on it over there. After Maynard's band, I worked with Dinah Washington for two years, and we once went on a tour with Ray Charles. He carried a sixty-six key Wurlitzer around, and he was really the first person I'd ever heard on electric piano. On a gig down South, we came across a really dead piano, so Dinah asked if we could use the Wurlitzer. It was beautiful. They had the same kind of Wurlitzer in the Capitol studio when I was recording there with Cannonball Adderley in the mid-sixties, so I recorded "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy" on it. I carried the Wurlitzer on the road for a while, until Victor Feldman told me that Rhodes made a piano that was really smokin'. I got one. Miles Davis heard me play on it and liked it, and then Herbie got one, and later we recorded In A Silent Way and Bitches Brew using it.
What was your introduction to synthesizer?
I was reading about Milton Babbitt and wondering about people like Morton Subotnick and John Cage. I could hear that there was really something in those instruments, although their music always seemed sort of pulled out of a hat to me. At that time I was in Cannonball's band, just making enough to survive, I couldn't afford anything new. Later on Weather Report went to Boston, and I met Roger Powell, who was working for ARP. He showed me some basics, and I've slowly been moving along since then.
UPDATE 2: More links...
Miles Davis' "In a Silent Way", for which Zawinul composed the title cut, is one of my all time favorite albums. Zawinul was picked to participate on it the night before the recording session and was asked to "bring music". The composition he brought was pared down by Miles (who thought there were "too many chords") and then was ultimately re-arranged by producer Teo Marceo who artfully cut and pasted various sections of the recording into its final state. Zawinul's drone organs were the glue that held it all together...
He was electronic music without the cold mechanistic tones of sequencers and with enough musicality and free creativity to reach out beyond any narrow muso only elitest genre.
“There is no difference between a Stradivarius or a beautiful synthesizer sound,” Zawinul told Jazziz magazine earlier this year. “People make a big mistake in putting down electronic music. Yes, it’s been misused and abused, but that’s true of every music. There is nothing wrong with electronic music as long as you’re putting some soul behind the technology.”
The technique of music doesn't know race. Only environment matters, but even that can be a red herring. Perhaps the most obvious man to illustrate this still-debated point is Joe Zawinul, who died today. Zawinul had such a passion for funky black American music that he overcame the severe handicap of being born in Austria before becoming an essential member of Cannonball Adderley's band in the 1960's. For some, Zawinul's piano work with Adderley is more in the pocket than his predecessor, Bobby Timmons.
Every other fusion band wanted to fall into a groove and sit there or else clobber the listener over the head with blazing instrumental passages. Weather Report occupied a spot alone in that world.
I bumped into Danilo Perez today, who was terribly bummed. He'd seen [Zawinul] at a festival this summer, and gushed about it. He will be missed.
UPDATE 3: Here is some crazy early Weather Report (1971), playing Zawinul's "Directions" (a staple of Miles's Cellar Door sets):
But Zawinul, influenced by the great American jazz pianists, among them Duke Ellington, Erroll Garner and George Shearing, had his sights set on the United States, and he landed here in 1959, a scholarship for the Berklee College of Music in hand. He stayed in school exactly one week before hooking up with trumpeter Maynard Ferguson, in whose band Zawinul remained for eight months. A two-year stint with Dinah Washington was followed by a nine-year residency with Cannonball Adderley’s quintet. Zawinul is largely credited with modernizing that band, which enjoyed a major hit on the pop charts in 1967 with Zawinul’s composition “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy.” Zawinul also penned “Country Preacher,” a 1969 Adderley recording that honored the Rev. Jesse Jackson.
Here's a fun clip of Joe with the Cannonball Adderley Sextet in 1962, on a TV show called "Jazz Scene USA," hosted by Oscar Brown Jr. -- this is "Primitivo":
UPDATE 5: Damn, Wayne Shorter's comments in the LA Times obit are fucking heartbreaking:
"The only thing that he said to me," he recalled, "was something really quick: 'I've got this cancer, man.' He just kind of tossed it off. Not that he was in denial. It was more like he was talking about a nuisance. That was Joe."
In August, Shorter, finishing a European tour, visited Zawinul at a concert in Hungary. Although they had spoken several times about a Weather Report reunion, it had never actually taken place.
"As we drove in from the airport," said Shorter, "his son said that this could be the last time Joe and I would play together. When we got to the concert, I went on stage near the end of his program. Joe and I did the introduction to 'In A Silent Way,' which is the part that his wife, Maxine, liked. When we played together, it was very concise and to the point -- very eye to eye, that kind of thing. When we finished they got a wheelchair, and that was the first time, and the last time, I saw him in a wheelchair."
DJ Durutti has blogged movingly about what Zawinul's music has meant to him:
Zawinul, Wayne Shorter, Jaco Pastorious and the rest of Weather Report were responsible for creating and nurturing my
interest inlove for and obsession with jazz as a kid in the 1970s. I can't even begin to tell you how important Weather Report's 1977 release Heavy Weather and Jaco Pastorius' 1976 debut albums were to my musical development. Weather Report and Herbie Hancock's jazz funk sent me exploring Miles Davis' Bitches Brew and In a Silent Way. Both of those landmark albums --- which remain favorites to this day -- benefited tremendously from Zawinul's compositions, organ, and electric piano work.
He has also posted Joe's own recording of "In A Silent Way" (from 1970's Zawinul). The chords and melodic gestures that Miles excised have been restored. The indescribably beautiful theme is played on soprano sax by a very Wayne-sounding Earl Turbinton (who, I am sad to learn, is also recently deceased) . If you haven't heard this version before, you need to.
Mr. Zawinul, who performed with a towering bank of electronic keyboards and synthesizers, won the "Best Keyboardist" award from Down Beat magazine 21 times. But his forays into electronica led some critics and musicians to accuse him of abandoning the traditions of swing, restraint and balance that are at the core of jazz.
In 1990, pianist Barry Harris said that groups such as Weather Report had "ceased to be jazz musicians."
"I know the cats like Joe Zawinul can play all the standards," Harris said, "but they haven't been jazz musicians for 10 or 15 years."
In his defense, Mr. Zawinul said he was interested only in "Zawinul music," not in conforming to any particular style.
On one of those occasions, with Joe grinning and shaking his head, Cannon told the story of "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy." They made the recording in a studio full of guests who were fed and served drinks as if the setting were a club. The issued take was not the one he wanted. He thought the band was better on an earlier version, the one that had a Zawinul solo so hot, so funky, that a woman in the audience yelled, "Play it, you little white darlin'." A Capitol Records executive, nervous in the racial climate of the sixties, rejected the take.
I'll go out on a limb and say Miles Davis couldn't have done it without him.
It was uncommon then for a black bandleader like Adderley to hire a white sideman like Mr. Zawinul and touring could be problematic. “I often had to sit in the bottom of the car when we drove through certain parts of the South,” Mr. Zawinul said in a 1997 interview. But, he added, with characteristic bravado, “Those kinds of things never fazed me; I wanted to play music with the best, and I could play on that level with the best.”
I loved Weather Report, but the Zawinul recording that made the most impact on me was his 1986 solo masterpiece ‘Dialects.’ I have yet to hear keyboards come more alive on any work in any genre since.
There are a lot of worthy music blogs and musician blogs now. It's true that the jazz blogosphere still lags far behind the indie rock blogosphere, and we are even getting lapped by the classical music bloggers (how embarrassing is that?) but things are beginning to pick up.
Perhaps Kelly Fenton (Bottomless Cup) can whip us into shape. She is, after all, training for the Philly Marathon. She also likes superhero comics and writes really great music, much of it inspired by superhero comics. I met Kelly back at the recording sessions for Sky Blue. She started blogging shortly thereafter and I've really enjoyed her personable, engaging style. She's got posts about Americana and driving music and listening to Beethoven 9 for the first time, and even writes up the occasional jazz hit.
I met drummer Vinson Valega (Consilience Productions) when we were on a panel together at IAJE last January. In addition to serving up a weekly MP3 (one of which happens to be a groovy organ trio version of the Wonder Woman TV theme), he often posts some good links.
Trumpeter Kris Tiner (formerly of Stop The Play And Watch The Audidence) is getting all serious on us. Whatta revoltin' development. You can continue to read Kris over at his no-fun new blog, The Soul and the System -- but if what you are really looking for from your blogging jazz musicians are posts about Elvis, you will have to look elsewhere from now on.
As always, I recommend getting an RSS reader to help you keep track of your favorite blogs. If you are on a Mac, I recommend Vienna. If you are on Windows, I recommend a Mac.
Naturally, it's also on YouTube (though the sound is much, much worse -- it looks like someone just pointed their video camera at the TV):
John Hollenbeck's Claudia Quintet occupies an odd space in the topography of the contemporary jazz scene. There's a certain family resemblance to groups mining the post-Steve Coleman math-jazz vein, except that with Claudia, many of their most disorienting rhythmic contusions and collisions are layered over a simple 4/4 or 3/4 grid. John's music is complex, but he doesn't bludgeon you senseless with unrelenting density and abrasiveness. His long through-composed forms build up and draw down in elegant proportions, and new ideas are presented and transformed at a natural and satisfying pace. The music isn't driven by melody the way, say, Maria Schneider's music is, but it's still infused with an approachable melodic sensibility. The group find almost limitless coloristic possibilities in the combination of their five individual voices. This, along with John's entwinement with the Downtown new music scene (Meredith Monk, the Bang on a Can People's Commissioning Fund, etc.) have led some critics to call the Claudia Quintet a modern-day successor to the "chamber jazz" and "third stream" groups of the 1950's. To me, though, those terms imply a sound that's pretty far removed from Claudia's catchy hooks and trancelike grooves.
John handles the tension between dissonance and consonance, density and transparency, structure and freedom, darkness and light, repetition and transformation, etc., better than just about anyone else writing small-group jazz right now. I think this is because he really gets that these concepts aren't mere abstractions -- they are all deeply emotionally meaningful, and anyone who wants their music to actually communicate needs to learn how to blend them effectively. This may all seem painfully obvious, but much of the new music I hear -- jazz and otherwise -- seems willfully oblivious (if not downright hostile) to having an emotionally meaningful structure. That's why it's such a joy to hear a group like Claudia play stuff that's intellectual and innovative and conceptually strong, and yet actually tells a coherent story and is fun to listen to.
Their set last night at The Stone was mostly material drawn from the new release, For, which I'd not previously heard. (I picked up a copy at the gig, and am listening to it now.) It's all pretty compelling, but the standout for me is "This Too Shall Pass," with Ted Reichman's cumulative accordion clusters melting into Matt Moran's ghostly bowed vibes, sustained over a simple half-note descending bass line courtesy of Drew Gress. The ensuing clarinet-and-accordion melody is simply heartrending. This was followed, as on the record, by "Rug Boy," the freest tune in the Claudia book. The opening drum solo sets up a surging, fast rubato five-way dialog, until Chris Speed joins Ted on the written melody. It concludes with a five-chord progression, each one softer than the last.
In his Max Roach memorial post, Ethan Iverson talks about Max having a bit of an "icy" beat, one with "fearsome clarity and control" -- in contrast to Kenny Clark's "warm glow." I think this is a useful frame -- jazz musicians will often talk about drummers with a "wide" beat (Klook, Elvin) versus drummers with a "narrow" beat (Max, Tony). John Hollenbeck definitely falls in the latter category. His playing is incredibly tight and precise, which makes it even more amazing that the group never sounds stiff or mannered, even when navigating the most fiendishly difficult passages. John isn't just the composer-bandleader, he's the rhythmic and dynamic center of the band, which gives everyone else the freedom to be fluid and expressive, knowing that when they need him, Hollenbeck is back there holding down the fort.
Todd Reynolds is revered by violinists and electronic music artists alike for his formidable chops in both fields., but what I like best is that everything he does is grounded in genuine earthiness. The whole "play, sample, loop, and hold" routine is well-worn by now, but Todd never sounds like he's just dicking around with loops and beats -- his layered creations are always succinct and satisfying, often evolving and grinding against each other in unexpected ways. Luke Dubois was on hand, manipulating the live video, which looked extra-cool projected against the exposed brick of The Stone's back wall. After a few solo tunes, Todd was joined by longtime collaborator (though he's new to me) Michael Lowenstern on bass clarinet for a couple of duets. The first of these was built up from a percussive, slaptongued bluesy bass line, and the second led unexpectedly into an artfully deconstructed version of "Summertime." Todd's next guest turned out to be the charismatic Czech violinist/singer Iva Bittová, and then both she and Lowenstern joined in on the closer, a brand-new (as in, "written the night before") stomping, folksy romp.
This pairing wasn't mere happenstance -- John Hollenbeck is writing a new piece for Todd Reynolds and Claudia Quintet vibraphonist Matt Moran. Clearly, this is something I'm very much looking forward to hearing.
Corey Dargel has been hard at work this year putting together his first stage piece, Removable Parts, which opens tomorrow at the Here Arts Center. Corey is aided and abetted by pianist Kathleen Suppové and director Emma Griffin. Like the tagline says, Removable Parts is a series of love songs about voluntary amputation.
Corey invited me to contribute program notes for this piece, which I was delighted to do — you can read them here. Having heard the music and sat in on rehearsal, I'm very excited about seeing it all come together on opening night. The show runs until Sept. 15 -- get your tickets now.
Here's little Tommy F.'s oft-linked audition tape, for those of you who do not follow the progressive blogosphere:
Also -- "This bubble is actually going to level the balance of power between us"? Matt Taibbi wasn't kidding -- "It's not that he occasionally screws up and fails to make his metaphors and images agree. It's that he always screws it up."
As expected, this was a really good time. I hadn't realized this, but Andrew D'Angelo has been writing big band music for a long time now -- since he was a teenager back in Seattle, in fact, where he first started playing with Jim Black and Chris Speed. Both D'Angelo and Curtis Hasselbring did stints in Boston's Either/Orchestra before moving to NYC, but this is the first time they have joined forces, co-leading this brand-new 13-piece outfit. Obviously, D'Angelo and Black are thick as thieves, their most notable collaboration being Human Feel. But by Andrew's count, over half the band are people he's never had the opportunity to work with before.
The music was a lot more freewheeling and improv-oriented than the stuff I write for Secret Society, but even though the vibe was pretty wild (and very, very loud), the compositions were deceptively complex -- there was a lot of ink on the parts, and some tricksy time-shifts for the band to negotiate. Open-ended intros would lead into a barrage of thorny clusters, raggedy sing-song whole-band unison themes, or interruptive punctuations. Think of a big-bandized Human Feel -- in fact, a few of D'Angelo's charts were exactly that.
There was ample room for distinctive individual contributions, like trumpter Nate Wooley's unpitched soundsculpting and trombonist Ben Gerstein's air-raid wailing, but the sparks really flew during the duets -- especially when D'Angelo and McHenry went at it together. Curtis Hasselbring's charts tended to be slightly less relentlessly in-your-face than D'Angelo's, but only just -- the group's punk-jazz energy can only be contained for so long, especially with Jim Black behind the hit. A few tunes culminated in full-on go-go beats (sometimes in odd meters), with Black's cymbals crashing like thundersheets.
It's not easy music to pull off, even with such outstanding players, all of whom invested a serious chunk of rehearsal time putting this hit together. Big bands need regular gigs to grow into the music, but that's not always economically viable, especially for (ahem) struggling bandleaders. Last night at Tea Lounge was a hell of a first hit for these guys, not least because you hear so much potential there, some of it as yet untapped. Obviously, a lot of these players have busy schedules of their own (including the co-leaders), but it would be great if D'Angelo and Hasselbring could find a semi-regular home for this group. The world needs more badass kick-down-the-door big bands.
More (grainy and blurry, sorry... it's dark in there, yo) pictures below the fold... there was also some dude videotaping the whole thing, so keep an eye on the YouTube.