Sunday, September 30, 2007

mistaken identities

While I was in the city I tried to take advantage of the other great aspects to being in New York- by... buying records (in one shop, after picking out Peter Brötzmann's, "Full Blast," among my selections, the gentleman managing the store suggested that I might be interested in the new Sonore album, "It's got Brötzmann with Vandermark and Gustafsson." I didn't have the heart to tell him that I was one of the guys he was referring to and the saxophonist on the poster for "Musician" taped to the wall by my head next to the cash register. Better to nod at the suggestion, take my albums, and walk out before I started to laugh.
- Ken Vandermark, Notes From The Field Sep 20, 2007
[John Coltrane's "Dearly Beloved"] is like the current ballad paradigm--no steady pulse, just a miasma of tone and a soloist sort of fighting to stay afloat.
- Hank Shteamer, "Promises" Kept // Thunderkiss '65
At one point, the blonde wig guy climbed a mound of dirt next to a construction site, dragging a wooden barrier up with him. He threw it off and broke it, and then he ran down the street yelling: "We're so getting in trouble!" Immediately afterward, he ran right past an idling police car; the two cops inside either didn't see him throwing the barrier or just didn't care. This was Williamsburg, after all; it's tough to imagine a single neighborhood on the planet where an ironic art-kid brass-band parade would cause less of a stir.
- Status Ain't Hood, Live: The Black Lips Are Dumb

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Gretchen Parlato & Lionel Loueke - 20/09/2007@Flagey, Bruxelles

Gretchen Parlato - voc, perc (website | myspace)
Lionel Loueke - g, voc (website | myspace)

Lionel Loueke is a giant of a man whose gentleness doesn't equal complacency. Alongside catchy rhythms, sing-song melodies and showmanship deployed singing a bass line and tongue-clucking percussion while playing not-simple guitar parts, he has a hard-nosed sense of abstraction that ranged from scattered bop lines to near-avant noise-making. His every intervention in this intimate concert was hopeful, luminous, thrilling. I've raved about Loueke's solo album In A Trance before. I won't hesitate to do so again.

It was my first encounter with Gretchen Parlato and she left me with mixed feelings.
Parlato's voice had the kind of gentle attack and limited tessiture and dynamic range that I tend to associate with Brazilian singers, so it seemed logical that they tackle a number of bossa novas. As her expressive nuances weren't always convincing - a crucial element, for her kind of voice - her singing often seemed to meander.

On somber material, however, she could be mesmerising. Rodgers & Hart's "Spring Is Here" was issued in a regretful sigh beyond fatigue, and demonstrated her ability to create a slow, charged, stark atmosphere. The set's first tune emphasised the contrast within the duo between Loueke's sharply articulated rhythm and sheer physical presence, and Parlato's more semi-rubato, ethereal approach, creating great tension by hinting at incompatibility and deftly avoiding it.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

the abundance of scarcity

When the long-playing record (LP) format was introduced by Columbia Records back in the late 1940s, the industry as a whole resisted it, and many predicted it would never take off because 78s sounded better. Without question, early LPs did not sound nearly as good as 78s. But given the choice of listening to all of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony on two sides of one record versus sixteen sides of eight records, the consumer opted for convenience and simplicity (not to mention less shelf space).

The industry also resisted the audio cassette. Who in their right mind would prefer a format with an ever-present hiss over the pristine sound of an LP? The answer: nearly everybody.
- Fredric Dannen, in What’s the Future of the Music Industry? A Freakonomics Quorum
The majors thrived in an era of artificial scarcity when they were able to control the production and distribution of music. Today, we have an infinite number of choices available to us, and when content is infinitely abundant, the only scarce commodities are convenience, taste, and trust.
- Peter Rojas, in What’s the Future of the Music Industry? A Freakonomics Quorum
So, you all know what I’m talking about. You go to the New Music Concert and the textures are appealing, the information is vivid and valid, the performances are excellent. And then there arrives a moment. And in that moment you think to yourself, “Is it possible that this is still happening? What time even is it.” And then you reconnect, and you listen, and you realize, this is still going on. And then you start looking up on the stage to see how many pages are left on the parts. And then the cellist fold out one of the pages to reveal THREE MORE. Say what you will; this is a problem.
- Nico Muhly, Too Long
With [Sharon] Jones and [Lee] Fields on board, Daptone's music is sometimes indistinguishable from the funk of 40 years ago. [Gabe] Roth has even passed off new records as old. When Desco started out, the idea of new bands playing old-style funk was a hard sell to the soul aficionados they were trying to reach. So the label's first album, The Revenge of Mr. Mopoji, was credited to "Mike Jackson and the Soul Providers" and purported to be a reissue of a soundtrack from an obscure 1970s kung-fu movie. The movie never existed. "Nobody would even listen to it if they thought it was new," Roth says. "I mean, I wouldn't have either. I can't really blame anybody. Our take on it was, 'Look, the music is real.' "
- Indrani Sen, "The 35-Year Plan for Soul Superstardom"

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

black and blue and green

“It’s getting almost so bad a colored man hasn’t got any country,” a furious Mr. [Louis] Armstrong told him. President Eisenhower, he charged, was “two faced,” and had “no guts.” For Governor Faubus, he used a double-barreled hyphenated expletive, utterly unfit for print. The two settled on something safer: “uneducated plow boy.” The euphemism, Mr. Lubenow says, was far more his than Mr. Armstrong’s.

Mr. Armstrong bitterly recounted some of his experiences touring in the Jim Crow South. He then sang the opening bar of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” inserting obscenities into the lyrics and prompting Velma Middleton, the vocalist who toured with Mr. Armstrong and who had joined them in the room, to hush him up.
- David Margolick, "The Day Louis Armstrong Made Noise"
But music written solely for the comfort of its audience is equally irrelevant. Pushing ethnic buttons as a form of quick access to the worshiper’s attention is only advertising.
- Bernard Holland, "Does Simple Music Form Simple Faith?"
I feel that there will always be CDs. It's hard to imagine, when I play a concert and we have a CD signing afterwards, the day when there won't be anything to sign. It's hard to imagine something that costs $10, but you can't see or feel it. It's hard to imagine that such a thing will hold its value.
- David Finckel (Emerson Quartet cellist, Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center co-artistic director), in David Patrick Stearns, "Classical fans must give in to downloads"

Friday, September 21, 2007

Cavalia - 19/09/2007@Tours et Taxis, Bruxelles

You know how during Olympic Games, it's easy to become totally engrossed with sports that will never even enter your mind again for the next four years? Curling, archery, modern biathlon, female wrestling, synchronised swimming. Those hours spent watching dressage finally came to some use at Cavalia, a Cirque du Soleil meets 64 horses spectacle (why is it that all these things come from Canada?).

Inside a semi-circle roughly the width of half a football field, all different kinds of horses ran around, pranced, bowed, shuffled, reared, had people jumping on and swinging around on their backs and one person riding two (and even four!) at once. There were acrobats, too (some of the horse-riders doubled up), so sometimes the horses were mere scenery to acrobatics. There were Mists of Avalon/Lord of the Rings Elvish aristocracy moments and more athletic ones. A live band played behind a scrim, appearing and disappearing through clever use of lighting effects. I'm not a horse person at all, but it was all very beautiful (and expensive; I highly recommend not buying any drinks and trying to swing a last-minute two-for-the-price-of-one deal, as we did).

The white-robed, long-haired and bare-footed leader Frédéric Pignon swanned around and smiled beatifically, seeming not to do very much, but clearly possessed of powers beyond the comprehension of mere mortals. Kind of like pre-Attack of the Clones Yoda.

The most moving moment for me, though, came right at the beginning, when one, then two, then a small herd of horses ran around, totally on their own. Something about watching them be obedient doing fairly simple things in this semi-wild state was infinitely more powerful than having someone guide them through complex and unnatural cross-legged moves.

ironic excellence

On the other hand, if improvisation really is "composition without the benefit of an eraser," then composition is probably improvisation without the benefit of an audience.
- Jazz: The Music of Unemployment, A most peculiar paradox
Excellence is what matters, and the reason why doors to concert halls and opera houses should be opened wider is so that the message can be shouted more loudly. More people should be encouraged to make their minds up. Music isn’t there to be lapped up by some supine audience like a doctor’s potion; it is there to be tasted and assessed, and no one who cares about it should avoid the responsibility of making a judgment.
- James Naughtie, "Classics For The Masses"
Jazz musicians have been doing ironic covers since the very beginning.
- Darcy James Argue, Irony, man

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

this versus that

Two threads currently circling the jazzblogosphere seem linked: Dave Douglas's discussion of repertoire vs. originality and "are the Bad Plus ironic?" Both could be boiled down to the age-old structure vs. agency debate, and its eternal attendant question: "Where to start?"

Ambivalence is crucial: the first art music to appear in the era of recording (Charles Delaunay, co-founder of the French magazine Jazz Hot, invented discography), jazz actively resists being defined by it ("you should have heard them on the nights the microphones weren't there"); relentlessly modern in its embrace of rationalism, abstraction, universality and progress, but always in thrall to nostalgia and cultural particularism; empirical learning and grubby basements fascinate (the streets, paying dues), while access to rationalised curriculae and gilded concert halls are sought; what is the difference between composition and improvisation, anyway?; communal demands for conformity (standard repertoire, techniques and modes of interaction) confront individual yearnings for... something else (visionsong puts this simply as tradition vs. expression).

These tensions, a few among many other possibilities, are not only irresolvable (except in the music itself, at its best), they are constitutive of what jazz is and therefore crucial to its existence. I don't think anyone who truly cares about this music can choose any one side of the oppositions listed above without adding a caveat or feeling dispossessed of something. Dave Douglas's indecision is indicative of precisely this:

An argument put forth by a certain member of the Collective says that you have to learn tunes because all great jazz improvisers learned by playing tunes. All the vocabulary is there. If you want to learn vocabulary and what to do when the page falls off the music stand you have to go through the great repertoire of song form.

I've always rebelled against that idea because I feel that one method should not have hegemony against all others. I was lucky enough to grow up learning tunes, but I have played with and admired so many great musicians who don't know and don't play tunes. You ought to be able to learn the nuts and bolts and simply make your own music.

But I was swayed by a truth in the argument. If you choose to study music and improvisation: from other musicians, from books, scores, recordings, and other texts, well, then, that's what there is, repertoire. This is not to say that you can't learn to make music with other kinds of materials and with other kinds of forms. But maybe there is a basic instinct in learning to play songs. I am not resolved about this, but I am shifting.
In passing, Settled In Shipping's take on this issue yields a great encapsulation of how the improviser works, and why he encroaches on the composer's territory much more readily than the interpreter might:
I think the idea of "learning tunes" can be broadened. It boils down to figuring out why music works the way it does.
The results of bludgeoning the contradictions out of the music are quite apparent. Jazz "died" not when some of its practitioners went "too far," but when "Avant-Garde" became its own category at some point in the '60s and was relegated to lofts in the '70s, facilitating the excision of the idea of Progress from the Tradition.

Where Tradition intersects with Authority, another dynamic is created. Take Anthony Braxton's standard-playing, as presented by Destination: Out, for example. I pretty much agree with Peter Breslin's assessment: these renditions are particularly unsatisfactory. Thinking back to when I saw Braxton play standards with an Italian pick-up rhythm section, I can only compare that with, say, Quintet Basel (1977) and dream about how mind-blowing four nights of Braxton's own music would have been. I am left with the question, "Why bother with standards when one's own music is so amazing?" Fittingly, this leaves us right where we started.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

rss enterprise

You don't even need to turn on the sound to be convinced.

literal metaphors #2


my mind is scattered all over your

I've been waking up to this song for the last few days. Which is rather appropriate, considering the lyrics. A little more annoying than, say, Fiona Apple, but Regina Spektor's voice is often totally irresistible.


It seems that the highest praise that I can give to a French TV series is "It doesn't look French."


I recently bought Ethan Iverson's Deconstruction Zone (standards) new and Construction Zones (originals) used, which is pretty ironic.

Monday, September 17, 2007

i love you with your bib on, baby

Sometimes Ethan [Iverson] has an idea for something he’s heard recently—and he has no sentimental attachment to it. There’s none of that “Oh man, I danced to that at the prom.” He’s got none of those feelings, so he approaches everything like, “Hmmm, Kurt Cobain liked to use open fifths, just like Stravinsky does.”
- Dave King, interviewed by Paul Olson
[What I love about this quote is the use of past tense for Cobain and present tense for Stravinsky in the last sentence. Might have been accidental. Go read the whole interview, though, it's fantastic.]
When Jazz is the subject there always seems to be an argument for the value of ignorance.
- Wynton Marsalis, in My Favorite Things, Wynton
If seeing Wilco live was cooking a meal, it would be like making a big pot of stew or sauce; starting off with a few ingredients, simmering, sauteing, adding spices, and eventually bringing the whole thing up to a boil, the sum of its parts creating a greater whole.

I'm more accustomed to rock shows that are more akin to cooking lobster: you start off with a pot of boiling water, throw in live creatures that squirm and submit, leading to a decadent feast of meat dipped in butter. A meal that requires a bib.
- Soundslope, Wilco, Millennium Park, 9/12/2007

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Bert Joris Quartet - 14/09/2007@De Roma, Antwerpen

Bert Joris - tp, flh (myspace)
Dado Moroni - p
Ira Coleman - b
Dré Pallemaerts - d

Bert Joris is not the kind of trumpeter to blow you away with volume or chops. He is a veteran now, but early in his apprenticeship, Joris felt an affinity to the likes of Art Farmer, Miles Davis and Kenny Dorham and has continued to cultivate a different kind of power, based in precisely aimed cantabile lyricism and emotionally expressive shadings. During this concert, he never sought to dominate his sidemen or soar above them, but always let himself be almost submerged by them. That he never quite was gave his playing much of its appealing sense of controlled vulnerability, along with a buttery flügelhorn and slinky Harmon mute.

As last time, "Magone" was a highlight, Joris's movements between the centre and the edges of the pocket creating a delightful tension. The leader's greatest moment of the night came at the end of the second set, with the first few choruses of "I Fall In Love Too Easily." The arrangement paired the trumpeter first with Moroni, then with Ira Coleman, and in the nakedness of the contexts his every nuance was perfect, delicate and infinitely touching. Earlier, Coleman had sparked the concert's first moment of grace, with an unaccompanied introduction to "To Philip:" a thick tone, a wide array of techniques (such as when his left hand evoked an oud by plucking on the neck) and gentle precision were transparently deployed in service of a beautiful, deep musicality.

De Roma is a pittoresque old theater/cinema that is semi-dilapidated, or, more precisely, recently semi-renovated. The vast ground floor was strewn with wooden tables, creating an atmosphere equal parts Cinema Paradiso (as Oana noted), a jazz club and a beer hall. The quartet's repertoire, entirely original apart from the standard mentioned above, complemented each element of this combination, with Moroni's take on Maiden Voyage-era Herbie Hancock, the funky soul-jazz of "Science and Signatures" and the encore of "Benoit." The latter is a light-hearted tune based on a composition by the Flemish 19th-century composer Peter Benoit, set to an old-fashioned bounce. Antwerpenaars know the original, but don't necessarily know where it comes from, which, according to the liner notes to the Brussels Jazz Orchestra's The Music of Bert Joris, the trumpeter's setting of it is meant to describe the following scene:

Imagine yourself standing atop the Antwerp cathedral early one morning, overlooking the waking city.The wind softly stirs the carillon, and while a nighthawk loudly makes his way home, life slowly gets into gear...

what have you got to sell, what have you got to tell

On Cryptogramophone's blog, Jeff Gauthier has expanded upon the comment I mentioned a few days ago:

we know our music isn't for everyone. Someone who loves a Nels Cline CD, may not love a Myra Melford or Bennie Maupin title, so we know that even the most responsible writer will trade-in some of our promos. Plus, our percentage of reviews vs. CDs sent is about 5%. So, what's the sense in sending out full CDs when most of them will just be resold, thereby wiping out two sales for every CD we give away (the sale we lost, and the CD we can't sell), while having to pay $5,000 per year for the privilege!
It's difficult to make a precise and definitive hierarchy of the participants in the music business ecosystem (musicians, fans, writers, labels, studios, promoters, lawyers, publishers, venues, equipment-makers, rights collections agencies, and so on), but I would not hesitate to put reviewers lower down the ladder than labels.

Friday, September 14, 2007

literal metaphors #1

the grass is always greener on the other side of the (barbed wire) fence.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

from guelph

HurdAudio has been doing a huge amount of reporting from the Guelph Jazz Festival. His initial post covered Anthony Braxton's keynote speech and contained this quote:

anyone seriously studying composition and making music in this current time-space needs to pay attention to what the video game people are doing. They're navigating a dynamic system that can go just about anywhere at any time and we can learn a lot from their solutions.
Among many other things, there's a report from a panel with William Parker and Amiri Baraka. Regardless of what you may think of him now, you have to admit that this (long-ago?) performance of Baraka's poem "Dope" is devastating.

I got it some time ago from Dark Forces Swing Blind Punches, a blog I don't mention often, but is awesome.

chivalry and the art of obtaining promo copies

Remember Tom Hull's complaint about promo copy stinginess? He's expanded on it:

I'm also annoyed that more and more of the latter are turning up lame, as CDs without packaging or with narrow slipcases that are hard to track or file... Then there are labels which let me download, which might be a nice perk for an I-Pod-wielding high schooler, but is a mechanical nuissance for me -- one of many new labor-shifting technologies, like self-checkout lines, that I've steadfastly refused to facilitate.

I don't read much about other critics complaining about these matters, which may mean I'm being overly sensitive, or may mean I'm just becoming overly frazzled. But it raises the question: if it all comes down to money for the label, shouldn't it all come down to money for me? It hardly takes any time at all to determine that writing Jazz Consumer Guide is a dreadful expense of time. Of course, it's not all money to me... But how much that's worth is hard to gauge. And it's far easier to imagine that writing my book might somehow pay back the effort than that I could parlay any amount of music writing into a future.
Jeff Gauthier, head of the Los Angeles-based Cryptogramophone label has chimed in on the promo copy debate from the murky depths of Jeff Albert's commenting system (shouldn't it also be on Downbeast?):
This is a sensitive issue for all concerned. For 8 years Cryptogramophone dutifully sent full Digipaks to writers to show off our beautiful packages. However, 500 digipaks (which is about how many we used to send to radio and press) is about 1/4 of our average sales on a title these days, and most of these ended up on Amazon and the used bins before a title was even released. Since Amazon is now our biggest customer, we’re just shooting ourselves in the foot by giving away so many finished Digipaks. By now writers should know that we are committed to beautiful (and expensive) packaging as well as great music. They should also know that we will always send a finished copy to a writer if they ask for it. We understand the writer’s perspective on this issue, and we hope they understand ours. We will never deny a legitimate reviewer access to our Digipaks if they ask for it. It’s kind of like sex. We’ll even give it up on a first date if they ask nicely!

take advantage of me, now!

Down in the murky depths of Darcy's commenting system, Kris Tiner asks a very pertinent question:

how far can blogging potentially be in (and bring others into) a dialogue with the actual music, be an integral part of it, rather than just a record or scrapbook of it...
I've been trying to think about how this blog should work (hence the poll, the listening notes, the quotes, the sidebar link feeds, etc.) and am very interested in ideas about the ways the blog format can fully take advantage of not being a magazine (print or electronic), a radio show or a TV show, but some kind of intersection of all that.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

getting better

In dark times for older jazz masters, it is good to see that a few can pull through, with the help of friends and strangers: Kermit Driscoll has written a moving account of his recovery from Lyme Disease

a throw of the dice

What does it say about the hallowed tradition of Western concert music when it would more readily welcome the chance throwing of dice as a legitimate path to musical decision making than accept the blues-based improvisations of African-American jazz musicians (and post-jazz innovators who were guilty by association, like Cecil Taylor, John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, and the AACM)?
- The Soul and the System, Why Improvisation?
Mr. West and Mr. Cent may indeed be assholes, but they're symbolic assholes who remind us that American Darwinism has produced a species of Negro Male who can now exploit his fetishized vernacular aura as profitably as multinational corporations can the minerals in your whole damn ancestral homeland.
- Greg Tate, "In Praise of Assholes"
I reckon my continuing indifference to [Maria] Schneider's highly refined art is subliminal. She doesn't set off the gag reflex that I have long had to highly orchestrated classical music, but that's what I suspect is lurking, somewhere near the chronic level of an allergen. Clearly, jazz fans who also like euroclassical simply adore her
- Tom Hull, Jazz Prospecting (CG #14, Part 13)
(I actually think it is the opposite: orchestral thrills, quite possibly for people who have difficulty with classical orchestras)
Further, back in the day, the music never seemed to get started until 10 or 11 p.m. or even later, with the real action getting under way long after midnight. It was great for musicians, who would often show up in the wee, small hours after their gigs at other clubs were finished, but not very welcoming for anyone who had to be in an office at 9 a.m. or filing a story on a morning deadline.
- Will Friedwald, "Smalls Redux"

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

are sleigh-bells the new maracas?

There's the dramatic sleigh-bell break in The Bad Plus's "This Guy's In Love With You." The Pascal Schumacher Quartet's "Monday Night At The Cat Club is gently propelled by them.

Other members of the bell family are seeing action as well: John Hollenbeck regularly makes things go all twinkly on The Claudia Quintet's For and Nels Cline uses bells (or maybe a glockenspiel) to create a luminous finale to Draw Breath.

This all surely adds up to something more than a random blog post. But to what?

Monday, September 10, 2007

Flemish Jazz Meeting - 08/09/2007@Vooruit, Gent

The Flemish Jazz Meeting is essentially a showcase to hip foreign concert promoters to what's happening in Flanders (though not all musicians involved were Flemish, and a few were even Dutch). It's an insider thing, somewhere between a pageant, a super-market and a mail-order catalogue, that's not even listed on Vooruit's website - I got in because I won a ticket (and, thankfully, I was in excellent company). Five bands each got a short set of generally three songs each.

Robin Verheyen Narcissus Quartet (myspace)
Robin Verheyen is maturing out of his wunderkind phase (the challenge, I guess, is to move from impressive to meaningful), no doubt helped by spending a lot of time in New York. Taking off from the more abstract end of '60s bop, they played a single, continuous improvised piece that may (or may not) have incorporated some written material at some points. The quartet moved from colouristic rubato and free-form to a percussive climax and finally slipped into a slow-burn time feel that perpetually threatened to be overturned. Verheyen was mostly above the fray, urgent and slashing on soprano, gentle and thoughtful on tenor. I still find him a little cold, but at least he's working hard to push his music outwards.

Narcissus Quartet - "Wudalianchi"

VVG Trio + Jozef Dumoulin (website)
This was a surprise. On the VVG's first two albums, the open-mindedness was implicit, but the music remained melodically-oriented and neatly organised even at its most improvisational. The three pieces they played here came from a brand-new album I haven't heard yet, and brought in a denser group sound as well as electricity (in the form of an electric bass and pre-recorded sounds). On the third piece, after having looped a sort of sneezing sound that was both funny and irritating, Bruno played with and around a pre-recorded version of the song's melody. The inflexibility of the recording was artfully embedded into a loose almost-groove in an intriguing and unusual way.

The most satisfying piece, though, harked back to the old days. In Gulli Gudmundsson's "Too Soon," against a pre-recorded backdrop of Sigur Ros-ian slow-moving strings and the rustling and plinking of drums and piano, the bassist and Bruno played and played around an elegiac melody.

VVG Trio - "In Orbit - the blast one"

Jef Neve Trio (myspace)
Back again so soon? I'm not complaining. "Sehnsucht," a piece of Schubert-inspired brooding, has become a staple, and in it the jazz looseness and the classical melody sit down and chat like old friends. The other two pieces managed to imply bustling activity and barely-contained enthusiasm even in their quietest moments. Jef is in such a fertile patch right now, he's like the Lil' Wayne of Belgian jazz.

Jef Neve Trio - "Nothing But A Casablanca Turtle Slideshow"

Maak's Spirit (myspace)
Quite clearly, Maak's Spirit is the closest thing Belgium has to the Art Ensemble of Chicago. Their usual theatricality was enhanced by a low-budget light show made up of neon lights and studio projectors strewn across the stage and operated by someone sitting next to the drums. The great concert I saw last spring had been based on the compositions from their latest album, but this time they improvised freely and delighted in humourously poking at standard codes of conduct. The dynamic range was vast: they projected more loudly and more harshly than everyone else, despite Laurent Blondiau (trumpet) and Jeroen Van Herzeele (tenor) and Eric Thielemans (drums) not being miked, but ended with a silence (and in near-darkness) caressed only by Jean-Yves Evrard's unplugged electric guitar strumming.

Maak's Spirit - "Strange Meeting"

Flat Earth Society (website)
A big band that draws the raw energy of Duke Ellington's jungle music into a contemporary complexity and an absurdist sense of humour: a growling wah-wah trumpet solo ended up being accompanied only by a coffee mug. To draw a really blog-centric comparaison, FES is an Industrial Jazz Group with a lot more institutional support and regular work.

Introducing the last of the three pieces, the clarinetist, leader and composer Peter Vermeersch mentioned a cameo by Joseph Goebbels. This turned out to mean FES's accordionist repeatedly interrupting the band, first to instruct them, in German, to play with less swing, then with a flat-footed two-beat, then with less chords and so on, until they were reduced to a single staccato note blown in unison. By that time, the docility with which the Nazi's orders were followed had become a little troubling. It was uplifting and poignant, then, when the musicians (the Goebbels impersonator and Teun Verbruggen, in his third appearance of the evening, excepted) filed out from behind their music stands to gather in a semi-circle at the front of the stage and attempt to reconstruct a quiet, swinging music.

The only album I have of theirs is fairly old and not nearly as good as what they played here, so no MP3.

the night of the living roast-chicken-skinned baby-boomer rock performers

John [Hollenbeck] handles the tension between dissonance and consonance, density and transparency, structure and freedom, darkness and light, repetition and transformation, etc., better than just about anyone else writing small-group jazz right now. I think this is because he really gets that these concepts aren't mere abstractions -- they are all deeply emotionally meaningful, and anyone who wants their music to actually communicate needs to learn how to blend them effectively.
- Darcy James Argue, Claudia Quintet, Todd Reynolds @ The Stone
I’ve been downloading masses of old albums that aren’t available for sale in any form. These things were never released on CD, they were deleted in the 70s, and they just don’t exist anymore. But there are these guys who have collections that they’re ripping off vinyl, tidying them up and putting them up on their blogs at 320kbps.’

‘I’d never have got to hear any of this stuff otherwise — and it’s like archiving them, only backwards. It’s making sure they don’t ever disappear by releasing them into the wild, rather than locking them up in a vault.
- anonymous musician, in New Music Strategies, Three Conversations About Music
If you’re a no-talent wannabe, who needs publicity to get noticed as you sell singles and never generate any touring income, the major label is FOR YOU!
- Lefsetz Letter, More Rubin/Columbia
I genuinely believe that this current generation of clean living, still performing, stage hogging, liver spotted and roast-chicken-skinned baby-boomer rock performers will not only live on for decades - thanks to advances in computers and robotics they will live forever.

Welcome to a nightmare world where Elvis Costello never ever stops releasing albums. Where Sting is constantly 're-sleeved' into newer, blonder, smugger bodies, like in that sci-fi book Altered Carbon. Where Phil Collins shags your great great granddaughter. Where the babyboomers live on into eternity, sucking all the oxygen out of the pop sphere.
- Steven Wells, Sting, where is thy death?

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Saturday, September 08, 2007

sparking more attention

Herbie Hancock was on French TV last night, promoting his new album. Don't get too excited and romantic about the possibility of high culture on French state TV - he performed at the end of a literary show (guests included former center-right Prime Minister Dominique De Villepin, who has just written his second book on Napoleon, and Régis Debray. Bizarrely, they seem to be good friends) that had started at 11:30 PM.

Hancock's performance was announced at the beginning, but a clip of the band, probably shot during sound check, showed Wayne Shorter alongside Hancock. Amazingly, Shorter went totally unmentioned until just before they began playing. The band was essentially Shorter's quartet with Hancock instead of Danilo Perez and the addition of Luciana Souza to sing Joni Mitchell's "Amelia." I've yet to be really taken with Souza (I've only heard her album of Elizabeth Bishop poetry and her appearances the last two Maria Schneider albums), and she seemed particularly (and voluntarily) colourless here.

As on the two excerpts I posted recently, the music intimated through small strokes and constantly eschewed big gestures, or even repeated ones. Low-key as it was, the quintet attempted a high-wire act nearly impossible to pull off in a few minutes in a TV studio. Ultimately, it was kind of boring. There was, however, one moment of grace when, on the wordless vocalisations after the third verse, Souza held a note and Shorter (on soprano) joined her to sound like an overtone in the singer's voice. It lasted perhaps one second or two, but I'm happy I stayed up late to hear it.

You can see the performance by going to the show's website and clicking on the video camera in the right-hand sidebar. It starts around the 1:37 mark (don't worry, you can move the slider right to that point, you don't have to watch the whole thing).

The show opened with Vanessa Paradis, who also has a new album out (produced by the great Mathieu Chedid alias M, and the first single is vintage him, especially the backing vocals and the interruption on the verse). My favourite part, though, is the cover painting, a Klimt-pop portrait of Paradis by her husband Johnny Depp.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Le jazz, c'est le SEXE

The finest singers not only hit the notes but erase the difference between notes and words. Singing is most thrilling when it becomes a kind of heightened talking. That’s what happens in Pavarotti's “Che gelida manina” or “E lucevan le stelle” or "Una furtiva lagrima": the beauty of the sound envelops you, but you’re not conscious of the artifice of art. It’s as if someone were making conversation in a dialect of dreams.
- The Rest Is Noise, Thougts on Pavarotti
We're gonna have fun on Sept. 11
- Stephen Hill, a BET executive vice president, in "50 Cent, Kanye West face-off on BET"
Bellowing ridiculous lyrics without so much as batting an eyelid is a cornerstone of rock n roll and I for one will forever defend the right of bands to pen songs about Tolkien, The Crimean War, Genghis Khan, Stonehenge to the hilt:)
- bertjansch, commenting on The Led Zeppelin reformation rocks
Through Musician, the audience gets to share the joy of booking gigs. You will see Vandermark pay one sideman a dollar extra for driving. You will start to understand how much fun load-in can be.
- J.B. Spins, Work: Musician
Ce qui est drôle, c'est qu'en France le jazz a deux images : celle d'une musique d'intellos torturés et incompréhensibles, ou celle des bons fêtards entre le pastis et le cassoulet.

Mais aux Etats-Unis, c'est une autre affaire. Le jazz, c'est le SEXE. Faites attention la prochaine fois que vous voyez un film hollywoodien où le héros va passer une soirée "intime" avec sa bien-aimée. S'il met un disque, ce sera du jazz. Bonne nouvelle ! Née dans les bordels de la Nouvelle Orléans, cette musique centenaire semble donc garder dans l'inconscient collectif américain toute sa puissance érotique... à condition bien sûr de la rendre présentable à la copine de Spiderman !
- Laurent de Wilde, Jazz et Super-Héros (on the jazz club scene in Spiderman 3)

La seconde partie du concert de ce mercredi soir 5 septembre à Jazz à La Villette a confirmé que pour faire du neuf, 5+4 est une formule imparable.
- Alex Dutilh, Imani Wayne

Thursday, September 06, 2007

first be.jazz reader poll

I occasionally put up MP3s, but I don't know if they actually interest anyone. So I've put a poll in the sidebar to get your opinion. It will be active for a week. Please answer, as it'll also be a handy way for me to get an idea of how many different people read this thing.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

jazz and blogs #22

The Soul and the System
Kris Tiner's new blog. At his old one, he promises "to take the blogging project much more seriously, to offer fewer and more concentrated posts that will be distilled from a series of essays that I've already been poking at for years."

My Favorite Things
Russ Neff, from jazz radio and press in Central Pennsylvania, US. [via Rifftides]

Le son du grisli
Chroniques d'albums, interviews...

De jolis petits billets sur les grands maîtres.

forget the cloned tortoises

Much of what we’ve accepted as jazz repertory over the past eight decades has been forgettable popular songs and dull variations on popular songs, raised to the level of art by intensely creative performances which do not merely interpret but vastly improve upon the original material. And there are a lot of corny, boring, or banal songs and jazz originals out there which resist such treatment because they are simply too corny, boring, or banal.
- Art Lange, "A Fickle Sonance" Point of Departure September 2007 (an excellent and stimulating article overall)
At a time when globalization, stylistic hybridization and post-modernism’s dismissal of dialectical progress has all but atomized the traditional jazz family tree model – with the roots of blues, spirituals and work songs supporting the trunk, limbs and branches – the Italian jazz grapevine model has matured. Though it honors graying trailblazers like trumpeter Enrico Rava and pianist Franco D’Andrea (who performed as a duo mid-way in the Siena Jazz festival that coincides with the seminars), the grapevine model is horizontal, spidering outward in various directions, with shoots entwining about each other. This model has engendered a refreshingly dogma-free pluralism in Italian jazz, which is at the root of the growing international recognition of its vitality.
Both Schiaffini and Battaglia point to the need to let students learn. “If you tell them everything,” Schiaffini suggested, “then there is nothing for them to discover.” Battaglia believes that “you have to leave space for them to fill in,” whether the student is performing or composing... “This is jazz we’re trying to teach,” said Schiaffini with a faint incredulity. “You can’t give them all of the answers. If they all have the same answers, they will be clones,” Schiaffini added, tapping the table with his fist, as if he was cutting cookies.
- Bill Shoemaker, "Page One," Point of Departure September 2007
Anyone Fancy A Chocolate Digestive was predictably Mahler-esque in its intensity, but the best song was about tortoises. There aren't nearly enough songs about tortoises; I bet even bloody Tortoise have never written a song about a tortoise. This is, frankly, pathetic.
- Do You Come Here Often?, Dish Launch

vandermark on film

Anyone seen Musician, the Daniel Kraus documentary on Ken Vandermark?

New York Times movie review
be.jazz interview

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

lay lady lay your money on me

In his breakdown of the 2007 Downbeat Critics' Poll, Tom Hull makes an aside:

I'm picking up cost-cutting vibes from ECM; tsk, tsk
I guess that he's referring to ECM'snew electronic delivery system that allows reviewers to download MP3s and burn CDs of new releases:
Far too frequently, we sent out CDs to a large number of writers for titles which then received only 2 or 3 reviews. Many of you have written articles about the enormous decline in CD sales so it doesn't need much explaining - we simply cannot continue to send out promo CDs in such large quantities.
CD's will still be available when necessary for reviewing - but please try using [our new electronic servicing system] so you can limit your CD requests to titles you actually plan to review.
- from an e-mail ECM sent 'round
I gather from his "tsk, tsk" that Hull does not approve. I've never been a massive recipient of review copies (though I've gotten a fair amount of them), so maybe my opinion doesn't count for much, but I think that this is a logical move. A few other labels already use similar, though simpler, systems.

ECM's software is relatively simple and not restrictive. I guess this could backfire if the jazz reviewing community turns out to be a hide-bound bunch that refuses to have any of its priveleges semi-taken away in these lean times. Actually, this could make an even bigger difference for smaller labels for which the cost and time if takes to mail stuff out are perhaps bigger shares of the overall budget.

IODA Promonet (which I used for the MP3s in the post on Nels Cline's New Monastery) has a system targeted at blogs and podcasts. A similar virtual bazaar for review copies could be interesting.

the jazz club & music spots map

View Larger Map

There's been a link to this map in the sidebar for a while now, but it has only recently become easy to embed a Google map in another web page, so, here it is. I've only done Brussels so far (and maybe not everything in Brussels, either), but I intend to add places in Antwerpen, Ghent, Brugge, etc. I've only listed places I've been to, but I'm not sure how important it is that I keep it that way. Additions are welcome.

A worldwide map with automatically updated concert listings and geo-located photographs would be cool, obviously, but let's keep it simple for the time being.

listening notes: nels cline, new monastery

New Monastery - A View Into the Music of Andrew HillNels Cline
"McNeil Island / Pumpkin" (mp3)
from "New Monastery - A View Into the Music of Andrew Hill"
Buy at Napster
Stream from Rhapsody

"Reconciliation / New Monastery" (mp3)
from "New Monastery - A View Into the Music of Andrew Hill"
More On This Album

The strangest thing about this very, very good album is Bobby Bradford's cornet. In fact, it is probably among the strangest cornet/trumpet tones I've ever heard. It is acidic, flattened, bitter to the taste, alienating and seemingly barely keeping a grip on the proceedings but somehow supremely arrogant, too, for example in the way he stands outside the ensemble on "Pumpkin"'s ensemble theme statement. It would be a stretch to say that I loved it, but I am really intrigued, almost fascinated.

One—You have to have a healthy irreverence for what everybody else is doing; two— you have to be willing to take risks; and three—you have to be really confident that what you’re doing is for you.
- Bobby Bradford, in Michelle Mercer, "Jazz West"
His exposed lead on the slow and soulful "Dedication" shows just how little he cares about being friendly to you. There's something irreparably cracked about Bradford's playing. This is probably due, at least partially, to the effects of aging: on 1969's Seeking with John Carter, his tone is much purer, his phrasing adheres more closely to the beat and the front-line's unisons have a surgical precision, at the highest of speeds. It is interesting to note the contrast with the age-tempered warmth Charles Tolliver brought to Andrew Hill's Time Lines.

Even compared to his younger bandmates, Bradford seems sour. However brash clarinetist Ben Goldberg and Cline himself get (and they are just as often overtly sweet), they're always ready to make nice and play pretty, as in their duo version of "McNeil Island." Andrea Parkins, here and in Ellery Eskelin's trio, seems to me closest to Bradford's aesthetic.

What does our local Bradford expert think?

Monday, September 03, 2007

francis marmande does not exist

Francis Marmande is Le Monde's (France's newspaper of record) long-time jazz and corrida critic. I haven't read any of the books he may have written, or even any classic reviews that may have cemented his stature. I just read whatever he deigns to send my RSS reader.

There are many kinds of reviewers (chroniclers, storytellers, analysers, mystics, socialites, ideologues and preachers, to name a few), all of whom have their merits. Marmande adapts the orator's sly, sexy allusiveness (is there any other kind of sexiness?). Perhaps more than any other critic I know of, Marmande is keenly aware that we are reading him reading the music. In other words, yes, we are reading about music, but the critic must make his own kind of music. See the variation of phrase lengths, the repetitions (it's almost a chorus-verse kind of structure) and the interjections in the magnificent fourth paragraph of this review of Bojan Z's Tetraband (Josh Roseman, Christophe "Disco" Minck, Seb Rocheford).

Comment se forme un Tetraband ? Par affinités, par désir de l'autre, et de ce qu'il ne peut pas donner, on verra. Le jazz n'existe pas. Les musiciens de jazz, oui. Vérifiables, tangibles, présents. Lorsque quatre corps, quatre expériences telles que celles-ci se réunissent, les choses sont simples. Ou ça tourne en rond. Chacun englué dans son ego, sa soif de démonstration. Ou ça prend. Les musiciens de jazz connaissent tous cette preuve ontologique du jazz : la première fois qu'ils se rencontrent, ils jouent. Quoi ? Rien. Ils jouent un nouveau rien ensemble. Pour voir.
So sometimes the music is lost in Marmande's ellipses, but when it has "eroticised" the air around it, he is able to pass that charge on to us. Describing the power and hazards and mechanisms of a first-time meeting, he is gentleman enough not to preempt our own pleasure in possible later performances. And unlike some writers who are excellent at maneuvering tight spaces, in a longer article like "Les aigus, c'est grave," Marmande loses none of his density.

attention sparked and courted

Herbie Hancock - by which I mean 2007 Herbie Hancock, of course - is pretty much off my radar. Normally, I wouldn't really even pay attention to something like his new Joni Mitchell album (as an aside, does anyone believe that Hancock came up with the idea himself, that "Hancock sought out Larry Klein, Joni’s ex and the producer of nearly half of Mitchell’s catalogue," as the New York magazine article states?). I mean, I don't even know Joni Mitchell at all. But About Jazz has posted links to two of its songs and I may have to rethink everything.

The unaccompanied piano intro to "Court And Spark" sets the chiaroscuro mood, the soprano solo (Wayne Shorter, most likely) and Hancock's comping adventuroursly edge into uncertain territory. The spaces they have are tightly circumscribed, yet accommodate vast thought. Can the whole album be this good?

Oh, and Norah Jones sings with a pleasantly roughened grain, but is so far out of her league, everything around her becomes a kind of negative space.

so fall great trees

When great trees fall, it is wise, I think, for us to praise the ground they grew out of.
- Maya Angelou, from her eulogy for Max Roach
An image is still fresh in my mind of the shaven-headed black man in a dashiki whose technique I glommed, or tried to: he bent at the waist, snapped his fingers and shook his bright dome as if in a self-amused trance. His obliviousness to our regard was what I wanted for myself, was what I wished to hijack on behalf of my own craven pursuit of regard. I began immediately shaking my head, not yet capable of observing the finer details, how his head-shaking must surely have been driven by less ostentatious but completely authoritative movements through his feet and hips, zones I'd yet to learn to activate. But my ears were open, I wasn't deaf to the music, I know I was in the kind of bodily rapture-in-sound where all real dancing begins. Alas, I was trying to lead my dance with my head, like trying to play a song's bass line on a pair of cymbals, or a triangle. Somehow I made this my trademark - no one intervened to advise me otherwise - and so I built my dancing body from the head-shake downward, like a Cheshire cat begun at the grin.
- Jonathan Lethem, "We happy fakes"
[Rick] Rubin then invented a label, calling his company Def Jam ("Def" meaning great, and "Jam" meaning music)
- Lynn Hirschberg "The Music Man"
Christian Brun In Brooklyn vs. Don Cherry Complete Communion: inspiration, quote or theft? (and no, the former is not on Blue Note)

Sunday, September 02, 2007

geneva 24-26/08/2007

the obligatory "view from my room's window" shot

Visiting my family is always instructive (especially as my sister is just back from Brazil, where, in addition to attending a baile funk party, she introduced a Rio neighbourhood to a Martiniquan delicacy and had the local version named after her), but all the blog-interesting stuff seemed to happen in the airport.

At the airport, then, a man walked through the crowd with a ladder slung over his shoulder. Classic slapstick scenes played through my head: someone called out to him, he turned, bystanders ducked, then ducked again as he turned back. None of this happened, of course, just as no-one slips on banana peels in real life, but it didn't matter. I laughed on the inside.

On my way back to Brussels, I confirmed once and for all thaat I like girls' drinks.

Jupiler beer's men-targeted advertising (football league sponsorship, "Men know why" slogan) has always turned me off (the Mini's "TESTOSTERONE" ads are even more repellant. Unsurprisingly, it is difficult to find an example of what you are looking for when your search words include mini and testosterone. This article is close enough.). Less macho approaches appeal more: Hoegaarden Rosée's "dumb men" jokes scrawled on beer coasters, for example.

In the duty-free, I found the pink bottle pictured above. It stood under a big photo of two women pressed together in a nightclubbish environment that I can only imagine would appeal more to men and lesbians than your average heterosexual girl. I liked the ambiguity and the prospect of a vodka-cognac-rasberry-litchi combination and figured IVN would enjoy the look. I'm not sure what it means to be on the wrong side of the advertising demographic fence.

Okay, some family stuff:



I am reminded of an anecdote I meant to post at the beginning of the year, after my last family visit:

My father spent five weeks working in New York last year. During that time he met up with his old friend Jimmy Owens. When he told me this, I had been listening to the reissue of Mingus's At UCLA and perked up. "Do you mean this Jimmy Owens?" (It was an email conversation, I have yet to find a way to hyperlink speech) Granted, this is not of that much interest to you, or even to me. What is of greater interest to me (but perhaps not to you) is that I found out that I had "performed" with Owens once, at some kind of function for UN employees' kids somewhere between the ages of 5 and 8. It's not much (and I can't remember it), but it does put me two degrees away from Mingus and Ellington, among others, and I'll happily accept that.

musician questionnaire: frederik leroux

Frederik Leroux is a guitarist. Last year, he released his quartet's debut album on his own label. Angular is a careful, Downtown jazz kind of album, throwing in incongruous hard rock riffs. He actually sent me this way back in February...


1. Movie score : Ennio Morricone stuff for the Sergio Leone spaghetti trilogy, Bernard Hermann scores for Hitchcock (ex. Vertigo), Eraser Head (more for the crazy sounds, I don't know the name of the guy that did the sound effects)

2. TV theme : Twin Peaks (I don’t know who wrote it actually...), Black Adder (first series with the very silly voice and lyrics, makes my day every time)

3. Melody : "My One and Only Love" (Wood/Mellin), "My Heroics Part 2" (Absynth Minded)

4. Harmonic language : Bill Evans, Claude Debussy

5. Rhythmic feel : "It's all around you" by Tortoise (on the album It’s all around you)

6. Hip-hop track : "Runnin'" (The Pharcyde)

7. Classical piece : Bartok String Quartets, "Le Sacre Du Printemps" (Stravinsky)

8. Smash hit : 'Wanna Be Startin' Somethin' by Michael Jackson

9. Jazz album : The Science Fiction Sessions (Ornette Coleman)

10. Non-American folkloric group : Gamelan Jegog Wedi Sentana, I think this is the name of the artist (probably without 'Gamelan' in front of it). This is Gamelan music of Bali. Very hypnotic stuff and a lot of dynamics. Not if you’re having guests over, they might get a tad nervous...

11. Book on music : Style an Idea (Arnold Schoenberg), Silence (John Cage)


A) Name a surprising album (or albums) you loved when you were developing as a musician: something that really informs your sound but that we would never guess in a million years: Passion and Warfare by Steve Vai , where did you think I got those monsterchops from ?

B) Name a practitioner (or a few) who play your instrument that you think is underrated: Nels Cline, he’s a very versatile musician but few people know him. He plays in free impro settings like for example with Tom Rainey, but also in the rock band Wilco.

C) Name a rock or pop album that you wish had been a smash commercial hit (but wasn't, not really): Yankee Hotel Foxtrot by Wilco

D) Name a favorite drummer, and an album to hear why you love that drummer: John Bonham (Led Zeppelin), oh yeah, he's good. I love his playing on all of the Led Zeppelin albums I have.

building your own diyPod

I first mentioned making a CD shelf three years ago this month. So it's about time I actually got around to building the damn thing.

Long experience has taught me that the success of any engineering project hinges on accurate and detailed technical drawings:

caetano minds the extension cable, as rapturously involved and helpful as ever

yeah, i just had to throw some kind of pseudo-arty thing in there
the dr. frankenstein moment

hanging out with my creation

It is inevitable that a first-generation technology product should contain a few design flaws:

my back panel
stacks of CDs i prepared earlier - a few months earlier
the classification begins - that's the fun part
alpha-chronological (by recording date) organisational bliss... for jazz, at least

I thought I'd made the shelf big enough to take all my CDs, but it's pretty much filled up with just the jazz. I'll probably end up building a similar shelf in a few months (or years...). At least now I can survey my CDs and perhaps participate in group activities such as '70s, '90s and year-best lists.

In closing, the moment you've all been waiting for:

iPod (80 Gb) vs. diyPod
  • cost: 369€ vs. 53.92€ (+ two half-days' labour, and not counting tools)
  • capacity: roughly 150 uncompressed CDs vs. over 1,200 uncompressed CDs in jewel cases
  • time to fill: ripping included? vs. a half-day
  • portability: as far as you can get in 20 hours vs. centimetres, with great difficulty
  • metadata management: who has the time to input the bpm of every song? vs. exactly what I need
  • probability of theft or loss: fairly high vs. fairly minimal
  • coolness: high, but in a sterile way vs. high and totally authentic
I think the diyPod wins.