Tag Archives: music

Music Update!

Exclamation points aside, there is nothing really shocking going on with my tenuous grasp on vibrating air molecules.  Tonight I get to play another set with my “fuchsprellen” project.  That alone is good news.  If it is nothing else it is my way of saying that “music” is like “wine” or “food” in that the noun covers such a huge swath of material and experience that it becomes almost meaningless.  Do I like “music”?  Sure, except when I am hating it, or ambivalent about it, or using a lot of mental energy to filter out some sonic wallpaper.  Do I like “Jazz”? Uh, yeah, except that I find most of what passes for Jazz to be repulsive, or worse, boring.  And that isn’t just me… I think that model describes most people.  I might reflect on it more because I like engaging in the performance of music.

I tend to categorize music by its level of organization.  In general, the greater the number of independent voices in a piece of music, the greater the level of organization.  On the maximum end of the organizational-axis: A symphony orchestra must work like a machine in order to produce a coherent “music”.  That requires a hierarchy of control from the composer, through the conductor, via music notation, backed up by a high degree of training by the individual musicians.   In between is a spectrum that merges varying elements of structure and freedom, though I feel that a Motown hit single requires no less perfect execution than Bach, or Mahler, or Ives for that matter.  On the minimal end we might find Cecil Taylor on a solo piano excursion… his own composer, his own conductor, his own orchestra, and existing in a universe of his own abilities.  Depending on your personal sensibilities you might see the first as a militaristic display of goose-stepping emotional dominance, and the latter as a solipsistic dancer in a field of flowers.  You might not.

I have a greater affinity for the latter end of the spectrum, the freedom to create on the spot, and explore, and discover the music world anew with each performance.  That is not to say that I dismiss organization in music, or that I don’t want organization in free music.  The best free music has strong organization without strong preconception, open to surprise and invention.  In free music the surprise is a transitional element, like a fortune in a fortune cookie, but you build the fortune and the cookie in plain view, on the spot.  The analogies are all around us: The Novel vs. Free Verse; Shakespeare vs. Improv Comedy; and so on.

Speaking of… I read the recent NYTimes piece on Jerry Seinfeld, and while it is not groundbreaking, I was struck by one passage in particular:

When he can’t tinker, he grows anxious. “If I don’t do a set in two weeks, I feel it,” he said. “I read an article a few years ago that said when you practice a sport a lot, you literally become a broadband: the nerve pathway in your brain contains a lot more information. As soon as you stop practicing, the pathway begins shrinking back down. Reading that changed my life. I used to wonder, Why am I doing these sets, getting on a stage? Don’t I know how to do this already? The answer is no. You must keep doing it. The broadband starts to narrow the moment you stop.”

And it made reading that massive and bloated piece of NYT celebrity fellatio worth the effort (for once).  Actually, fellatio is a bad analogy because the NYT piece goes on for eight pages and much of it is trivial and boring.  Maybe a romance novel for NYC social voyeurs…

Once you get that pathway opened up it becomes necessary to feed and nurture it.  When that pathway begins to close it can be akin to withdrawal… you want to, need to, feed your habit.  You can make that bad feeling go away, and in most cases nobody gets their TV stolen and the chances of accidental OD are virtually nil.  Yet another reason I prefer music to drugs.

So the plan for this evening is to engage in some “Lancer de Renard“, or maybe to”Lancer le Renard” and see where it lands.  There is a three-word directive behind this project: “Listen and Play”, and if it were a word graphic it would have LISTEN in 60 point type, and Play in lower case 8 point italics, well below.  I’ll be sure to report back, and there will be some audio links forthcoming.

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RIP Dave Brubeck

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News just in that Dave Brubeck passed away at 91

My first exposure to the music I came to know as “jazz” was listening to my dad’s Dave Brubeck records.  I listened to them side-by-side with the soundtrack to South Pacific, Bill Cosby, Bluegrass, 60’s folkies, Bird with Strings, Jimmy Smith, etc… basically rummaging through my parent’s vinyl collection and taking it all in without much idea that it was all different.  And far from schlocky white-boy jazz, that Brubeck band with Joe Morello, Paul Desmond and Eugene Wright was fantastic.  Their work still holds up extremely well today.  I later learned that Dave Brubeck was pushing his idea that there was a frontier of modern music to be approached via rhythmic devices, as opposed to purely melodic/harmonic routes.  So you have all these Brubeck records with textbook examples of “odd meter” jazz, the most famous of which is Take Five.  Extra Credit: Most folks forget that Take Five has a killer drum sola in addition to that stunningly beautiful melody.  In a large way it was Dave Brubeck that set me up to be not the least bit disturbed by the rhythmic gymnastics of Frank Zappa, and his guiding light Edgard Varese, and Monk, and Cage, and Mingus, and Charles Ives, and a seemingly endless list of rhythmically interesting musicians and composers.  He truly did succeed at putting the time signature into the toolbox of modern 20th century music.  Listen to something as seemingly unrelated as Sting’s album “Mercury Falling” for a modern example.

Dave Brubeck continued to make new and interesting music, often with his sons, and for no less reason than his failure to engage in faddish behavior, was often disregarded by modern jazz listeners.  I could say that it wasn’t fair, but that isn’t true.  The important part is knowing who you are and what you want to do, and to my knowledge Brubeck never wavered in his direction.  He was nobody but Dave Brubeck, ever.  RIP, Man.  You Rocked The Place.

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And what else is new?

The duo-project with Peter Riccio, known by various names but most recently Journey to the Twin Planet, played a spooky little gig on April 1.  That is, coincidentally, the same day I had the first back problem in about 4 years.  And what a pain in the back it was.  Aside from the minor victory of not puking on stage from pain, and the minor defeat of having to call 1-800-MOTRIN to gut my way through it, it was a fun time.  I hope to take some lessons from these gigs and come back with a tighter and better act the next time around.

One big upside was that I was able to road test Animoog on he iPad as a performance instrument and the verdict is: we have a winner.  This app is everything I ever wanted in a synth, and is so much deeper than I expected.  The good news is that you can call up a preset and get right down to playing music on it.  Pick a keyboard layout you like and let it rip.  Beyond that you have a level of control over synthesis that is unbelievable.  Everythig from initial parameters, evolution, multitouch and extended-touch gestures, delay settings, built-in looper…. daummmmmmmmmm.

That also means that Moog, Inc. is doing something that was by no means a fait accompli: They managed to take a company that could have fallen over a cliff after Robert Moog’s passing, or worse been sold to some crap-factory like Korg*, and is now making a fantastic line of real tools for real musicians.  The analog synths they are making now are among the best they have ever created, and are probably just flat-out The Best.  They have a range from entry the level Phatty to the Voyager XL.  All the while making MoogerFooger modules and Moog Theremins.  Oh, and they make a couple of killer iOS apps, and have very nice merch. Pay them a visit.  Warms my heart, it does.

I’ll revisit this soon, and be posting links to some JttTP audio real soon now.  There are a few clips up at my Soundcloud.

* I own Korg gear, and it is not crap, but it is not Moog either…

File Under “Coincidence”

After composing the previous post I opened up a Cecil Taylor CD (Trance), lent to me by my friend Peter Riccio.  I read the liner notes, written by Erik Wiedemann in 1963… As I got to the end I could not help but laugh:

“If a man plays for a certain amount of time – scales, licks, what have you – eventually a kind of order asserts itself.  Whether he chooses to notate that personal order or engage in polemics about it, it’s there.  That is, if he is saying anything in his music.  There is no music without order – if that music comes from a man’s innards.  But that order is not necessarily related to any single criterion of what order should be as imposed by the outside.  Whether that criterion is the song form or what some critic thinks jazz should be.  This is not a question, then, of” freedom” as opposed to “non-freedom” but is rather a question of recognizing different ideas and expressions of order” – Cecil Taylor to Nat Hentoff, Downbeat magazine, February 25, 1965

A tip of the hat to Olivier Longuet

I have been taking photographs about as long as I have been playing music, which is a long time… about back to age 8 or 9.  My father and grandfather were amateur photographers with a darkroom in the basement for black and white processing and printing.  For my grandfather it goes back to the early days of photography, and the economic realities of the day.  The day was, more specifically, the Great Depression. Photography was not inexpensive, but if you developed your own film and printed your own photos, you could do it on a budget.  Later on, in the days after WWII, my father had more of a tolerance for the cost of commercial processing, but was still a rabid economizer.  I learned film processing, use of a changing bag for loading tanks without a darkroom, and basic processing.  That is not unrelated to my interest in both chemistry and cooking!  It is all a matter of recipes and knowing what is actually going on in the process.

Music was a little different, but my dad had a few el-cheapo stringed instruments like a ukelele and a tenor guitar (Zim-Gar!!!).  The tenor was my favorite.  I was not tuning it in fifths (it was meant to be tuned like a tenor-banjo), but EADG, like a bass.  When I got my first guitar, a nylon string folk guitar, I played that the same way… picking out bass lines on the low strings, chunking through some basic open chords, and baffled by the asymmetrical B string!  One day a friend of my dad’s saw me playing and basically told him: “Paul, I hate to tell you this, but your son is a bass player.”  That was that.  By the time I was 13 I had a really awful Fender P copy (a Memphis… ugh), with a bad neck and worse electronics.   I ripped the frets out of within a year and that was all she wrote.  I have been playing bass since… over 34 years now, which is mind boggling.

Which is a long way of saying that music and photography are two constants in the way I approach the world.

As a result I always bring a camera to gigs, and if I am lucky I find a balance in time to perform music and time to capture images.  At an event like the NHIC Verge-Fest back in April of 2011 I was in charge of running sound, and had plenty of time to concentrate on photography.  At an event like Rochefort en Accords I had no balance.  It was 95% music music music… and then the time for an occasional snapshot opportunity.  The goal was purely that of capturing a few snaps as “souvenir”, in the true French meaning of “memory” or “memento”.  I am glad I did, because I would not have the great image of Charly Doll stoking the charcoal grill with a hairdryer!  …or the murky images from Charly’s bonfire, or the beer-tent party after the Friday rain-out at Rochefort, or the iPhone panorama of the school kids, or Nini Dogskin practicing the Saxhorn… and so many more.  See the Flickr set HERE.

A Rochefort I was surrounded by a bevy of fantastic musicians, and it was all I could do to keep up.  World class singers, songwriters, instrumentalists, and solo performers, all opening themselves up to what other musicians had to share.  I also met a few people who were putting all their energies into making images.  Christian Duchesnay and Olivier Longuet were the two I saw the most often.  Chris was the official photographer of the festival, and Olivier was working for himself.  Photography is different from music in many ways, but one difference that is central to this observation is that you have no idea what the photographer’s images will look like until you see them.  I can tell a few things about musicians by their gear, their mode of dress, and maybe their “entourage”, before hearing them play.  With a photographer you only see the person with a camera and think “nice camera” or “nice lenses” or something like that.

After I returned from Rochefort I saw some of the work of these photographers.  I believe that I have yet to see ChrisD’s complete work from the festival, but I have seen a good selection of what Olivier was up to.  Wow… the guy is very very good.  He has a few images featuring yours-truly, but to be honest they are not the best of his images.  I am flattered and also honored to be in the frame.  The extra added bonus from Rochefort, as if I needed one, is that in addition to the influence of the great musicians I worked with, I have this influence on the photographic side.  I will keep adding links as I find more stuff on the interwebs.  Right now there are a lot of small collections on Facebook, but I am not linking to those here.

LINKS:

Solong’s Photographies

Chris-D Website

Chris-D outtakes at Poudriere Blog

The Poudriere is a facility across the road from the Clos in Rochefort, and is the site of a really great selection of music events.

The French Are Different…

from Americans, in many ways.  Up front there is the fact that a small community like Rochefort, France puts on a well supported festival at all.  We have cities here in the US that don’t do half as much despite much larger populations and more financial resources.  The way the arts are integral to daily life in much of Europe is still a shock to me after many festivals and experiences.  Artists we modestly paid, well fed, and the festival was well organized.  Not rocket science.  But the people volunteering were residents, people who lived and worked in Rochefort and were going beyond the typical “taxpayer support” we get here, and putting their shoulder to the wheel to make the festival happen.

There was also the question of how artists were treated, and received.  I am a guy with a bass who had this gig land in my lap.  Still, I was not given any less due than anyone else, and there were some MONSTER players at this festival.  Working my ass off was the *least* I could do in return for the honor of playing here.  As well, we had small audiences of volunteers and passersby during some rehearsals, and they even dug that.  If you don’t know, real rehearsals are kinda painful events filled with a lot of repetition (the French word for rehearsal is “repetition”) and to anyone on the outside it usually loses its charm after about two minutes.  In one case it was Napoleon Murphy Brock running us through critical cues and timing, which took a lot of work over the course of at least an hour straight, and the crowd wasn’t spacing out.  When we nailed it, finally, they applauded.  They got it.  I’ve never been around anything like that before.  The same thing repeated itself with rehearsals of Beefheart material, and even running through blues shuffles with Innes Sibun!

The approach to a daily routine was different as well.  When we work, we work hard,  Time to take a break, that is the TIME to take a BREAK.  Yes, it could be frustrating for an American who measures things by punctuality and productivity (which I am not really one of), but the work got done, and since many of my days ended at 1:00am with my ears ringing, it was nice to have that spot of downtime at lunch or dinner time, and maybe a short break and a glass of wine at about 10:00pm, before tackling the “home stretch”.  Much as the way the Germans would riot if the beer concessions was bad, I have a feeling that the whole operation would have failed if not for good wine and good food.

Then there was the case of the children.  I encountered a lot of polite and attentive kids at Rochefort.  Some were outright amazing, like Leo, the kid who played all kinds of instruments and played some very well.  Some were intent on saturating me with questions, or making me a crayon sketch, or just trying out a phrase in English and slapping me five.  You don’t want to set anything other than a good example for kids like these.  Even if they are still running around at 1:00am, they are not out of control or whining or looking for someone to entertain them.

OK, there has to be a “downside” and that was the shock that everyone, it seems, smokes!  I don’t think it was as much of a shock going in as it was when I got home.  I arrived in Charlotte for my connection and was expecting to see smoking teenagers drinking wine in the airport!  What?  No public smoking?  It was a bit of a shock.  Still, it was not as hard to take as smoking here in the states… not sure why.  I have no idea what their public health stats are like, but as in much of Europe, smokes are everywhere.

All told, for my first time in France, I could not have asked for a better experience.  I could get used to that routine… really.

Rochefort Festival Wrap Up – Finale

I will be looking over the previous posts and inserting images, and cleaning up text, fixing typos and misspelled names, and maybe editing some dupe info and omissions.  Otherwise, that is the story from beautiful Rochefort, France.  Some really amazing and dedicated people run a very ambitious festival, the artists are treated very well, and the results are very enjoyable for both the audience and the artists.

What I have tried to relate is my experience, my reality, and my observations during a week where I made a point to stay open and positive at every moment.  That is probably the thing I am proudest of.  Many bass players could have done a better job with the music, would have had an easier time, and been able to contribute more.  I am what I am: a person in love with music and the bass, who has had the good fortune to be able to express that in some very interesting venues.  Whether that is the intimate “Never Open Books” of New Haven, or Cafe Nine, or an outdoor festival stage in France, I try to bring the same ethic.  I owe my friends from New Haven Improvisors Collective a huge debt of gratitude, and maybe none more than drummer Steve Zieminski.  Playing bass alongside him for the past two years has allowed me to grow as a bassist, and trust my instincts more than ever.  As I approach 50 years old, that is not an easy thing to do.

From the beginning of this trip I have focused on the concept of being open, in the way that one opens their heart to the opportunity and does not try to mold the experience to their will.  My work with NHIC, or DOOT!, or the Sawtelles, or Lys Guillorn…. and others has been a fantastic training ground for that approach.  An experience like the one I just had at Rochefort is a type of validation.  Likewise, it was dependent on encountering other with the same generosity of spirit, the same patience, and the same willingness to set out on a journey and trust that you will work as hard as they will to reach the destination.  I was fortunate to encounter those people at every step of the way, in circumstances where it would have been easy to cop an attitude or cede to some negative element.  It simply never happened.

I would be remiss to not mention, again, what a pleasure it was to work with Napoleon Murphy Brock.  The timing of this event was very opportune, as the time that has elapsed since Zappanale 20 in 2009 has allowed me to make some observations and allow my cynical voice to recede.  Napoleon is a world class performer, educator, musician and person.  He does that on his terms, and I can’t say that I would want to be tied to those terms, but in an instance like this it was his stability and patience and focus that created a safe haven when other situations were spiraling into disarray.  And hell… I held down a flimsy canopy in a driving storm on an electrified stage in hopes of him not being speared through the neck with a broken piece of aluminum!  So there is always that 🙂

With hopes for continued musical adventure,

Bon Journee’