Thursday, November 30, 2006

alea jacta est

what, no babes?

Believe the hype: Casino Royale is very good. Steve Smith breaks it down better than I could. We differ only in our appreciation of the title song: I didn't like it. I would also add that, while it's good that Bond's first mission isn't of save-the-world proportions, the villains lack personality and appear and disappear incomprehensibly. If you go see it, don't be late: the opening scene is amazing. Stylistically, it's almost alternate-universe Bond, like Superman drawn as a manga.

The real comedy came after the film, as IVN and I were walking back to the car. I was showing her a storefront window and walked into a lamp-post. As a lover of slap-stick comedy, that amused her immensely. It was when, a few steps later, my foot slipped off a ledge and I nearly tripped, that it all became too much and she literally howled with laughter for minutes afterwards.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

brooklyn in a box - 12/11/2006@AB, Brussels

Brooklyn in a Box was not the official name of the 4-band extravaganza, but it should have been: it took place in the AB's mid-size ABBox (there are also the massive Main Hall and the small ABClub) and 3 of the 4 bands resided in Brooklyn. I lived in Brooklyn (Park Slope, to be exact) in the mid-80s, from 1st to 3rd grades. It's nice to see that it's gone from a land of exile (according to Sex And The City) to a land of indie-rock (and jazz) pilgrimage. Also, it was fun to see so many indie-rock hipsters, who were little more than photos on blogs for me, up close. So, they really do wear those t-shirts! and those glasses! and those hair-cuts! The night was full of revelations.

Au Revoir Simone (MySpace)
At 5:15 PM the crowd was still pretty small. Three girls, their keyboards and their drum machine. How could you not love them? I certainly did. Annie in particular endeared herself to me by jumping around wildly, infusing the music with an energy that wasn't really there.

Plain-spoken, barely melodic voices over lush keyboards, church organ drones and gently pulsating filtered beats: it was like being at a slumber party, all pajamas and pillow fights. That quality doesn't come across as strongly on the songs on their MySpace page, which are more soothing and dreamy. I was occasionally reminded of Feist. At 30-35 minutes, the set was exactly the right length (apart from making us wait a long time for the next band). On the last song, they cooed "Young hearts be free tonight/Time is on your side" over a club beat, but the enthusiasm was bittersweet.

Mates Of State
An organ/drums duo (kind of like Rhoda Scott and Kenny Clarke) playing wordy power-pop (unlike Scott and Clarke). It was at this point that I realised how common singing drummers apparently are. I had been totally unaware of the extent of this phenomenon prior to seeing Grizzly Bear. I didn't really get into MoS until the last couple of songs, perhaps because I sat in the balcony during their concert, but also perhaps because the singing seemed to unwind the music's energy. I couldn't make out what they were talking about, but I'm not sure I really wanted to.

A friend called me during the set and I moved to the stairwell in a failed attempt to hear him. For some reason a random guy started talking to me. For the first minute or two I could not understand what he was saying. Then it took shape, sort of, and a very bizarre 10 minutes ensued. Here's a sample of how the conversation went:

[we are discussing Múm and Sigur Rós]
Me: "How are they different?" (I don't know Múm)
Him: "I prefer Múm because you really feel that, when they step outside, they see icebergs and things. There's a glacial side to the music. [glances sideways] It's like Fluide Glacial, because, you know, I've always been into comic books."

I remember that part because it was the most logical of his non sequiturs. When I told IVN about this, she diagnosed schizophrenia. I don't know about that, but was relieved when I managed to extirpate myself from the situation.

TV On The Radio (MySpace | blog)
The main reason for my presence, obviously. I managed to get myself noticed again, when Kyp Malone (from a distance, he looks like Santa Claus) asked "Who saw Grizzly Bear last night?" I raised my hand, he pointed at another group who had also raised their hands and said "You were there," then pointed at me and said it again, bringing a satisfying end to the saga of my Kyp Malone interactions.

The concert itself was pretty great. I felt that there was another level they could take it to by opening up the songs a little more, but that's my improvised music bias talking. The one song that sort of did go there was the only one from Return To Cookie Mountain I'm not too fond of, "Let The Devil In." It was made great, though, by Tunde Adebimpe shouting the beery, arena singalong chorus into a megaphone and four guys coming out to add some wild percussion. At the end there were maybe 30 seconds of freak-out noise and "tribal" drumming that offered a brief glimpse of the loosened song structures I was craving.

"Wolf Like Me" unsurprisingly confirmed its status as RTCM's best song by making certain audience members hurl themselves wildly into other people. Several other tracks are amazing ("Playhouses" and "A Method" surround "Wolf Like Me" and make for an awe-inspiring stretch) and pretty much everything is at least very, very good, but "Wolf Like Me" is irresistable from the very first time to anyone who hears it. "Staring At The Sun" drew a similar response, and, compared to the recorded version, focused more on a thumping four-to-the-floor beat than guitar drone. I kind of wished for a more accurate reproduction of the detail present in the album's various layers of guitar (from slate-grey drones to agitated noise to more fine-grained playing), but that may well be impossible to do on stage.

When I started listening to RTCM, I thought I could hear a bunch of influences from musics more commonly associated with black Americans than rock (an unfortunate state of affairs, but anyway...), but the more I listened, the more that fell away and I started hearing it as, well, rock. The concert as a whole, and the stomping last song in particular, cemented this view.

Dave Sitek's guitar had wind chimes dangling from it, a very cool, producerly, I'm-all-about-sound touch, I found.

My second encounter of the night was much better than the first: Em (?) and John from Canada and Sebastian from Norway were three exchange students (and musicians) who had taken the train from Rotterdam to see TVotR. Very cool guys, it was fun talking music with them, but especially listening to them dissect the various bands they'd seen, as their indie-rock expertise was way out of my league. Still, Sebastian name-checked Jaga Jazzist, Miles and Coltrane, while Em knew The Bad Plus.

We Are Scientists
The trio above had thoroughly lowered my expectations by calling the Scientists run-of-the-mill, but I enjoyed WAS nonetheless. Or maybe I enjoyed it because they had thoroughly lowered my expectations. I recognised one song from the radio. This was the only band whose lyrics were decipherable, but unfortunately they were too boring to bother keeping up with. It was difficult to tell if the between-song jokes the mustachioed bassist traded with the singer/guitarist were purposefully stilted or just bad. Like those Anthony Braxton heads, I kind of enjoyed that feeling.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Skakk Trio@woutwalt - 27/11/2006, Brussels

Skakk Trio (website | MySpace)
Eric km Clark - vln
Joachim Badenhorst - cl, bcl, ts
Juhani Silvola - g, elec

This fantastic concert confirmed everything I suspected after immensely enjoying the Rawfishboys album (MySpace | previous post): Joachim Badenhorst has a great ability to bring together sweet and even heart-breaking melodies, linear and ambient improvisation, noise and various flavours of classical music. I get the feeling that Skakk Trio is probably equivalent to the "composers and their bands make music for the masses" and "not your grandfather's string quartet" movement that I've read about. You know, classical music that doesn't feel distant.

joachim and nico, a duo of their own

The first piece was essentially one long crescendo. It started from the silence of unpitched air and soundless bowing (Juhani Silvola bowed his guitar at least as much as he plucked it or manipulated loops and feedback by twiddling his pedal's knobs), plateaued at a kind of song by avant-garde whales and climaxed in a wall of sound. Not a loud one (the room would have been way too small for that), so all the textural details could be heard. At that time, Joachim was on tenor and his grainy, jazz-derived free-textural playing resembled what Ellery Eskelin might do in a similar situation.

The second composition started with a tender, Rawfishboys-style melody, but written with a string quartet's interweaving lines. The same melody returned after a stretch of quiet collective improvisation, but with wonky (sorry, microtonal) intonation. Maybe it's been done to death elsewhere, but I found the contrast between the two versions riveting (along with the simple clash of microtones, of course). After a harsher duet pitching the violin against noisy guitar and an expressive, slur-filled clarinet solo, the same melody, or a similar one, came back in a folksy guise, as the previously battling string instruments united for propulsive plucks on the off-beats.

If you were to guess that "a clarinetist smooching into his instrument's body after having removed its mouthpiece over blippy textures that could have been lifted from an old video game" described a micro-house track rather than classical music, you'd be right. Still, when Clark and Badenhorst intoned a more traditional melody after the "electronica" stuff, Silvola provided short, fading swells much like a string section would.

yes, the beer was free

The last composition was Silvola's "Around," which you can hear on the band's MySpace (but the songs there are far below the quality of what I heard live). It moved from unhurried floating to a lovely waltz in which violin and clarinet fluttered around the guitar comping, with a traditional, hollow sound, for once.

They're playing with Han Bennink tomorrow (they met him at Banff last year, as did the trio's members), which I have some difficulty imagining. It is safe to bet, however, that Bennink has more imagination than I do.

wout and walt, our gracious hosts

Enjoyment was enhanced by the venue (not so much by the free beer - which was Jupiler, anyway - as I was driving). woutwalt is a small, very-high-ceilinged workshop in which two young graphic designers (guess their names) work, making t-shirts and posters and things. There were maybe a dozen audience members, but that's pretty much all the room could fit, so it was good. I felt like I earned a whole bunch of hipness points by attending a concert in an "alternative" "space," in a rundown-therefore-affordable-for-artists-despite-being-in-city-centre street, no less.

Celebrity attendees: Benoist Eil, Manolo Cabras, Eve Beuvens, Anu Junnonen...

semi-requiem pour un pas con

Samizdjazz, 26/11/2004 - 26/11/2006

Damien is a great writer and we will continue to be Citizen Jazz colleagues, but I preferred him as a blogger.

While I'm talking about other people's blogs, all or nearly all of the usual blogrolled suspects have been writing really interesting stuff. For the last month I've been totally buried in work (and then was immediately absorbed into the Braxton project), so I haven't been picking up or commenting on them much, but I've definitely been reading. I just wanted to send out a general salute.

Finally, some new Citizen Jazz articles:

Harry Miller's Isipingo - Which Way Now (Cuneiform)
Cuneiform continues to mine the London-South Africa axis with a new archival live recording. Good album, really nice mid-size band writing, but it suffers from a certain rigidity (in dynamics, systematic head-solos-head) and overly long tracks (the shortest is 14 minutes, the other three hover around 20) that make it a bit monotonous, despite its many qualities (the Tippett-Miller-Moholo rhythm section, for one).

Jason Moran - Artist In Residence (Blue Note)
Need I say more?

Not by me, but there's an interesting/provocative interview of bassist Rémi Vignolo. I hope to post about it some time soon (but don't hold your breath...).

Monday, November 27, 2006

Anthony Braxton Quartet@PP Café, 26/11/2006

Anthony Braxton - as, ss
Alessandro Giacero - p
Antonio Borghini - b
Cristian Calcagnile - d

We are now cruising at 3,000 metres.

Every time, I was on a knife-edge between liking the heads and loathing them (debate rages in the comments). When Braxton played inside the chords or let diminuendos linger on, it was as if he were having a kind of conversation with traditional notions of beauty. He was obviously keenly aware of them and how to produce them. If the point of playing standards is generally to make the listener feel at ease, then Braxton's refusal to provide a comfort zone was jarring but interesting: he'd go from powerful improvising and a delicate theme reprise to yet another hesitant head. After the very first notes of the second set, my agitated neighbour exclaimed "Toujours aussi faux!" ("As out-of-tune as ever!"), while enjoying the music as a whole immensely. By that measure at least, Braxton's approach was a success.

call out the band, but watch the pronunciation

The discomfort issue was heightened by Braxton's body language. While playing, he was generally bent over at an odd 45-degree angle, the advantage of which was to allow hilarious Jarrettian butt wiggling. The naming of the musicians, read from the sheet pictured above at the end of each set, became a running joke, as he faltered every time. It was as if he considered the hyphens in "Jack-Kher-Ro" to be equal members of the name. When he actually managed to pronounce Calcagnile at the end of the first set, the drummer threw up his arms in Rocky-like triumph. Some may compare Braxton's Italian name reading to his standards head reading.

Opinions were divided as to whether the drummer was any good (the harshest critics thought little of the whole run). By the fourth concert, I found myself thinking that the less he played, the better the band sounded. The times he really stayed in the pocket for a while were great, because otherwise he tended to get very loud and busy, very fast. The quiet fill wasn't really his thing. When he peppered a quiet stretch with insanely loud exclamation marks and I couldn't help but wonder if he was self-parodying. Also, Calcagnile wasn't a polyrhythmic player at all, so some of the free sections sounded a bit shallow.

Alessandro Giacero evolved too, thankfully easing up on the kind of long, florid and complex contemporary jazz lines that don't seem to have any real beginning or ending. One of his solos was a beautiful little thing, made up of short, singing phrases directly derived from the tune's melody and with a real shape to them. And of course there were the hi-NRG moments and the floating, mysterious ones.

There's no need to restate my love of Antonio Borghini's exploratory-yet-soulful playing.

It's been fascinating watching this pick-up band (assembled by Braxton's Italian manager) become a unit. At this stage, there were discoveries major and minor to be made. A minor one occurred when Braxton and Giacero engaged in imitative dialogue. The highlight of the evening came when Alessandro Jack-Kher-Ro led the rhythm section by playing the melody over and over again while damping the strings with his left hand. The effect was a combination of harpsichord and honky tonk, and the bassist and drummer responded in kind by laying down a clattering 2-beat. It was reminiscent of Dave Burrell or Air unceremoniously shunting old-timey jazz into the future.

During Braxton's solos, he would often take his time reaching a skronking climax, which served as the starting point from which the rhythm section would work its way back to the song, sometimes in surprising ways.

The few out-and-out ballads they played over the four nights were especially dicey, but the second set's "It Never Entered My Mind" was nice, in a bizarre way. After the theme and an arco bass-alto saxphone unison passage that conjured up the image of an old lady being helped across the road, the quartet floated off into a distressingly unsettled space that simply ended, without returning to the theme.

the braxton effect?

Jan (son of Frederic) Rzewski was invited to sit in on one piece on soprano and completely changed the band's dynamic. The centre of gravity naturally shifted towards the front line, which engaged in quiet dialogue interspersed with long "Quartet pour la fin du temps"-style crescendos, while piano and bass provided grounding figures and the drums super-inflated the drama by constantly swooping from loud to soft. This kind of more arid collective improvisation seemed like its own kind of standard.

For the first time, there were two encores, the second of which was a "Monk's Mood" that consisted solely of a couple of minutes of repetitions of the melody.

The four nights were filmed and recorded. There was early talk of a box set, but I think a 78-minute CD, perhaps with a few nips and tucks, would be sufficient. It's not as if there's a lack of Braxton standards albums in the world. A documentary DVD might actually be more interesting, as rehearsals and interviews were also taped.

lights out

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Anthony Braxton Quartet@PP Café, 25/11/2006

Anthony Braxton - as, ss
Alessandro Giacero - p
Antonio Borghini - b
Cristian Calcagnile - d

A great seat, a great concert.

This time, I was lucky enough to get a seat right up front: with one foot perched on the knee-high stage, I could almost have reached out and played piano. I felt right in the middle of the music.

From the opening "Lazy Bird," things were clearly going to be different, more energetic and involved. As soon as the theme ended, each member of the quartet found his own tempo: Antonio Borghini played very slowly, Alessandro Giacero provided rich chords that progressively unshackled themselves from the composition, without abandoning it completely, and Cristian Calcagnile and Anthony Braxton both blew furiously. After a wild piano solo, everything went into slow-motion, then re-accelerated during the first part of the theme.

The first two nights, I had been bothered by how Braxton played the heads. Now, either they've changed, I've changed, or both, because they all sounded at least okay. Some were better than that: Borghini's post-Jimmy Garrisson solos regularly enticed Braxton to sublimely vulnerable preludes to the out-head and his reading of "Darn That Dream" was a thoroughly personal interpretation, rather than a mere reading, that brought out the - please excuse the term - day-dreamy quality of his sound. I talked with Antonio again afterwards and according to him, Braxton could very well have played all the tunes perfectly, but a) was much more interested in establishing a process in which everyone could participate than in nailing down details and b) wanted things to be unpredictable and dangerous.

From my new vantage point, I could clearly hear all the notes Braxton was playing, how his dense flurries and leaping lines related to Giacero's chords and how his changes of direction could relate to the sometimes hesitant way he phrased the heads. It was all starting to make sense. The previous night, it had seemed to me like he was either playing unscrutable phrases or roaring on one note. Now I made out a lot of fascinating and complex details. Practically every one of his solos sounded inspired.

tonight's celebrity attendee: Frederic Rzewski, who stayed for the whole concert

The band really sounded like a band having fun playing standards together. The rhythm section was taking shape, too. Or, rather, masterfully losing it. On "Budo," Giacero preferred dissonant two-handed lines to than block chord accompaniment. And on "Early Autumn" (which, according to one expert, contained a transcription of Stan Getz's classic solo), Borghini created a loose bossa rhythm first by hitting the bow below the bridge and later by slapping a beat on the strings with both hands. After they had left the bossa far behind, they slipped easily back into it for the recap. Even though no single tune reached the overwhelming intensity of the opening concert's "Night Dreamer," even those that started off straight-ahead rapidly opened up into free playing to which everyone contributed creatively.

Another sign of the group's blossoming cohesion was that one or the the other musician would spontaneously lay out. Thus, on the second set's "open" piece (every set so far has had one. Although they'd previously tended towards the soundscape-ish, tonight's were more intense collective improvisations) a bashing piano-drum duet abruptly gave way to a somber and delicate arco bass-soprano saxophone section that provided a natural and wonderful ending. Braxton and Borghini hooked up again on "Ezz-thetic," but this time in rage rather than lamentation. That passage was aborted when Braxton's sheet music fell off the stand and he stooped to pick it up. The rhythm section again showed that it was at ease now and thinking on its feet: they took advantage of the sudden loss of energy to switch to slow scrapes and directionless chord sequences floating in sustain.

[It's 6:30 AM, so I hope that was comprehensible.]

in case you were wondering how come, all of a sudden, i knew all the song names. i'm not doing too bad, actually.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Anthony Braxton Quartet@PP Café, 24/11/2006

Anthony Braxton - as, ss
Alessandro Giacero - p
Antonio Borghini - b
Cristian Calcagnile - d

A bigger crowd, but a lesser concert. I had been expecting to see more musicians in attendance. Philip Catherine was there but left after two songs. I didn't recognise anyone else.

The opening "Three Little Words" (I think, I'm hopeless with titles) gave hope: Anthony Braxton's vigorous solo was enlivened by alto-bass-drums and alto-piano-bass sections, which suggested a little arrangement work. Unfortunately, apart from a brilliant soundscapey piece, everything was more or less straight-ahead, whereas last night had ranged fairly widely. Still, that one soundscape was great: it built into a dense rustling, then re-built into ghostly wailing, with a particularly felicitous arco bass-soprano saxophone unison. When, at the end, Alessandro Giacero introduced more recognisable chordal and melodic elements, the effect was that of a lullabye in a horror movie. One aggressively free song in the second set, with a crashing piano solo, also woke up a somewhat listless concert. For example, the Wayne Shorter tune that ended the second set was very far from matching the uproarious energy of the Shorter tune played the night before. The crowd was enthusiastic, though, so maybe I was just tired.

Mostly, it was straight comping plus Braxton on top, a format which, fatigue aiding, could no longer capture my attention. Sometimes the gap between the rhythm section and the leader seemed absurd: why play so straight, relative to Braxton? Surely there's a way to bend towards his notes/pitch/harmony while keeping a footing in a traditional feel? At times it sounded like they were putting up guard rails, but I was told that Braxton's regular Standards group (with Kevin Norton) is far more adventurous.

After the concert I had a brief and interesting chat with the bassist, Antonio Borghini. Notably, he said that Braxton was unafraid of appearing fragile and that what he was looking for was unpredictable and fell in-between the expected places (he didn't actually say that, but sort of gestured it). He contrasted Braxton with David Murray (Antonio has a trio with Murray and Hamid Drake), who "wants to hit people" (in a "Trenchtown Rock" way, of course). A lot of the heads seemed stiff, trite and sometimes even irritating, but I'll continue to try to hear and figure out why Braxton wants to play them like that. On a bop tune in the second set, I was surprised by his sharpness and precision. Unpredictable, I guess.

As for Antonio's own playing, he said that "Anthony's played with all the greatest bass players in the world, so I can't impress him with [mimes very fast bass playing]. I'm just trying to be musical." If you ask me, he is succeeding brilliantly. On "Three Little Words," he played a solo built around soft notes that bent upwards into a teardrop shape. Later, an unaccompanied walking solo generated more swing than the trio had during the entirety of the preceding piano solo. As it turned out, the three Italians do not form a pre-existing trio, but Antonio and Cristian Calcagnile have been playing together for many years.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Anthony Braxton Quartet@PP Café, 23/11/2006

Anthony Braxton - as, ss
Alessandro Giacero - p
Antonio Borghini - b
Cristian Calcagnile - d

Seeing Mal Waldron on three consecutive nights back in 2001 or 2002 remains one of the musical highlights of my life, so when I learned that Anthony Braxton would be at the PP Café for four nights, there was no doubt in my mind about the necessity of attending all four: opportunities to repeatedly get this close to Pantheon-level musicians are rare, precious and, as I don't know Braxton's music well at all, instructive. I would rather have heard his own compositions, but I guess bringing over the band that performed the great (well, it read as great) Iridium concerts in march of this year was beyond even the excellent concert organiser Cédric D'hondt's powers. The entire run is being recorded and filmed, so maybe you'll be able to hear/see some of it (the Iridium concerts are being released soon).

The first tune had me scared: it was very straight-ahead, head-solos-head stuff. I could only hope the whole concert wouldn't be like that. Antonio Borhini provided an early highlight during his solo, by displaying a beautiful sensitivity and lyricism, with a full sound even in the upper registers. On the Coltrane composition that started the second set, the bassist again distinguished himself with his intelligent use of plucking techniques to expressive ends. His inspiration was infectious and pushed Braxton to play a diaphanous prelude to the return to the theme. I tended to focus a lot on him: his eyes were locked on Braxton, head bobbing in tempo, fingers following the leader's every move.

The second piece of the first set reassured me. During Braxton's solo, the group exploded into free climaxes that left the standard's form behind and subsided into swing that found it again. Again, the bassist's attentiveness to the leader and responsiveness to the structural and textural changes were crucial. Here and elsewhere, when Braxton stopped and the pianist soloed, you could feel a shift from a trio + 1 to a real group. The three breathed more naturally together and sometimes added an arranging turn that betrayed their deeper relationship. This was probably inevitable, as they had started rehearsing with Braxton only monday.

Braxton picked up his soprano for the third piece, which began with atmospheric scrapes, squeaks and piano string plucks. It mutated and solidified into long held and bowed notes that sometimes seemed on the verge of cohering into a real song, but never did, remaining a surprising and wonderful ambient piece. It ended when the Cristian Calcagnile hand-drummed a thumping beat that drove a final crescendo. The territories staked out in these first three performances (straight-ahead, free/interactive, ethereal) formed the basis for the rest of the concert.

On the fifth and final song of the first set, the quartet started to come together as a whole. Braxton's solo magnificently weaved in and out of the rhythm section's straight comping and was engaged by the drummer's boisterous and fractured swing. Alessandro Giacero's solo slowed things down before launching into fascinating unaccompanied contrapuntal playing, which, with its almost-in-octaves motifs, was occasionally reminiscent of Cecil Taylor. Then he cleverly reconfigured the original melody into wide interval leaps before playing it, Mehldau-like, straight in the left hand under a right hand ostinato while the rest of the quartet, Braxton included, accompanied. This led to an out-head marked by a poignant deceleration: Braxton lovingly milked each note for its feeling.

There were three major highlights in the second set. On a Wayne Shorter tune (from Speak No Evil, but I can't remember its title), Braxton absolutely roared, thrilling the crowd. Dolphy's "Out To Lunch" showed that the rhythm section could handle complex and unusual arrangements just as well as they had glided through standards, engaged in free interaction or slipped into a Tyner mode. Finally, on a tune with a Latin/bossa beat, after the drum solo's heavy ending, Braxton shifted the musical direction with light, quiet lines that built into quiet roars over ominous tom rolls and pecking piano. The piece had been flung wide open, so the saxophonist started opening up too, which gave the others some license: Giacero continued to freely scramble up and down the keyboard during the reprise of the melody.

One thing puzzled me in Braxton's playing. At the top of every single tune, he sounded extremely... weak. That would disappear as soon as he started soloing, but it was weird. There was a total disconnect between the rhythm section's assurance and Braxton's approach. To be honest, were I to hear only the heads in a blindfold-test, I'd think something was wrong with the saxophonist. It was jarring and bizarre for three reasons, the first because, as I said, during the solos there was no fragility, the second because he would regularly play the closing head very strongly and third because he expressed vulnerability (as opposed to weakness) beautifully several times. It was very bizarre. I can't imagine that Braxton didn't do this on purpose, so if anybody has an explanation of some sort, please enlighten me.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Collapse; Cortney Tidwell + Grizzly Bear - 11/11/2006

the most sincere birthday card ever

Despite seeing three bands in two locations, by far the most memorable thing to occur on my birthday (28) was a disastruous encounter with TV On The Radio.

Collapse (website)
Jean-Paul Estievenart - tp
Cédric Favresse - as
Lieven Van Pee - b
Alain Deval - d

The Archiduc is fun to go to because it mixes people who can afford to shop at the Olivier Strelli down the street (which the drink prices reflect) and those who can afford... free (as in 0 euro) jazz concerts.

Jean-Paul Estievenart recently won the New Talent Django d'Or, the best of an extraordinarily weak field, compared to previous years. Anyway, I hadn't heard him in a long time, so was curious. He's a clean-cut player, fluent but not particularly interesting. They played a few Ornette Coleman tunes (you can hear "Jayne" on their website) as straight as possible. Mingus's "Fables Of Faubus" was more fun, as was Cédric Favresse's composition "Yémen," which juxtaposed a bright, infectious rhythm with a slowed-down, Middle Eastern section. He's more expressive than Estievenart at this point, working his way through his Charlie Parker. Collapse is further proof, as if any were necessary, that even young Europeans are interested in mainstream, swinging jazz. Not all of us are avant-garde freaks, believe it or not.

We stayed for about half of the second set, then headed for a Chinese restaurant opposite our next musical stop, the Ancienne Belgique's upstairs club. It was my birthday and I was bored at home, so decided on the spur of the moment to come out for a double-bill of two bands I'd never heard of. Amusingly, the main impression I'm left with is "welcome to the blogosphere!" (at least, a different blogosphere than the one I'm used to, one where guys in the front row wear Broken Social Scene t-shirts).

Cortney Tidwell (MySpace)

A very young band from Nashville. The singer had a Joanna Newsome-ish girliness and tortuous phrasing. The sound was pretty bad, so as soon as the guitarist, cellist and keyboardist all started playing, I had no idea what she was saying. Maybe it was the sound, but the songs kind of lacked contour and detail. Still, they could drift on a couple of floor-rattling drones, bounce on a disco beat or explode into guitar noise.

Grizzly Bear (MySpace)

Four men singing together in high-pitched harmony never goes out of style, especially when they're doing it over long, sprawling multi-sectional songs that are tinged with 70s psychedelic rock and often involve whistling. Thankfully, the sound was excellent. Interesting, but I kind of got bored after a while, whereas IVN loved it all the way through. I liked how not straight-forward it all was. One song started with a brief, hard-driving explosion, then spent the next many minutes making you think it was going to get back there, but never did.

And now, the already-legendary TVotR incident:

During the intermission between the CT and GB shows, I saw the guys from TVotR over in a corner. They were opening for We Are Scientists the next day, so I wasn't surprised to see them there. Since he's the most recognisable of the bunch, I went over to Kyp Malone (surely the best afro/beard combination in the business). The following is a transcription of our conversation, with the thoughts that whizzed through my head in brackets and italics.

*Put hand on Malone's shoulder, Malone turns around*
"Excuse me. I just wanted to say that I really really really love your album (I should show him that I am aware that his band has several albums, even though I only own one of them) Return To Cookie Monster (fuck! Could I have said anything more stupid? Now I look like an insincere idiot! *image of Cookie Monster comes to mind* Should I say nothing and just hope that the music was loud enough for him not to have really heard what I just said?) Return To Cookie Mountain (just keep smiling).
*Dave Sitek chuckles. I am increasingly nervous*
"Thank you very much."
"(Quick, re-assert your fandom)I'll be coming to see you tomorrow, I'm really looking forward to it."
"Thank you." (I don't think he cares. He probably heard cookie monster)
*I walk away, head hung in shame*

Sabin Todorov Trio - 08/11/2006@Jazz Station, Brussels

Sabin Todorov - p
Sal La Rocca - b
Lionel Beuvens - d

The Jazz Station, a disused train station, is, interior and exterior design-wise, the coolest jazz club around: wavy wooden ceiling, green neon lights criss-crossing under the stage, designer plastic chairs, black-and-white tiled toilets. It looks a lot less 80s than it sounds. There's even a floor-to-ceiling window that looks out onto the street. Granted, it's not as spectacular a view as the one from the Jazz At Lincoln Center building, but it's a nice touch.

I've unfortunately lost my notes from the concert, so here are some general impressions. Sabin Todorov is from Bulgaria, but has been living in Belgium for a number of years. He's kind of our Bojan Z. His music draws on Bulgarian and jazz roots, convincingly making the case for jazz as a way of treating folkloric material, whether it's the blues or, ummm... whatever it is they call it in Bulgaria. It also makes the music very accessible and concrete: you can directly hear the living, the dancing, the singing being referred to.

Melodies are often based upon traditional songs and dances which bear a resemblance to other music from the Balkans. The driving, interlocking rhythms create polyrhythms that, interestingly, don't sound African or "Latin" at all, another blow to the "Europe ain't got rhythm" theories.

Sabin is such an unassuming person that it's easy to underestimate him. But as he showed decisively when he opened the second set with a solo piece, he's a superb pianist. Every time I see him, I am mystified that this long-standing trio has yet to put out an official release.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

bring your own bag

[UPDATE: Speaking of Borat, Clap Clap is back!]

We went to see Borat last night. We missed the first few minutes because IVN and friend V, who came to see the film with us, spent 20-25 minutes attending to a guy in the theater's lobby who was having an epileptic fit of some sort. When the paramedics arrived, they (V and IVN) hooked the guy up to an IV drip and he was wheeled away. A doctor's work is never done.

There was more drama to come: shortly after we were finally seated, there was a problem with the reel and the showing was interrupted. When it eventually resumed, a part of the film had evidently been skipped, the picture had trouble aligning itself with the screen and for a long while, the upper-right hand corner of the picture was obscured. If that's the level of service one gets for 8.10 euros, it'll be hard to regret the disappearance of mulitplexes in favour of home cinema systems. Still, the room was packed and the laughter uproarious.

I first saw Ali G when it was the best part of the Eleven O'Clock Show. To see that it has come to this is hugely satisfying.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

jazz and blogs

#1: a sad case of mutual neglect
#2: an extension
#3: this becomes a recurrent feature
#10: francophone edition
#13 a b c d

off the harness

It Is Not Mean... continues to pick at Dave Douglas's "crazy experimental freedom" interview (Not Mean's initial salvos are in the comments to that post).

Not Mean's questions about Daniel Carter liking a James Taylor song ("Did he hear what every other James Taylor fan heard? Did he hear something entirely different?") reminds me of a passage in a Stanley Crouch article about Fred Astaire and (tangentially) Louis Armstrong:

Astaire's innovations came along at the right time, just as Armstrong's had, and were charismatic for exactly the same reasons: Astaire was incomparable. There may have been greater tap dancers than Astaire in some Harlem somewhere in America. Or, Astaire may have been right when he supposedly said that Bill Robinson was the greatest dancer he had ever seen. Even so, we can't be sure: What a genius sees when experiencing someone else working within his idiom is usually not only what is going on but what is implied.
Hearing what is not there, or only hinted at, is one way of getting innovative ideas. That's why I can't agree with Not Mean's damning final paragraph.
Adding a "harness" to a music, imposing a "sense of structure"--this is all well good, but it is the opposite of the lesson all that "crazy experimental freedom" taught.
If the CEF developed the freedom implied in earlier music, developing the structure implied in the CEF seems logical. Listening to, for example, the Wildflowers compilation, it is clear that the CEF fighters didn't wait around for Dave Douglas to arrive to start doing precisely that. But I may be misunderestimating the meaning of "To be judicious is to be weak."


At one time I loved Cecil Taylor because he crossed the idioms of classical and jazz. In response to Thelonious Monk I was very open-minded. I didn’t want to play that way but I was fascinated by the freedom. But when jazz became angry it lost so much of its appeal. The music of protest is one-dimensional. A self-indulgent attitude crept in, musicians making music only for themselves.
- pianist Peter Nero in "Strung Out on Strings" [via Stochasticactus]
Is my response to this too foregone a conclusion? Perhaps, but I'll say it anyway.

I see jazz as having always been partially about protest against the condition of subhumanity, of de-intellectualisation, of limited options, of obscured African roots and so on. Simply, if "Strange Fruit" (talk about anger!) was the first protest song, then how is the music of protest "one-dimensional?" Did Louis Armstong not understand the complexity of him jovially singing "What did I do/To be so black and blue?" And wasn't part of the 60s-70s avant-garde busily engaging with contemporary dance rhythms?

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

jazz et blogs #10: édition francophone

A francophone edition. Of course, many French-language blogs (and some in Portuguese or Italian) have been listed or blogrolled before.

Sound of jazz
Vincent Bessières writes for JazzMan magazine, but don't hold that against him. Check out a lovely post on Magali Souriau, or a ferocious one taking down old, out-of-touch critics.

Manuel Marchès
A Parisian bassist, short posts on how "even mediocre jazz singers tend to make the band sound better", the terrifying haircuts worn by the All-Blacks and the occasional YouTube'd video (Phineas Newborn roaring through "Oleo," face totally impassive but what an amazing sound and touch; the extraordinary Raul Midón on Letterman).

Bien Culturel
Lots of classical, but some jazz too, see the post on up 'n' comer Yaron Herman. Also has several web radios.

Concerts and CDs, but also some nice Myanmar photos.

Akcentuate the positive
Some nice historical posts, notably one that includes Art Tatum's thrilling "Tiger Rag."

chicago blues

[UPDATE: Commenter Christophe Albertijn adds links to Ritscher's chilling self-penned obituary and suicide note. Comments continue to be added to the original Post No Bills post.]

The Chicago Reader's Post No Bills blog has an item about Malachi Ritscher, a local music devotee who committed suicide by immolation last Friday, at least partly out of disgust for the war in Iraq.

As far as music goes, I'm sure many cities have their own Malachi Ritscher: always around, recording, but, judging from Peter Margasak's original post and the comments that followed Ritscher seems to have contributed with unusual fervour and efficiency. It's quite sad that he's gone.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Spain: 10/09/2006 - 17/09/2006

like taking the bus

Things start well: the Sunday morning train to Charleroi is 20 minutes late, so we miss the bus to the airport and have to take a taxi - the first of many budget overruns. We make it to Málaga eventually. It's the first time I've set foot in Spain since 3.5 months spent studying Spanish in Salamanca in early 2000. By the end of that course, I was fluent, but I haven't spoken the language since. My rusty Spanish is manipulated bluntly, unsanitarily bludgeoning those unfortunate enough to be subjected to it. By the end of the week, words and a modicum of coherence have started to come back, but I realise that I am only capable of handling one foreign language at once: Dutch and Spanish tend to either blur or cancel each other out, even when I'm back home.

Two passengers on the bus to the city hold mobile phones a few centimetres from their ears. The phones tinnily blast music, which the pair, sitting next to each other, shout over when they need to communicate. When one gets off the bus, the other puts the phone away and takes out an MP3 player, with headphones. I am reminded of this incident by the Alhambra's audio guide, which you hold up to your ear. In Ronda, a hi-tech group of Germans solves the perennial guided tour problems: the guide speaks quietly into a microphone, which routes her voice to the ear piece worn by each member of the group.

We don't stay in Málaga, preferring instead to bus directly to Granada. The people there are easily the trendiest of the four cities we visit. Young Spaniards are big fans of mullet variations and mullet/faux-hawk combinations. It's very odd. Another popular fashion item: felt-covered scooter helmets that look like riding helmets.

at the Alhambra

The Alhambra is Granada's big attraction, of course. We spend some of our time there listening to Lorena McKennit soundchecking in the Palacio Carlos V's circular patio for a concert that evening. I assume that after the soundcheck, the instruments were promptly put into an oven pre-heated to 190 degrees celsius.

oven-ready piano and harp

The Sacromonte rises opposite the Alhambra. Houses are carved directly out of the rocky hillside and their interiors are rounded, like Electric Ladyland studios, only white.

The Monasterio San Jerónimo has a stunning church. The Monasterio Cortujo's is a notch lower, despite the dove and eight cherubic faces that peer down upon us from the dome's heavenly heights. The refectory walls are adorned with unappetising scenes of persecution and oppression. One particularly absurd trilogy shows self-inflicted wounds, while the monks gaze skywards, innocently. Photos aren't allowed, but...

heartache and migraine

For more earthly needs, Europa II on the Calle de los Reyes Católicos has good tapas + beer (caña) for 1.50 euro. Lax, in a different part of town, isn't in the Lonely Planet guide and is totally Spanish. Om Kalsoum, just around the corner, is in the guide, totally touristy, but actually has better tapas. Los Italianos, at the beginning of the Vía Gran Colon has delicous ice cream. A 2 euro tarrina is enough for one person who wants ice cream and another who "doesn't want any." We savour the nata and trufo. Further down the street, there's La Cordobesa, a cheap place for last-minute sandals and ridiculous shoes.

In Málaga, Casa Maria (I think), on the main shopping street, rivals Los Italianos. Their proclaimed specialties are the nut-based truffon and the coffee-and-ice-cream Blanco y Negro (traditionally, nougat ice cream is chosen), but the cinnamon-topped batidos (milkshakes) are equally delicious.

the alhambra's palacio carlos V

We occasionally deviate from the Lonely Planet gospel. IVN being a doctor, I suggest we enter the open gates of the Hospital San Juan de Dios, on the calle of the same name. Instead of antiseptic white corridors, there are frescos on the patio walls, richly engraved wooden panels on the ceilings and a complex staircase. It's amazing. University buildings are also good spots for short, impromptu visits.

feeling better already

Further down the street, there's a café that serves delicious orange juice squeezed before your very eyes and above-average coffee (or so IVN says, I don't drink coffee). For a few minutes, as the aged second-in-command silently goes about his business, we imagine him to be mute - a kind of waitering Bernardo - but this turns out not to be the case.

We have some time to kill before taking the bus to Córdoba and go to a nearby Aldi. At the counter, a couple of old ladies and their grandson/nephew wait until it's their turn to start putting their numerous purchases on the conveyor belt. The gs/n does all the work. The payment process takes a long time, but the cashier is unhurried. When our turn finally comes, despite the fact we'd long put our few supplies on the belt, she becomes tense and snappy, suddenly remembering a hundred places she'd rather be.

now that's what I call graphical notation

The Lonely Planet's map of Córdoba is maddening. One of the city's two bridges is missing, which leads to lost wanderings and arguments. Granted, the modern Puente Milaflores is less historically significant that the old Roman bridge, but it is kind of stylish and certainly does not deserve erasure from the map. We manage to find the Hotel San Augustin, an idiosyncraticly decorated little place. We suspect that the Completo sign that goes up every night reflects a desire not to be disturbed rather than a hotel industry ideal. The old mama holds the key to the front door and must be called every time it needs to be opened. She walks by us several times with barely a glance, let alone a word. Maybe she doesn't talk to foreigners.

We search for the Jazz Café for an incredibly long time. The map is only partially to blame this time, as darkness and fatigue play a part. A passable electric violin/guitar/bass/drums jam session is taking place, before a chatty, enthusiastic crowd. A terrible singer sits in on a bossa nova tune and issues a hand signal that no one understands. Muted bandstand hilarity ensues. There's no food, the drinks menu is limited and the caïpirinha poor. A tapas bar down the street is very good, though.

The city's old centre revolves around the Mezquita and is more isolated, old-timey and run-down than Granada's. In the streets, open front doors offer glimpses into Córdoba's famous patios. They range from cosy, plant-filled outside living rooms to icy marble expanses that are more impressive than inviting. The Mezquita's juxtapositions, imbrications and occasional mixtures of Islamic and Catholic elements create bizarre displacements in time and space. Side by side, the latter seem over-wrought, chaotic and violent, obsessed with pain and death, while the former are regular, calm, abstract and intricate.

hey, it's modern art!

Ronda is a touristy mountain town once celebrated by Hemingway: it's the birthplace of the modern corrida. Unfortunately, we didn't visit the Museo Taurino, but we did tour the Museo Bandolero, which is dedicated to famous Andalucían bandits, the last of whom was shot down in 1934. It's not exactly worth the 3 euro entrance fee, but the biographies (most, but not all, are available in English and French as well as Spanish) are pretty entertaining. They tell of country boys who might have killed a few people, abducted a rich person or two ("the easiest way to make a lot of money"), sported a colourful nickname and run from the law. Most didn't make it out of their twenties. Málaga's Museo Picasso and Centro de Arte Contemporeaño are other necessary correctives. Both are bite-sized and undidactic, the latter is free, very contemporary and quite fun. These three museums were nice diversions from the bombardment of religious art in the cathedrals and monasteries.

peace in the household, at last, through some more modern art

The place you really want to hit in Ronda is the Bodeguita Los Caracoles on the Calle Salvador Carrasco. It's a cramped neighbourhood joint where regulars shout their orders over the ambient din, from across the room. Barman António rarely stops moving, which renders his sizeable pot-belly puzzling. The food is good and cheap, as is the sweet wine, which is served from huge barrels.

The cognac-coloured wine is (apparently) a regional specialty and the barrel-serving something of a tradition. The Antigua Casa de Guarda on Málaga's Alameda Principal is relatively expensive (roughly 2.50 a glass, 10 for a bottle), but has a large selection and an austere charm: your tab is written in chalk directly on a wood counter slick with use; the only food available is the seafood in a neon-lit cooler - the wine waiters claim not to know its price. Those with delicate palates will want to avoid the drier wines (Seco, Oloroso, Fino). Dulce overdoes the sugar. My favourites are the sublime Pajarete and the thick Pedro Ximénez. There's a large checkered-floor bar on Calle Menedez Nuñez that has terrible neon lighting, but a good selection, as well as our trip's only decent sangria. Contrary to the impression this report might give, I lost weight during this holiday.

hotel luxury

What's cooler than being cool? The (ice cold) Mediterranean!* On our last morning in Málaga, we head to the beach and actually manage to completely immerse ourselves in the hypothermia-inducing water. I get out when I start losing feeling in my legs.

* I filled those long bus journeys with Idlewild and Game Theory.

Monday, November 06, 2006

it's mostly commercial

During my conversation with Dave Douglas last friday, I asked him if his MP3 store used DRM (I didn't know, because buying MP3s isn't really attractive to me). He replied that it didn't use any and that he'd rather trust in the consumer's goodwill/solidarity/honesty (I paraphrase, but I think that was the gist of it). It's interesting, then that Greenleaf should post an article about the Russian AllOfMP3 site. Not so much because they're selling albums without authorisation, but because the format they're moving to, "an ad-supported distribution of free content," might very well become the industry standard:

many record labels are planning to let users download their content for free in exchange for putting advertisements, sponsorships or promotional offers in audio and video files and on peer-to-peer networks such as Grokster or Limewire.
Should music be like TV (or, perhaps more accurately, radio)? Will it be possible to circumvent these ads, just as the TV shows you can download on bittorrent networks are stripped of their ads? Will making the free stuff worthless (who wants to listen to ads on their MP3 player?), encourage people to spend more? If people become totally unaccustomed to paying for music, will an advertising-supported model further marginalise non-mainstream music or not have much of an effect either way (or have a postive effect)?

jazz and blogs #9

Musicians are blogging in force, often under cool names:

SpiderMonkey Stories
a.k.a. trumpeter Taylor Ho Bynum, best known for his work alongside Anthony Braxton and Cecil Taylor. He shouts out De Werf, so be.jazz would love it even without the great Taylor/Grimes/akLaff post. [via Night After Night]

It Is Not Mean If It Is True (Attack Attack Attack)
a.k.a. (perhaps) Stanley Zappa. Caustic and original in tone and presentation. SJZ is currently adapting Harold Bloom's The Anxiety Of Influence to improvised music.

a.k.a. Peter Breslin on music and cacti. Lots of great thoughts, including a YouTube-supported addition to the free jazz debates.

Dark Forces Swing Blind Punches
a.k.a. drummer/journalist Henry (Hank) Michael Shteamer and another Night After Night via. His enthusiasm is disarming. Amongst much excellent stuff, there is a long post on Grachan Moncur. It's not so long ago that I heard "Love And Hate" for the first time and fell out of my chair. The Grachan Moncur Mosaic Select is making its way to me right now, actually. The Moncur post is followed by a great review of the same Taylor/Grimes/akLaff concert Bynum saw.

Armen Nalbandian's blog
a.k.a. Armen Nalbandian. I've mentioned this blog before, but have rediscovered it. It had fallen off my radar because it didn't (and still doesn't) publish an RSS feed. Publish a feed, Armen! I like his way of engaging with music that's happening now, for example by perpetuating the somewhat lost tradition of playing your peers' music.

He links to a video of the current Wayne Shorter Quartet. It's amazing. While watching it, it's hard not to think of this kind of communication as some sort of pinnacle of 100 years of jazz. Which is of course to much weight to place upon 7 minutes of music, but that was my gut feeling. This kind of thing is both thrilling and exhausting, because it is such a high-wire act - for the listener, I mean. Nothing is stable or taken for granted, you can see Shorter challenging his musicians and considering his own moves in real time. The TV crew should be lauded, as they actually manage to make the music easier to follow, an all too rare achievement.

Improvising Guitar
Occasional guitar-centric stuff like hand positions, but mostly a lot of very interesting non-guitar stuff like the struggle to define free improvisation, structure and form as verbs rather than nouns, structure as a "temporary acknowledgment of one boundary [that] allows for renegotiations of others" and a running thread of group improvisation as society-in-miniature. Clearly, Improvising Guitar and It Is Not Mean need to have a talk. I'm not going to cite every single interesting post, but the very first ends, remarkably, with the imortal phrase "What could be more humyn?" (sic, and not a typo).

Jazz: The Music of Unemployment
Hopefully, that's not too much the case for pianist Andrew Durkin, leader of The Industrial Jazz Group (website | MySpace), a band busy "changing the elbow of American music." The very stubborness of that simple r'n'b riff on "Truth and the Abstract Blues" is kind of disturbing.


The writers are still blogging:

The Jazz Clinic
Mostly concert reviews, between Philadelphia and New York.

Scribe Life
Informs us that in Kenny G's world, Miles loved him. The American obsession (be it love or hate) with Kenny G is a phenomenon remote to me, but the article contains a number of comedy nuggets. For example: "I think my groupies are the college and high school saxophone players." At least, I hope it's comedy. Still, he claims a +1 golfing handicap, which proves that he can swing smoothly (ha ha).

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Fly - 26/10/2006@CC Luchtbal, Antwerpen

Mark Turner - ts, ss
Larry Grenadier - b
Jeff Ballard - d

Fly seems to be a well-guarded secret: only about 100 people turned out, despite the Luchtbal being an absolutely perfect setting for this trio, as they could play without any amplification whatsoever (save, of course, the bass amp. I wonder what impact its introduction and current ubiquity has had on jazz). The crowd was mainly old jazz heads and musicians (Peter Hertmans, Lionel Beuvens, Steven Delannoye, Seppe Gebruers and a gaggle of young students).

The music was highly mutable, plopping written elements in unexpected places or, on the contrary, letting itself dissolve into a haze of serendipity. A lot of saxophone trios seem to descend from Sonny Rollins's, this one made me think of Lee Konitz's with Sonny Dallas and Elvin Jones on Motion, although I'm not sure the parallel is at all accurate.

When Mark Turner came onstage, he put his soprano down behind the drums, but stood on the other side of the stage to perform. It was a strange thing to do, but from his playing, you get the sense that he's the kind of person who does a lot of strange things. The only other time I saw him, fronting a French rhythm section alongside Ravi Coltrane, he struck me as intriguing. This time, his delicacy was quite engrossing and demurely placed all drama on the micro-level: a thinning of tone, a change of register, an ongoing struggle against too easy a flow of notes. On "Dharma Days," he let loose some thrilling long lines, sometimes as climaxes, but just as often he would skid down the length of the tenor as a prelude to a short, choppy repeated motif.

Larry Grenadier and Turner effortlessly traded leads and filled in each other's gaps. The bassist would slide almost imperceptibly from shadowing Turner to hooking up with Ballard to veering off into a third, independent zone, so that much of the music's sense of freedom rested upon him. Grenadier penned my favourite tune of the evening, "State Of The Union." It's the kind of tune bassists seem to like to write, with a touching melody broken up by the occasional tricky, synchronised break and settling into a relaxed, behind-the-beat pocket. Grenadier's initial reading of the head made excellent use of harmonics and the bass's upper register.

Jeff Ballard liked to surge ahead with a groove populated by lots of little events, at times reproducing the fantastic drum 'n' bass-ish beat that opens Brad Mehldau's Day Is Done. His "Piano 2" (I think) was essentially a three-note motif shifted around, as if he were still humming it to himself, trying to find the perfect phrasing for it. "Sky And Country" served as encore, and started very delicate and airborne, then Grenadier started double-stopping to lend it a back-porch feel.

Towards the end of the concert, Turner took advantage of the microphone-less situation to rove the back of the large stage, adding indeterminate sounds behind a bass solo. When he came back up front to play some very consistent quarter-tone/micro-tone stuff, he sounded almost like a synthesizer gone mad. It was only after that that he played his first straight blues lick of the evening, and it was pretty startling.

bernstein as fiscal assessor

gotta love the hat

After a few months off, Will Layman has a new installment in his column, a Steve Bernstein interview. Thankfully, it goes beyond the usual album promo blather. Bernstein talks about jazz and sex ("a really stretched-out thing"), how greats from one period couldn't necessarily do what greats from another period did ("[The AEC] were good on their instruments, but they couldn’t play like Lester Young or play a Marty Paitch arrangement in a sax session."), his slightly weird jazz-world status ("I win jazz polls, but I’ve never been hired for a week at a jazz club in my life. I’ve barely ever been called to play a US jazz festival, though I’ve headlined every jazz major jazz festival in Europe.") and music as it relates to personality ("Steve Coleman is a genius, but he’s been dull forever" - obviously, I don't agree. Two words: Weaving Symbolics).

Some of you may react more strongly to the AEC comments, but here's a real rock-the-boat moment. Even though he's aiming at all-too-familiar targets, it's something I've never heard before:
One of the things that nobody wants to say is that the Marsalises bankrupted Columbia Jazz—the emperor has no clothes. Wynton’s budgets were huge. He was selling ten or twenty thousand records and he was getting a minimum $100,000 to make a record. In the end, when he left, they closed Columbia Jazz. I don’t believe in coincidences. Duke didn’t bankrupt it, and Woody Shaw didn’t bankrupt it, and Dave Brubeck didn’t bankrupt it, and Arthur Blythe didn’t bankrupt it.

(...)Now it’s like an even playing field—we all sell the same amount of records, there is no corporate music, so it’s like: how does the music stand up on its own aside from whether you had a budget?
Of course, Bernstein then goes on to call Marsalis "probably the greatest trumpet player ever." Legions of Internet "minor men" (to use Stanley Crouch's tactful term) calling you boring is one thing, a peer accusing you of bankrupting a major jazz institution is quite another, I think. Bernstein's math isn't really convincing: 20,000 units sold grosses more than $100,000, which doesn't mean the label is breaking even, but no major label is going bankrupt over that kind of money, surely. That said, releasing 15 albums in 1999 (according to David Hajdu's "Wynton's Blues" article) couldn't have been a smart business move.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

oh, kanye

Kanye West bumrushes the European VMA show. Make sure to click on the video link in the middle of the article. He's clearly drunk, but it's becoming more and more difficult to believe that his arrogance is put on.

Dave Douglas Quintet - 03/11/2006@CC Luchtbal, Antwerpen

[UPDATE 2: After jogging my memory, I realise that I extrapolated wildly from some comments made from the stage about the scariness of mid-term campaigning, but didn't lean to one political side or the other. I combined that extrapolation with a long dormant desire to place that Bush grafitti and arrived at "anti-Bush." I apologise for mis-representing Dave's words. I also managed to get the date of the concert wrong in the post title, despite it being written in the ticket pictured above, which is pretty embarassing. Oh, can I do nothing right?]

[UPDATE: Dave Douglas politics amended, per his response]

Dave Douglas - cornet
Donny McCaslin - ts
Uri Caine - Fender Rhodes
James Genus - b
Clarence Penn - d

I was really looking forward to this concert, because as much as I appreciate the Greenleaf blog, I barely know Dave Douglas's music. This was my first time seeing him live. Before leaving home, I prepared by listening to the one album I have, Tiny Bell Trio's Constellations, which is a great one.

The Luchtbal was as full as I've ever seen it, with a much less musician-heavy crowd than I expected. The concert consisted mainly of brand-new compositions, as indicated by the title of the opener, "October Surprise." Its head juddered wildly from straight swing to near-stasis to noisy outbursts. That kind of manic energy and stylistic range continued throughout the concert. Dave kind of embodied it with his loud green shirt, hilarious stage banter and by banging on Uri Caine's shoulder while presenting the musicians, as if to hype him up before a basketball game. There was none of the "intellectual white guy" feel that magazine profiles I'd read over the years had kind of led me to expect: the engagement with the music was very physical, from Dave leaning into his cornet to Clarence Penn's wide, emphatic arm movements.

The single most impressive thing for me was the fantastic creativity of the song structures. Within a traditional enough small group sound, unexpected elements arrived, textures and rhythms changed unpredictably, solos were kept short, the horns often intertwined, one accompanying the other or both soloing simultaneously, new written material appeared and reappeared, altered. A couple of times it felt a little too neat, but mostly there was enough built-in messiness for the music not to feel boxed in. Inevitably, I thought of this kind of writing in the context of harnessing that "crazy" "experimental" "freedom" of the 60s and 70s (I wanted to ask Dave about some of the issues sjz raises in that post's comments, but forgot, in the heat of the moment). Thus, the mood was often unsettled, especially as Penn has a cool way of seeming one or two degrees removed from the basic pulse. "Little Penn," written for his newborn daughter, was straight-up hard bop, though: bluesy-funky mid-tempo with hints of Blakey press rolls, Latinising full-kit cross rhythms and even a ride bell pattern on the bridge.

It occurred to me that there was perhaps a general post-John Zorn cut'n'paste/jump-cut aesthetic, but with the hard edits softened and narrower, less arbitrary stylistic leaps. For example, the last piece before the encores started tenderly, but quickly moved into swing that was never taken for granted, always stopping and coalescing into a new tempo or mood. Suddenly, the music was stripped down and completely rebuilt on a simple bass line that Penn accompanied with a djembé rhythm played bare-handed on the snare drum. He and James Genus established a surprisingly slow and even sensual atmosphere over which my favourite Donny McCaslin playing of the night happened.

I'll admit that McCaslin is not really my style of saxophonist: very vertical, straight tone, virtuosic but not very expressive, swinging or personal, and in those respects somewhat out-of-step with the rest of the band. At this moment on this tune, however, he started with very short, simple notes that meshed excitingly with Genus and Penn's very spare, rubato backdrop. As the rhythm built up, his blues licks didn't really grab me, though. The two encores, "Elks' Club" and "Tim Bits," were older compositions and he seemed more comfortable with them. Amusingly, on stage he looks really boyish, but he has to be much older than he seems.

Uri Caine played "pure" Fender Rhodes. Fluttering jazz piano lines on Rhodes tend to get old quick for me, but when he brought together percussive funkiness and weird chords on the above-described tune, it really worked. "Tree And Shrub" started with wonderfully delicate cornet backed only by orchestral Fender. Within the space of a few minutes, Caine provided lush, swirling backgrounds, high register trills and murky middle out of which mysterious bass lines briefly emerged. I absolutely love the overtones the Rhodes creates when a lot of notes are played at once. On "Earmarks" he played bright, funky figures reminiscent of Filles De Kilimandjaro and the second half of Waterbabies, while on "The Next Phase (For Thomas)," he held down a moody part that set the piece's tone. The simple, repetitive chords then anchored him for a great melodic, pop-ish solo.

newsflash: dave douglas is anti-bush "pro-America and pro-World"

Dave has been playing cornet since this summer and is apparently studying Don Cherry a lot, which could account for all the Ornette/Cherry quotes sprinkled throughout the concert. Talking with him afterwards, he said that he felt the cornet made him think a little harder about what he was playing, as certain things were easier or harder to do, compared to the trumpet. In any case, I found him highly lyrical and expressive all night. The first encore, "Elks' Club," had, appropriately enough for a cornetist, a dixieland vibe and ended with a hilarious series of FX: growls and sighs and bluster. The most flat-out fun piece was the short "The Cornet Is A Fickle Friend," which featured a wild Cherry/Ornette head over a heavy, rocking, start-stop staccato stomp.

After the concert, I chatted with Dave for a while, still giddy from a semi-shout out he gave me from the stage: "lots of great jazz blogging happens in Belgium, I know." Okay, maybe he says that everywhere, but let me have my moment, damnit. I also doubled my Dave Douglas record collection by buying Keystone: Live In Sweden (hmm, looking at the pricing on the website, it's more expensive to buy at the concert than order from the website...), which is playing as I write this and sounds really good.

note on be.myspace

I'm continually adding to the be.myspace post, which is linked in the right-hand column under "specials." If you are a Belgian (or Belgium-based) musician/venue/promoter/writer and have MySpace page (or if you come across one that I haven't already listed), please let me know.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

a brief tango in paris

I spent friday night at my old friend F's place in Paris. His Indian model girlfriend V is in the final stages of joining a girl band called The Texas Girls (MySpace, not to be confused with these Texas girls). V is billed as the "hip intellectual" of this "French answer to the Pussycat Dolls."

I'll let you judge as to the quality of their debut single "Dallas It's My Life" and its Dallas theme song sample, but in our book (F's and mine), the line "SHAKE THOSE BOOBS!" is an instant classic, with "I'm so exciting" narrowly missing the cut.

As I stepped off the train back home on sunday evening, TVotR's "Wolf Like Me" ended. I looked up. The cloud-shrouded moon was only half-full, unfortunately.


Jason Moran's MP3 page has a track each with Wayne Shorter and Lee Konitz. The former is a quartet, the latter a duet.


I don't know if this video for Gnarls Barkely's "Gone Daddy Gone" cover is official, but it does make you wonder why there haven't been more ill-fated insect-human love stories.


It must be fun having a job which consists in coming up with phrases like SFJ's in his Janet Jackson album review. Some are fun ("Jackson stuck with the style, making high-tech, medium-temperature, low-impact bedroom music her signature"), some are kinky, like when SFJ gratuitously defines the slow jam as "music for groups of two or three."


Do You Come Here Often? comes up with fun phrases not for money, but for, well, fun. He's touring the USA with Scritti Politti and is on top form.


Fun article on Brahms's sharp tongue.
Scary Stanley Crouch on old gangster movies and filthy immigrants.