Monday, August 16, 2010

One for August 16

Thinking about writing (not music, words), and watching L'Avventura for the first time. How does one keep up with modernity, while still retaining some semblance of meaning? I mean, if the present is upon you, and the present moment happens to be one of those nearly-unsolvable problems, how do you represent it in art? Oh hell. The woman in the film asks "Why all this fuss over a swim?" She dives in.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Summer

The summer! It's been a busy one. A quick update on things: Two small tours have taken place in June and July, and a couple recordings (one at the home of Joe Morris and another at the Bunker Studio) have been made. It's been a very enjoyable couple months, where music is concerned anyway. Now I must prioritize a bit. Firstly, at least one of my groups needs a website, and of course this has fallen by the wayside. It will happen, just not without a bit of orchestration and willingness to do the "biz" stuff. Okay. Now for planning a couple more mini-bursts of weekend tours in November and December with Bird Fly Yellow and a yet-unnamed trio from Philly, culled from the quartet Shot x Shot.

Keep your eyes peeled for more details about gigs, releases, websites, et al. And by the way, some of my music (including an unmixed version of a track from the aforementioned Bunker session) is now available on my SoundCloud page:

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A Brief Post

Be warned, this post was meant to be concise and to-the-point. It comes, however, from a number of thought-streams... At the front of my mind right now is the string of shows I'm playing with my group Bird Fly Yellow. Specifically: how to effectively advertise them. More accurately: how to more effectively advertise for my shows the next time around.

The group has gotten better - we have new music and are now capable of playing with a degree of reckless abandon that I sometimes crave as an audience member. Our show at Highwire in Philadelphia was, I believe, a high point for us - transitions between solos, collective improvisations, and heads were more natural; there was a consistency to the energy; there was a real sense of direction.

The voice in the back of my head is speaking, albeit in cliches: "Let's do this. Let's really go for it. I have to make a pact with myself to really promote this music. If I don't do it, no one will."

I have to start listening.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Shylock: Form or Deform?

Last week we held the first rehearsal for the new group Shylock, a Dixie-meets-free jazz ensemble. It’s a quintet featuring Noah Kaplan on sax; Avi and Benjy Fox-Rosen on guitar and bass, respectively; Matthew Rousseau on drums; and myself on trumpet. It went well, and certainly established, for me, the new light-motif of my musical life – the dichotomy of keeping to a musical form and the urge to twist that form, or leave it altogether. In theory, working one’s way out of a set form is great idea, but it is actually quite difficult to do effectively. How do you play off a form without falling directly into a formlessness that disregards the beauty of the piece in its original incarnation? Specifically, how do we honor Louis Armstrong’s music and perform our modern take on it without giving in to sonic masturbation?

I believe one way around this essential problem is thinking of form as an expandable and retractable medium. In this way, one is observing the power of the chord progression and yet is willfully mutating the chordal rhythm. This method certainly owes to Ornette Coleman’s revolutionary work in Harmolodics. In this case, the set form becomes “harmolodic” in that it melds to the ever-unfolding phrases and collective melodies created by the ensemble. It might also be likened to poet Charles Olson’s “projective verse,” where the form corresponds to the content of the improvisation.

This is certainly not the first time someone has approached set form with the intention of upending it in a meaningful way. But this would be “one of those times,” and I think it’s going to work.

Now for the pitch: Shylock will be playing at Unnameable Books in Brooklyn this Friday, May 7, at 9:00. A trio fronted by Noah Kaplan, will go on at 8:00. Come by, listen, and let me know what you think.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The High Life and the Sub-Conscious

Last night I caught a performance by Jason Ajemian and The High Life at Issue Project Room in Brooklyn. The band, a conglomerate of New York and Chicago musicians, has been on tour for about a month now to promote their new album ("Let me get that Digital"), and they will continue to perform through the rest of April.

The High Life’s show at Issue Project Room was not only a great performance, but it was also an excellent example of the art of programming. They played continuously for about an hour, and it was one of those rare occasions where the longer the performance lasted, the more convincing the performance was. In the beginning of the show I was amused, if a bit skeptical. By the end, I felt like I had experienced something truly special.

The ensemble slid from one stylistic bent to another, from sea shanty to rock to free jazz, to name a few. I felt as though I were being guided through different rooms within the subconscious – mine or The High Life’s or Jason Ajemian’s – and it turns out that these “rooms” are more literal than one might expect. The musical scores are arranged like blueprints for a house, with entranceways and exits.

The most consistent thread within the group’s set was perhaps Jason Ajemian’s voice, acting as a narrator throughout the journey (his voice was occasionally joined by the voices of the entire band). He yelped and belted lyrics, and fragments of lyrics, beckoning the listener through the hallways of his music. Jason’s vocal delivery was reminiscent of Captain Beefheart. In fact, the tunes themselves occasionally reminded me of the Magic Band, with their off-kilter looping rhythms, and their oscillation from one meme to another and back.

One thing that surprised me was that the pastiche of styles never really felt ironic. It was never insular in that fashion – it led the listener in and not out, despite the fact that the soil was always shifting under one’s feet.

All of this musical surrealism would not have gone off as well as it did without the talent of The High Life’s musicians. They are all excellent instrumentalists and improvisers, and have projects of their own that are very much worth checking out.

Many bands will describe their sound by simply listing their iPod playlist and not sound like half of the artists they claim to channel. The High Life is not one of them. They perform a bizarre and wonderful collection of songs that a mere “shuffle” key can’t replicate. Don’t miss them next time they visit a performance space near you.

Jason Ajemian and The High Life is:

Jason Ajemian: bass, vox
Jacob Wick: trumpet, vox
Peter Hanson: saxophone, vox
Owen Stewart-Robertson: guitar, vox
Marc Riordan: drums, vox

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Joe Morris/Nate Wooley/Dominic Lash @ Douglass St.

At long last, a new post!

On Sunday night, I had the pleasure of hearing an excellent set by Joe Morris, Nate Wooley, and Dominic Lash at the Douglass Street Music Collective in Brooklyn. Joe and Nate have been working together for a little while now, and the addition of Dominic on bass was a real treat – he traveled all the way from the U.K. for this performance.

The set of three extended improvisations was one of the most balanced and nuanced I’ve heard in a while. All three players are masters at their instruments, but there was never the feeling that any one of them was trying to be the “leader.” Moments where only one instrument was sounding did not come off as a solo but rather as the logical progression of the musical conversation – all but one of the voices in the room die down and that one voice is simply continuing its story.

The music produced was absolutely a sum of its parts. Joe Morris, whose career spans decades, continues to reinvent his own playing as well as the nature of the avant-guitar itself. Impromptu “preparations” – adding an elastic band to the neck, running brass cylinders over the strings – allowed for a widened palate of sound. And the effectiveness of these preparations was owed completely to Mr. Morris’s quick musical intuition. Dominic Lash is the rare bassist who seems completely at home both with and without the bow. An incredibly virtuosic and naturally musical player, he’s someone you must hear the next time he’s in the U.S. (or you’re in Europe). And of course, there’s Nate Wooley. From my perspective as a trumpeter and improviser, it’s easy to see why he’s one of the most in-demand performers of modern improv. The guy has prodigious technique, but he never plays as though he has something to prove (a rare thing indeed to find in a trumpet player). Probably the most impressive thing about Nate is that he can play quietly and really commit to that dynamic. He was always blending into the texture of the group, occasionally peeking out from within.

The trio’s music resembled a kind of modern folk music, with its collective spirit and an overall sound that develops directly from the “act of playing.” It was a truly engaging experience. Let’s hope they make a recording or go on tour sometime in the near future.