Reviewers/critics are regularly accused of dishonesty/agenda-keeping and scolded for factual errors and typos, but they certainly hold no monopoly on such things. Two recent press releases for Belgian (or mainly-Belgian) albums prove this.
From the first: "In the attractive Music Village, Brussels' only real jazz club." Note that this so-called jazz blog does not link to the city's only real jazz club...
From the second, a list of the musician's Berklee peers: "Jim Blak, Kurt Rosenwinckel, Mark Turner, Shaemus Blake, Chris Sheek, Chris Speed." 2 out of 6 ain't bad.
Tuesday, January 31, 2006
Reviewers/critics are regularly accused of dishonesty/agenda-keeping and scolded for factual errors and typos, but they certainly hold no monopoly on such things. Two recent press releases for Belgian (or mainly-Belgian) albums prove this.
Saturday, January 28, 2006
The first few seconds contain the promise of a wild rock take on the old Bomb Squad, but the old-school riff-based nature of the main body of the song doesn't quite live up to it. Still, Mr. D is pretty ferocious, the song is relentless and simply unexpectedly discovering Chuck D still making worthwile music trumps the slight cheesiness of the "got to be/got to be FREE!" chant at the end.
Chuck D - Freedom
This particular song is allegedly unpublished apart from on a promo CD that came with the December 2005 issue of Vibrations. The CD was a sampler of new and upcoming albums on Douglas Records. Continuing the Hendrix them, Geri Allen is doing "Three Pianos For Jimi." The "Message To Love" included here is surprisingly good. The reissue of John McLaughlin's "My Goal's Beyond" shows him in his early Indian mode.
Avoid Operazone's "The Redesign" at all costs, unless you're a really big Graham Haynes fan (who is heard to very good effect in a Miles Davis circa "Sketches of Spain" way). The rest of the opera strings-meet-tablas-and-programmed-drums-and-Byard-Lancaster Bill Laswell affair is incredibly disappointing.
Friday, January 27, 2006
Thursday, January 26, 2006
Interesting (though rather dry, as its an unedited transcript) Noah Howard interview. A tidbit:
Q: Your music seems to combine freedom with a kind of gospel melody, but not as unleashed as Albert Ayler's, for example, more disciplined. How did you develop that combination?
A: Well, if you've ever been in a black Baptist gospel church, and the choirs cut loose, you have this incredible harmony, and then you have the soloists, and the soloists go all the way out. And most of the preachers can sing too, and they'll go all the way out. But always within the context of gospel harmony.
I've seen Howard play only once, it was rather disappointing. I'd never heard of the Brussels club he mentions and online details are scarce. Anyone know it?
[The first in a series (?) of posts on Andrew Hill]
The man on the hill is necessarily detached: from the round mound of earth beneath him, from the people below him, from the grey sky behind him. Andrew Hill is detached, an anomaly, shrouded.
It starts right at the beginning(s): his made-up Haitian birth, Blue Note claiming "Black Fire" as Hill's debut recording, conveniently forgetting "So In Love," the general lack of commercial success that enveloped him. Later, there's the disastruous I-wanna-get-paid album, "Grassroots," which may well be a case of auto-sabotage. It was supposed to be a self-concious new beginning, it turned into a dead end (cf. the incredibly plodding first track of "Grassroot"'s first draft on the Connoisseur edition. The album proper is better, but not by much). Hill states in those liner notes that he doesn't play out much, that he lives off the generosity of patrons: not exactly the jazz hustler trying to break onto the scene. The latest beginning ("Dusk," "A Beautiful Day," the JazzPar Prize album, the upcoming third Blue Note stint, after a spate of re-issues) is still hopeful and promising.
Of course, all of this would mean nothing if Andrew Hill played obvious music: obvious swing, obvious blues, obvious avant-garde (cf. the hilarious epistolary liner note debates between AB Spellman, Leonard Feather and Bob Blumenthal (the latter in the new liners appended to the RVG editions) as to whether or not Hill is avant-garde) or even obvious solos.
Wednesday, January 25, 2006
Roughly five years ago, while in the basement cafetaria of Warwick University's library (I was doing an MA in International Relations at the time), I remember hearing a Moloko single and thinking how awesome it was that they used a tuba to play the bass line. It took me five years to finally buy the album that track, "Pure Pleasure Seeker," is on and find out that it's not a tuba, but a contrabass saxophone (which makes an extremely tenuous yet nonetheless cool connection to Anthony Braxton).
I rarely buy pop albums (I admit to buying Justin Timberlake's "Justified" at the same time; must have been a mood I was in) regardless of how much I like the singles ("Rock Ya Body," "Señorita" and especially "Cry Me A River" in Timberlake's case), because of "when am I actually going to *listen* to this?" trepidation. Well, I was totally shocked by how awesome nearly every single track on "Things To Make And Do" is (which is not "Justified"'s case, but oh well): they overflow with adventurous (and often whimsical) vocal twists, lyrical concepts and musical ideas, the album is extremely varied yet totally coherent and everything is covered in a wonderful, glittery pop sheen. And they shout "Ramases! Colossus!" like a 2k "Ra ra Rasputin!"
A few years ago, younger jazz musicians who wanted to show that they were in touch with the outside world would cite (and cover) Radiohead, Björk and maybe Beck (expect current indie-rock faves such as The Arcade Fire to turn up on such lists soon). I remember reading Jason Moran say how cool a voice/piano duo with Ghostface (Killah) would be. Moloko never got on those types of lists, yet they easily belong in the same category in terms of quality and alt-cred. Granted, their weirdness is a bit more buried (ie. the pop sheen), but it is perhaps all the better for it.
Has anyone heard Roisin Murphy's solo album? I'm sorely tempted now.
Tuesday, January 24, 2006
As if to confirm one of the points in the post below this one, after glowing praise Darcy's Secret Society, Steve Smith complains: "The Bowery Poetry Club is a smallish space; why, then, should an 18-piece band be amplified as if it were Maynard Ferguson playing the Astrodome?"
While generally not to such an extreme, I've encountered this kind of logic-defying situation quite often. As always, the question remains: why?
Javier Girotto's quiet soprano playing is still resonating in my mind and was amplified by a few other encounters.
A first sampling of Nils Wogram Root 70's "Getting Rooted" led to track 3, a super-minimal, altered, sort-of-blues during which saxophonist/clarinetist Hayden Chisolm plays not only excruciatingly softly, but also with delicately wavering intonation and indeterminate harmonic direction (in comparaison, Girotto's tone was always firm and more harmonically clear). It reminded me of some of the saxophone playing to be heard on Neal Caine's excellent "Backstabber's Ball," which, for the sake of my argument, I'll assume to be the work of saxophonist/clarinetist Stephen Riley. In both players, there's an echo of saxophonist/clarinetist Jimmy Giuffre on "The Western Suite" (a chamber jazz album with Bob Brookmeyer and Jim Hall I've just bought, the title-track of which is incredible). I think you've noticed the pattern here.
I wonder if the clarinet's lower "default" volume inspired these players to transfer that dynamic to saxophone. The effect of unexpected, sustained quietness is quite powerful, which is why I tend to lament the high default volume amplification generally sets (the quieter reaches simply aren't available any more) as well as too-systematic recourse to crescendoes out of intimate low-volume foreplay: maybe foreplay shouldn't (or can't) last forever, but it could often go on longer than it does.
Perhaps the effect of quiet music (or, rather, a quiet section within generally louder music) derives in part from the fact that our daily interactions with other people mostly take place at volumes far quieter than default concert volume, or even default saxophone volume. A quiet line then takes on directness and immediacy because its volume relates to that at which another person might talk to us, or even whisper sweet nothings in our ear.
says Wynton Marsalis. Well, it depends on the bread and butter in question. Chunky, dark, whole-wheat, multi-cereal bread (maybe with some nuts, maybe flavoured with olive oil or honey) and some good butter, okay. Gummy pre-sliced white bread and margarine, no thanks.
I don't know what kind of bread they're serving at J@LC, but it is, to me, patently ridiculous to compare what "the 50-seat 55 Bar in Greenwich Village" offers to J@LC's programming. If J@LC can make money by finding enough people to pay $110.50 for "Music of the Masters: Stanley Turrentine," why would they do anything else? I hear you saying "What about promoting the art in a broader way?" I respond: the key word in the article is "overhead," as in "The challenge facing Jazz at Lincoln Center - taking chances while paying the bills - is the common conundrum facing arts organizations as they expand. Indeed, with their new overhead, its trustees must work harder than ever to keep donations coming."
I'm on the other side of the Atlantic and none of this matters to me, but it doesn't seem to matter much to New Yorkers, either: "The clubs that offer more experimental fare say that Jazz at Lincoln Center has not made a dent in their business."
Finally, is it just me, or do the pink, behind-and-above-the-band boxes look... silly?
Monday, January 23, 2006
I hadn't been to the Arts-ô-Bases in almost forever and was agreeably surprised by its revamping. The stage has moved from the middle to the back of the long shoebox-shaped club, so it now makes more sense as a performance space. The bar is near the front and, just like at the Sounds, the labyrintine passage to the toilets is stage left. The Morrocan food is good. Owner (?) Abdel still takes the stage at the end of the concert to add his qraqeb to the churning rhythms. One thing still missing, however, is proper heating: we were semi-shivering during the second set. The real temperature contrasted with the warmth of the venue and of the musicians on stage.
Cordoba Reunión is led by drummer/percussionist Minino Garay and includes three other Argentinian musicians. Garay's stage persona is an endearing mix of stiffness and humour, and the venue lent itself to horsing around. Introducing a song whose title referred to the 2000 Argentinian financial crisis, he said (in French) "It was the first time that rich and poor were in the street together, because all their money had been stolen. I had put my money in Switzerland."
The music could be described in shorthand as Argentinian jazz, but my longhand feeling was that it was Argentinian music that, without really being jazz, wouldn't have been possible without jazz. Various native rhythms (no tango!) powerfully propelled elegant and lyrical compositions. Even at their most confusing or straight-laced (during a fantastic classically-influenced piano-percussion duet), their dance-rooted nature was still strongly felt. Saxophonist Javier Girotto played soprano throughout and his specialist status (still a rarity, despite the Bechets and the Lacys) showed: neither strident nor sappy, his tone was always full. He could scream and holler or play extremely quietly, but his bread 'n' butter was a folk-derived volubile melodic language. That low volume, though: infinitely sensual, with all the tension of virtuoso seduction. Not a slow jam, but the act itself.
Often, I would hear in a rhythm, a chord sequence or a general feeling, an echo of music I know from Martinique. This is something that happens regularly in Brazilian or Cuban musics (a kind of panamerican charateristic, maybe), but that I never hear in afro-american music of any kind. This may be because other societies were more thoroughly creolised, meaning that there was a greater retention of spanish and french forms, along with the african influence. In Martinique at least, this is pretty clear, for example in the names of the traditional music forms: quadrille, mazurka, biguine. Another element that sets North America apart is in its less multi-layered rhythms and less natural handling of polyrhythms. The invention of the drum-kit probably played a part in this, as every technological innovation leaves some things behind even as it adds new ones. Or maybe the streamlining of the drum part simply allowed for the layers to be scattered among the bass, guitar, piano, etc., whereas elsewhere the two or three percussionists would handle all of those rhythmic functions themselves.
Sunday, January 22, 2006
Friend and saxophonist Nat Catchpole used to say (and maybe still does) that one of the reasons he likes to play totally way-out improv (apart from simply liking the music) is that it's pretty much impossible for it to be absorbed by the commercial mainstream. I'd say he's wrong: advertisers show themselves consistently able to absorb or recycle ideas from the avant-gardes of decades past, be it Mingus advertising a credit card or now this Honda ad (as linked to by Kyle Gann).
More generally, I've always considered advertising a full-fledged art, notwithstanding the obvious fact that the vast majority of it is uninteresting (at best). Artists like Toulouse-Lautrec, reviled by the academy, at the time, saw the potential of advertising posters as vehicles for his art, and people still collect those today. Album covers, invented essentially as a form of self-advertising, have played a similar role. When IVN and I first saw the recent TV ad (I can't remember the product) with thousands of bouncing, multi-coloured balls, both of us just stopped and kind of stopped breathing until it ended. I have a strong gut feeling that some avant-person did something similar 15 or 20 years ago.
As time passes and the products themselves disappear from the shelves, the advertisement continues to stand on its own (if it is of any value), as a little artwork and a time capsule. I really like these little unannounced intrusions of art into daily life.
Thursday, January 19, 2006
Nate Chinen's indie-jazz crossover article has been sparking passions far and wide.
Relative newcomer Harvard Rocker has his own take on it (it takes a brave man to list Mehldau's Largo as one of his five favourite albums), as does JazzPortraits. I noted Darcy's contribution a while back. My own post is, I believe, the only one so far to name people/bands other than those found in Chinen's article. Someone needs to do something, quick!
Wednesday, January 18, 2006
I headed back to the Musée Charlier. By the same route, so I won't bore you by repeating the details. Still, I'd like to note that, in this country, so reputed for its surreal penchant and byzantine administration, some things remain clear and simple: for example, the Parliament is on the Rue de la Loi (Law Street). The museum is on the Avenue des Arts.
Yesterday featured two Dutch-language up'n'comers, today was about French-speaking veterans (okay, one of them was Flemish, and slightly younger, but still): Michel Herr on piano, Richard Rousselet on trumpet, Bas Cooijmans on bass, Castellucci on drums. I had the pleasure of getting to know Michel a few years ago, when I was working on the very early stages of the renewal of the Jazz in Belgium website and we held regular, marathon meetings, but this was the first time I actually saw him play live.
The concert was billed as a homage to Miles and, well, that's what we got. Not a radical re-imagining by any means, but an enthusiastic run through some music I haven't listened to in way too long. They started with a solid and clear "Summertime," then did "All Blues." AB was less indebted to "Kind of Blue" than to Miles's live performances of 1960 (the Olympia date with Coltrane is essential (for Coltrane), the Olympia date with Stitt from a few months later is great (for Miles)). Jimmy Cobb would unexpectedly (for those who, like me, only knew him from KOB) kick ass back then, so Castellucci was suitably tumultuous and hard-edged, with the tune being taken at a much faster tempo than on KOB.
Castellucci is a bit of a character (I remember hearing him threaten a disrespectful audience member with bodily harm from the massive Jazz Marathon stage set up on the Grand-Place, a few years ago) and you can sense it in his playing: he's totally happy, but he means business, too. Rousselet is a really fine trumpeter, but I couldn't help but think about one of Miles's qualities that I rarely see reproduced: his ability to seemingly knead the very matter of sound into whatever shape he wanted. Much more than a bluesy slur here and there, he might go through a series of mid-tempo notes and give each one its own attack, inflection, timbre and shape - while maintaining impeccable timing - to thrilling effect.
After a slightly perfunctory "Nardis," they shifted gears and went into the 2nd Quintet's repertoire. On "Footprints," the band got fiery again, even as trumpet and piano appropriately grew more spacious and less linear. Herr's colouring had hinted at this period from the start, so he slipped easily into a Hancock mode. Castellucci stretched out in his own way, exploring cymbal texture more. "Seven Steps To Heaven" was pretty straight-forward, but gave one of those small pleasures homages such as this give to those who are familiar with the music: on the bridge of the theme's reprise, instead of racing into uptempo swing, Castellucci unexpectedly (?) tapped out quarter notes at the original tempo, a sly move that lent the music an off-kilter air. I can't remember the title of the last tune they played from this period, but the melody's mix of short, funky phrases, elongated single notes, short, sharp bursts and long pauses posed questions and left the answers up to the listeners' imaginations.
The concert ended with "Tutu." Apparently, Miles's 70s music used to be rejected by the critical establishment, but that's not really the case anymore. His 80s stuff remains more-or-less on the sidelines, however. I expect that to change too, as the establishment's codgers continue to be replaced. Personally, I like albums like "Tutu" and even "Doo Bop" (in absolute terms, not as much as stuff from the 50s to the 70s, but this music has its own, unique rewards, such as foregrounding Miles's lyricism once more) and feel that those who reject or denigrate this period are reacting to the sound more than to the underlying music. Put in an acoustic context, "Tutu"'s amiable jazz/funk is really irresistable. Cooijmans in particular, impressively oak-solid and nimble-fingered throughout the concert, dug into the groove during his solo.
As we (the audience) got to our feet, the middle-aged woman next to me, who had obviously seen me taking notes, asked me if I liked the concert. I said that I had, but somehow knew that this conversation was going to go downhill, fast. Indeed, she then asked me if I thought the musicians had played well, authentically (she didn't use the word, but that was the idea), in the eyes of an African. A multitude of possible answers whizzed through my brain (along with, of course, a resigned "here we go again" feeling). First, I clarified that I'm not African. Incredibly, the woman followed up with something along the lines of "But you have the music in your blood." 2006, anyone? Then, I explained that, for me, afro-Caribbean music is quite different from Afro-American music, that New Orleans was a very cosmopolitan place, that whites have been playing jazz pretty much since the beginning, that jazz is rooted in folk music and that, as such, people around the world need to find their own folk music to add to their jazz, stuff like that, which is pretty banal to people crazy enough to discuss jazz online, but hasn't filtered out to the population at large, I guess. In the end, she seemed pleased and interested, so I think I managed to broaden her view from its initial "Jazz is essentially a black thing, and non-blacks are missing something in their playing." I was surprised how articulate I managed to be. I'm so much more used to writing about music than I am talking about it, that I tend to be borderline nonsensical in person.
Now, I'm waiting for the next time somebody asks me if I mind the cold. Or laughingly wonders why I would leave the sunny climes of Martinique to come here. Hey, I've been "here" (ie. non-sunny climes, not necessarily Belgium) for well over half my life. And... gah, I'd rather not get into it.
Alain Cupper - Cold Station
Hard bop by Belgian baritone saxophonist. Decent, not much more to say about it than that.
I don't usually highlight other people's articles (that's how selfish I am), but I can't let this Olivier Sens interview pass you by. Sens has developed what seems to be (I haven't heard the album) semi-autonomous improvisational software that reacts to what another musician (in this case, saxophonist Guillaume Orti) is doing. The interview is in-depth and fascinating. Of course, it's in French, but if you have to, I recommend running it through a translator.
It's weird how far off-the-mark mental geography can be. For some reason, I assumed the Musée Charlier to be very far from where I work and ended up needlessly missing a number of interesting midday concerts. It turns out it's only a 15-20 minute walk away. What's more, the trip took me past the Federal Parliament and I noticed, for the first time, that, when standing in front of the Parliament, you can look down the Parc Royal's central alley and see the Palais.
Saxophonist Robin Verheyen (here on tenor and soprano, but he also plays alto) and pianist Harmen Fraanje (the latter is Dutch) are two early20somethings who have been playing a lot together recently in various formats. Verheyen's debut recording as leader (with Fraanje as part of the quartet) is coming out in march on De Werf. This was the first time I'd seen them together (in Fraanje's case, at all) and extent of their musical relationship and its potential, was clear. What at first seemed like a fantasia of Jarrett-ian proportions turned out to be 40 seamless minutes of tunes and interaction.
The piano started, alone, with slow and stately low-register chords that sucked the listener into a new, attentive mood. When Verheyen joined in, they quickly built up to a ternary folk dance-ish rhythm, while also managing to retain something of the ealier, more meditative atmosphere. One of the concert's characteristics was that the saxophone was not constantly "on top," but got down under, alongside and in the middle of what the piano was playing, to form a unified bloc of sound. I particularly liked these moments, as they gave the music a mysterious propulsion: like frictionless or perpetual movement, you wondered where the energy was coming from. When the relationship between the two musicians was more heirarchical, the source of the energy was clear: a melody, a chord sequence, a particular timbre. Of course, the latter approach was necessary: too much of the former, and the music would have become too impenetrable, self-contained and maybe even directionless.
A sign of the intent listening going on was that at one point, after a tenor solo, Fraanje was clearly thinking about and looking for a way back into the music: he ran his hands silently above the keys, withdrew them and finally settled on perfectly appropriate short, clipped chords. Throughout the concert, each musician took the other's on-the-fly cues about melody, tempo, mood and tone.
Verheyen tended to play with a lot of breath around the edges of the notes (perhaps at times too much, favouring atmosphere over focus), which, when he played longer, very legato lines, gave off a kind of Konitz/Marsh feel. For more articulated, rhythmic and choppy "jazz lines," he would tighten up his sound. Fraanje both laid the groundwork and elaborated on it, but also pulled some surprising moves, as when he damped the strings with his left hand in a very sophisticated way while playing a riff or melody. He seemed to me a step beyond the "single muffled string as percussion instrument" technique I've seen used a fair amount, because Fraanje moved from string to string to parallel the notes he was striking on the keyboard, and only half-dampened them, so as to retain some of the pitch. The overall effect was that of a kora or gamelan. Verheyen pulled a few sound tricks out of his hat, too: as the duo drifted from the folk tune into stretched-out jazz standard-type chord changes, the saxophonist impressively made his tenor sound like a bass flute.
Towards the end of the concert, Fraanje sang a melody to his partner while playing it, making it seem like they had been making everything up as they went along (to paraphrase the immortal words of Homer Simpson), but a later, more rhythmically-precise, reprise of that melody laid that idea to rest.
Monday, January 16, 2006
Currently, Baron 'Toots' Thielemans (note the placement of the apostrophes) is to be seen on posters around the city, blowing a harmonica and with the words "Ma ville résonne d'une musique nouvelle"* printed next to him. What new music is this? you may rightly wonder. A new venue? A new festival? A new spirit carried on the wings of a vast urban renewal project? No, no, three times no. It's for the new Grand Casino Brussels, which just happens to be one street down from where I work. Ah, the sweet sounds of one-armed bandits, roulette and blackjack tables.
* "My city resonates with the sound of a new music"
This type of thing tends to incense serious fans, but I still fail to see any fundamental difference between these cute plastic figures and the imposing plaster busts that adorn many a concert hall and conservatory: they're both mere memorabilia and dust-collectors. In fact, the figurines seem to me far better: they're more colourful, lighter, cheaper and, crucially, far more poseable. And the Moog is just so adorable, get it for just 3,200 yen!. While we're on the subject of Moog, one can only speculate as to what this sounds like.
How serendipitous that I should find out about Overheard in New York (from Canadienne) mere hours after sharing a train ride with three of the loudest girls ever (at least they're happy to be alive, I guess). The choice quote that I would send to a mythical Overheard In Brussels website would be:
Teen girl: You can't imagine how many guys I've blown.
There would probably be a lot more, punctuated by loud giggles and ear-piercing screams, but I was trying to read.
Sunday, January 15, 2006
Kyle Gann, amidst his extensive ongoing discussion of totalism/metametrics, has posted an early example of the style (down towards the bottom of the post), which he describes as "a bona fide piece of 12-tone totalist rock." Take away the 80s drum sounds, it sounds surprisingly like AKA Moon and other stuff like that, don't you think?
Saturday, January 14, 2006
A fellowship of contemporary "big band" composers. If I understand correctly, within Pulse are writing for a strings 'n' horns (no drums) ensemble. Some (too brief!) sound clips.
Sort of same concept as Dave Douglas's Greenleaf, but with Bugge Wesseltoft instead of Dave Douglas.
In French, mp3s and commentary.
Brett Primack's All About Jazz Podcast
Draai Om Je Oren
In Dutch, so a good excuse to work on your language skills.
On the avant/contemporary side of things.
Jazz & Belette
Enthusiastic and in French.
Thursday, January 12, 2006
In the spirit of joining the critical jazz/metal nexus bandwagon, I read this article on "brutal prog" and am listening to some head-spinning Flying Luttenbachers tracks.
Jamendo: like Flickr, but for music.
The Rambler points to an article on experiencing music in the 21st century that is as worthwile as it is long. It's level-headed tone and clinical examination is a nice change from all those breathlessly hysterical "iPod revolutionises music!" articles.
In case you were wondering what the solos on "Kind of Blue" look like.
Why do they call them albums? And why are their covers decorated rather than plain brown? Find out here and there. A few album cover examples by artist.
I'm wondering if there's any reason other than coincidence that a number of critics straddle the jazz and metal beats (ie. actually writing about both, as opposed to simply enjoying both). Ben Ratliff covers them for the NY Times, Phil Freeman does both on his blog and the two get mashed together in the LA Times for no apparent reason.
Got off at the Gare du Nord and took some streets in the Saint-Josse-Ten-Noode district, which I'd never even really been to before, to get to the Botanique. Discovered that there's a second, smaller (more hardcore?) red-light street a few blocks away from the one along the train tracks. Seeing a woman sitting, in her lingerie, in a red-and-blue illuminated window, reading a book to pass the time, never loses its comedy value.
What was I doing at a small-venue (the Botanique's Rotonde is round and, as they say, intimate) pop/rock concert? Good question. It was cheap and I was bored? I think it might even have been my first time, ever. Black Wire opened. They don't have a drummer, but they do have pre-recorded drum tracks. This was rendered even more bizarre by the presence of a drumset on stage behind them. It was kind of cool visually, though. Their stage presence consisted mainly of being thin, wearing skinny black pants and one bizarre piece of clothing each: the singer had on both red suspenders and a black belt, the bassist had horizontal black and white stripes, which inevitably made me think of Mime Marceau. I don't have too many specific reference points in the current 80s post-punk revival that new acquaintance (and seeming expert) J said Black Wire were part of the sub-strata of, but they sounded to me like a less poppy/hookish Franz Ferdinand. Less poppy/hookish mainly because of lack of songcraft, rather than desire, in my opinion. The save-the-best-for-last song of the short set made their "we'd be dancey if we could" ambitions clear. A few nice one-liners ("That song was top of the charts in the UK for 6 years) and casual acceptance of people randomly giving the singer badges. Afterwards, he could only recall two of the badges (Art Brut and The Ramones), but had no idea why they were given to him in the first place.
Superthriller were billed as 3 girls and 3 boys. I don't know where they got that from, as it turned out to be all-male, albeit with one cross-dresser. Now that's more confusing than Greg Sandow's oft-repeated 4-horns-on-the-programme-but-5-on-stage example. Very fun band and fairly funky, they also dug back into the 80s and sounded a bit like Amp Fiddler. Extremely funny, many laugh-out-loud moments. The cross-dresser in question was wearing a black wig, make-up, a trenchcoat and pink women's underwear. The percussionist was a total 80s jogger, short shorts and all. He also danced sort of like the guy who tours with Beck, but not self-concious indie nerd doing self-conciously pseudo- hip-hop moves. The very good white-boy-with-pinched-voice-soul-singer traded in his Lonsdale zipper jacket for an orthodox Jew's hat, bangs and black coat for a song called "New York."
My main problem with both bands was that everything seemed really circumscribed, musically. There was no room for Black Wire to really go crazy or for Superthriller to sustain an irresistable groove for a long time. Which may be why I don't go to pop/rock concerts very often (if at all). Still, if anyone knows what "For those using the handkerchief method, red denotes cross-dressing and not military uniforms" means, please let me know.
After the concert and post-concert chat with E and new acquaintances female J, male J and ?, I walked to the Beurs to see Slang. I opted for the sex shop-lined Boulevard Adolphe Max rather than the high street shop Rue Neuve because I've not often gone down there at night and was curious to see what went on there. Not much apparently. A group of guys got turned away from from a cinema, but I didn't catch the reason: had the film already started (and once you miss the beginning, what's the point, right?)? was the place closed? The street has been gentrifying, of late: a Beate Uhse shop has opened up, there seem to be fewer and fewer really seedy places. I mentioned this to IVN and she replied that new "women-friendly" places were opening in Waterloo and other areas of Brussels. I have no idea why/how she knows so much about the sex-shop business.
Later, on Boulevard Anspach, a few blocks above the Bourse, there was a lull in the traffic, I looked around the near-empty streets and just as I thought "It's ten-to-eleven on a wednesday night and the city is dead," birds started to sing, loudly. A fitting acompaniment at 4 AM, but before 11 PM, in the centre of the city? Nightbirds, I guess. Surprisingly, there was a queue to get into the Beurs's café. I could either stay for an hour and catch the last train, or leave right away and get the penultimate train. I couldn't be bothered to wait in line. All in all, maybe 25 minutes of sustained brisk walking, which never did anyone any harm.
Monday, January 09, 2006
On the 21st of december, I went to see the Kristen Cornwell Quintet at the Hopper. There'd be lots to say about that evening (such as discussing disappearing pens and socks with singer Kate Mayne; the improbable antipodean love-at-first-sight-while-on-tour story that brought Kristen to Belgium from her native Australia), but I'll keep it brief.
The concert's most interesting moments, to me, were when the band played songs that were arranged to make it sound like it was playing parts (like a pop band) rather than comping (like a jazz band, especially in the singer + band set-up. Just to be clear, they used more traditional approaches, too, because nothing needs to be rejected totally). If Ratliff's article below points to jazz loosening up its rhythms from within, this was an example of jazz evolving by applying its looseness to another form's methods. The chordally-heavy-yet-sonically-light instrumentation (Frederik Leroux's guitar and Pascal Schumacher's vibraphone formed an expansive middle) made this approach possible: a trumpet or saxophone would have made the band project outwardly more, whereas here they could create an enveloping, horizontal atmosphere. It was fairly obvious that guitar and vibes weren't locking in easily yet: one or the other would often lay out. Still, when they did hook up, it was great and refreshing. Kristen confirmed to me afterwards that this band approach was what she was after. Expanding the role of the vocalist to something more than merely a 32-bar bookend and more personal compositions were also cited as genre-renewing goals.
Two other singers that I've come across (I don't tend to make a great effort in this area, so I'm probably missing many) are Fay Victor (cf. her transformation of Rollins's "Way Out West" into a joyous personal tale of moving back to the US after several years in The Netherlands) and Mina Agossi (cf. her totally cliché-free hiphop-inflected "Well You Needn't" (also the title of her latest album))
Dave Douglas pinpoints very interestingly some of the challenges of creating musical "collisions."
If you didn't see it the first time 'round, make sure to scroll down to Douglas's "why improvise?" post. I hope that more and more jazz musicians will follow Douglas's lead in discussing the musical issues that concern them in ways that are smart but accessible.
Ben Ratliff nicely delineates a bit of how "mainstream" jazz is changing, or being changed, in his Chris Lightcap Quintet review.
An important element is the continuing integration of free and "straight" (I'm not exactly sure what a non-pejorative opposite to the term free jazz would be) and in and out. A simple enumeration of the musicians in the Quintet (Tony Malaby, Mark Turner, Craig Taborn, Gerald Cleaver) gives a good list of people pushing the music forward by exploring this nexus (along with the use of electronics in the case of Taborn and Cleaver and rhythmic composition in the case of Taborn's work with Tim Berne. Taborn was awe-inspiring in a February 2005 concert in Berne's trio with Tom Rainey).
Ratliff says: "There was strong rhythm, good intonation between sections of vamping, a natural harmonic cooperation. But there were also energy-building whirlpools of action and reaction, spilling outside a given rhythm and tonal center." I'm not sure what intonation has to do with vamping, but I get the gist of it, I think. He also says that the "quintet's show at the Cornelia Street Cafe on Friday showed how jazz has changed in a short time," but I would have liked him to make a little more explicit compared to what the music has changed, or which aspects of it.
Friday, January 06, 2006
Drummer Teun Verbruggen told me last night that a new album he's on should be coming out in the spring. It's the VVG Trio's second album and this time, not only is it 2-CDs long (studio/live), but it also features the ubiquitous Jozef Dumoulin and the fantastic French flutist Magic Malik as guests. The VVG's previous album was an excellent display of open-ended and free-thinking bop-rooted improvisation, so I have high expectations. Teun has been developing a rock-leaning esthetic in his bands and those of others (Rackham, Flat Earth Society) alongside his jazz work (Jef Neve, Pascal Schumacher), this album might be the one that explicitly bridges the gap.
Went to see Rackham for about an hour last night at the PP Café. The very good concert made me think about the renewal fusion/jazz-rock is going through. Though the term still evokes the late 60s/70s context that birthed it, newer groups have clearly changed the parameters. Originally, there were two sources: prog-rock and funk. So you had the virtuosity, unisons and tricky meters of, say, the Mahavishnu Orchestra on one side and Miles Davis's weird, swampy groove explorations on the other. An example of evolution was the über-complex funk base developed by Steve Coleman that has lent itself to everything from hip-hop jams ("The Way of The Cipher") to grandiose Third Stream (the impressive, yet generally overlooked, "Genesis"). Electric Masada's recent album kind of shows the path the more accessible end of the Miles Davis spectrum has taken. And, of course, more straight-forward jazz/hip-hop fusion has become a norm of its own over the years (Iswhat?!'s "You Figure It Out" is highly recommended because it deviates imaginatively from that norm. Just one track? "Cold Hands," but the original, not the DJ Spinna remix).
I'm not hugely knowledgeable of current (or past) indie-rock (I have this dread feeling that someone is going to come and tear me to shreds...), but I've been listening intently to The Arcade Fire and Sigur Rós recently, which has been giving me some ideas for this post. Sigur Rós, for example, build these long, slow songs on relatively simple harmonies, which brought into sharper focus the fact that this new jazz-rock I'll be talking about in this post has generally abandoned the complexity of the Mahavishnu Orchestra and M-Base traditions, but also the groovy-weird-sound-pile-up of the Miles Davis followers (of course, other bands continue in those footsteps: in Belgium Erwin Vann's (greatly aided in this by keyboardist Jozef Dumoulin) "Let's Call Ed" has no lack of weird sounds, Bo Van Der Werf's Octurn has never been accused of being too simple).
Nate Chinen's article on jazz and indie-rock (which is no longer available for free on the NYT site, but I cleverly posted it on Jazz Corner while it was) was interesting, but unfortunately he devotes too much space to only the most commercially-obvious people, who are not necessarily the most relevant (did James Carter's "Gold Sounds" really deserve 2.5 paragraphs, while a laundry-list of interesting-sounding musicians is crammed into 2.5 (admittedly longer) paragraphs at the end?). For example, Brad Mehldau, for me, has very little to do with indie-rock, but is simply drawing on a few tunes that can participate in his personal redefinition of piano trio music (Darcy's post on this same subject puts it better than I can and contains lots of other interesting points). The Bad Plus is closer to the mark ("Anthem for the Earnest," with its insistent 80's-ish beats, from "Suspicious Activity?" is particularly awesome). The previously mentioned laundry list should really have formed the main topic of the article, while the mentions of Jim Black's AlasNoAxis and Chris Speed's Yeah/No are criminally brief.
When I saw it a few years ago, I found AlasNoAxis *too* squarely rock in its structures and beats, but later I warmed a bit to its last album. Yeah/No's "Swell Henry" from 2004 was a more interesting and nuanced take and what initially seemed to me forbiddingly gray and downcast progressively revealed its melodies and feelings. Then there's part of what Ellery Eskelin's trio with Andrea Parkins and Jim Black does ("Arcanum Moderne" has some particularly potent examples of an avant-jazz/indie/noise/soundscape mindset). This is just one corner of NY's Downtown scene, I'm sure there are many more examples I'm not aware of (of the groups mentioned in Chinen's article, you can hear and see Trevor Dunn's Trio Convulsant here and download Kneebody's album from emusic, which I intend to do as soon as my account is replenished).
Across the Atlantic, there's the UK's Acoustic Ladyland (which shares three members with Polar Bear, but the two bands make completely different music), which plays an explosive rock/free-jazz/punk hybrid, but channels it through pop-ish structures and devices (simple repeated melodies, new riffs for each section, sounds carefully placed in the mix (keyboardist Tom Crawley is particularly remarkable in this regard), no long solos and even a song called "Perfect Bitch" sung with a beautiful snarl of an English accent). In Belgium, there's Qu4tre, which gently prods jazz-rock into the 00s with gradually-building arrangements underneath Nicolas Kummert's smooth, Nordic-inspired saxophone. Coming back to Rackham, there's, for example, the influence of Calexico in trembling guitar chords and one tune with slightly mariachi-tinged horns, but also of Pachora's Downtown-klezmer when leader Toine Thys takes out his clarinet. The concert started with happy, 70s post-Hendrix rock (guitarist Benjamin Clément was brilliant throughout the concert), but bassist François Verrue's black short-sleeved shirt and big black-rimmed glasses screamed NY indie hipster.
Thursday, January 05, 2006
I've only now found out about Dan Warburton's tour diary. I call it a "brilliant must-read exposé" (dust-jacket inanity, I know) simply because I don't really like to type the curse words necessary to convey my enthusiasm for the piece. Let's just say an early highlight is a gun. And (at least) equally good moments keep on coming and coming.
I really like what Kyle Gann says about the musical naming game.
On their social aspect:
'Of course, our skeptic could have said, “There is no such thing as an Impressionist painting, there are only paintings.” In a certain trivial sense this is true. But all it really says is, “I refuse to participate in your culture of word games.” Today everyone understands that there is nothing metaphysical about the word “Impressionist.” It is simply, as defined by its historical usage, a part of cultural literacy.'
On the importance of having them:
'A person convinced that there will be no more movements is a person for whom the history of culture is basically over, a person who believes that everything possible has already been perceived, and that there are no new avenues left open to us. We whine about the sanctity of the individual, but art grows by leaps and bounds when groups of people start to have collective realizations.
Occasionally one person creates a compelling new language on his own, but it’s extremely rare. There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in our music, and consciousness of those things is not likely to dawn on only one person at a time. Artists need each other, and the anti-ism diehards want to imprison them each in solitary confinement. A sense of creative community, so crucial to the development of an art, is devalued by the ideology that pooh-poohs purported movements.
Or to personalize it: In the early 1980s, I had a lot of cool ideas about rhythmic structure. I thought those ideas alone would make me the King of Composers. When I got to New York and it dawned on me that Rhys Chatham, Mikel Rouse, Michael Gordon, and Ben Neill had all had the same ideas, I had to jump up off my butt, steal what I could from them, and raise my music to a whole new level to avoid being just one of the crowd. That’s how music history happens (even among the so-called American Mavericks) far more often than the more popular lone-genius theory.'
My interest is spurred by my current lazily-pursued endeavour to find a new path between the two most common ways of characterising the current state of jazz, ie. "jazz is dead and has been since 19xx" / "jazz is an open pick 'n' mix swamp, unburdened by dominant movements." Both point to the impossibility of new movements and therefore both imply statis (which is what the death metaphor really means), even if the former puts a negative spin on it and the latter a positive (freedom through fragmentation such that, from the extreme view, every individual is a movement). By searching out networks of musicians and plotting their music against the multiple roots they draw upon, today's jazz movements and what they add to the music should be revealed.
Sometimes the musicians do part of the legwork for us by forming collectives and labeling themselves: The Jazz Composer's Collective, f-ire, AACM. Sometimes it's labels who have a tight enough focus to help us to see what's going on (Blue Note at one time, Fresh Sound New Talent for New York's progressive mainstream, Thirsty Ear's Blue Series for avant-jazz/electronica cross-over, De Werf for the most interesting Belgian stuff, Smalls Records for that scene, etc.). Or a few individuals can serve as hubs (William Parker, John Zorn). Otherwise, it's up to the listener to trace networks, bonds and kinships to discover the commonalities of the present and the roots in the past. The second phase is essentially to do the same thing, but for the past, so as to get a much richer view than the usual "great man" / "swing/bop/free/fusion/and then what?" skeletal linear summations that lead nowhere. The final aim of all this is, obviously, to be able to refute the "jazz is dead" declarations by bringing to light in a clear, historically-informed way the events of today, hopefully in a non-rigidly-categorising way (even though a degree of simplification is actually what makes a model useful). I think that this is a worthy (if huge) task.
I suspect that one of the reasons the jazz blogosphere is so poor compared to the pop or classical ones is that the feeling that nothing really new is happening, nothing is really worth talking about, has become so pervasive that it's unconciously embedded into us. The only way to counter this is to shove the evidence under everyone's nose.
Tuesday, January 03, 2006
By time I saw the third Saint-Bernard, I should have known it was going to be a weird day. The first two came at once, during a lunchtime visit to the Brussels Christmas Market: one black, one brown, held on two leashes by one person, which is kind of like putting a Lamborghini engine in a Twingo. I was buying a chocolate-covered waffle at the time and paused, treat in hand, to look fondly upon the black dog. It was looking a little too fondly at my waffle and thoughts of the Lamborghini engine tearing the unsuspecting Twingo apart compelled me to press on.
I should specify that it was a Liège waffle. Among other varieties, there are also Brussels waffles, but Liège waffles are better, or, at least, are more dependable. Brussels waffles are supposed to be classy: they are strictly rectangular, their inner squares are deep and well-defined, they want to be light, airy and crispy. Unfortunately, they tend to be crusty, tasteless and unenjoyable. The Liège waffle, on the other hand, is irregular, lower-class, gooey, filling, easily found on the street, probably easier to make and, generously, almost never fails to satisfy. Never hesitate to hand over 1.60 euros to the Belgaufra or Vitalgaufre person. An alternative is to step into a HEMA shop and get one of their honey-filled galettes. Not really waffles, but so delicious I thought I'd mention them anyway.
Back to the third Saint-Bernard. This one was at the Garde de Midi and in the traditional brown-and-white pattern. Apart from a baby-panda-cute Saint-Bernard puppy spotted a couple of months ago, I hadn't seen any Saint-Bernards for what seems like years, so how to explain this sudden one-day windfall? As I took my place aboard the High-Speed Train to Paris, a pretty young girl sat next to me and then proceeded to take a big cat out of its travelling cage. Impressively, the cat remained calm for the whole trip and sedately lay, and occasionally turned around, in its owner's lap. The woman and her daughter in the seats in front of me also had a cat, but it was not removed from its cage. The oddities did not stop there. Informative messages from the train staff (such as the warning that there were thieves on board) were introduced by a little jingle that sounded like an absurdly happy and sped-up version of the Dido song Eminem sampled for "Stan." It could have been one of those crazy, random connections one's synapses cook up after having seen one Saint-Bernard too many, but when I took the same train in the opposite direction one week later, the improbable resemblance was still there.
During the latter trip, parents behind me thought that no-one would notice if they changed their young child's diaper right there in their seats. More pleasurable was getting to hold my (total stranger) African neighbour's baby girl while she collected her affairs and then placing the baby on its mother's back so that she could be wrappred up in a traditional sling. There was also the Parisian RER Gare du Nord-Gare de Lyon connection being held up for 15-20 minutes by what was reported to be someone activating the alarm. The upside was that it gave me a chance to be impressed by the veritable male fashion show that was going on in my little section of the subway, but also to be vicariously bored to tears by a guy talking to a woman about his sleeping patterns, endlessly. At Geneva's Cornavin station, my nefarious plan to cross the border with an out-of-date ID card was not foiled by the Swiss customs officer's careful inspection of the card itself, his comparaison of the photo and the living version nor by his typing of something (which I assume to be the ID card's number) into his computer. So much for border security, but I'm not complaining. In-between the two 7-hour trips there was family, Christmas, snow, gifts, a new house, CD buying, eating.