Monday, February 27, 2006

drinking new blood

Whether or not you agree with the actual CD choices, Will Layman's Dangerous and Dirty Dozen should be applauded for providing an answer to the "newbie recommendations" question that doesn't sound like a homework assignment or a civic duty, but like, y'know, fun.


I went to see Brad Mehldau's trio on saturday. Perusing his site's "Words" section, it's puzzling he doesn't (yet?) have a blog. Those curious for an in-depth dissection of his playing may be interested in this article.

citizen jazz update

Erwin Vann - Let's Call Ed
A very interesting album that's hard to describe. Vann's saxophone sound and playing is fairly traditional, but the accompaniment is very abstract-electric. It begins and ends in a fairly Milesian space-funk mode, but veers totally away from that. I was struggling for things to say until I struck upon the idea of a story about a flesh-and-blood human (Vann's saxophone) lost (his playing is spare and distant in the mix) in a decrepit (the electronics are vintage) robotic world, looking for another human to love (cf. flow of track titles and Vann's decreasing restlessness). The quest seems succesful, as on the last track a funky back-beat is slowly assembled. Come to think of it, the first track is called "Twister," which may indicate a "Wizard of Oz"-style mode of transportation into this foreign world.

Operazone - The Redesign
A laughable Bill Laswell-goes-to-the-opera project. A classical ensemble plays overly-famous arias, straight-up, Graham Haynes (magnificent) on cornet and flughelhorn) and Byard Lancaster (much less magnificent) on tenor saxophone are the "singers" and there are stodgy beats underneath. It could have been a kind of revamped "Sketches of Spain" (which is what Haynes's playing and the general concept suggest), but it often turns into a farce.

Pascal Schumacher Quartet - Personal Legend
Faithful readers already know I love this one.

Robin Verheyen & Harmen Fraanje
A condensed version of this concert review.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

putting the song back into artsong

[Please excuse the tired overground/underground clash below]

In terms of vocal pop crossover, the only thing more mind-boggling than the fact that the classical overground is offering atrocities such as Il Divo in 2006 is that 2006 audiences are lapping it up. If at least they looked good while singing "Un-break My Heart" (does anyone believe the song comes out of the face-lift "elevated" in any way? I can't help imagining Toni Braxton in one of those interior redesign shows, entering her freshly re-done living room and slowly losing a brave struggle to mask her horror), I could maybe vaguely understand their popularity, but they look like idiots (especially this guy).

Corey Dargel, in an intriguing and informative essay, uses the term "artsongwriter" to describe musicians who are renewing the art song tradition by creatively applying "pop" technologies and practices to it.

[via Kyle Gann]

Some of Dargel's remarks could also be addressed to jazz singing. More on that later, perhaps.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

industrial culture

A recent Le Monde article on the French "culture industry"'s downturn (books, movies and music) took an interesting and unusual tack. While most articles highlight the demand side of the equation, this one sheds some light on how culture is supplied and distributed. While it's about the situation in France, many aspects are probably similar in other countries. Here's a summary:

Movies are down 10%, book sales are stagnant, CDs are down 9% (30% overall since 2002) and even DVDs are down 8.8%. Illegal downloading aside, the main problem is consolidation and skyrocketing supply.

On a typical Wednesday (in France, new films come out on Wednesday), there are 18 new films, 32 new DVDs, 600 new CDs and 950 new books [it's unclear to me whether the period covered by the "new" CDs and books is also a week, or longer].

"Product life-cycles" are becoming ever shorter. Five years ago, the average film was shown for 7 weeks, now it's shown for 3. Books are on the racks for 3 months instead of 6. CDs used to last 1.5 years, that's down to 1 year for an "important" disc, 2-3 months for a "minor" one.

There's a massive concentration of the sales period. In the Fnac (sort of like Borders, but with far more cultural/social importance), 35% of all Harry Potter 6 sales were made on the first day, whereas for the previous volume that figure was 27%. 33% of Madonna's "Confessions on the Dancefloor"'s business was done within the first week, versus 29% for U2's "How To Dismantle an Atomic Bomb" a year earlier. Movie theater owners decide whether to keep a film beyond its first week based on the Wednesday to Saturday figures.

In the Fnac, 5% of their 200,000 CDs generate 80% of revenue, while the 190,000 others sell less than 100 copies per year, i.e. less than one per store.

For the first time in 3 years, the majors signed more musicians than they let go, while cutting their marketing budgets by 27% [this is seen as a good thing in the article].

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

60% of the flemish audience can't be wrong

It's strange how posting about something "popular" brings unexpected hits. But the faithful readers who came for the jazz and stayed for my sparkling wit need not worry: Eurovision is unlikely to make any further appearances after this one. Manic has a handy round-up of the seven finalists.

I disagree with his assessment of La Sakhra (but can only applaud his/her Paris/London/Brussels comparaison). Her song alternated verses that sounded like mid-90s Madonna (soft beat, Harmon-muted trumpet) with a chorus of annoyingly shrill, uptempo big band. I was surprised anyone really liked it, to be honest. Still, Manic's predictions turned out to be pretty accurate.

somewhat funny interview moments

From an excellent Ben Monder interview:

BM: Oh, yeah. But yeah, he did a great job on that piece. Obviously, there are these phrases and each phrase repeats—that’s probably why I called it “Echolalia.” It’s kind of a psychological term.

AAJ: It’s kind of a psychological term.

BM: No, I mean it is a psychological term.

AAJ: No, I’m demonstrating echolalia.

From an interesting interview with a manufactured-pop-star-turned-bona-fide-hard-rocker:

"Gradually the teenyboppers departed and the rock press began grudgingly showering the band with superlatives."

The drop in worth of superlatives (you know: big, bigger, biggest) must be pretty vertiginous if they can be given "grudgingly." Not just given, but in fact "showered" "grudgingly." I imagine that's like taking a power shower with a clogged head.

This quote, from an interview in which grown men twice admit to wanting to cry, reminds me of university:

"The pinnacle of my enjoyment on that particular trip came when we stopped at traffic lights and someone shouted out, 'Look, it's those queers off Hollyoaks.'"

Also, you have to love the unwitting admission of the NME's utter inanity:

"The Ordinary Boys' second effort, Brassbound, limped to No 31 in the charts, before giving up the ghost. Some observers thought the band was about to follow suit. "I saw them playing live at the South By Southwest festival last year, and I thought, 'This is completely over'," says NME editor Conor McNicholas. "If you'd told me last November that we'd have the Ordinary Boys on the cover of the NME by February, I'd have laughed at you."

That was before lead singer Sam Preston decided to take part in Celebrity Big Brother."

That inanity is not limited to the NME, of course:

"If the Ordinary Boys' success lasts longer than the public's memory of Celebrity Big Brother, it raises some intriguing questions about what, if anything, "alternative" music now means."

Those questions of course are raised only if you seek out your "alternative" music on the likes of Celebrity Big Brother, which is like eating a "light" salad in a McDonald's and wondering what it could entail for health food stores. Then again, this is Alexis Petridis writing.

Monday, February 20, 2006

belgium: 7 points

Kate Ryan - "Je t'adore" is our Eurovision 2006 entry. It's very Eurovision-y and to me sounds like a dance remix of a Texas song. Watch it. I love the two upwards-heading chords on the chorus. It was part of the three songs (out of the seven finalists) I found acceptable (the other two being more "urban:" Brahim's "POWER," which was wild and kind of had a reggaeton beat to it and Kaye Styles's LL Cool J-style love rap "Profile," which featured some cool backing vocals arrangement), so I can't complain. Ryan is pretty well-known for her Mylène Farmer covers. In any case, the Flanders-appointed singer is a significant improvement over the dreadful balladeer Wallonia elected last year...

Of course, this makes it sound like I'm a rabid Eurovision watcher, but every year I somehow manage to miss it due to some other engagement, very much against my will.

ik wil een koffietje maar

Jeremy Denk, very much on form, on epic coffee line struggles. It's no wonder the guy plays Romantic music.

Friday, February 17, 2006

jazz in the mornin' #2: Billie Holiday

I'll admit to never having liked Holiday that much, but I've never given her much of a listen, either, so maybe this will be a chance to change all that.

This week, unfortunately, there is no big article on jazz, just a short Didier Wijnants article in the form of a letter to Billie. The tracklisting is inviting, as it ranges steadily from "Strange Fruit" in 1939 to "Lady Sings the Blues" in 1956.

Notes on the previous volume: it's a bit too one-sided of a presentation of Miles, he's almost always soft and lyrical, I think "Oleo" is the only exception. The track with Shirley Horn is interesting: the drummer plays a metronomic, dynamically unvarying rim-click the whole way through, which, combined with the unadorned arrangement, ends up having the effect of a drone, rather than of rhythmic accompaniment (stasis vs. movement). An effect more associated with spacey fusion than with acoustic straight-ahead.

Not only is the series is great value for money at 5 euros each (okay, 6 if you count the newspaper), it's also better packaged and documented than many low-budget compilations. The CD booklet is generous (24 pages) and written by eminent jazz radio personality Marc van den Hoofd. It starts with some biographical information, followed by a track-by-track rundown. Cleverly, instead of being a dry blow-by-blow recounting, van den Hoofd builds an interesting narrative arc that stretches through each track and gives contextual and/or anecdotal information. Then there's a timeline that sets the musician's personal life events against more general jazz ones (eg. 1939: "Records 'Strange Fruit,' first 'protest song' for Commodore / Alcohol and drug addiction" vs. a terse overview of the 1930s swing period). The back cover has a small lexicon of jazz styles, from New Orleans jazz to Hiphop-Jazz.

One thing I forgot to mention is the brilliant cartoon (by Kim) that's in the newspaper. Last week's was flat-out hilarious, this week's smart and politically-charged as well as funny. I'll try to post them here.

a quick survey

Steve Smith's Bill McHenry concert review is a fantastic piece of writing.

The Bad Plus's mention of Herbie Hancock's "Rockit" reminds me that French car-maker Renault is currently using "Rockit" in an ad that exploits the synergies between the original music video and choreographed car-building robot arms.

Dark Funk currently has a 1973 Headhunters-era concert for download. The sound quality is dreadful, but the music is wild. The lack of crowd reaction to the famous "Chameleon" opening indicates that the album hadn't been released yet, which Hancock confirms at the end of the song.

Doug Ramsey prints an incendiary Monk quote, but the final line gives the game away. "Jazz must first of all tell a story that anyone can understand:" sure, but not many understood Monk's story back in the '40s. Pretty much everybody understands Ornette Coleman's early '60s story, today. And Hancock's "Chameleon" and "Rockit" stories were understood by millions right away, but they're not jazz, right?

1973 was 33 years ago. 33 years before 1973, in 1940, bebop was just barely being born. Considering the ground covered and created in those years, it's stunning that people can still think of talking of "pure jazz" as if that really meant something.


As a counterweight to the Monk quote, excerpts of a classic comment by Charles Mingus:

"You didn’t play anything by Ornette Coleman. I’ll comment on him anyway...

Now, he is really an old-fashioned alto player. He’s not as modern as Bird. He plays in C and F and G and B Flat only; he does not play in all the keys. Basically, you can hit a pedal point C all the time, and it’ll have some relationship to what he’s playing.

Now aside from the fact that I doubt he can even play a C scale in whole notes—tied whole notes, a couple of bars apiece—in tune, the fact remains that his notes and lines are so fresh. So when Symphony Sid played his record, it made everything else he was playing, even my own record that he played, sound terrible.

I’m not saying everybody’s going to have to play like Coleman. But they’re going to have to stop copying Bird. Nobody can play Bird right yet but him...

It doesn’t matter about the key he’s playing in—he’s got a percussional sound, like a cat on a whole lot of bongos. He’s brought a thing in—it’s not new. I won’t say who started it, but whoever started it, people overlooked it. It’s like not having anything to do with what’s around you, and being right in your own world. You can’t put you finger on what he’s doing.

It’s like organized disorganization, or playing wrong right. And it gets to you emotionally, like a drummer. That’s what Coleman means to me."

Thursday, February 16, 2006

blackness, still unforgiveable

"In fact, things seem so bad these days that if you're black, British and want to be in the charts, you have to front an indie band (see Bloc Party)"

I bristle at this kind of thinking. Externally-imposed limitations are bad enough, internally-imposed limitations are worse and internally-imposed limitations that go against the historical record are probably the worst. Does Ms. Pool live in a world without Chuck Berry, Jimi Hendrix or Tina Turner? Or without Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Andrew Hill, Funkadelic, Anthony Braxton or even the Chevalier de Saint-Georges (if you want to go back that far)? All people, among many others, who showed that black music could be anything at all. That "fronting an indie band" is definitely not something to be viewed with suspicion.

Some needed correctives:

The New Danger: article on afro-punkism documentary
Jazz Consciousness: Music, Race, and Humanity: a long, interesting and detailled article based on a book by the same name
Confronting America's Racial Divide, in Blackface and White: sounds gimmicky, but I'll be downloading the first episode in march

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

long live the new flesh!

Videodrome at the Musée du Cinéma.

The intermingling of communication technology and human senses (wasn't it Marshall McLuhan who considered that media were essentially extensions of the senses?) is particularly resonant, even more so with the Internet than with TV. Indeed, our brain works like the Internet. So, while Renn's body needs to be modified to be able to directly ingest VHS tapes, the web's multi-media, immersive experience is perfectly suited to directly insinuating itself into our brains (which is perhaps why studies show that web use is the only thing that diminishes TV viewing).

I like how Cronenberg first hews to the traditional view that television/media "deforms" our view of reality, before totally leaving any concept of reality existing outside of Max Renn's mind behind. I tend to believe that reality exists solely in our minds (albeit minds that exist in a society and its norms, etc.; cf. Oliver Sacks's "The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat" or this article on the retina. As Professor O'Blivion says, "After all, there is nothing real outside our perception of reality, is there?"), so, that exposure to external media could deeply alter our thought processes and relationship to the world, seems to me only natural. Paying close and repeated attention to art of any kind (for me, art begins in the transformation of reality/nature) will have the same effect.

and they will know us by the trail of our crumbs

After the much blogged-about article on Cookie Monster vocals comes the logical follow-up: Extreme Vocals Instructor.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Dirty Dozen Brass Band - 10/02/2005, Brussels

In between getting out of work, bumping into N at the FNAC and buying a new printer at Media Market, I was home for barely half an hour before it was time to leave again.

When we walked into the AB's ABBox (800 capacity, seemed very full), the Orchestre International du Vetex were in the middle of the crowd, warming it up. I saw them last summer.

The DDBB seems to have sedentarised: they have a full drum kit and the bass sousaphonist sat down throughout the concert. I don't blame him: that thing is huge! The 7-piece line-up isn't exactly that listed on the site: there was only one trumpeter (Efrem Townes) and the trombonist was different.

I was initially kind of disappointed: the music was a little too slick and facile for the first few tunes. The trombonist really stood out at first. He wasn't playing anything particularly complicated, but his phrasing and sound were really perfect (in a funk way) and still kinda raw. They progressively warmed up, got into some dixieland (and, yes, the inevitably kitsch "When The Saints") and the concert really took off after a brilliant trumpet/baritone duo rendition of "St. James Infirmary." Later, the baritonist would goof around, rapping about being "a dirty old man" and inviting three women on stage ("3 is better than 1!"), but on "St. James" he also showed he was an awesome player. While the trumpet played, he stuck to a bass vamp, but then took a killer unaccompanied solo that went from straight blues to modern jazz lines to Ayler. After that, they were flying, and the crowd followed. The guitarist was really good too, but as the only white guy, he was kind of forced to stand out. :) The drummer reminded me that, yes, pan-American rhythms (such as, say, the 3-accents-to-the-bar pattern heard in lots of musics) are to be found in New Orleans, too.

Before the two encores, the DDBB invited the Vetex to join them, which thrilled the crowd. The DDBB struck up some kind of rocking 12-bar blues and the Vetex eventually filed in and tried to fit in. The juxtaposition was really interesting. Obviously, the musicians from the two bands are on totally different levels, but the DDBB's flexibility and spontaneity contrasted with the Vetex's difficulty to "just jump in." When that tune finished, the Vetex surprised everybody by immediately starting one of their own songs. The DDBB joined in with smiles on their faces, which was nice to see. Again, flexibility and rigidity clashed: they wanted to give the DDBB trumpeter a solo, but had huge difficulty making space for him and then had huge difficulty resuming when he'd finished.

The second encore was a tender, quiet trumpet/sousaphone duet in memory of the Katrina disaster. During this, a girl in front of us fainted and fell to the ground. Dr. IVN jumped in and assisted her. The girl came to a minute later and seemed okay. Not exactly the perfect ending to a perfect evening, but then, our evening was far from over... We toured three bars with a couple of friends, were barred from entering the Grand Casino (hey, if Toots is promoting it, it's gotta be good, right? Plus, I'v never really been to a casino) because a member of our party (not me) was wearing sneakers and finally got home in the very wee hours.

The last bar was totally new to me. It's in a small alley that branches off from the horrible tourist-restaurant street, the Petite rue des bouchers and is just opposite the Jeannekepis statue (Mannekepis's much less famous "sister"). It's a cool place. Old beer-themed trays are stuck to the ceiling and walls and there are beer-themed clocks set to random times. I asked for a menu and was handed a clothes catalogue-sized tome. A place for connaisseurs and the adventurous, who don't mind sitting around the massive wooden barrels that serve as tables, despite their uneven surfaces.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

in full regalia

Martin Küchen's "Imperial Music XVI" is Bagatellen's current .listen. series feature. It's awesome.

Küchen is also the leader of Exploding Customer, a Swedish high-NRG, post-Ornette Swedish quartet that is even more awesome. Check out their records on Ayler. I plan to talk about them more later.

Pascal Schumacher Quartet - 08/02/2006, Brussels

We walked into the Beurs café in the middle of "Quartz." The short set consisted entirely of tunes from the Pascal Schumacher Quartet's current album, "Personal Legend": the hustling "Leap Year" (so named because it's partly in 7/4?), the somewhat bombastic ballad "Personal Legend," their fabulously imaginative arrangement of "You and the Night and the Music" (among other things, it splits the band in two: first piano and vibes dialogue, then it's the rhythm section's turn) and Jef's grand composition "Flim Music." The sound and piano were far from great and "Flim"'s intricacy got muddled, unfortunately. The album version is pristinely recorded, however, and the tune is unusual, so, for kicks, I spent an hour listening to it and trying to break it down.

Here's an excerpt of "Flim Music" that includes an entire run through the melody. I'd be happy for more knowledgeable readers to chime in and correct the blunders I'm about to make! And also for any reader to add their "love it/hate it" opinion, of course. I know what my friend Jazzques thinks of the PSQ and how highly the Belgian press regard them, but I've heard very little feedback from beyond that small circle.

The "head" is 35 bars long and is played twice at the beginning and once at the end, with a vibraphone solo in the middle, a rubato piano intro followed by a piano-only (well, piano and barely-audible vibraphone drone) rendition of the first theme and a piano-vibraphone outro that quietly disintegrates. Overall, "Flim Music" is happy and consonant, mostly hiding any complexity in the flow of melodies and changing rhythms/orchestration.

I picked out 3 themes, 3 transitions and the final section that's kind of in-between. I call the first theme the "river" theme because it evokes a landscape of a river running through a luxuriant northern hemisphere forest. There may be a mountain in the background. "River" is a 4 bar piano melody with the vibraphone keeping a regular pulse on the off-beats. It's played three ways: first in the piano intro, then by the band minus the drums and, the following two times it appears, by the whole band. Then there's a 4 bar transition, which, unlike the other two transitions, is fairly melodic. The vibraphone takes the lead in bringing the band down until it's ready to hit the 2 bar "bad plus" theme, which is played in half-time and features a lovely descending interval. Then it's on to the second transition: 3 percussive bars that seem to slow down so as to better launch the meaty "q & a" theme. It's the first time the band is in full flow, but its energy is still pretty controlled: there's a 2-bar-question-2-bar-answer sequence that is played twice, then only the question is played. They modulate (or some harmonic thingamajiggy) on every question, amping up the energy. The third transition is kind of tricky, as it sandwiches a 5/4 bar between two regular 4/4s before brutally shifting into the hard-hitting "out in 3" final section: 5 bars of somewhat rocking 3/4.


4 x 2"river"
4transition #1
2"Bad Plus"
3transition #2
4 x 2 + 2"q & a"
3transition #3
5"out in 3"

Friday, February 10, 2006

jazz in the mornin' #1: Miles Davis

I ended up getting the first volume of De Morgen's jazz series, which covers Miles Davis, mainly because there are a lot of tracks from albums I don't have and am unlikely to buy in any near future. I guess I'll have to buy the whole series now. *sigh* Weirdly, in the kiosk, a number of upcoming CDs were already on display. In the newspaper, there's also a half-page worth of accompanying text written by Didier Wijnants.

7 jazz myths

  1. Jazz musicians improvise all the time
    Two points are made. a) Jazz is not the only music to include improvisation. True, but "not written" is assimilated to improvising and the history of improvisation in classical music is totally eliminated. b) A very nice definition of improvisation: "Improvisation is the testing of the music's elasticity, the probing of degrees of freedom... A hundred years of jazz history has brought to light many possibilities."

  2. All great jazz musicians are dead
    A very bizarre, conflicted and protracted refutation of this point is offered. It cites dead people not included in the series who are more important than Oscar Peterson (one of the four living musicians included in the 20 volumes): Sidney Bechet, Jelly Roll Morton, Fletcher Henderson and Teddy Wilson. It's totally baffling to me that Teddy Wilson is in that list instead of Art Tatum or Bill Evans... Then come still-"furore raising" elder statesmen: Andrew Hill, Randy Weston, Misha Mengelberg, Cecil Taylor, Ornette Coleman (all are in their 70s). It concludes by saying that "the top tier of jazz counts hundreds of younger musicians. But they are rarely younger than 40 or 50." I think the lesson here is that if all the great jazz musicians aren't dead, they soon will be.

  3. Jazz musicians are untrustworthy
    I was a bit shocked by this one. Are they really, as a group, less reliable than Sly Stone? And with Wynton Marsalis still being the most media-attractive jazz musician, I thought that the current stereotype would be soulessly slick and efficient.

  4. Jazz is an antiquated category for people who think in cages
    The reply is that jazz is a flexible form that can absorb outside influences while keeping an exciting core of "pure jazz" (I hate that term, not only because it's empty, musically, in regards to the music's historical evolution, but more importantly because it always reeks of ethnic purification).

  5. Jazz is complicated music for pseudo-intellectuals
    The one-word first sentence? "Naturally." I don't know if Wijnants is conceding that the music is complicated or that he is a pseudo-intellectual, but I like his gumption. He then tempers that with "But it is also enjoyable music for honest music lovers." Wijnants blames Charlie Parker for the introduction of complexity, but counters with Duke Ellington's mix of "black roots, ignorance (?), love for song, harmonic richness, tradition, avant-gardism, the aristocratic and street credibility."

  6. Jazz is made by black people
    With a cute picture of Toots! "In today's global culture, this question has become totally irrelevant." Of course, it never was relevant. Music never had anything to do with skin colour, which is itself only one element of race (facial features, hair and body types are more important in distinguishing one from the other), and everything to do with culture. You can be raised in a culture, you can learn its codes and forms from the outside, you can join a culture (all of these can be done more or less perfectly). I'm reminded of a story the great Belgian guitarist Pierre Van Dormael told me. When he went to Senegal (he was there for three years, officially to teach, in reality to learn!), he went to a musician's house for a lesson. The musician asked Pierre if he had eaten. He had not. The reply "Before you can play Senegalese music, you have to eat Senegalese food!"

  7. You can't learn jazz
    (in a music school) I've always found this to be a misunderstanding of how music is learned in general, regardless of genre. In every interview of a classical pianist I've read, they don't talk about which school they went to, but with who they studied, e.g. "I learned a lot studying with X, who was a student of Y, who himself was a close disciple of Listzt." In other words, even in classical music, where the "institutional learning" cliché is at its strongest, that music is something that is learned by speaking about it, watching others and then doing it oneself, is emphasised. Playing an instrument is manual labour, after all. I guess it relates to the previous point, too.

Miles Davis: "A black man who lives like a white man"

I'm not sure why Wijnants chose this Ornette Coleman quote as the backbone of his sketchy introduction/bio. It's not particularly good, so I'll say nothing more about it.

"Jeru" and "Israel" from "Birth of the Cool"
"Au Privave" and "Star Eyes" with Charlie Parker
"Dear Old Stockholm," "Engima," "Weirdo" and "It Never Entered My Mind" from the self-titled Blue Note albums
"Oleo" and "If I Were a Bell" from the "-in'" Prestige series
"The Man I Love" from "Miles and the Modern Jazz Giants"
"Autumn Leaves" from Adderley's "Somethin' Else"
"The Jitterbug Waltz" from Michel Legrand's "Legrand Jazz" (recorded in 1958, and Legrand just recently released a new album... as a singer!)
"You Won't Forget Me" from Shirley Horn's album of the same name

Thursday, February 09, 2006

it's a hard knock life pt. 3...

...even when you're the biggest thing on US television. Used to be that you had to go to the crossroads at midnight to attain fame and fortune. Nowadays, you sell your soul on national TV. The problem is, it's not even a metaphor.

[Brought to my attention by Darcy of the long memory span]

big box

The Flemish daily De Morgen is launching a jazz compilation series. There will be 20 volumes, one every friday starting tomorrow and priced at 4,95. The first CD is on Miles Davis, the others cover pretty much the usual suspects.

The tracklistings look good generally (although Louis Armstrong doesn't seem too well-served by the Blue Note and Verve catalogues being the main sources: no Hot 5's and 7's, for example), I'll probably end up collecting these like Pokémon, even though I don't really need any of them, apart from the Oscar Peterson, Toots, Sarah Vaughan and Stan Getz volumes (speaking of Getz, have you heard his with strings album "Focus"? Perhaps the greatest "jazz with strings" ever).

Animus Anima - 07/02/2006, Brussels

I'd been to the Walvis bar once before, a long time ago. At least, I think I've been there, despite not recognising the interior at all. Bizarre as it may sound, that may be because when I went there (or, rather, was taken there), I had no idea where in Brussels I was. General disorientation led to forgetting the specifics. Now I know the Walvis is on the wrong (ie. non-designer clothes shop-laden) end of Antoine Dansaert, by the canal. Anyway, it's a cool place with promising upcoming concerts (Tsahar-Maris-Jacquemyn-Nakatani this sunday) and interestingly-configured downstairs toilets.

What do you do when you're a saxophone-guitar-drums trio looking to broaden its sound palette? Well, if you're Animus Anima, you add a tuba and a desktop (not laptop!)-slash-orator, obviously. Perhaps my single favourite thing about this band is that their air of general dishevelment makes you think that they're going to mainly be about punkish energy (which wouldn't be too bad) but their music turns out to be very composed, full of dynamic, rhythmic and stylistic variety. And with a good dose of skronk/rock/noise energy, of course. It's one of those multi-hyphenated musics that sound so natural they instantly make musty "is it jazz?" (their own website labels them "progressive jazz") or "what of tradition?" debates seem quaint, while raising other, more interesting and forward-looking, questions and ideas.

Through the first set I was sitting directly to the band's left, and therefore not at all well-positioned to really hear them: only the instruments that vitally need amps (guitar, computer/microphone) were amplified at all, so I could barely even hear the saxophonist, who was facing away at a 90 degree angle from me. To top it all off, there was this really cold draught around my feet.

During the break, I moved to the bar, directly in front of, and a couple of metres away from, the band and enjoyed the music that much more. There were fanfare tuba riffs, twisty melodies, tricky metres (a heavy 5/8 riff, a 10-beat loop over what sounded like regular 4/4, which had the effect of throwing the saxophonist off-course), outbursts of noise. When the computer guy spoke, it sounded like he was speaking through a megaphone, and as the saxophone squealed alongside him and the drummer kept up a nimble beat, I thought about how politically-charged and radical stuff like this must have been back in the 80s. It still sounds cool today.

AA is also putting in motion a home-spun Artist Share-derived business model: at the end of the concert guitarist Benoist Eil encouraged fans to become supporters by buying the album before it is even recorded. I'll be signing up soon.

Animus Anima is performing with Herb Robertson on the 3rd of march. Check it out!

it's a hard knock life pt. 2

To add on to the Mahanthappa/Pi Records article, the musical equivalent of being poor in a rich country (rather than poor in a poor country) is being relatively unknown in a popular genre. To wit:

Lil Keke said he was satisfied with his career so far: "I wasn't living like a rapper," he conceded - no gold-plated Bentley, no new-money palace. "But I was living like a doctor."
(from Kelefa Sanneh's "The Strangest Sound in Hip-Hop Goes National," reprinted here)

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

two a day, after meals

To follow up on the Corey Dargel's pill-themed song cycle, check out Soulwax's brilliantly funny "E Talking" video.

Granted, the user interface is physically painful to look at and confusing, but you have to admit it's creative and cool in its own way. Find your way to the item "[5] Video".

Monday, February 06, 2006

citizen jazz update

Un tour du web (1) : les blogs
Basically, links very selectively culled from my jazz & blogs series (nominations are open for volume 6). I restricted the selection to blogs that are strongly jazz-based and favoured musicians and french-language blogs (although two-thirds of the links are to English blogs). The (1) implies that their will be more of these web tours, but you know how that goes...

Saturday, February 04, 2006

semi-manual heart repair

I've finally gotten around to downloading some Corey Dargel mp3s, months after Steve Smith hyped him (the links in the post are of interest too). Anyway, don't sleep as long as I did, go download Dargel's electro-composer-pop now!

it's a hard knock life

Awesome article on the economic reality of being a "creative musician" in a marginal genre. While people often mention "paying the rent," it's still fairly rare to go as in-depth into the issue as this article does.

It's interesting that this came up today, I'd just been thinking about how it is that situations like Frank Hewitt's happen. The problem is that, by definition, it's almost impossible to know how frequent this kind of thing is.

My favourite quick quote:
"The first time my name showed up in the Downbeat Critic's Poll," Mahanthappa tells me (referring to the highly respected poll of top talent in the nation's most august jazz publication), "I couldn't afford to buy the magazine."

[first spotted by Darcy]

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Othin Spake vs. Nozzle Slag

Teun Verbruggen has long been a member of many local groups, some of which are among my very favourite: Pascal Schumacher Quartet, Jef Neve Trio, Quatre, Bruno Vansina's VVG Trio (which I've never seen live, but their CD is great), Alexi Tuomarila Quartet, Peter Vermeersch's (from X-Legged Sally) Flat Earth Society and, more recently, Rackham. When I learned that Teun was starting his own group(s), my hopes were immediately very high: from the personnel, it was clear that he was going in a weird-improv-rock direction; from my interactions with him over the years, I was sure it would be anything but run-of-the-mill. Othin Spake's Beurs Café show exceeded my expectations, Nozzle Slag's AB Club appearance was a let-down.

Othin Spake - 27/01/2006, Brussels

invisible and happy

Aside from the music, there were also the velcro-able "emotions" that were meant to be exchanged. They were distributed by women in figure-hugging white dresses and World War II-style nurse hats. My choice of "invisible and happy" was a combination of a homage to Ralph Ellison's "Invisible Man," a tribute to the awkwardness of going out alone and a reflection of my general state of mind these past few months (happy, not invisible).

Teun's drums were fully-miked up and reverbed, which worked well in this context. He was totally convincing as a free-improv-prog-rock drummer. The other members of Othin Spake, Jozef Dumoulin on keyboards and Mauro Pawlowski on guitar served as noise-makers, while Teun played everything from rumbling, cymbal-washing prog-rock intros to skin-tight funky grooves. Each set consisted of continuous music, everything flowed really well and naturally, there was no or little sense of anyone "taking a solo" or abruptly forcing the music in a particular direction. And when they hit a groove, they hit it hard and got everyone dancing.

Dumoulin is well-known in jazz (or "jazz") circles here for his exploration of the sound possibilities of the Fender Rhodes. Like Keith Jarrett, it's an instrument he doesn't like, but he's been punishing it for maybe 5-6 years now (maybe more?) and I've heard his ability and creativity grow by leaps and bounds over that time. Actually, listening to the "Cellar Door Sessions," Jozef has a way with the Rhodes that's similar to Jarrett's. He didn't go for either the jazz-derived lines many jazz pianists transfer to the Rhodes (and rarely, if ever, work, IMO) or neo-soul two-chord static layers, but instead created a rich tapestry that has more to do with a rock-studio-production approach. Whereas Jarrett would leaven his abstract playing with funky/bluesy stuff, Jozef does the same with pop/rock-ish melodicism or riffing. I recognised delicate, glowing crescendoes from his "Metropolis" accompaniment. Over time, riffs emerged, a second synth served to play almost-basslines (the almost is crucial, as a usual bassline would have veered the music into normalcy).

Pawlowski plays in the well-known rock band dEus (or however the capitalisation goes). He dove totally into the realm of virtuosic noise, I'm not sure he played a "real note" all night. Tapping and scraping, he added rhythm or sonic disturbance to the mix. It was often difficult/impossible to tell what was coming from Dumoulin and what from Pawlowski. The fourth person onstage was a VJ, projecting images behind the band. He had a few basic sequences (clouds, a frantic race through a maze of skyscrapers...) that he manipulated in response to the music. It worked pretty well.

Nozzle Slag - 01/02/2006, Brussels

Teun's second new group, Nozzle Slag, is a more international affair, as Trevor Dunn and Hilmar Jensson join Teun and Jozef (Jenssen's "Ditty Blei" is a nice album, with Dunn, Jim Black, Andrew d'Angelo and Herb Robertson).

I had a weird feeling about this one and was quite disappointed. IVN disliked it totally. Compared to Othin Spake, the music was much less fun, original and organic. There was a lot of written music, but it felt undigested: the various seams were fairly visible, which really irked me, for some reason. There was much less of a group sound: Jensson would solo in a fairly typical jazz-lines-adapted-to-rock-sounds jazz-rock kind of way, followed by Jozef, oh, now it's Dunn's turn... The music flowed less easily: a glance or nod would signal abrupt changes from a quiet section to a loud one, unlike Othin Spake's way of building and dissipating various moods or grooves. The writing itself didn't appeal to me: again, fairly typical aggressive jazz-rock lines that I don't really like and freer, more open sections that didn't really gel. Even the most let's-rock-out grooves didn't work that well for me.

The one really brilliant moment was when Jozef played alone for a good while. He started with abstract lines and segued into a beautiful ballad-y motif repeated over and over that reminded me of those magnificent chords that open Sigur Rós's "()," but with less pure sounds.

A quick note about the openers, The Love Substites. Pawlowski was in the band, but as drummer. My favourite moment was the encore: Teun drummed wildly, Pawlowski took the mic and repeatedly screeched/shouted something about "We are the Love Substitutes." It was pretty awesome.

a tale of two links

Going straight from James P. Johnson on his deathbed to Adès and Ligeti in the concert hall and The Fringe in a noisy bar: it has nothing to do with "an iPod shuffle world" or any such nonsense, but is the real world of many music fans. I love post sequences like this one, because it explains why there music sounds like it does.