Saturday, April 28, 2007

never let me go

Denis Darzacq's La Chute is an extraordinary, no tricks, photo series displayed in Paris. Read about it, see it here and here. His Bobigny centre ville series is also worth a look, in case you're wondering what France looks like.

moonbeams and polka dots

I've been seriously lacking in time to do any proper non-concert blogging. Here are a couple of link that may enhance the lives of Brussels readers:

New Exhibitions of Contemporary Art in Brussels

Argos Arts (I haven't been to this multi-purpose space yet, but I'm distraught at having missed performances there by Keith Rowe, Toshimaru Nakamura and Hayden Chisolm, just in the last month, for lack of knowledge)

Newspapers taking concert violinists busking is now a transatlantic trend: Jessica Duchen takes Tasmin Little to Waterloo Station. The article suggests that Little is a better, more interactive busker than Joshua Bell.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Aki Takase Plays Fats Waller - 25/04/2006@Vooruit, Gent

Aki Takase - p
Rudi Mahall - bcl
Nils Wogram - tb
Eugene Chadbourne - banjo, g, voc
Paul Lovens - d

The Vooruit sums up my idealised image of Gent: a great union of period facade and trappings with a modern sense of interior design. Sometimes the contrast jarring, as in the stark red-and-whiteness of the ticketing office, but it works. Similarily, and maybe coincidentally, everyone's sartorial choices somehow related to their musical contributions. Eugene Chadbourne's Bugs Bunny t-shirt, the contemporary hipness of Nils Wogram's red Lion of Judah t-shirt, the retro class of Paul Lovens's usual white shirt and skinny black tie. Rudi Mahall's amazing look stole the show, though: his thick sideburns, cheap blue suit and yellow shirt made him look like he'd just walked off the set of an early-80s German cop show. Only the grainy film stock was missing.

It's tempting to compare the way Aki Takase pronounces Fats Waller's name to the way she plays his music: both are beautifully mangled into new, just about recognisable shapes. While lots of anachronistic, free jazz-derived elements are added to Waller's compositions, just as many basic stylistic elements survive: humour and absurdity, of course, a frantic scrappiness, jaunty melodies, the festive mood (when Chadbourne sang "The Joint Is Jumpin'," it was no lie), swinging march/parade rhythms, ensemble motifs characteristic of the period, compact solos, New Orleans style front-line counterpoint, hints of Classical and Impressionist borrowings, lots of stride piano and even the Spanish tinge on the brief encore. I'm not too sure about Waller, but Jelly Roll Morton, for example, often through-composed and arranged his pieces. Takase took the same approach, setting duets, collective improvisation and Eugene Chadbourne's singing in rigourous and varied frameworks. The first paragraph of my account of the Oliva/Raulin Quintet's take on the era could almost be copy-pasted here.

Ethan Iverson's review of a Waller boxset made me want to explore him more, so I got a ridiculously cheap compilation (10 CDs for 18 euros) that manages the vexing exploit of having only "Ain't Misbehavin'" in common with Takase's Plays Fats Waller. Though the band members were basically the same and the repertoire and arrangements strayed little from the album's, there were a few subtle changes. The recorded version of "Ain't Misbehavin'" is a duet between Takase and Chadbourne twith a tipsy, after-hours hotel bar intimacy. On stage, the full quintet participated, making it more of a boozy party and Chadbourne seized the opportunity to change the lyrics from "me and my radio" to "me and my banjo" as he hugged his instrument close.

As does the CD, the concert opened with "Looking Good But Feeling Bad" and "Vipers Drag." Aside from Chadbourne's heartfelt comic vocal pastiches, the former featured solos that applied a swing phrasing to wild lines, while the latter went further out, pushing the original material just out of sight, then bringing it back.

Everyone turned in fine performances: Wogram was his typically amazing self, Lovens and Chadbourne egged each other on and Mahall wailed, but the leader was never overshadowed. Takase deftly negotiated hairpin turns between delicate fury and sophisticated abandon, as she tightly interwove stride and free playing. A highlight was a duet with Mahall that started with ferocious bass clarinet barks and elbows thrown against the keyboard. When the pianist shifted to jaw-dropping double-time stride that Mahall could barely keep up with, the aggressivity level did not drop at all. She brought the same physical commitment to both ways of playing, making them seem like one.

Monday, April 23, 2007

ethan on andrew hill

Ethan has written a great mini-essay on Andrew Hill worthy of those he wrote on Ornette Coleman (also, don't miss his public display of devotion towards Hill). In it, he highlights some unlikely spots: Grassroots and Pax. The title track of the former reveals Hill's sarcasm (check out the way the minimal-funk piano solo slips in and out of time). "Eris," on the latter album, bursts with wild energy.

Hill's quieter side is also present on "Erato," a hypnotic little trio piece on which Joe Chambers's brushwork ably suspends time. Ben Allison's evanescent sextet version of "Erato" can be found on his great album Buzz.

gangsterism in the garden

Trevor Watts/Jamie Harris - 22/04/2007@L'Archiduc, Bruxelles

Trevor Watts - as, ss, perc
Jamie Harris - perc

Trevor Watts and Jamie Harris engaged in duo playing that seemed to tap into the oldest musical approaches: voice and percussion. Harris kept up steady, engrossing polyrhythms that weren't particularly interactive, but varied subtly. Watts, his tone the very epitome of the alto's ability to be both hard-blowing and sickly sweet at once, used minimal harmonic bases - generally little more than a single scale - to emphasise untroubled melodic improvisation.

The overall approach was something of a double-edged sword: while the regular, complex and dancing rhythms and the harmonically-limited melodies made the music user-friendly and festive, it also made monotony a very real danger, one sometimes all too present. At one point, Watts broke into a short bout of circular breathing that edged towards Evan Parker territory, which emphasised how narrowly he was otherwise constraining his playing. Also, I would rather have heard this music outside in a park and taken advantage of the sunny (French election) day, rather than inside the somber Archiduc. I'll let pictures taken in Brussels on the same day handle the rest of the review:

Friday, April 20, 2007

Pax for Andrew Hill

Andrew Hill died in the early hours of April 20th, after a years-long battle against lung cancer. You can watch what was probably his last concert here. That performance exacerbates the autumnal glow that suffused Time Lines. In the liner notes to The Day The World Stood Still, Hill describes his younger self as "talented but crazy, semiautistic and eccentric." In his later years, he seemed to have reached an impeccable, fascinating balance between talent, eccentricity and communication.

Below is part of the email from Howard Mandel that informed me of this sad news.

Hi JJA members and friends --

I've been asked by composer and pianist Andrew Hill's family to announce to the press that he died at 4 a.m. today, April 20, 2007, several years after being diagnosed with lung cancer. He was 75 years old and lived in Jersey City, NJ.

Hill, born June 30, 1931 in Chicago, Illinois (contrary to some previously published places and dates dates), had a lengthy international career as performer and recording artist, and educator (at Portland State University; he also gave master classes at New York University, and elsewhere; he leaves a voluminous and highly varied recorded legacy, dating from the 1950s (So In Love) to his 2006 trio album Time Lines (Blue Note), named to many critics' top ten lists. Hill is survived by his wife Joanne Robinson Hill, and a niece, nephew and cousin, besides a devoted coterie of friends, typically creative artists and perceptive fans.
Funeral and tribute information has not been determined. For further information, call me at (212) 533-9495. I first met Andrew in 1971, we kept in touch and became friendly, I regard him highly and am enriched to have known him.

Howard Mandel

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Joanna Newsom - 18/04/2007@AB, Bruxelles

I bought my concert ticket even before having heard Ys, and my blind faith was rewarded more than I could have imagined. Ys's orchestra was reduced to just violin, tambura/banjo and percussion, but there was no sense of loss: as the original arrangements use elliptical suggestions rather than brute force or strength-in-numbers, they could be effectively emulated in a stripped-down context. Of course, on the songs taken from The Mik-Eyed Mender, there was no such problem to begin with.

The very first notes of "Emily" promised a beautiful experience that only got more extraordinary with each passing song. To hear Joanna Newsom's voice on CD is one thing, but to see her, sitting behind the harp, swooping through rollercoaster melodies while subtly playing with vocal phrasing and timbre was amazing, at times almost overwhelming. Wonderful, but also courageous: who would think to sing about the differences between meteors, meteorites and meteoroids, let alone make it sound good? Would others not have attempted to eliminate that bizarre, glitch-like squeak that leads into high notes? Newsom makes it charming.

I was highly admirative of the adequation between the music and the singing: both were smart, unconventional and creative. Every percussion hit (the percussionist remained silent for long stretches of time), backing vocal (the violinist's female voice and the percussionist's male voice were applied in careful doses) or violin line fit with a tailor-made snugness.

Sure, it's difficult to follow the narratives, even one as relatively straight-forward as "Monkey & Bear," especially given such rich musical accompaniment. While I generally agree with Steve Smith's assessment that Newsom is "clearly dancing in her head," with Van Dykes Parks "inviting everyone inside," I think that the use of a limited set of recurring, catchy melodies effectively provides a cyclical counterweight to the radically linear narratives. In other words, you don't hang on to the chorus lyrics, but to the musical motifs. In any case, I don't see concerts this powerful very often.

An aside. Apparently, it's OK to use super glue to temporarily close a finger cut incurred while playing harp. While waiting for the glue to dry, Newsom filled the time with some of her endearing, slightly goofy stage patter. She told us about her brother and sister texting her in response to a very bad joke she had told in Dublin, while the glue dried. Her excuse was that it is the only joke she can remember. You can see that moment here.

Australian singer/songwriter Ned Collette opened, alone with his guitar and loop station. He too tended to spin long, hard-to-follow narratives, but without really commanding the stage enough for me to want to make the effort. They were about more standard-issue issues: in one song, he sang "You look good by bringing me down." Collette steadily increased his use of loops, building several layers, soloing for a few bars and then changing the accompaniment under the looped solo.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Van Der Werf / Veras / Dumoulin / Thys / Galland - 15/04/2007@L'Archiduc, Bruxelles

Bo Van Der Werf - bs
Nelson Veras - g
Jozef Dumoulin - Fender Rhodes
Nic Thys - b
Stéphane Galland - d
Fabian Fiorini - p

Though the members of this All-Star grouping knew each other well from other situations and draw to some extent on M-Base-related concepts, seemingly vast differences in personalities made the usual first-time grouping pitfalls inevitable.

Stéphane Galland and Nic Thys formed a generous partnership that swung and grooved in different, but compatible ways. The drummer applied a space-appopriate version of the complex yet irresistable asymetrical-layers-of-polyrhythms that are part of AKA Moon's signature style, while Thys laid down light, nimble, more straight-forward grooves. On a thoroughly mystifying "In Your Own Sweet Way," he even delved into a jazzy pulse, though without walking. I was surprised they played a standard at all, though I don't think anyone would have suspected them of playing one, had Bo Van Der Werf not announced it. What happened above the rhythm pair's implicit exuberance, though, reflected a quite different spirit, just as the dusky Archiduc interior contrasted with the bright, hot sun outside.

Baritone saxophone, guitar and Fender created a dirty grey mist of indeterminate, low-intensity melancholy whose surface subtly changed. Bo and Veras often intertwined their lines, the guitarist stepping forth for brief bursts of rapid Pat Metheny post-bop. Jozef Dumoulin shaded and suggested, playing more pianistically than I'm used to hearing him, but with as timbrally adroit as ever. An unaccompanied passage of glitchy glass-organ-sounding chords and low drones made for a lovely dream-like moment. Bo is one of the more inscrutable players I know. He is never loud, his tone always relatively neutral and his Messiaen-inspired harmonic sense ever elusive. This creates a sort of smooth, jet-black surface that's intriguing but ultimately inaccessible.

l-r: Laurent Blondiau, Nic Thys, Jozef Dumoulin

When the group came together for a riff over a tricky groove, I would mechanically be sucked in by the rhythm, but eventually I got irritated by my reaction, resentful of a superposition of timeful (i.e. Galland's kaleidoscopic rhythmic subdivisions) and timeless that never seemed to gel into a coherent whole. Fabian Fiorini sat in during the second set and his combination of dissonance and tumbling rhythm was welcome.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Bedroom Community label night - 12/04/2007@AB Club

Before the concerts started, I watched part of a documentary on No Wave and some of its immediate and more distant successors. Interviews with Arto Lindsay, Lydia Lunch and another member of Teenage Jesus & The Jerks, Glenn Branca, Michael Gira, Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo were interspersed with concert footage. Apart from DNA, I'd never heard any of the bands, much less seen them. The extremism of some of the performances (Swans' punishing, ritualistic intensity, The Contortions' Soul-tinged craziness, among others) was amazing.

After a while, the film suddenly jumped from 1982 to 2002 and applied the same formula to well-known bands like Yeah Yeahs Yeahs, Liars and Black Dice, and lesser-knowns such as A.R.E. Weapons (whose front-man was, in amusing contrast to everyone else, a total poseur) and others whose names I'm forgetting. At one point, Lunch said that she didn't see her music as entertainment. Judging from the clips in the movie (bad form, I know), most of the current bands, while enjoyable, were definitely on the entertainment side of things, less wildly radical, apart perhaps from Black Dice. Branca and others were also given the chance to gripe about the young'uns having it so easy, as all self-respecting old men must. Anyway, the documentary was an unexpectedly appropriate warm-up for the first act.

Ben Frost (website | MySpace)

As I walked in, the heavily-bearded Frost was hovering over his laptop, while two guitarists added short, sharp, synchronised blasts to a thudding 6-beat figure. It progressively built to a rhythmic cacophony of guitar and crackling laptop static. Massive drones that rattled chest, throat and room even at low volume and actually made it a little difficult to breathe flooded from the speakers. It was all very cool.

The second piece also started with big, slow, enveloping sounds, but this time ended with a cathartic, but tricky, modified shuffle over which the guitarists jumped around and into each other.

Nico Muhly (Nico Muhly | MySpace)

The principal reason for my attendance. Prof. Heebie McJeebie introduced Muhly to me, and after reading Steve Smith gush and Bernard Holland scratch his head, I was curious to see this new music heart-throb for myself, even if the half-filled 200-capacity AB Club is a far cry from Zankel Hall. And he is rather cute.

The programme consisted of pieces for piano, piano + laptop and piano + laptop + violin. The first one was my favourite, as piano and laptop delved immediately into head-spinning rhythmic subdivisions.

Throughout the concert, the laptop parts were elaborately stitched-together string or mallet percussion sounds, but given a particular texture, or "depth of field" that I doubt it would be possible to create with live instruments. The integration of piano and laptop (controlled by Valgeir Sigurðsson) was wonderfully seamless: somehow, they both seemed embedded in one another. I often closed my eyes to avoid the usual "where's the sound coming from?" reflex and take it in as a whole.

The two piano pieces kind of drifted along. The first (listening to the CD, I think it was "A Hudson Cycle") was a romantic mostly-waltz, more mood than melody. By setting aside the rhythmic concerns of the previous piano/laptop piece, Muhly's deceptively simple harmonic language was more apparent.

I have a real problem connecting with Classical violin, so the trio pieces didn't do too much for me. One took a very static backdrop, punctured it with increasingly aggressive tuba (?) blasts and generated a sense of dread, especially when the violin played melodically, rather than worked over repetitive riffs. The highlight of "Honest Music," the trio piece that ended the set, was when Sigurðsson fed back several violin lines at once in dynamic bursts peppered with laptop static.

The concert was good, but I'm finding the CD Speaks Volumes even better.

Valgeir Sigurðsson (Bedroom Community (MySpace)

For his own set, label owner Valgeir Sigurðsson used laptop and guitar, along with Muhly on piano and keyboard, the same violinist, a second keyboardist, a cellist and a drummer. This was the longest set, but for me very underwhelming. The overall vibe was a less pop post-Portishead and post-Hooverphonic, but somewhat unsatisfying. Sigurðsson said it was only their fourth concert, so maybe that had something to do with the timid performance. Song after song, slow, fairly static dreamscapes unfolded, all sounding very nice but just lacking in either oomph or sheerly transcendent beauty. Maybe I would have enjoyed it more sitting down or suspended in a vat of nutrient-rich jelly.

For some reason, most of the beats the drummer played sounded really dated, as if coming from the soundtrack for a trendy late-90s advertisement. When, towards the end of the concert, the beats (both drums- and laptop-generated) let go of the backbeat and structured themselves more loosely, they meshed better with the simple string motifs and the keyboards' lush chords and discrete flourishes. The best beat of all, glitchy and seemingly mapped onto Muhly's intricated piano phrasing, was too rapidly drowned in a more conventional one, but they eventually made up for it by upping the dance and fireworks quotients. After an insistent ovation, Sigurðsson returned to the stage to say "Thanks for trying. We played eleven songs, there are no more."

Thursday, April 12, 2007

radical in shepp's clothing

Visionsong has a Dave Holland/Chris Potter duo concert review with an appraisal of Potter far more interesting and credible than my own.


The Bad Plus's EPK for Prog is up on YouTube. It opens with the amazing "Physical Cities" and closes with David Bowie's "Life On Mars," done in (to take Here Are The Vistas reference points) blow-it-apart "Heart of Glass" mode rather than wink-wink-nudge-nudge "Smells Like Teen Spirit" mode. I prefer the former, anyway. It also features as-funny-as-ever commentary.

Maybe I'm tainted by the knowledge of TBP's oft-professed love for Ornette Coleman and Charlie Haden and influenced by having just listened to The Belgrade Concert (with Haden, Redman and Blackwell), but I couldn't help but think that there was a definite link between the two bands. The drummers' explosions on quieter tunes and rocking beats, for example. And the way Coleman uses the violin on "Rock The Clock" is just like a rock guitarist adding a layer of static/noise for atmosphere, providing a somewhat indirect rock-oriented connection.

If, like me, you're convinced, you can pre-order Prog here.


The Financial Times review of Ben Sidran's massive interview box set contains the amusing phrase "radical academics like Archie Shepp."


Q-Tip is taking it to the people: see his "Release Kamaal The Abstract" petition.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

bell, curved

Commenter Roy links to a follow-up on the Joshua Bell article. The title of the post, by a subway musical saw player, says announces its flipped-perspective clearly: "Is Joshua Bell a good busker?". In any case, it's a welcome antidote to the "pearls before swine" view of most of the many, many comments appended to the original article. Take, for example, Friedlanderlaw's wisdom:

All cultural expression is NOT EQUAL. All cultures have an equal opportunity to produce works of genius, but all cultures do not produce it.

I don't mean to keep on bringing up Metheny Mehldau, but I came across the mention that the album had sold 100,000 copies worldwide in six months.


Has anyone ever listened to the New York Times's popcasts? Is it just me, or do written CD reviews sound particularly silly when read out loud?


The Cinematic Orchestra is opposing the various forms of illegal file-sharing on its latest CD:
Before you copy, burn or upload these recordings please take a moment to think about what you're doing and what you're not doing. You are not 'sticking it to the man'. You are not 'striking a blow against outdated copyright laws'. You are not 'liberating content from the corporations'. Nor are you 'promoting our records for us'. You are making it much harder for the musicians in Cinematic Orchestra to make anything like a living wage for creating the music which is good enough to give to friends and associates.
The Guardian's Dorian Lynsky goes on to say that he knows "passionate music fans with decent wages who have never paid for a legal download and haven't bought an album in years." To me, that's wrong - people who are "passionate" and can afford to be, put their money where their ears are. Ninja Tune lose me when they say "by all means pirate the latest corporate spew from major central," though.

quick escapes

ric hochet, off boulevard anspach

unknown cat, between galerie royale and à la mort subite

le chat, gare du midi

tintin, capitaine haddock, milou, close to mannekepis

André Francis - Jazz, La préhistoire du jazz & Naissance du jazz

[previous chapter]

"La préhistoire du jazz" (Jazz's Prehistory) stretches from the arrival of the first African slaves to the Blues and Bessie Smith, "Naissance du jazz" (The Birth of Jazz) covers New Orleans, Chicago, boogie-woogie, Jelly Roll Morton and a few others. They're both pretty astounding, so much so that I doubt - and hope - that nothing like them could be written today.

Congo Square is of course the first chapter's central concern.

There, From Saturday to Sunday evening, helped by alcohol, driven by sex, the black drummers sowed the fetichists' trance in their brothers' bodies and warned the whites that a new music was being born.
A similar atmosphere lingers elsewhere in New Orleans:
Alcohol, love and dance have always gone well together. Shouts, syncopation, yells, heat; jazz needed Storyville's soil to blossom.
Sex, drugs 'n' rock 'n' roll is all well and good, but what becomes clear is how little Francis thinks of all these people as people. They are raw materials, to paraphrase Ralph Ellison. Or, to quote Francis on the country bluesmen: "Their art was unpolished, but pure." The only musician quoted at any length is Mahalia Jackson explaining her reticence to sing the Blues. She makes it clear that this raw material has a mind of its own, but Francis ignores that. Even in the later chapters dedicated to Louis Armstrong or Duke Ellington, there is little sense of dealing with actual people, rather than beings that left behind record collections.

When Francis describes the rudimentary instruments used in Congo Square, one wonders where he's getting all this from. It's safe to assume that he was never present at any of the week-end Congo Square dances, so it's strange that only one book is cited in the entire first chapter. Maybe the litterature didn't exist back then (at least not in French) and he's stitching together things gathered in piecemeal, unrigorous fashion, but it'd be nice for him to admit the limits of his knowledge, because at times his portrait sounds like little more than... a blog post.

I think that Francis simply feels (perhaps unconciously) extremely distant from, not only jazz's ancestral progenitors, but also American musicians such as Armstrong and Ellington whom he probably had the opportunity to see perform. In any case, that would help explain the tone of later chapters.

Monday, April 09, 2007

singing about jazz-rock

venetian miniature heads on a stick

Pete Wareham on the importance of song in the "new" jazz-rock:
"I think, for me, it's mostly come out of songs," Wareham adds. "Doing jazz gigs and playing straight-ahead jazz standards, what you are doing is learning songs - great, brilliant songs - and how songs work. The main thing is writing songs, even if they don't have lyrics or vocals. I like all the different aesthetics that can contribute to what a song is. You can have someone with an acoustic guitar or with a distorted tuba, but if it's still a song, the aesthetic is relatively secondary to the form.
I'm still getting the impression that somehow hanging on to the idea of the song, though well outside Tin Pan Alley conventions and very different from what that might have meant in '70s Fusion, has become fairly widespread.


Geoff Dyer, recounting his jazz-listening history, makes a comment that perhaps captures what is at the heart of the "is jazz dead?" problem:
it seems to me that an unspoken assumption underwrites many of the most successful ECM recordings: namely, that by the late 20th century you could make jazz only if you were simultaneously trying to find a way out of it.

Jazz Thinks points to Matt Weiers's interview cache. The one with Don Byron contains interesting statements about singers:
As horn players, we grew up thinking that singers were like this lowly breed, but I don’t think it’s really like that. (...) When a singer is a great musician, he or she kind of raises the bar for a certain kind of expression.

To dispel rumours that all he does is raise cactii, Peter Breslin has his recent series of duets concert for download. The crowd laughter on the duet with "movement/voice artist" Ruth Zaporah is pretty great.


Darcy has posted half of the latest Secret Society concert. Taylor Ho Bynum appraises the set, among other things, including Anthony Braxton's recent septet concerts. Had I known Matt Bauder and Nicole Mitchell had participated, I would have asked them about it yesterday... Taylor leads to bassist Carl Testa's blog and account of one of those concerts.


Speaking of the Exploding Star Orchestra, Daniel "SoundSlope" Melnick proves that bloggers aren't just armchair pundits, since he played a part in the group's initial stages. I'm surprised by the crowd's reaction at the ESO's first concert. Dan says "half of them or more got up and left in the course of the show." While I can understand not liking the more full-on improv sections, there's plenty of groove and even some bopping, too.


Dan links to an article on Charles Gayle and the state of the jazz CD business. It's unfortunate that the author tells you that you where you can't buy Gayle's Live At Glenn Miller Café (don't half of Ayler's albums have the same title?), but not that you can simply go to the Ayler Records website and order or download it. The piece ends with a Gayle quote: "I'm amazed people even listen to me." Take that any way you will, but I intend to amaze Gayle towards the end of this month.


Nate Chinen interviews Brad Mehldau and Pat Metheny. I'm still not really sold on the duo album, but I'm looking forward to seeing the quartet this summer.

across the street from the concert hall

somewhere in Ixelles (Brussels neighbourhood famed for its Art Nouveau buildings)

Joshua Bell - just another street fiddler. Great article. [via The Rest Is Noise guest-blogger Justin Davidson]


(The Wikipedia entry on "Doctor Who in America" is excellent. However, is does somehow omit the fact that the second-prize winner of the look-alike contest in the 1984 Chicago Doctor Who convention was the 11-year old Ethan Iverson, dressed as Jon Pertwee.)
A prize that no doubt holds pride of place on Ethan's mantelpiece.


Brian Olewnick, well-known as a talking head on all those PBS documentaries dedicated to Keith Rowe, has a funny anecdote.


Le Monde rounds up videos of the controversial Swiss, Israeli and Ukranian Eurovision entries. The Swiss one stretches the boundaries of credulity in the way Eurovision contestants usually do. "Vampires Are Alive" is a mix of Blade, "Thriller" and... Richard Gere(?) set to absurdly dated euro-dance, by the guy who brought you "Chihuahua." Ukraine's shares Sun Ra's fashion sense. I actually like Israel's "Push The Button", a stylistic and linguistic mash-up: "I wanna see the flowers bloom/ Don't wanna go kaboom kaboom." France's song does its own linguistic mashing and is uncharacteristically funny. What about Belgium's contestant? The less said about it, the better...

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Exploding Star Orchestra - 07/04/2007@Kunstcentrum BELGIE, Hasselt

Rob Mazurek - cnt (myspace)
Nicole Mitchell - fl, piccolo
Ken Vandermark - bs, bcl
Matt Bauder - ts, bcl
Jeb Bishop - tb (blog)
Corey Wilkes - tp, flh
Josh Berman - cnt
Jim Baker - p
Jason Adasiewicz - vib
Jason Ajemian - b
John Herndon - d
Mike Reed - d

My recent concert-going had been rather unadventurous, but this concert rectified the balance all by itself. The line-up was pretty amazing, which explains why its European tour included only two stops, I guess, this one and the Parisian Balieues Bleues festival.

The concert started before the audience was aware of it: Rob Mazurek's laptop had been generating soundscapes for over an hour when the crowd were allowed into the room. Then, a pre-recorded French text played, mentioning something about "the rendez-vous of electric eels" and ending with "a new life of galaxies," which triggered an appropriate Big Bang of loud collective improvisation. What about the eels, you wonder? Well, Mazurek explained to me later that the electronic tearing sounds and drones we had heard at times were field recordings of Amazonian electric eel discharges (Mazurek's Brazilian wife is a biologist).

If the abrupt replacement of the chaos with a powerul double-drum groove and funky 6/4 baritone saxophone riff was somewhat predictable, little else afterwards was. The music fit into the tradition of mid-size ensembles - Mingus's The Black Saint And The Sinner Lady and Don Cherry's Symphony For Improvisors are possible reference points (especially given Nicole Mitchell's use of piccolo) - that make creative use of the composition/improvisation dialectic in all of its possible permutations of instrumental combinations and uses, direction and non-direction, etc. Mazurek also drew upon Sun Ra, which explain the pan-stylistic voraciousness and titles such as "Cosmic Tones For Sleepwalking Lovers."

Whether it was Corey Wilkes riding a full-band groove, Ken Vandermark duetting with John Herndon or multiple soloists going at it at once, almost everything during the long, multi-movement "Stingray And The Beginning Of Time" was big, powerful and aggressive. Up until the last section, that is, when things slowed down to mid-tempo "swing," allowing for Jason Adasiewicz's spacey, spastic vibraphone to come through and Mitchell to develop a sweet line, which was particularly bizarre in this context, in a good way.

While the aforementioned groove seemed to recur regularly throughout the concert in various guises, the stylistic palette was very broad, but also carefully integrated. So, a furious, stop-and-go theme that opened up to collective improv could naturally be followed by a happy, Brotherhood of Breath-ish riff. Mazurek-directed bursts of improvisation easily gathered into clean Booker Little/Grachan Moncur-style avant-bop, allowing Matt Bauder to spin slippery lines and Josh Berman to burst into agitated expletives. Jim Baker provided perhaps the loveliest moment, with a solo piano piece entitled "Black Sun," during which his touch remained cristalline, whether he was playing vicious flurries or arpeggio-driven rhapsodising.

I bought the album, We Are All From Somewhere Else, along with Matt Bauder's Memorize The Sky and Jason Ajemian's large ensemble Who Cares How Long You Sink's Folk Forms Evaporate Big Sky (Chicago seems fixated on celestial themes right now) for an amazingly affordable 10 euros each. The Exploding Star Orchestra album seems okay, even if some of the power and lively messiness is missing. What I've heard of Memorize The Sky, however, is radically different: it's sound installation-y, one-slowly-developing-or-static-process-per-track. Ajemian's record kind of sounds like a collection of slow-moving orchestral preludes, very soothing, even when it gets raucous.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Tuesday Night Orchestra - 03/04/2007@Sounds, Bruxelles

I don't think I'd ever seen a real big band (you know, five reeds, four trombones, four trumpets, rhythm section, unmiked musicians who stand up to take their solos) up this close. It packs quite a punch: the first few rows of tables were wisely unoccupied (especially since the saxophone section sat in front of the stage rather than on it) and even from further back, tuttis hit with startling force. So all the little details were exposed: the cueing, the struggle for newcomers such as trumpeter Jean-Paul Estiévenart to fit into their tightly-constrained solo slots, the way the trumpet section's top-note man angled his trumpet to signify his status, the trombone slides flying in different directions, the way an unamplified flute serves more to flag intentions than to be heard.

The Tuesday Night Orchestra is made up of young Flemish musicians (Estiévenart was the only south-of-the-(linguistic-)border exception) and convenes on the first tuesday of the month at the Sounds. They played in the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis style that the Brussels Jazz Orchestra is currently Belgium's best exponent of (cf. its latest CD, Countermove). Not something I'm a huge fan of (but I have the greatest of loves for an earlier BJO album, The Music Of Bert Joris, which favoured poetry over power), but it was fun to hear live.

Showing why Thad Jones was a master of the form, the band sounded best playing his "Back Bone:" it instantly gained in brightness, power and swing. A bushel of Bob Mintzer compositions, however, didn't grab me, "Latin Dance" felt more didactic than dancey. Things picked up with the closing pairing of "Sonnymoon For Two" and "Straight, No Chaser." Both were given simpler arrangements pitting saxophone section unison theme statements against trombone punctuation. The soloists were generally fine. No real revelations, but enjoyable confirmations, such as saxophonist Bruno Vansina's feature on Kenny Werner's arrangement of "Portait of Jenny," where the mellow orchestral swells buoyed his sensitive balladeering.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

robbers and cops

Vaartkapoen, Place Sainctelette, Brussels

Monday, April 02, 2007

Venice, Italy - 8-11/02/2007

In England, if it doesn't rain for three days, a water shortage is declared and lawn-watering is banned. Similarly, three centimetres of snow here are likely to touch off confusion, panic, chaos and train delays. Luckily, the train delays didn't happen this time, so we got to the laughably- and geographically-incorrectly-named Charleroi Brussels South Airport in plenty of time. With natural disaster averted, it was only right that we create our own.

After landing at Treviso, we attempted to take the Ryanair bus to Venice. Unfortunately, the only took cash and we had no cash. The only ATM was out of order and, at 12:40, the teller at the currency exchange shop had already decided that those extra 20 minutes he was supposed to work just weren't worth it. Luckily, we had just enough money to take a local bus to the
train station. From there, we took a train to Venice.

When we got there, maybe an hour later, we asked how to get to Marghera, where our hotel was situated, reportedly "10 minutes from Venice." The startled looks we got in reply didn't bode well. It took me a little while, but I finally figured it out: Venice in Italian is Venezia, but we were in Vicenza. You can see the problem. Another lengthy train ride later, we were in Venice, for real this time.

The final piece of good news was that our hotel was indeed 10 minutes from Venice, but by car. And 30 by bus, way out in some no-man's land of a tiny village on the edge of an industrial zone, on the continent. After empty, annoyance-fueled threats to the hotel clerk, we resigned ourselves to our fate, dropped off our luggage, got back on the bus and went into town. It must have been around six o'clock when we finally got there, and we walked around beneath a light, cold drizzle.

The Carnival was starting the following day, but the city seemed strangely empty. We strolled through a sparsely-populated San Marco Piazza and waited in line only a few minutes to get into the basilic. A few days later, on Sunday morning before heading back to the airport, we ventured to the piazza again to take in some of the Carnival festivities and only narrowly escaped death by crowd suffocation.

Aside from the city itself, its folded-membrane-like structure of tiny streets and canals and Raboso Piave wine (red, chilled, ever so slightly fizzy and tasty, just shy of being sweet), what I enjoyed most was the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. I'm not entirely sure, but I got the impression that she used to live in the canal-side appartment the exhibit is in. There were some photos of her lounging around that made me intensely jealous and admirative. Just because you can nonchalantly hang Picassos and Pollocks in your living room, doesn't mean it'll look good. Hers looked really good.

Kandinsky's "Empor" radiated an incredible, balanced peacefulness, quite different from the more explosive and aggressive work of his I've seen. I saw my first in-person Pollocks, too, but didn't get much more from the one drip-fest than I had looking at the cover of Free Jazz, which was pretty disappointing. My first live Mondrian, too, which was exciting. The painting, pared down to white, black lines and a dash of red at the bottom, was really funny. In a Dutch minimalist way, admittedly.

Lots of other great stuff informally scattered around (a Malevitch paired with something similar by another painter provided for an interesting contrast in the production of block colours, for example), another favourite being a Francis Bacon study: a chimpanzee on a box, with a
solid fuschia background, how could you not love it?

In the same room, two Giacomettis: a white, surprisingly full-figured woman suggested that he possessed a good-humoured side, while opposite, the eviscerated beetle titled "Woman With Her Throat Cut" battled that notion. Max Ernst's "La toilette de la mariée," I absolutely loved, unlike some of his (or Dali's) other more ponderously Symbolic/Surreal work on display. The mask aspect fit in with the city and the use of monsters reminded me of the great Hieronymus Bosch.

I'd discovered Bosch in Lisbon, and was delighted to encounter him again in the Palazzio Ducale. He's like a late 15th century Jim Henson. I can't imagine how his work was received at the time: it's as if he took all the scary bits from paintings, sculptures and Bible stories, threw them all together into outsize extravaganzas and them made them even more horrific. Special effects and horror movies tend to become quaint after a while, but Bosch's work seems really, really twisted, scary and overflowing with imagination, to me, even today. I bought a sort of magazine (in Italian - the proper books were way too expensive) about him, and it seems that he created blissful visions of Eden that were just as good. I bet he sucked at regular landscapes, though.